Deborah Watling: actress whose short stint as a Doctor Who companion made a lasting impression

Deborah Watling was one of the Time Lord’s shortest-running companions in the TV sci-fi drama Doctor Who, but she made a lasting impression. As teenager Victoria Waterfield, alongside Patrick Troughton’s incarnation of the Doctor between 1967 and 1968, she was prim and naïve but also courageous and stubborn, with a piercing scream – which earned her the nickname ‘Leatherlungs’ as she battled Daleks, Yeti, Cybermen and Ice Warriors.

The trademark scream was at its most shrill when Victoria helped to destroy a seaweed creature that could not survive high-pitched sounds – before deciding to remain on Earth with a childless family, having joined the Doctor as an orphan after the Daleks murdered her Victorian scientist father.

Watling was born in London into a showbusiness family. Her father Jack and mother Patricia (née Hicks) were both actors, and her brother Giles (now an MP) and half-sister Dilys also went into the profession. Her younger sister, Nicky, acted briefly.

At the age of 10, having already appeared as a child extra in her father’s films, Watling made her TV début in HG Wells’s Invisible Man (1958-59) as Sally Wilson, kidnapped niece of the scientist who finds a way to disappear from sight. Other screen roles followed, including Carol Fellows, niece of the shy bachelor played by George Cole, in the sitcom A Life of Bliss (1960).

Watling played the Time Lord’s sidekick in the 1960s (BBC)

Her first stage part was Jan Dungavel in Roar Like a Dove, at Frinton Summer Theatre (1960). Back on TV, Watling was just 17 when she took the title role in Alice, Dennis Potter’s 1965 Wednesday Play about Alice in Wonderland creator Lewis Carroll and the girl who inspired the character.

This brought her to the attention of Doctor Who producer Innes Lloyd, but fame from the programme never quite brought Watling the subsequent stardom that some others found.

After she and her father played dad and daughter Hugh and Julie Robertson…

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