Doctor Who at 50: How Katy Manning tamed the angry Doctor
Katy Manning captured the hearts of the nation as Jo Grant, the wide-eyed assistant to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. And as we celebrate 50 years of the hit sci-fi series, arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to her about her time on the show.
For Dr Who viewers in the early 1970s Katy Manning was everyone’s girlfriend. Vivacious, mad-as-a-hatter and gloriously accident prone, her character, Jo Grant, was designed to infuriate Jon Pertwee’s no-nonsense action Doctor.
What happened next was typical for the series. The characters and their relationship took on a life of their own. Pertwee’s Doctor went from huffing and puffing and snapping at everyone to being something of a mother-hen.
He was still a man of action who could dispatch a lumbering Ogron with a well-timed Venusian karate chop and give chase to The Master in his suped-up Edwardian car Bessie but his resentment at being stranded on Earth by The Time Lords was tempered by Jo’s friendly influence.
Indeed, Jo’s departure from the series in the summer of 1973 prompted a collective sob from the nation not matched until David Tennant’s Dr was forced to abandon Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) on the shores of Bad Wolf Bay in 2006.
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Katy Manning left the series to spread her acting wings after her character married her real-life boyfriend Stewart Bevan who was playing eco-warrior Professor Cliff Jones in the iconic story The Green Death.
In a moving scene the Doctor was seen shedding a tear as he absented himself from the engagement party and was seen driving off alone into the sunset.
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Although Katy and Stewart’s real-life relationship didn’t run the course, they remained close friends and she is a regular visitor to Stewart’s home in north Suffolk.
Stewart also produced Katy’s recent theatre production about Bette Davis, Me and Jezebel.
Speaking during a recent visit to Suffolk Katy retains fond memories of her time aboard the TARDIS.
“It was a marvellous time but I nearly didn’t get the job because I was so short-sighted. I wore these terribly thick glasses at the time which I didn’t think looked very attractive, so I took them off which meant couldn’t read the script, so they opted to do an improvisation where a hat on a hat-stand turned into the devil.
“I got the part but that wasn’t the end of it because on my first day of location filming for Terror of the Autons, my first story, I tripped and fell on a rock twisting my ankle quite badly – as I said I couldn’t see very well – my foot ballooned and I could hardly walk let alone run and I thought that’s it. I’m done for. I couldn’t walk and I thought what they’ll do is get one of the other actresses in and it’s goodbye Katy. Fortunately they didn’t but Jon teased me about it for ages afterwards.”
She and Pertwee became close friends in real-life and when he discovered they lived just round the corner from one another, he picked up and took her to rehearsals in Acton each morning.
“It was great because he’d come and pick me up in one of his many cars. I’d stand outside the chemist in Chiswick and he’d roar up. Somedays he’d bring the motorbike and I’d sit perched on the back while he raced other actors to our rehearsal rooms which we called the Acton Hilton.
“He was a great friend and it was during those journeys to and from work that we got to know one another and it showed on screen.
“I think there was a real emotional connection between the Doctor and Jo – a real forerunner to what they do in the modern show.”
Katy is a huge fan of the revived series and believes that they have taken the spirit of the original series but have given it that 21st century sheen.
“It’s fabulous,” she beams, “It’s marvellous. Listen, let me tell you. I think the current team have got it absolutely right. I know several of the writers on the series and they absolutely adore Dr Who, they know exactly what they are doing.
“They have managed to achieve visually on screen what we only dreamed about. We imagination in the scripts but now they have the technology and the budget to realise it on screen.”
She said that she was captivated when Christopher Eccleston brought the Doctor back. “I was sad when he went so quickly. I thought he had another series in him but I have say that David Tenant made the part his own. I think he made the right decision to move on while he’s still excited by the series.
“What I can’t understand is why everyone criticised the BBC for casting Matt Smith when he first took over because he was an unknown actor. Neither Christopher Eccleston nor David Tenant were big stars in the public’s eyes before they took the part. You need good actors in the part and you need relative unknowns because each actor brings their own persona to the part. They add something to the mix, to the Doctor Who mythology.
“For me, the problem with the later Doctors in the original series was that they were too well known. Peter Davison and Colin Baker, both great actors, but they came to the series with too much baggage. For many people Peter (Davison) wasn’t the Doctor he was a Yorkshire vet.
“Jon Pertwee wasn’t a well known television face when he took the role and in any event it was the first straight acting job he had done. He was comedy character actor, so this was a complete change… and who knew anything about Tom Baker before he got the part? And he just flowered.”