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“I would not wish any companion in the world but you…”

– Miranda, THE TEMPEST



The last time I interviewed Elisabeth Sladen was in October 2010, a few months before her pancreatic cancer was diagnosed. We talked about Tom. It was, she said, “a gift” to work with such a generous leading man. “He’s amazing,” she enthused. “I’m very lucky… The assistants have to be paired with the right Doctors” – and, just like Tom often does, she drew an analogy with Shakespeare: “You can have the most wonderful Romeo, and the most wonderful Juliet, but if they don’t come together and match, you’ve got nothing. You’ve got to believe it. If you make people believe, you’ve won.” This would turn out to be Lis’ final magazine interview. She died on Friday, 19 April 2011. She was 65 years old.

Five months later, Tom and I rendezvous in Rye, to reminisce about Lis for a special issue of Doctor Who Magazine to celebrate her life. (We waited till the end of 2011 to publish this tribute issue, as Lis’ sad death came so soon after Nicholas Courtney’s, and DWM wanted to do both actors justice, to take time to put together the best articles and interviews we could.) When I arrive at our old haunt, the Mermaid Inn, Tom is sitting in the lounge already, in a chair by the fireplace. “All right, kid? Hello, nice to see you.” I take a seat on the deep-red leather sofa opposite him.

Shortly, we’ll talk about Lis, but first I have something for Tom. It’s a leaflet, some Jehovah’s Witness literature – no, stick with me – that two old ladies on Rye High Street handed me on my way here. The cover proclaims, optimistically,

‘All suffering will end!’ I thought Tom might have something to say about that. I was right. “Old ladies often give out things like this, don’t they? ‘All suffering will end’? It makes sense of their disappointment at life, I suppose.”

“In no time at all, Elisabeth and I were pally. She adored all my silly Marx Brothers jokes, and she laughed at all my stories.”

Well, the leaflet’s yours now.

“Thank you, Ben. (Laughs) Jehovah’s Witnesses know that when it’s all over, in God’s new world, fleas won’t bite anybody, and lions will lie down with lambs, and they know exactly how many people are going to be there – 144,000 people – to rule over the Earth, and the dead will rise up and receive everlasting life and… oh gosh, it’s extraordinary, isn’t it? Anyone who’s religious is, obviously, frightened of the dark, but there are millions of them all over the world. The impulse to believe in the supernatural seems ineradicable. Do you believe in the supernatural?”

Not at all, no.

“Most people do, don’t they? – to the point where they will kill to defend it. And they don’t seem to see any contradiction in the fact that there are so many… I mean, there are hundreds of denominations in England alone, all disagreeing about what the Bible means.”

They can’t all be right, can they?

“Well, it’s got nothing to do with reason, has it? Hey, I’ve got something for you. (Producing a ticket from his jacket pocket) I’ve bought you a lottery ticket.”

Oh wow. Thank you. That’s a much better gift than a Jehovah’s Witnesses leaflet.

“That’s all right. It’s for tomorrow’s draw.”

If it wins, I’ll split my winnings with you. [1]

“(Laughs) It’s all right. It would be a good story if you won, wouldn’t it? You could brag about it in Doctor Who Magazine.”

I’d be writing this up from my luxury yacht in Marbella.

“Is that what you’d do? But they’d hate you for winning.”

I probably wouldn’t tell anyone, then.

“But they’d know, you see. When I got the part of Doctor Who, the most painful thing was Barry Letts told me not to say anything to anyone… for over a week! [2] I went back to the pub that night, this little pub in Pimlico where everyone was friendly and I was known to be an actor, and I was standing at the bar – because I was working on a building site, so I had enough money to buy a beer – chatting away to the barmaid – marvellous tits – when this guy, Fred, who worked on the railway, said, ‘Have you got a job, Tom?’ I said, ‘Er… why?’ He said, ‘You’ve landed a job, haven’t you?’ He could actually tell, because when you’re an actor out of work… You see, they all knew me in the pub, and they may have seen me in the odd film, but my movie efforts had failed. I was an unknown again.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Doctor Who Magazine's 500th birthday celebrations continue! DWM 501 is a Tom Baker Special: a bumper 100-page souvenir issue that features the mag's biggest interview ever with the man himself, and dozens of rare photos. Plus, the start of a brand-new comic strip, The Pestilent Heart, which introduces a new companion; a look at all the latest Doctor Who CD releases; and much, much more!