Dr Who Special... An Interview

1 Conversation

This a transcript of an interview held with David Banks on 24th June 1989 and conducted by TIMELORD and his friend David Raistrick. At the time David Banks was appearing at the Grand Theatre, Leeds playing Karl in Doctor Who - the Ultimate Adventure. Since this interview he has written his third novel called Iceberg and has appeared in Brookside playing the part of Graeme Curtis

Could you start by telling us how you first became involved in acting?

Well, I suppose my first acting experience was when I was probably five or six. I remember playing a wizard and getting my mother's highly-embroidered cloak to put round me and saying things like 'I've got a spider in my hand' and having a sort of magic wand. Then, when I went to school - later on - I was in school plays. I think the first thing I played was Calpurnia, Caesar's wife, in Julius Caesar - it was an all-boys school you see. I continued to be in plays at school, so I was very much aware that I wanted to be an actor. I liked the academic life as well, so I went to university. I took drama at Manchester University so that I could mix the academic with the practical side of acting.

Then I went to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School for a post-graduate course after I'd gained my honours degree and, when I came out of there, I got a job at Manchester Library Theatre. I got my equity card there and I gave myself five years to see how I would get on. If, after five years, I was doing alright, I'd stay on. That was my idea at the time and that's how I got into it really.

You've recently written a book about The Cybermen. Was writing something you've always wanted to do?

Yes, absolutely. A bit like the acting actually. I tended to always scribble things down and write little stories and poems and, I suppose, as an actor you do. If you are interested in writing it's something that goes hand-in-hand with acting because, even though I am on tour now, we have our days free and, if you're dedicated enough, when you come off-stage you can just start scribbling. I often do quite a bit here because 'Karl' is off-stage quite a lot of the time. He keeps popping on to get after the 'Doctor', but then pops off again and I have five minutes to spare and can use that time.

I did that early on. I wrote several plays. I sent them to BBC Radio and so on. I had a certain amount of encouragement but it turned out that I didn't get anything published. When the opportunity came for me to do the 'Cyberbook' I thought that it was a very good combination of what I was doing as an actor and what I wanted to do as a writer.

You also submitted a script about the Cybermen to 'Eric Saward'

Yes, that was a part of my ongoing desire to be a writer, I suppose. At the time I was playing the Cyberleader - the second time I played it - in The Five Doctors. It seemed to me that I could write a script. I thought that I understood the formula of 'Doctor Who' and I thought that I understood the character of the 'Cyberleader' and the 'Cybermen'. I thought that it would be very good if I wrote a story, appeared as the Cyberleader and also set it somewhere nice... location work, something like that. So I did that and Eric Saward liked it and, infact, I went to see him and talk about it. It was just a storyline and he said that I'd written a nice part for myself! I'd set it in Crete, actually, because I'd just discovered Greece as well and thought it would be wonderful to work in Crete. He wanted a specimen episode or at least a few pages of dialogue and, for some reason, I didn't get down to ever doing that. I went on to other things and so it didn't really come to anything.

I did that twice infact! I sent another story off about a year later. That one was used as the basis for something I was commisioned to write as part of Make Your Own Adventures with Doctor Who. Do you remember that? A failed series... I think about six of them came out. A second series was planned and mine was to be part of that series but, before it came to fruition, it was cancelled because it wasn't going very well. JNT approved that storyline and it was set in Antarctica, going back to the roots of the Tenth Planet story.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

I usually have quite a few projects on at any one time. There is something - a large thing - that I want to write which is generating in my mind at the moment. I'm not sure whether it will come out as a pure text or as a collaboration with Andrew (Skilleter) with lots of pictures, or it could come out as a kind of comic strip. Part of it I'm thinking of in terms of comic strip, but that's very much at the back of my mind, so there's no point saying anything about that just now. Really I'm more involved at the present with a little play that we're doing called Talking to John and three of us in this company are rehearsing this. We're going to put it on as a late-night show from Edinburgh onwards. It's a 3/4 hour play and will mark my professional directorial debut. I directed at Manchester University when I was there but I haven't directed since and it's really exciting for me. The other two in the play are Stephanie Colbourne, who is playing Zog currently and Troy Webb, who is playing the Emperor Dalek. It's an adult piece; you've got to be prepared to listen to people talking about their relationships and that type of thing. It's an interesting piece and I'm looking forward to it going on. So that is filling quite a lot of my time!

What made you decide to bring out an audio version of the Cyberbook?

I recorded it for Talking Book. I record books for 'Talking Book', a Royal National Institute for the Blind, service. They employ professional actors to read for them and they wanted me to read my book. Sadly the whole version, which lasts twelve hours, is only available to people who belong to the Talking Books service. To belong to that you have to be a registered blind or partially-sighted person. There are about 300,000 people, I think, who qualify. I was glad to read it for them and I thought if I could use part of that material and release it commercially so that fans could get hold of it, they might find it quite interesting. I wanted to treat it in a different way. It goes right back to what I wanted to do with the history of the Cybermen. It seemed very important to me to make it a self-contained world so that you could discuss and consider the episodes - the exploits - of the Cybermen as though they were real.

