Doctor Who’s Bernard Cribbins on Daleks and David Tennant

We talk to Bernard Cribbins about Daleks, Peter Cushing, and 50 years of Doctor Who

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Bernard Cribbins

Bernard Cribbins is in the enviable position of having starred in two versions of Doctor Who, having played Wilfred Mott in Russell T Davies’ revival and PC Tom Campbell in the Peter Cushing film Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD. With the Blu-ray release of Dr Who And The Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD on the way, the actor spoke exclusively to SciFiNow about Australian Daleks, Peter Cushing, and the enduring appeal of Doctor Who.

How did you get involved with Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD?

It’s a few weeks ago isn’t, 1966? It was just was a lovely thing to be asked to do it because I’d worked with Peter before, and I’ve an idea it was possibly he was the instigator of getting me into it. Roy Castle had done the previous one with Peter, and then I think Roy couldn’t do it or they wanted to change the character, and Cushing I’d worked with in Israel three years before. We did a film called She for Hammer, and he may well have said, I think it was the case that he’d said “Let’s have Cribbins. He’s alright, he doesn’t drink much, he doesn’t fall over, and he gets on with it.”

So Peter Cushing was a pleasure to work with?

Oh yes, it was great. As I say I’d enjoyed working with him before and we were fellow bird-watchers so we’d had a good time in Israel spotting birds and I’d taught him how to snorkel and all that and we got on extremely well. And the work was good. And it was easy work and accomplished, it was good value.

It’s quite a bleak film; what was the atmosphere like on set?

Well, Gordon Flemyng was Scottish, as you know, rather gruff voice, and Peter and I got into trouble with him one day. It was the scene where Peter and I had just been captured and marched onto the spaceship and we meet a Dalek for the first time. And coming down the ramp is a Dalek and we’re being marched up and the guy inside the machine was Australian, Bob Jewell, and he said something like “If you don’t behave yourselves you will be exterminated!” In this broad accent and Peter and I got the giggles, started tittering, could not control ourselves at the thought of an Australian Dalek! And Gordon Flemyng got very cross and said “Come on, we’ve got a lot of bloody work to do! You, Cribbins, stop laughing! And you, Peter! What are you doing?” So we got smacked wrists for that but it was a very funny moment.

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What was it like working with the revamped Daleks having faced them before?

Well they’re much more sophisticated now. And the only fun I had with them particularly, I didn’t really meet too many of them, was when I suggested to Russell T. that my character, Wilfred, might be able to attack one and blind it with the paintball gun. Well this was my suggestion, I ambush this thing, shoot it in the eye with a paintball gun, which we did, we set it up he’d rewritten the scene of course, in his inimitable, very very fine fashion. So it’s standing there with paint on its eye and then it says “My vision is not impaired” and starts to line me up, it’s just going to zap me, and then it blows up and standing behind it, Billie Piper with a bloody great big ray gun or something! And I look at my paint gun and I look at her and I said “Oi, do you want to swap?” This is what I suggested and there it was on film, it was great. I felt very happy with that and it made a nice little scene. And that’s the measure of Mr Davies, anyway, Russell T., just taking what you’ve got and polishing it beautifully.

We wanted to ask about the scene in which you have to pretend to be a Roboman. Was that fun to shoot?

That was great fun, there was a lot of ad-libbery in it, and just getting slightly out of sync, you know. It was a very good comedy opportunity, I thought it worked fairly well. It wasn’t outrageous, it was just “What is he doing?” You know, which is what we wanted. You rehearse it and ad-lib it in rehearsals and try and keep the best bits, you know.

Some people see the films as being separate because they’re not canon…

Oh no, no I don’t think they are, it’s just…moved the way you show it to people, that’s all. And I think TV is so much more accessible to everybody and you want to see a continuance, episodes going on and on and on. No, I think as a piece of writing initially it was a brilliant idea, Doctor Who, and the fact that’s lasted for 50 years is quite astonishing and in so many different forms, different actors, different situations, different villains, you know, Cybermen, blind angels, people coming out of the walls…wonderful stuff. Some of the writing and production on it has been some of the best TV around, certainly.

And what was it like being on the TARDIS again in the Series Four finale?

There was a funny moment there, which made me laugh at the time. David and I had to get into the TARDIS on the series and I’d never been in there as Wilfred before. So he said “In you go,” closes the door, and the director outside said “OK, cut, that’s a print,” and before we go I said to David, “Do you know the first time I was in this thing was in 1966?” And he looked at me and said “I wasn’t even born then.” He really was astonished at the connection. Amazing.

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How has the 50th anniversary been for you so far?

I haven’t done anything at all. I rang Cardiff a while ago and said “Am I likely to be involved in anything?” and they said “No, we don’t think so at the moment.” There will be things going on at the actual time so we’ll have to wait and see. It’s all so hush hush you can’t even make a phone call without showing your passport sort of thing. Which is quite right because otherwise it will spoil an awful lot of it. The more secret and the more surprising it is the better, I think.

Is it true that you actually auditioned for the role of the Doctor?

That’s right, yes I did. I had an interview apropos of possibly being the next Doctor and Barry Letts, who was the producer, and I was sitting there, and he said “What can you do? I’ve seen a lot of your work on stage,” because I’d been around a while, you know. And I said “Well, I’m a very good swimmer, I’m no good on horses, I was a paratrooper so I can fight.” And he said “No, no, no, the Doctor doesn’t fight, he never fights at all,” and of course Tom Baker got the job and the first thing he did was knock somebody out, which just makes me laugh, it was wonderful! I think Tom was my favourite Doctor up until David so they’re on a par, I think, Tom and David.

Have you seen many of Matt Smith’s episodes?

No, not very many, I seem to have been otherwise occupied. I’ve seen bits and pieces but it’s still got an extraordinarily high standard, it really has. It’s so good, visually and story-wise; Stephen Moffat’s stories are lovely. As good as Mr Davies’, Russell T’s certainly.

Finally, why do you think Doctor Who has stayed so popular for 50 years?

It’s an adventure story and you don’t know what’s going to happen. And they keep switching Doctors which helps anyway! It’s what they call hokum in America, and it’s beautifully cooked, which is great.

You can buy Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD on Blu-ray for £12.50 at Amazon.co.uk.

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