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Ilona Rodgers Interview

Interview conducted by Kingi Milward

Actress Ilona Rodgers talks to TSV about her role as Carol Richmond from an early Doctor Who tale, The Sensorites.

Whereas Ilona Rodgers is renowned for her more familiar role as Maxine from the TV series Gloss, The Sensorites is one of her earliest, perhaps forgotten roles. In fact the British-born actress has had a varied and expansive acting career stretching back to the sixties.

Ilona explained what acting experience she had had prior to Doctor Who.

"It was the second production I did for the BBC. Prior to that I had been in a Dickens show and Emergency Ward 10 for ATV."

"All BBC productions were rehearsed in old church halls and then the team moved into the studio three or two days before 'the take'. It was also 'live on tape' in those days so unless a piece of scenery fell down, there was no going back!!"

Ilona has in fact appeared in everything from The Avengers to The Beverly Hillbillies, together with long runs in many others. How had Ilona been offered the part in The Sensorites?

"Verity Lambert, the producer of Doctor Who at that time, saw me working at the BBC and asked for me."

What about the Sensorites? How had Ilona viewed these early Doctor Who 'monsters'?

"Relative to then they were ingenious. In retrospect maybe they would be a bit corny, but television has grown so fast in its forty years of existence."

Although a certain appeal stemmed from the creativeness of design for the 'monsters', the Sensorites perhaps failed to make an impact due to their slightly comic appearance, notably the Mickey Mouse shaped feet. Dare I say whether the Sensorites had found it at all difficult walking on circular feet?

"Not being a Sensorite I can't say because it wasn't a problem that I had to deal with and as it's not over twenty years ago wee bits of information like that have disappeared into the mist of time."

Despite the brevity of her time on Doctor Who, Ilona clearly remembers the futuristic sets for this story.

"The sets were wonderful; so many of the buttons worked and many times the actors would stay in over lunch just to play!"

As with all live television, frequent mishaps during recording were invariably kept in as live recording did not often allow for second takes. In another show, on one occasion a door managed to come away in Ilona's hand as the camera flashed to her. Not so, however, in The Sensorites, which experienced any such setbacks.

"William Hartnell was an old man and he would often go back into another script, so the actors had to be on their toes to steer him back onto the episode being filmed. I can't remember any serious incident happening other than forgotten dialogue. It was like 'live' theatre in those days."

"In those days most or many programmes were 'live to tape', so ad-libbing was done as is done in the theatre."

What about production problems? Recording within the confines of such a notoriously tiny studio, had any difficulties emerged?

"I have to admit my memory is somewhat foggy on that question; I've done so many TVs since. I remember we filmed at Lime Grove Studios which were old and very hot so the poor Sensorites suffered somewhat."

Given that the Sensorites were practically identical, it is perhaps surprising that there was no confusion amongst the actors as to which Sensorite was which.

"I don't remember any confusion because we had always rehearsed without costumes and so all the actors knew where they should be. During breaks the Sensorites had their head gear off."

Her memories of The Sensorites alternating between vague and sharp, Ilona clearly recalled the incidental music, which in those days was played out loud on cue during filming.

Norman Kay, who composed for An Unearthly Child and The Keys of Marinus continued his distinctive style for the weird scenarios of The Sensorites.

"The music was good; it gave atmosphere. In fact to theatre actors it was the next best thing to a live theatre performance; the overture and then performing in story sequence.

"Nowadays stories are filmed out of sequence and the actor must work harder to build the climax of the story into the scenes without having the natural build up, of the story in sequence."

Having appeared in six such early episodes as The Sensorites, Ilona Rodgers is perhaps best able to describe the original Doctor Who.

"Sci Fi was very new then, so of course it was an immediate success and the sets and concepts were very ambitious for TV in those days."

Asked finally if she recalled having watched The Sensorites back in 1964, Ilona briefly concludes, "I enjoyed it."

This item appeared in TSV 13 (May 1989).

Reprinted in: The Best of TSV 1-20, TSV: The Best of Issues 1-20