It was this idea I had about pseudo-history; I didn't write about it in the book itself; not about the idea of pseudo-history, just the pseudo-history itself... the Pseudo-History of the Cybermen. I wanted to take that as a little unit - the idea of a fictional work being considered real and put it into some kind of medium where people can really enter into what I call the 'realm of pseudo-history'. The Talking Book medium was a way of doing that! When you put headphones on, when you turn lights out, when you concentrate on what's going on in your mind listening to a casette like that, you can enter into a totally different world. I wanted, by the use of sound-effects and music and so on, to be able to create a world of the ArcHivests who, themselves, were trying to evoke the world of the Cybermen. That's the basis of it. I think that it's a concept that is new to fandom in general because, where you get Tom Baker reading a Doctor Who story on tape or the Radio Play on tape, you haven't, in fact, got what you have here which is a re-creation of something that happened on the television, but considered as though it's real. I think that's quite exciting.

The first one that I did was the most difficult. It concerns the ArcHivest Ergailia's argument about the origin of the Cybermen; how they came about and piecing together all the facts. I hope that there are going to be three more so that the whole set will represent the ArcHive section of the book... my whole history of the Cybermen. I am actually working on the next in the series with Jeremy Dunn who does the sound here1. It is called The Early Cybermen and covers roughly the first five documents of ArcHivist Ergallia's history of the Cybermen.

Has it been quite cool for you on stage in Karl's string vest costume during this very hot weather?

It's been cooler than it has for most people. I'm really glad that I'm not playing the Cyberleader in this, for example, although it was never the case that I would be. I do feel for the Cybermen when they climb into their costumes; I even feel sorry for poor little Zog because Stephanie Colbourne does a marvellous job in there and I know she is really sweaty! In fact, when I take her hand for the curtain call my hand is wet just because there is a little fingerhole in the costume and all her sweat is pouring out. It is similar to having to empty your boots as a Cyberman at the end of a studio day. When I play the Cyberleader I play it for two days in a studio every two years, but Stephanie has to do it every night, at least for six months. So, from a temperature point of view, it's nice to wear a little bit of leather and a bit of string. It's also quite enjoyable knowing what it looks like, what it feels like. I really like the campery of it!

Have you been satisfied with the public response to the play?

Yes, where the theatres have done a good publicity job, we've been packed, absolutely packed. In Manchester, Glasgow, Bristol and Birmingham, we've had really good responses. One or two other places haven't been as dilligent with their publicity. Still, the response has been very good and, talking to people afterwards, they seem to enjoy the show. They accept it for what it is, a bit tongue-in-cheek, and even adults who just came to accompany their children are entertained by it. I think they feel that they're given quite good value because they come along and see not only Doctor Who, but all the effects... the laser effects, the time tunnel and people getting their heads cut off. They are illusions and I think it is a good night out for them.

I know it works very well, the play, because there are times when we've been packed to the rafters; there's a real rapport and what the Doctor has to do and say really comes over very well. The play runs away with itself. There's a real momentum set up and, by the end, when you're getting rid of the dSalekanium Bomb, the audience really rises to the occasion and it works very nicely.

Terrance Dicks is quite pleased with the way it's come together. It's taken an awful long time - about two or three weeks - for it to start getting into its stride. Obviously, when Colin came into it, it took a few days for him to adjust, but I think he's very much there now. He's certainly taken over the personality of the Doctor, changed it from Jon's Doctor to his own... brought in a lot of bad jokes and that kind of thing.

You stood in for Jon Pertwee as the Doctor a few times when he became ill. Was that difficult?

In the event it wasn't difficult. The difficult thing was actually making the decision to understudy the Doctor role. I didn't want to, at first, because I could see no advantage in it. I had to come to terms with the fact that, if I was going to do it, then I would be meeting a lot of disappointment from those who had paid to see Jon and who were suddenly confronted with a totally unknown Doctor. Having accepted that responsibility2, I then had to buckle down in rehearsals and learn not only my part and get to understand 'Karl', but also get a way of presenting my own Doctor. Who was my Doctor? Why was he? Why he said the things he did? How would he approach things? That period was very difficult - it was very hard work because the script was changing all the time and I had to keep up-to-date with that also. I have a reputation for being obsessively neat and tidy because I had my tippex and I kept using it to remove lines which were going and writing in new lines. I think that my script is the only one with all the changes in it!

When it actually came to it, we had been able to conduct understudy rehearsals every week so we were able to feel that we were keeping up with what was going on and maintain the fluency. So, when it actually came to Jon suddenly going off - suddenly becoming unwell and walking out, I felt a kind of relief in a way. It's funny to say that, but there's a kind of inevitability to it: you know - it's not fright, it's not nervousness - as I was taking off my make-up ready to get into the Doctor's suit I said to myself:
This is IT, you're going to do it!

and it just happened.

I found it very exciting to do and I just did it for two performances. It's something I'll never forget because that was one of the occasions I was talking about earlier - the two houses were absolutely packed. There were about 4,000 people altogether at those two performances. At the first one they knew that Jon had walked off and they knew someone else was stepping in. They were really very excited for me, which was extremely nice. At the evening performance the disappointment I expected from the audience was evident. There was a profound silence as my name was announced, taking over from Jon, and I just had to play my Doctor as best I could. Fortunately, they seemed to warm to it and, by the end, they seemed very supportive of me. Taking the final curtain call that night is one of the moments I shall always remember in my career... I think!


23.08.01. Front Page

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1He's the one who flips the tape on when the Cyberleader or the Daleks are meant to be talking to the Doctor or me.2It had been made worth my while with regards to the conditions I had asked for: being given my own costume and making my own Doctor.

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