Last weekend I interviewed actor and former Doctor Who regular Richard Franklin in Central London. Richard played Captain Mike Yates of UNIT from 1971-1974 during the Jon Pertwee era. He returned for the Twentieth Anniversary special, The Five Doctors, and has since reprised the role in various audio dramatisations for Big Finish Productions and Audio Go
PAUL BURGIN: You joined Doctor Who in 1971, which was Jon Pertwee's Second Season, and you also joined at the same time as Katy Manning and Roger Delgado. How did your character come about?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well actually when people ask me that question they usually know the answer better than I do. I don't know what the script decisions and discussions were that led them to believe.. well actually I think I probably do, I think they wanted to introduce me as a love interest..
PAUL BURGIN: For Jo Grant
RICHARD FRANKLIN: For Jo Grant, and I think the thing is they didn't have that interest before and I think the writers realised it was actually a young adult age group that was at the core viewership for Doctor Who. It wasn't beforehand, I mean it was much more a children's programme, and indeed the BBC of course paid their top brass a lot of money, but their actors, they kept those of us on the show on a children's television rate
PAUL BURGIN: Yes it was that in-between time, I remember reading once, years ago, Barry Letts saying that the Jon Pertwee era was when there was a more adult audience.
RICHARD FRANKLIN: That's right, it became cult during that time. It didn't become a fully become a young adult show, University level kind of thing, until Katy, Jon, and I were involved
PAUL BURGIN: Joining at the same time as Katy Manning and Roger Delgado, did you feel like the new children in class as it were?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well one of the things about Jon Pertwee was that he had a lot of background in theatre and he knew the role of the leading man and really the leading man in the company has a sort of quasi directorial role. He's "Mine Host" in a way and Jon was extremely good at that, I mean we used to as you know, have quite celebrated guests coming in sometimes and he always welcomed everybody. Everybody was made to feel part of the team from Day One. That is not just being socially adept, it's not just a question of being nice and friendly, it is a question of getting good work, because if you don't have a good working relationship with all your actors the product is going to be inferior
PAUL BURGIN: Sometimes we hear a bit about Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney, Katy Manning and John Levene. We don't sometimes hear much about Roger Delgado, partly because sadly he died almost in harness in the role. What was he like to work with because he was a very quiet person wasn't he!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Oh he was, but he was very, very, nice. He was very precise, very reliable, very good, and he was very much liked and respected and loved. But you don't have to have one elbow on the bar and shout to be heard the other side of Leicester Square to be good company, although a lot of actors are and not good company!
PAUL BURGIN: I did hear a story once, I don't know if it's apocryphal, that when they were filming The Daemons, when it was the first take of him being taken away the children instead of booing as they were asked to, actually clapped and cheered because he was so popular, I don't know how true that is!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Oh yes, particularly something like The Daemons in Aldbourne where the general public are involved. Crowd control is rather important and I know we had one marvellous effect which had to be redone as far as I remember. There was an incident with the globby Axons with a very effective shot in which I had just jumped out of the moving land-rover and it went driverless down a steep hill and exploded at the bottom, and when it exploded someone in the crowd applauded with enthusiasm and of course it wrecked the shot. So whether they were able to do something with the soundtrack or not, I think they must have done something like that. Very natural, you see something extraordinary happen and your immediate reaction is to applaud or gasp or something, but of course it's hard sometimes to instil that into very nice people who are supporting that they are not in the theatre
PAUL BURGIN: The first season you were in, you were in nearly every story, bar one. When you look back on that are there any moments you look back on with particular delight or fondness?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well I think, well I'm not trying to avoid the question, but I really did enjoy it all very much indeed, because the stories were very good and the action that I had was particularity enjoyable. I do remember particularly one story, I think it was filmed in a clay pit in Hertfordshire, a gravel pit, where Terry Walsh did a dramatic roll fall down a steep slope. I had run into him with a landrover. It was a very good stunt, the stunts were great fun to watch because HAVOC who used to do it were clever, fearless, death defying people!
PAUL BURGIN: I did hear that Jon Pertwee liked to do stunts and that there was this occasional tension between him and Terry Walsh and he would say "Make it look difficult!" to Terry Walsh!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Oh yes, I think you know, Jon was a man who believed he could do anything and was very keen on gadgetry, all his Whomobiles and everything! I think there was one story in which he has three or four different types of vehicle. There was a hovercraft, a helicopter...
