In Playing Ben Jackson Part I, Elliot Chapman (shown dressed as Sixie at Big Finish Day 7) talked in great depth about approaching the role of Ben Jackson and gave a unique actor’s insight into how Michael Craze originally performed with the First Doctor. In this second part Elliot talks about Ben’s time with the Second Doctor, and Jamie.
Elliot can also be heard in this month’s The Forsaken.
The Power of the Daleks
Enter Patrick Troughton! But, hang on, it’s not only the Doctor that’s regenerated…
Within an episode, I suddenly realised Mike Craze was using his voice in a very different way. Whether he had relaxed into the role of Ben, or reached a point of making a decision on how to use it differently for telly, the placement has become deeper. His voice has more bass and richness (what actors might call browner tones) emerging, along with a slightly rougher edge. It sits further back in the throat. If we were to attach a psychological explanation, perhaps it’s because this particular time traveller has gained in confidence and experience and is not so ‘green.’
What was fascinating for me was that I now needed to have at least two variations on Ben’s voice, in case some stories for Big Finish were set more towards the beginning or to the end of his and Polly’s run!
I love how physical Ben is in this one. I’d like to think I would have been up for the chance to do some of that swimming, if I had played the part on television! As a proud Royal Life Saver, I would have been champing at the bit to do all that stuff Mike got to do here.
Of course, we now see the arrival of the brilliant Frazer Hines as Jamie. This inevitably changes the dynamic of the TARDIS crew and, despite Mike and Frazer having to share up lines, it’s a positive development. Indeed, there are some lovely status games, with Ben often trying to play the older brother figure to Jamie.
On another note, although it’s almost invisible at this stage, it’s important for actors to think about the sex lives of their characters, in addition to everything else.
I pondered that, while Ben might have been initially antagonistic with Polly (Simon Guerrier and I discussed how even the ‘Duchess’ nickname is initially a put-down but becomes a term of endearment), surely it was impossible for him not to realise he was travelling with such a beautiful, charming and vivacious young woman?
So, I ran with the idea he was playing a long game.
Celibacy seems to be something of by-product of travelling in the TARDIS in the old series (well, for the most part – there are exceptions) but it was too odd to think of two young, passionate characters just forgetting about the romantic side of life (unless the TARDIS air conditioning contains something that lowers the sex drive!). As such, I imagined a kind of dance between them; they had become mates over the course of their adventures and they had faced death. This inevitably brings people closer together. Perhaps it brought them together so quickly they both missed the window of opportunity for romance. I do also wonder if the arrival of Handsome Hines as James Robert McCrimmon makes Ben realise that not only might a different sort of relationship with Polly now be rather more difficult but that – horror – she might fancy Jamie!
The Underwater Menace
I loved the pairing of Ben and Jamie here. There’s a tension between them, a sense they’re still sizing each other up, but they are as entertaining as having Ben and Polly share scenes. Moreover, the four person line-up is so great for running parallel stories and altering the kinds of tone – one week the Doctor and Polly/Ben and Jamie, the next week the Doctor/Ben and Polly/ Jamie, the third week, etc, etc.
Those permutations were potentially so exciting, it’s such a pity that Ben and Polly don’t last beyond The Faceless Ones.
I find it interesting how often Polly comes up with the ideas, before an initially sceptical Ben gets won round and helps her realise her aim. She’s the imaginative thinker and he’s the practical thinker. Together it’s a winning combination and it results in the famous ‘Polly cocktail,’ in this occasion!
I was amused by just how much knowledge Ben acquires here about nuclear physics and astronomy, then I realised I was falling into a trap Kit Pedler clearly wasn’t – I was stereotyping the salt-of-the-earth London boy. So, thank you Moonbase for reminding me that there’s so much more to people than meets the eye and that it’s my job as an actor to realise this and try to include those nuances.
At first, one of my ‘ways in’ with Ben was to think of him as the cockney version of James Bolam’s character in The Likely Lads, Terry Collier. There’s a certain physical resemblance between young Bolam and Craze, I felt, and I detected overlap in the characters they were playing. But, with The Moonbase (and Ben’s clear knowledge and enquiring mind) another influence came into the mix – young David Bowie. The idea of the London boy (see what I did there, Bowie fans?) who is streetwise and with attitude (I’m talking 1960s mod Bowie, not the androgynous alien of the early 1970s) but who’s also a voracious reader, really appealed to me and it all started to layer into how I saw Ben. Of course, Ben wouldn’t be reading Baudelaire and William Burroughs so much as technical and science articles alongside the sports pages.
The Macra Terror
I could drone on about this one. It was my favourite of the season during my research phase and, of course, it’s the one in which Ben turns traitor.
Although he is under the influence of a malign force, there are some fascinating tensions in the telling of that story and two brilliant decisions by Craze.
The first is how he aligns Ben’s identity with his voice and accent – that is a sign of where he comes from and who he is, of course – but as he succumbs to the Macra, so Craze tones down the cockney. Indeed, he leans towards a Received Pronunciation delivery whenever the colony gets the upper hand and dials up a little of the cockney when he regains some control (pun unintended).
Best of all, though, his remarkable choice to play Ben’s realisation of what has happened to him for four episodes by having him pretty much break down and cry. Bold stuff.
The Faceless Ones
In many ways, this is the start of the second Doctor and Jamie era and Polly pretty much goes through a similar situation to Ben in the previous story while he rather vanishes from the action for long periods.
The end is sad; two brilliant companions leave the series that, arguably, still have so much to give (thank God Big Finish has come along to redress not only this, but so many other parts of Doctor Who cut off too soon). While the TV series would be a much sadder place without Debbie Watling and Wendy Padbury’s contributions, it does seem we lose the sailor and the duchess prematurely.
What do I think happened next?
Well, I don’t think Ben and Polly got together.
I think they stay mates but perhaps go their separate ways. Apologies to the genius that is Russell T Davies, but I’m not sure about his explanation of their post-Faceless Ones life in The Sarah Jane Adventures (thanks to a fan at the Pandorica convention in Bristol 2014 for telling me about that story).
The thing is, we first meet Ben alone and melancholy in a bar. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Ben today would still be alone and melancholy in a bar, or a pub and perhaps even one he owned! I couldn’t imagine him married. Or, if he had been, it might have ended. There might be some children. However, I could never escape the feeling that Ben was and is a very interior person who ponders what it’s all about and is perhaps a little haunted by the vagaries of life. And it’s a credit to Michael Craze that it’s his performance that gives me such a fascinating idea of, what is – in so many ways – a rather enigmatic character beneath the surface.