In the mid-1960s, Peter Purves was cast to play space pilot Steven Taylor (no relation to Steven Tyler, who these days looks and dresses like Eddie Monsoon), on the TV series Doctor Who. Steven was a fairly heroic character who was quite popular. Sadly, these days most of his stories are missing, with only four of his adventures intact.
Nevertheless, the character remains popular with fans of the series, and Purves, who later went on to host Blue Peter, has returned to the role in recent years through the Big Finish Companion Chronicles series, and even appeared alongside the Fifth Doctor in “The Five Companions”. I caught up with Purves at the recent Gallifrey One convention where he was kind enough to put up with an interview.
ME: We all know you from the original Doctor Who, Blue Peter and, of course, your appearance in The Office. Lately you’ve been doing the Big Finish Audios. I assume you’ve been enjoying that?
PURVES: I love it. It really is the only acting I get to do these days, because as a television presenter, you really get sort of pigeon-holed, and there’s no way back to acting seriously. So I’m very pleased that they found me writeable for, you know? It seems like Simon Guerrier writes a lot of lines for the Doctor to speak, and I do some passable impressions of that.
ME: You do one of the best Hartnells I’ve heard so far.
PURVES: Thank you very much. So it means that they write more and more lines for the Doctor, too, so at certain scenes, it seems like I’m talking to myself, and I have to change voices. But I enjoy that, and it’s good fun.
ME: What has been your favorite audio so far?
PURVES: Oh, I don’t know. There’s been quite a lot. I loved “The Anachronauts”. I thought that was terrific, with Jean Marsh. The trilogy I did with Tom Allen.
ME: The Oliver stories?
PURVES: That’s right.
ME: That’s really my personal favorite of the whole of the Companion Chronicles.
PURVES: Oh, bless you. That’s nice. They were good fun to do, and he’s such a good actor. We found a real rapport on radio there, and it worked real well. I also liked, well, I liked them all to a certain-you know, I think they all have merit.
ME: Even the ones you aren’t in?
PURVES: Well, to be honest I haven’t listened to a lot that I’m not in. I listened to “The Rocket Men” because we’ve just done “The Return of the Rocket Men”, which I loved.
ME: Oh, yes, let me suck up for a bit. I think your performance in that was particularly good, playing the two different versions of Steven.
PURVES: Oh, thank you. They’re quite a challenge, you know? It’s very precise, and the production values are massive. Big Finish are an exceptional company. They’ve got a massive portfolio, as you know. It really is huge. And I’m glad to be a part of it. A small part, but a part of it.
ME: Now I understand that the Companion Chronicles are coming to an end, and they’re going to do something called the Early Years. Now have you any part in those?
PURVES: Yeah, I’m doing two almost immediately. I’m doing one at the end of February, so that’s in a couple weeks time, with Maureen O’Brien, and I’m doing one at the beginning of March, just a couple weeks later, with Jean Marsh.
ME: Oh, wonderful! I’ve been watching the new version of Upstairs, Downstairs, and it’s been quite a thing for me to see her on there, because of course most of her episodes [of Doctor Who] aren’t around anymore.
PURVES: That’s right. I love Jean, and we get on very well together. I love working with her.
ME: Is there anything in particular you’d like to see done next with Steven?
PURVES: No. I think he’s grown immensely during the time Big Finish have been dealing with him, because the writers have had the opportunity of fleshing him out more. I mean, they know more about Steven now than even I did before. I mean, I played him, but I only knew about him what was in my scripts, and it was fairly two-dimensional. I think he’s more three-dimensional now. I’ve learned more about the background now, and people like Simon Guerrier write wonderful accurate science, and the science involved in the story is pretty clever and pretty precise. And I think he’s developed Steven as a very plausible futuristic character, and that, for me, works.
ME: I’ve enjoyed the fact that Steven has actually been able to use his piloting skills. During the TV series, it was basically just an informed attribute.
PURVES: Yeah, and the references back to that, and his ability to do certain things, that makes it more interesting for me. I mean, these things, you read the scripts and you go and record them, and it only takes a couple of days, or a day, in some cases, to record them. So, I mean, you haven’t got a massive involvement with them. But I do like them, and I thoroughly enjoy my involvement with them. I’m very glad that Big Finish like me and that I can do work for them.
ME: Speaking purely as a fan, I’m very happy you do the audios. My experience with Steven has been otherwise very limited. I mean, I’ve seen “The Gunfighters”, which has many fine attributes…
PURVES: You say that with a slight smile on your face.
ME: That song. That song remains in one’s head, let’s say.
PURVES: Unfortunately it does. I’ve almost erased it.
ME: I can sing a few bars if you like.
PURVES: Please, please no! It won’t leave me for weeks!
ME: If you had had the chance, back in the day, to do a reappearance on the original series, would you have done so?
PURVES: Oh, I would, yes. I always wished—I always thought there was a possibility that the Doctor might come back to the planet where Steven remained.
ME: He was left behind as a king to some savages, right?
PURVES: That’s right, and it would have been quite interesting to find out what happened, and how he survived that, and maybe thirty years down the line, he’d become some sort of despot.
ME: And of course the other question I have to ask; would you appear in the new series if you were asked?
PURVES: I was very cheesed-off that in the special the BBC are doing I wasn’t asked to play Bill Hartnell, and went with David Bradley! I’m disgusted! [laughter] No, I’d love to, but it’s highly unlikely to happen.
ME: TV being what it is.
PURVES: TV being what it is.
We are currently seeking Doctor Who contributors on WhatCulture. To find out more about the perks of being a Doctor Who contributor, click here.