PAUL BURGIN: I think that was the last one he did!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: But just to try and be a bit specific about what I particularly enjoyed, I did enjoy Planet of the Spiders because I had a lot of filming to do and here's a lesson for any actor looking at his script on television or film. Don't count the words, count the pictures because I didn't actually have a huge amount to say, but I came over, I think, rather well, because I was given such good action with Sarah Jane Smith
PAUL BURGIN: Yes and I think it was also a good story because when you look at the previous one you did, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, it kind of indicated the character (Captain Yates) was leaving under a cloud, whereas Planet of the Spiders there is this kind of redemption of the character in a way!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Yes indeed, yes absolutely. Of course Planet of the Spiders is one I remember particularly affectionately, and The Daemons, I think everybody would say that probably! Most people would say that because we had two weeks filming for a start and it is always nice to get out of the studio, and it was in a particularly beautiful little village and we stayed in a very nice hotel in Aldbourne, so it was first week sunshine and second week snow, but it was that pleasant!
PAUL BURGIN: When you came back briefly a decade later in The Five Doctors, where you weren't exactly playing Mike Yates but an image of the character, what was it like going back to Doctor Who, even if it was just for that five minutes?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Two impressions actually. The first was "Nothing has changed!" Then after that I think it was very much populated with actors, so there was no difference about it! But I was really delighted to be on that. You probably know the story about it, it is one of the many reasons why I am very grateful to fandom, because I moved up to North Yorkshire and was doing something completely different. I was running a very large County Youth Theatre and that's why incidentally I had less and less to do in later episodes. I was offered work but I turned it down because I was doing something else and I could only fit in a certain amount of time in London, but when I moved up there there was a good deal of press publicity about my moving into this very small hill town, and this article, page spread, was done by a journalist from the Northern Echo, and the younger brother of this journalist was a Doctor Who fan who picks up the article, illicitly. I am so glad he did, he got my phone no from his brother, before he printed the article, and invited me to have tea in Darlington with their group. There was a very small group, about twelve of us, and I said "I'd love to go", so we went and had tea and we talked about this and that and they said "Are you going to be in The Five Doctors?" I was so cut off by then that I actually, I think I only vaguely heard of The Five Doctors, and they filled me in and I thought "Really, why the hell haven't I been asked?" I was really quite disappointed by that and I thought no more of it. Two weeks later and the postman came and I had a large envelope fall on the mat. It was a script and a letter from John Nathan-Turner, apologising for the fact it was only a very small scene, but would I like to play this part and scene was on a completely different coloured paper which was an addition, so I wrote back and said "That's terribly nice, I'd love to!" and the only reason I'd been alerted to the fact I wasn't doing it was the fans in Darlington had written to him saying "Why isn't Richard Franklin/Captain Mike Yates in The Five Doctors?" so I literally have the fans directly to thank for the fact I was in it at all!
PAUL BURGIN: There was this long hiatus as well with the series. Then seven, coming up to eight years ago now, it came back. Have you seen much of the new series since it's come back and and if so what do you make of it?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: I've seen very little, I watch very little television to be quite honest with you. I've seen all the Doctors since the comeback and I think Matt Smith is head, shoulders, and knees above the others. I think he's very good, because he's got the character within him. He's not playing eccentric or rolling his eyes, he's Doctor Who! He understands the man with two hearts. The only thing I do feel, and I'm very firm supporter of the new series, is because society is moving and changing so fast in this country and a decade can make a heck of a lot of difference and when I was doing Doctor Who people respected people with grey hair and the grandfather looking after the grandchildren ethos was still vaguely there although the grandchildren were becoming young adults. But you can no longer, when the new series started, have a curly grey haired Doctor Who with a frilly shirt! It wouldn't connect at all with the young adults of that day! But they didn't throw away everything. They've kept the TARDIS, they've kept the magic, they've kept the essence of Doctor Who and all this sort of pseudo science and all the rest of it and so I think the writers have done well! The only thing I do feel about it! I think it's actually, certainly in the very last story that I saw with Matt Smith in, with the little blocks...
PAUL BURGIN: That was the UNIT story about these cubes invading the Earth!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: That's right, I thought it was much too fast and he was forced to be even more frenetic than he usually is
PAUL BURGIN: I have heard fans say there were about five different plot lines or so in it
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Ah yes! And I was going to make a point about the previous story, the Wild West one! It was a good story and I enjoyed it very much, but it had three profound ideas which actually were too much to take in I thought, but very good ideas, I actually wanted it to be a three parter at least, and actually I'm afraid, in fact I know, I don't know what all the reasons are, but one reason certainly is that the modern generation just likes to see the thing, be done with it, and move on! I think that's a shame but maybe that's how the modern world works, but I think the cliffhanger format is much better!
