It was on Saturday 18th June 1966
, fifty years ago today, that we said goodbye to the Doctor's long-term companion, Steven Taylor
Steven had been traveling with the Doctor since the departure of Ian and Barbara. He had traveled 3000 years into the past, and 100 million years into the future. He had battled The Monk and The Toymaker, met Doc Holiday and fought in the Trojan wars. He had become a steadfast companion to The Doctor, and together they had seen off The Dalek Masterplan. He had known tragedy, with the loss of two fellow companions. Now his skills were needed to rebuild a civilisation, and with much trepidation, he left the Doctor.
The actor Peter Purves
had won the role of Steven following a small cameo role in The Chase,
where he played the American tourist Morton Dill, encountering the Daleks at the top of the Empire State building.
The 26 year old actor's performance impressed the producers, and Verity Lambert
invited him to join the regular cast just three weeks later. Purves had an instant bond with William Hartnell
, who, with the departure of William Russell
and Jacqueline Hill
, found himself as the only remaining original member of the cast.
I got on with Hartnell extremely well. He was very generous to me, always gave me little acting tips. He’d been around a long time, had Bill, and he’d had some successes and some failures, He was just very friendly and nice with me, he confided in me, he told me the things he was happy with, the things he wasn’t happy with. I watched him being truly irascible with so many people, and think “Oh Bill, please no”. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, if he felt that people were not up to the level required, or not doing the job seriously or properly then he would get at them.
Hartnell was suffering from arteriosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, which caused memory loss, and was finding the pace of the show difficult to manage. The weight of leading the series increasingly fell onto Purves's shoulders, with the production team relying on the actor to keep the episodes on track.
Former script editor Donald Tosh
I had a huge respect for Peter as an actor, he was absolutely solid as a rock. Bill would suddenly cut, something, and you'd think nobody is going to understand the episode at all unless this line goes in. So one would slide down onto the floor and very quietly slip a note to Peter, on which was written 'for goodness sake mention so and so.' And he would.
"Well, who knows, my dear. In this strange complex of time and space, anything can happen.
Come along, little one. We must go. We mustn't look back."
The Doctor, The Savages Episode 4
By the spring of 1966 changes were afoot as a new producer had new ideas for the direction of the series. Innes Lloyd
had taken control in March and felt the series was becoming old fashioned, needing new, modern companions routed in the sixties. Both Purves and his colleague Jackie Lane
were told their contracts would not be renewed, with auditions held for two new companions...
Following his departure from the series Purves found work difficult to come by. Being a leading figure in a highly visible drama had led to typecasting and acting jobs dried up. His high profile, however, led to him being considered for a presenting role with the children's magazine programme Blue Peter
. He accepted a six-month contract on the show, to tide him over until the acting career picked up, and stayed for ten years. Purves, along with John Noakes
and Valerie Singleton
became the dream team, so much a part of so many childhoods.
Part of his duties on the series was to look after Petra
, the Blue Peter dog, leading to a lifelong passion for the animals, presenting the Crufts Dog show
for over 36 years. Other presenter roles included hosting Stopwatch
and We're Going Places
as well as Darts
events and the long-running motorcycle series Kick Start
He continues to act with many theatre appearances as well as roles in EastEnders
and The Office.
He has reprised the role of Steven for Big Finish Productions.
Steven's departure heralded a sea change for Doctor Who. Over the following 12 episodes, the entire TARDIS crew would change, the final links with the genesis of the programme would be broken. The changes could have marked the beginning of the end for the series. In hindsight, they only marked the end of the beginning.
Sources: Peter Purves Official Website
; The End of the Line - documentary produced by Ed Stradling for the DVD release of The Gunfighters; The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994)