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Jeremy Bulloch Interviewed

One Hal of an Actor

By Jon Preddle

Jeremy Bulloch
Jeremy Bulloch signs autographs at Galaxion '99, London, October 1999. (Photo: Jon Preddle)

Very few British actors can include on their CVs the fact that they have appeared at least twice in three of the world's biggest screen cult classics. In an acting career spanning 42 years, Jeremy Bulloch, best known for his role as Star Wars' Boba Fett, Q's assistant Smithers in two James Bond films, and Robin of Sherwood's Edward of Wickham, has also appeared twice in Doctor Who; in The Space Museum with William Hartnell, and The Time Warrior with Jon Pertwee.

Jeremy Bulloch visited New Zealand in March 2000 as the headline guest at the ‘pulp culture expo’ Armageddon held at Auckland's Aotea Centre. Jeremy held two question and answer sessions, during which he spoke briefly about his work on Doctor Who. I did, however, have the opportunity to interview Jeremy, on behalf of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club, specifically about his work on Doctor Who. This feature is based therefore on material from our talk, with a few of the anecdotes from the Q&A sessions thrown in for good measure.

To start right back at the beginning of Jeremy's connection with Doctor Who, I asked him about his first role as Tor, the Xeron rebel, in The Space Museum: ”[I was] about 19, I think, when that was done. I did lots of kids' series, I did Billy Bunter, and a lot of things. (At 17 I did Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard.) A lot of the time [Doctor Who] was virtually live, there was no cutting. You just went right through the whole thing. There were these funny ray-guns we had to use against the Xerons, and - no, the Moroks, I was a Xeron... The guns had these old flash-bulbs in them, so the director used to say ‘Look, don't worry if the bulbs don't flash, just make a noise.’ So in the very first episode, we saw the Moroks, who were like very big Stormtroopers, moving towards us, and I remember having this belt which had these flash-bulbs in it. The first one didn't work, so you had to go ‘bzzzt’ like this, and the lovely thing was that no one at home watching this would know. No one would know; there were these strange noises and odd flashes.”

The Space Museum was made several years before Star Trek, and yet Jeremy notes that the alien make-up he wore was very similar to that of a very well-known Vulcan.

“It was terribly hot, the lighting was very hot, and we had these funny eye-brows, a bit like Spock, and sort of funny bits on our ears, if I remember. And these funny bits of hair, slightly higher eye-brow things, during the episodes, with the heat from the lights, would start slipping down, and you would sort of have to pick it up and stick it back on. That's how it was - you just got on with it.”

Despite these awkward moments, did he enjoy working on the show?

“I loved it because it was the first science fiction thing I'd done, and I'm a fan of science fiction. I've read a lot of Isaac Asimov. This was a fun thing, it was mainly a kids' thing, but of course, it's now become a cult.”

By the time Bulloch appeared again in the show it was in colour and featured a different Doctor. “The second story, which was with the late Jon Pertwee - who was an absolute delight - was The Time Warrior, where I was supposed to play Robin Hood, really; Hal the Archer. And I remember getting a call a few days before I was about to start, going up to Cheshire castle in England, and this man phoned up with a rather gruff voice. And he said, ‘Well, I'm an armourer and I've got to teach you to fire a bow and arrow in about two days and I don't know whether I can do that, as long as you listen to me, maybe you can do it. So you're coming up on the Friday night. I want you in the hotel, I'll take you out and try and make you look like an archer. Okay?’ I went to the hotel, and this man was there, and he had all these bows and arrows, and he said ‘My name is Tom, Tom Hamsen, I'm the armourer.’ He was rude, as simple as that.” [The BBC armourer in question may have in fact been Doug Needham, who is credited with training Bulloch in the use of a bow and arrow in The Time Warrior, (according to Andrew Pixley's Archive in Doctor Who Magazine issue 246)].