PAUL BURGIN: You've worked with more than one Doctor now. I mean you've worked with Jon Pertwee on television and you've recently worked with Tom Baker on Audio. Technically you've worked with three Doctors because David Troughton played the Second Doctor in lieu of his late father (in one of the audio stories), but with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, what's the difference because in real life I get the impression they are two very different people and their interpretations are of two very different Doctors!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well in the first place I like both of them very much indeed, but you are right they are quite different! Tom is a genuine eccentric, rather like Matt Smith, and Jon.. I was going to say he was acting eccentric but I think that is not right, I think it's a false impression of a sort of superficial performance. I think Jon is much more of an actor and Tom is much more of a personality. I don't think Jon would have been terribly pleased of me to say that because Jon was indeed a personality and his charisma, you could even feel it in the open air in a field. I remember in Aldbourne clearly, Jon was slightly after than everybody else in arriving and actually strode across the field, the whole sort of tension rose and there is no question, Jon was very charismatic. He was very tall, and craggy face and mass of white hair, and his extravagant costume. That was part of Jon, so I think if you like, Jon's Doctor's eccentricity was profound, but it was also illustrated externally, whereas Tom, he could have been wearing a bathing suit and then he would still be eccentric!
PAUL BURGIN: There is this lovely bit isn't there, in the very first story he did, Robot, where his Doctor is trying on new costumes and comes out with these constantly ridiculous costumes in front of the Brigadier and Harry Sullivan and they are both getting more and more inwardly uptight!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: I must admit, I think Tom is wonderful to work with, I like working with Tom. He's extremely intellectually intelligent, very witty, and they both took tremendous interest in the actual script, whether it was going the right way or not, and they had plenty of opinion too!
PAUL BURGIN: I did hear that when Lis Sladen left as Sarah Jane Smith, she and Tom Baker , I don't know if this is true, with her parting scene, she and Tom Baker more or less wrote that last scene together, because when they looked at the original script, they said "That's not how the Doctor and Sarah would part!" and they almost ad libbed it!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well I don't know if that's true, I've never heard that story, but I could well believe that might be true!
PAUL BURGIN: With the Fiftieth Anniversary coming, do you have any expectations, and how involved are you with the whole general process?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well, my expectation is that I am asked every week or more to come and do things, because I love meeting the fans, I love meeting the other actors who I've been working with and I love keeping the reality and the memory of UNIT alive! Now there is only Katy, John, and myself and I like to show the flag very much! If you are blogging it please invite me I will come and do anything! Because I would love to be there and answer questions
PAUL BURGIN: One thing I do know you are doing are these Audio Go conjunction with Big Finish stories entitled Destiny of the Doctors and you are narrating a story!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Oh yes and I've done two very nice things with Big Finish. One is a Companions Chronicle called Vengance of the Stones and the other one is The Rings of Ikiria, it was a lost story that I narrated with Katy and it was, I think, a five parter! People have been emailing me and talking about it and saying they like it very much
PAUL BURGIN: You also wrote a novel recently, Operation HATE, what is that about?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well Operation HATE has all the names changed but you will recognise the characters instantly. Because, the thing is this, it's all very sort of hush hush, undercover operation and so all the names had to be changed. MI6 and all the rest of it!
PAUL BURGIN: Have you plans to write any more?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: The door is definitely open to write a sequel, yes. But that's complete in itself
PAUL BURGIN: Any plans for the future with Doctor Who or Mike Yates that are definite or are in the pipeline?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: No, no, but but just to go onto Operation HATE, I think, I'd like to think, it is slightly better than a tuppeney horror! Actually there is a lot of autobiography in it, although I am not telling you what is fact or what is fiction or what is fact exaggerated! But the thing is I have written it from experience so that it is a very human book and it is, I hope, informative and interesting and funny! But it recalls real life experiences that I have had
PAUL BURGIN: Aside from Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, do you have a favourite Doctor?
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Well I am not being evasive, well I am being evasive on this as they are so different! It's very hard to say. I always have great fun when I am with Colin Baker, because I know him and have done other, non Doctor Who work with him and so on. But I very much like the eccentric Doctors, kind of what you might call seriously eccentric and I think, I like to look back, to Bill Hartnell, because he was, he really was, the mad scientist
PAUL BURGIN: His widow said that when he got the part, one of the reasons he was so glad to accept it was for so many years he had been playing tough policemen, tough villains, tough army sergeants, this was, whilst the character had a degree of acerbic-ness to him, there was something very different to what he had played before and he was so pleased to have that!
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Yes absolutely, but I think it's very hard to understand when we are talking about cultural change, why the new series has to be, had to be rewritten completely and they have done it extraordinarily well and I think Russell T. Davies did an amazing job on it, but if you look at or try to grasp the audience, the country's reaction to Doctor Who when Bill Hartnell first did it. I mean people didn't talk about space in that way, I mean yes there had been things like Batman and crazy crazy things, but this was serious science. This was based on actual discoveries and people were really beginning to think about going to the Moon and things like that and what is out there? I think people watched the scenes wondering what was going to come next. It's quite different now, it's much more ironic and one enjoys the wit of fiction
PAUL BURGIN: Absolutely. Well thankyou very much for your time
RICHARD FRANKLIN: Not at all, it's a great pleasure