Published on February 27th, 2013 | by Philip Bates
Who in Who is: Martin Jarvis
As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’re looking back at some of the pivotal tales of all of time and space, taking on one Doctor each month, running up to November – and An Unearthly Child…
Concluding this month’s examination of 1985’s Vengeance on Varos, we look at a man instantly recognisable to Whovians. You can read Introducing: Vengeance on Varos here.
Martin Jarvis is probably best known to Who fans as the Governor in Vengeance on Varos, or perhaps to some as Butler in 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but his Doctor Who debut actually came much earlier – though few would actually recognise him.
Jarvis, now one of the country’s leading actors, had only just begun his TV career when he appeared opposite the First Doctor, William Hartnell, in The Web Planet. After attending RADA (where he met Catherine Fleming, a vocal coach who voiced the Animus in the 1965 six-parter), Doctor Who was only Martin’s second job on television, his first being in The Indian Tales of Rudyard Kipling the previous year. In The Web Planet, written by Bill Strutton, Jarvis played the captain of the Menoptra, Hilio, and the limited production values of 1960s Who meant the team had to create the planet, Vortis, and its many inhabitants on a shoestring budget. Jarvis recalls:
It took an awfully long time to get the make-up on and off during The Web Planet. Daphne Dare was the costume designer, and she said to me ‘Martin, would it be alright if we don’t take your wings off at lunchtime?’ I said it was fine, anything was fine, but at lunchtime I remember going to the canteen, which was two floors up in the lift [laughs] and having to get into the lift very quickly.
It was almost ten years until Martin returned to Doctor Who, in which time his portfolio grew and grew, encompassing adaptations like Little Women (1970), 1974’s David Copperfield (alongside David Troughton, son of Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton) and 1968’s Nicholas Nickleby (in which he played the lead role). And by which time, Doctor Who’s popularity was ever-increasing, leading Jarvis’ two sons, Oliver and Toby, to beg him to appear in the show again.
He played Butler in 1974’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs (which you can read more about here), appearing opposite Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. But twisting time, taking part in Operation Golden Age and larking about with some prehistoric beasties wasn’t the best thing that happened to Jarvis in 1974.
In November 1974, he married Rosalind Ayres.
Ayres is probably best-known as the Gran in the hit BBC comedy, Outnumbered, but her TV career stretches back to 1970’s A Family At War. Rather surprisingly, Ayres herself hasn’t appeared in Doctor Who, apart from two audio adventures for Big Finish, Jubilee, and part of the BBC’s Torchwood: The Lost Files set, The House of the Dead.
The pair are, in fact, experts in the field of audio, launching their own radio production company, Jarvis and Ayres Productions, and are credited with countless serious and comic audio dramas, particularly for BBC Radio 4. Aside from this, Jarvis is also the voice of many creations on TV, film and in video games, including The Chronicler in Spyro the Dragon, Alfred in Batman: Arkham City and Saitine in the recent Disney movie, Wreck-It Ralph. He even jokingly said his biggest disappointment is:
Losing the voice-over for Toilet Duck to Chris Tarrant.
He also starred opposite his wife in Jubilee, playing Nigel Rochester, President of the English Empire on a parallel Earth, and would-be greengrocer. It’s the only time Jarvis has faced up to the Doctor’s most-iconic and prolific enemy, the Daleks, but the second time he encountered Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor.
As the Governor on Varos, Martin was tortured by his own people and had to endure Sil the Mentor’s sickening laugh. His only joy, of course, was Sil’s translation circuits mispronouncing certain words. Isn’t that right, Governure? Of Vengeance on Varos, he says:
It was a very Shakesperean script by Philip Martin, and I played this sort of Brutus character, a very Shakesperean character – was he a weak man, was he a strong man? This was in about 1984 or 1985, and it predicted what eventually happened in television.
The two-part story is often accused of being too violent – and perhaps a reason why Doctor Who was put on hiatus following the season. Martin echoes the feeling of the time:
There were questions asked in the House [of Commons] about this episode, and whether it was suitable fare for children. I don’t know if Doctor Who is for children, I think it’s for everyone, but there was still a feeling that this was for children; it was on a Saturday night. And Jason Connery was also in the episode, and there was a part where he was going to be hung. There was a noose, and it was quite dangerous.
Regardless, his portrayal of the Governor was layered and interesting, and he remembers his time on the series with fondness:
It was a really good script; it was actually saying what a difficult society we’re entering. It was a brilliantly prophetic script. So that’s my contribution to Doctor Who and I’m very grateful for it.
Martin Jarvis has certainly had a varied and acclaimed career, earning himself an OBE in 2000. And with three memorable performances in ‘Classic’ Who under his belt, as well as a Big Finish audio adventure, surely he and his wife could crop up in the new series too.