Jeremy recounts the story where the armourer fired an arrow and hit the side of the target. Jeremy had his turn and hit the centre of the target. The armourer didn't like this, and repeated the demonstration, again hitting the side. Bulloch had his second turn, and once again hit the bullseye. Again, this annoyed the armourer. “‘You still haven't got it,’ he said. ‘You're not watching what I'm doing.’” When Jeremy pointed out that he had managed to hit the centre twice, Tom said “‘Don't get cocky. Listen to what I'm saying. It doesn't matter whether you hit the centre of the target a hundred times, it's the way you're doing it.’ I said, ‘Oh, I see, I'm terribly sorry, I'll watch.’” And on his third turn Jeremy missed the target all together!

I presented Jeremy with a copy of Andrew Pixley's Archive feature on The Time Warrior from Doctor Who Magazine (issue 246). Jeremy was very keen to get copies of some of the photographs of him with Jon Pertwee as he didn't have a decent photo from the story for autographing.

While looking through the article, Jeremy remembered that The Time Warrior was Liz Sladen's first story. I asked if he knew the identity of the actress who was first cast as the companion. ”No, I wish I did!” he says.

With a gap of almost ten years between his two Doctor Who appearances, in the early 1980s Bulloch thought it was about time he returned to the show. “I remember being at the first Star Wars convention I did, in 1982 in Fort Lauderdale, and [Doctor Who] producer John Nathan-Turner was there. I saw him and said ‘John, how are you?’ I said, ‘I think it's about time I did another Doctor Who story. I've done one every ten years, you see.’” Sadly nothing further developed from this meeting. “It would have been nice to have done a third one.”

I asked Jeremy if the lead role in Doctor Who would be one he would like to have taken on. “Oh, yes. Well, there was one time when Colin Baker and Peter Davison did it, that my name was bandied about to play the Doctor as well. I think the Doctor should be older. He's got more experience, eccentricity. But although Colin and Peter were good, you know, it's an older man's part; a man in his fifties, I think, fifties coming up to sixties. You know he's an older man with an eccentric brain, but when he's younger it doesn't quite work for me. Patrick Troughton was very good, Tom Baker was good, William Hartnell was good in his way, and I loved Jon Pertwee, he was a fun man. A lot of fun.”

And while on the subject of the other Doctors, I asked if Jeremy saw the 1996 TV Movie?

“I quite enjoyed it, but it was a little bit too American for me. I prefer the British innocence. I thought Paul McGann was very good. I thought he did a terrific job.”

Has Jeremy seen his own two stories on video?

“I'm supposed to be getting a copy of The Space Museum soon.”

Mention of this prompted me to tell Jeremy of how the video was rush-released because of the discovery of The Lion in New Zealand last year.

“That's right,” he responds enthusiastically. “And I thought, how on earth... where did they get this from? And I met the guy who found it today [Neil Lambess]. That was really great. Thanks to him they released it.”

Bulloch is a popular guest at SF conventions around the world. In 1997 he attended some 24 conventions around the world to promote the release of the three Star Wars Special Editions. And later this year he is to attend an Astronauts' show in London which is to feature ‘spacemen’ of both fact and fiction.

“I'm doing [my first] convention this year for James Bond. I've done conventions for Robin of Sherwood in Detroit, and in London, one in Germany. But I've never done a Doctor Who convention! They keep saying ‘Oh you must come along,’ but that's as far as it got. That's something for me to do in the future.”

Many actors have a dream role. I asked Jeremy what his is. “I would like to play a special investigating policeman, something slightly unconventional, my own series.” Like The X Files, perhaps? I offered. “Something like that,” he says, “but something slightly different; he's a policeman, he's a detective who probably works undercover, and beautifully shot, wonderful story lines, something completely different.”

Finally, I asked Jeremy if he thought Doctor Who will ever come back? “I'm almost positive they're going to start doing it again,” he replies with a smile.

This item appeared in TSV 60 (June 2000).