If there’s one actress who became trapped by the very thing that propelled her to stardom then it’s Carole Ann Ford.
When audiences first caught a glimpse of the eerie, intense Susan, granddaughter to the Doctor – with a fierce intellect and an otherworldly beauty – she became an iconic fixture in a show already turning heads.
Soon however, that same mesmerising strangeness became common place; the thrills and potential evaporated and Ford found herself trapped in a role that was fast closing off all avenues for not only character development but for her own development as an actor:
“It destroyed my acting career”
It’s a state of affairs that the actress has been reticent to talk about but when interviewed in The Telegraph (published coincidentally with the broadcast of The Reunion, a show all about the intimate moments behind landmark cultural and historical events) she found herself going back in time; back to her twenties when she was just a working actress and Doctor Who was just another, albeit unusual, job:
“At that moment, it was just another job…You learn your lines, you turn up, you don’t bump into the furniture and you take your money, you know? It soon became fairly clear that it was more than that, though.
After a false start that first episode finally made it to air. However, all that was promised during its difficult genesis failed to materialise; much to the chagrin of the confident and ambitious Ford:
“I was a very good dancer and had been an acrobat. They told me Susan was going to be an Avengers-type girl – with all the kapow of that – plus she would have telepathetic powers. She was going to be able to fly the TARDIS as well as her grandfather and have the most extraordinary wardrobe. None of that happened.
“I don’t know why…”
Despite the adulation and recognition the role brought her Ford quit the show in 1964:
“It had become so repetitive…
Sometimes I see Matt Smith’s Doctor look at these disgusting alien creatures in front of him and say something like, ‘Oh, you are beautiful.’ It would have been so nice to say that occasionally, instead of running away shouting, ‘Aagh!’”
Even after Ford walked away from the TARDIS audiences weren’t as willing to follow her on to new and different paths:
“I must say that when I left Doctor Who, I was filled with… not loathing, but I was incredibly annoyed because I wanted to do more television and films and the only thing that people could ever see me in was a recreation of what I had done. A Susan clone. Some kind of weird teenager. I wanted to do work that would disconnect me from Doctor Who. That is a very difficult thing to accomplish, as many other actors who have played the companions have found out.”
Ford even went as far as playing a prostitute in an episode of a detective series, but it was to no avail:
“I had the most searing letters from parents of small children who had been allowed to stay up late to watch this, because I was in it and they thought it was going to be something akin to Doctor Who. They were saying, ‘How dare you do this? You are a role model.’”
Despite protestations about the overt sexualisation of the Doctor and his companions from both Peter Purvis and An Unearthly Child/100,000 BC director Waris Hussein; Ford finds the suddenly flirtatious relationship on board the TARDIS liberating in a way that her role as Susan wasn’t:
“How I envy them when I look at what they do, and what I had to do.” .
She also went on to praise new companion Jenna-Louise Coleman:
“Oh my God, I thought it was fantastic. I love the new girl. I think she is wonderful, she is everything it requires.”
For more on Carole Ann Ford’s opinion on her career, her near-death experience and her thoughts on the current series, The Reunion is available to listen to on the iPlayer now, while you should certainly check the full interview in The Telegraph.