Sylvester McCoy was Doctor Who in 1987, when Julie Collins appeared as Leader of the Red Kangs in the TV show. Source: BBC
In 1987, I appeared as Fire Escape, the Leader of the Red Kangs, in a Doctor Who tale of dystopian mayhem: Paradise Towers. In a dilapidated Tower Block, colour-coded gangs of “Kangs” — delinquent teenage girls — ran amok, whilst behind closed doors, sweet and endearing old ladies lured unsuspecting visitors into their apartment for tea, so that they could eat them.
The Kangs became allies of the Doctor — number seven, played by Sylvester McCoy — who went on to defeat the Hitler-like totalitarian Chief Caretaker, played by veteran British actor Richard Briers. The fans both loved and hated this story. The acting was at times way over the top. But on the plus side, Paradise Towers, a storyline written by Stephen Wyatt, contained great social commentary, critiquing the social upheaval of Thatcher’s Britain. The Kangs were seriously “scary girls”, and the streets were full of them.
The recent news that a woman — English actor Jodie Whittaker – will be the 13th Doctor Who has got me thinking about my time on the set of this classic show. Whittaker’s appointment to the role has been hailed by many and criticised by some purists. I think that it is about time a Wise Woman took control of the Tardis, even if the Tardis does not always do as it’s told these days. Reflecting on my brief time on the show, it is interesting that while women such as the Kangs were feisty, the Doctor’s female companions were there mostly to help show how clever he was.
My own personal association with Doctor Who — apart from hiding behind the couch as a very small person — began in the mid 1980s, when my partner at the time, Mark Strickson, was cast as Turlough, companion to the fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison. I was so jealous! But over the next few years, I probably spent almost as much time on the set as Mark did. This was the era when John Nathan Turner (known as JNT) was the producer and the series was probably at its most economical.
Production was fast and furious. But despite the pressures, I was welcome on location and in the studio. I watched from the sidelines and even from the control room. One day when I entered the studio, the Daleks were there. They were really very scary, even though you knew the voices were coming from four small and elderly gentlemen sitting at a table in the corner with large microphones.
When I eventually got the call to audition for my own story on Doctor Who, it was unlike any audition I’d been to. Instead of sitting across a desk, having a quiet chat and perhaps reading a few lines of script, which was the norm, JNT and the director, Nicholas Mallett, had overturned the furniture and I was asked to improvise a life and death battle.
Working on Paradise Towers was hard work. You had to stay focussed; if at 10pm, your concentration was about to lapse, the production team was unlikely to retake a shot to fix up your performance.