Frazer Hines appeared in all but one of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor Who stories as loveable highlander Jamie McCrimmon, returned to the role twice on television and is still working with Big Finish for their audio dramas.
He talked to SciFiNow last year about Doctor Who, Emmerdale air disasters and being the inspiration for Outlander…
How did you feel when you were initially cast in The Highlanders for four episodes?
Well, Doctor Who was a great series to be in and a very popular kid’s show. My agent said, ‘[producer] Innes Lloyd wants to meet you for Doctor Who.’ So I met Innes and he said, ‘hello old boy, Shaun Sutton [head of serials at the BBC] says he’s worked with you before.’ I owe my career, actually, to Shaun Sutton, I do believe that. Shaun had said I could do a Scottish accent – my mother’s Scots, though I was born in Yorkshire – and Innes said, ‘are you free?’ I didn’t have to read, I didn’t have to audition, I just met Innes over a cup of tea at Shepherd’s Bush.
We did the pre-filming at Frensham Ponds. Frensham Ponds was always Switzerland, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, whatever. I did my scene where I wave goodbye to the TARDIS and go back with Donald Bissett, my laird, and Hannah Gordon, who was Kirsty… then, I think episode two went out, and Innes said, ‘now listen, old boy, how do you fancy joining the old TARDIS crew?’ I said, ‘I’d love to but I’ve already filmed saying goodbye’. He said, ‘oh well, we’ll redo that’, so the next day we went back to Frensham Ponds and this time I go into the TARDIS… three of the happiest years of my career.
In the next story, which was The Underwater Menace, I had to take some of Michael Craze’s lines, and then in The Moonbase I had hardly any lines.
You were asleep!
Yeah, because the scripts are written so far ahead, so I just went ‘THE PHANTOM PIPER!’ and then zzzzzzzzz. Easiest money I’ve ever made!
Do you think Jamie worked particularly well in a specific team?
To be honest I liked both the ladies (Deborah Watling as Victoria and Wendy Padbury as Zoe) in different ways. He loved Victoria because she was nearer to his era, the crinoline, the frock – it might have been a hundred years later, the Victorian era, but you know. And she was a lady, he protected her. Zoe was a bit of a bossy boots, but he liked her even though she was more, ‘I can manage, I can manage!’ I genuinely liked both these ladies equally.
What about the earlier stories with Polly and Ben (Anneke Wills and Michael Craze), how did that dynamic work?
It was a bit strange. We’ve talked about this, especially Anneke and I, and I said, ‘you used to come into rehearsals, hug Michael, hug Patrick, and then say, “morning, Frazer,” and I never got a hug’, but I could understand. If, halfway through with Wendy Padbury, they’d brought another male companion in, I’d have said, ‘we’ve got a female companion, we’ve got a male companion, we’ve got the Doctor – do we need somebody else?’ So I can empathise with that, I’d have felt the same.
Were there any writers or directors who you felt ‘got’ Jamie’s characters particularly well?
I’m not a great actor for looking at writers and saying, ‘this is going to be a good script!’ You get the script and you’re working almost like on a treadmill – next story, next story. Very seldom you look at who’s written it, but directors, they were great fun. Dougie Camfield was a great director, Michael Ferguson was a lovely director, Hugh David – there were certain directors you’d go, ‘ah, we’re gonna have fun!’ A few directors you’d say, ‘oh no, not him…’ – no jokes, no fun at rehearsals, you know. David Maloney was another great director. But you’d seldom look at a script and think, ‘oh, who’s written this?’ – not even, ‘who’s written this rubbish?’, because none of the scripts were bad. I know some fans say, ‘oooh, The Space Pirates was a terrible show,’ and so on, but I say, ‘well wait till you see it’. Because for years I’ve been saying, ‘you’ve got to see The Enemy of the World’. People said, ‘yeah, yeah,’ but then, when it was discovered, my god, they loved the story.
You’ve been hard-hit by the scrapping of episodes, but you’ve also had some of the biggest finds – The Tomb of the Cybermen in the early 90s, then The Enemy of the World and [most of] The Web of Fear together in 2013. How did it feel seeing them again after so long?
Ah, that was brilliant! Debbie [Watling] and I went to see one of the episodes of The Web of Fear, and halfway through I said, ‘Debs, do you realise the last time we saw this was forty years ago?’ We used to break on a Saturday and go down and watch it in the canteen with some baked beans on toast or something. I’m rather glad they found The Underwater Menace [episode two was recovered in 2011]. The fact that they found The Underwater Menace, which was my second story, there’s the possibility that, somewhere, there’s The Highlanders.
Was there ever talk of you staying on into Jon Pertwee’s era?
My agent was advising me to leave. I was going to leave earlier – in fact there was a script written called The Laird of Lochinvar. They were going to go to Scotland and he was going to fall in love with a Highland lass. I remember the Daily Sketch, front page news – JAMIE IS TO LEAVE DOCTOR WHO. Patrick read it and said, ‘I’m leaving in six months’ time, my contract ends, my wife’s been saying I should be doing other stuff, wait for me,’ so I stayed on till The War Games and left with Patrick. Then Padders [Wendy Padbury] said, ‘I’m not going to stay with Jon Pertwee because I’ll never get into shot! He’s 6 foot 4 and I’m 4 foot 6!’
We didn’t want to leave! I still say that if my agent hadn’t been nagging me, and his wife, we’d still be there now. You’d have to shoot us to get us out the TARDIS. You’d never have heard of David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston because we’d still be there. We were having such a ball!
In The Five Doctors you had a cameo role…
I was supposed to be all the way through with Patrick, but then Emmerdale Farm, Yorkshire TV, wouldn’t release me. So I called JN-T [producer John Nathan-Turner] and he said, ‘Frazer, I want you in the show if you get any time off.’ I said, ‘well, I’ve got next Wednesday and Thursday off…’ So that night the fax came with the script and it said, ‘no, the Brigadier’s right. No… AAAARGH!’ and I thought, ‘oh, I thought I was going to have a nice scene!’ But I wanted to see Patrick and I wanted to see Padders, so I said ‘yeah alright’. I went down to the [BBC rehearsal rooms] Acton Hilton and Patrick and I just grabbed each other and rolled on the floor laughing, had a marvellous time. JN-T said, ‘it’s like you and Patrick have been in a prop cupboard for sixteen years, and they’ve wound you up and set you off! Do you want to do some more?’ and I said ‘not half!’
In The Two Doctors you were properly back in the thick of it. What kind of changes did you notice filming Doctor Who in the 80s?
Well, we got foreign locations for a start! It was going to be in New Orleans but the American money pulled out so we got Seville – it was nice though! It was a lovely cast and Peter Moffat, the director, what a lovely gent. He was marvellous.
Did you take much persuading to come back and work for Big Finish?
I said to [former executive producer] Gary Russell that I wanted to work with them, and he said ‘no no, don’t want to do classic stuff’. Then the minute he left I got a phone call from [executive producer] David Richardson saying ‘do you want to do a Big Finish?’ I’d been dying to do one!
Then I was doing Helicon Prime [Frazer’s first Big Finish audio], and Nigel Fairs was directing it. I read it and I did Jamie’s voice, then I did the Doctor. Nigel said, ‘you sound like Patrick Troughton!’ and I said, ‘yes, I do him at conventions where I say, “look at the size of that thing, Doctor!” and he says, “yes, it is a big one, Jamie!”’, which we always tried to get into the stories. So it was Nigel Fairs’s idea that I now do Patrick. I love doing it. I always say I get paid to do Jamie but I do Patrick’s voice for the love of him, to keep his memory alive.
Do you watch Doctor Who now?
Yes. I missed quite a lot of Tennant because I was on stage and I don’t like having a TV in my dressing room. I like Capaldi, I really wanted to work with Capaldi. I wanted Steven Moffat to bring Jamie back for one story but it never happened.
You appeared in an episode of Outlander. Were you aware of the novels being based on your performance as Jamie?
When I was in Emmerdale I got this book, sent by Diana Gabaldon. She explained, saying, ‘Dear Frazer, I watched you in this black and white TV show and I loved your legs and your kilt, and I went to church the next day and all I could think about was your legs and your kilt, and I’ve written this book.’
I read it, and I took it to David Cunliffe who was head of drama at Yorkshire TV. He said it was too expensive, so he didn’t do it…then when it came to pass that they were making a TV series, I said ‘I’ve got to be in it!’. My agent said they were casting for Sir Fletcher Gordon, so I went to see the casting director – it wasn’t a given, I had to go and read for the part. I’m glad I did.
Were you appropriately venerated on set? Did people know who you were in relation to the genesis of the story?
Yes, they did. I met Sam Heughan [Jamie Fraser] at the read-through and of course Caitriona [Balfe, who plays Claire]. We got a lovely photograph of Diana and the two Jamies. Diana introduced me, and you could see people thinking, ‘he looks nothing like Jamie…’ because I had grey hair and all that. It was a lovely thing to do.
When I went to see Capaldi at Cardiff, he pointed at me and said ‘guys, if it wasn’t for him and his Doctor, we wouldn’t be working here today.’ That’s a wonderful thing to say.
You also starred in Emmerdale as Joe Sugden, and you were involved in one of their biggest storylines, the 1993 plane crash. Did you get a sense when you saw the scripts of how massive this was going to be?
I thought ‘how the hell are they going to do it?’ It’s a TV company, but this is Hollywood stuff! Our special effects boys – if it had been today, they would have got a BAFTA award. They did a marvellous job with that – plane coming down, car crashing. They should have got a special award. It was actually like working on a Hollywood movie, it was great fun to do.
What’s it like being so strongly associated with these roles you played such a long time ago?
I’m very fortunate to have not appeared but – I’m blowing my own trumpet now! – to have starred in two of the longest-running television shows in British history. I’m very fortunate. I’m very proud that people don’t shout ‘JOE!’ in the street, they know my name. I could never rob a bank…