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Michael Craze Obituary

By Paul Scoones

Michael Craze was born 29 November 1942 in Newquay, Cornwall. His career began after he was discovered to have a completely untrained pure soprano voice whilst taking part in a boy scout gang show. At the age of twelve he began performing in West End musicals The King and I, Plain and Fancy and Damn Yankees, before turning to straight acting when his voice broke. He went into repertory theatre as soon as he left school, against the wishes of his family who wanted him to study law.

Branching out into television acting, Craze's first role was a show called Family Solicitor which was followed by an appearance in Armchair Theatre in 1958. Michael's first exposure to science fiction television came in 1960 when he played the son of a rocket scientist in the ground-breaking 1960 ABC TV six-part space serial Target Luna.

Michael appeared in two early sixties British films, Spare the Rod (1961) and Two Left Feet (1963) alongside stars such as Michael Crawford, Donald Pleasance, Max Bygraves, Nyree Dawn Porter and Julia Foster. He also continued to work in the theatre, and spent more than a year in the play Chips With Everything, at first in the West End and then on a national tour.

His association with Doctor Who began with an audition for producer Innes Lloyd at which Craze performed a monologue from Chips With Everything. Craze was then called back to see director Michael Ferguson and after a third call, at which he was informed that the part was a regular character, he was offered the role of the Doctor's new male companion, Ben Jackson at the end of April 1966.

Craze was already familiar with Doctor Who because whilst working in a theatre in Harrogate he and his fellow cast members gathered around a television to watch the series after performing in matinee on Saturday afternoon and then rush back to the theatre in time for the evening show.

Able Seaman Ben Jackson first appeared in Episode 1 of The War Machines, befriending Polly, played by Anneke Wills, in the Inferno night club, and later helping the Doctor in his investigation of the computer WOTAN. When the Doctor departed at the end of the story, Ben and Polly went with him.

Remarkably, Craze and Wills were not introduced until after they were cast, and first met at a photographic session for the series. Fortunately, they got along very well together and saw a lot of each other socially. For six weeks while waiting for a new flat to become available, Craze stayed with Anneke and her then-husband, actor Michael Gough.

Craze met his wife, Edwina, through Doctor Who, although their first meeting, on the set of The Tenth Planet, was less than ideal. Michael had broken his nose just prior to starting work on Doctor Who, and during a break following The Smugglers, he went into hospital to have his nose properly mended. Complications arose during the operation which meant that he was still recuperating when he began work on The Tenth Planet. Craze's first work on the serial was for a scene filmed at Ealing Studios where they first encounter the Cybermen in a snowstorm. Edwina Verner was the Production Assistant (she worked on six Who stories, the last being Terror of the Zygons), and had the task of directing a wind machine to blow polystyrene ‘snow’ around the studio. Craze was concerned that this might damage the work done on his nose, and despite his request to keep the wind machine away from his face, Edwina blew the fake snow right at him. The incident was later fondly remembered by Craze and they married three years later.

Soon after he began work on the series, Craze was told that William Hartnell was leaving and that the show would continue with a new actor playing the Doctor. Craze and Wills consequently played an important role in determining the series' survival of its first change of lead actor, by helping viewers accept the new Doctor, Patrick Troughton, in The Power of the Daleks. Off-screen, both regulars welcomed the change of actor; their relationship with Hartnell had been difficult and by contrast they both got on very well with Troughton and later Frazer Hines, who soon joined the TARDIS crew as new companion Jamie McCrimmon.

Craze left Doctor Who after nine stories. The original plan was for Ben and Polly to be written out in the second episode of The Evil of the Daleks, with the pair electing to remain in present-day London whilst the Doctor and Jamie travel back to 1866. However a late change of mind by producer Innes Lloyd in early February 1967 saw their characters disappear suddenly early in the second episode of The Faceless Ones, returning only for the final scene of the story. Neither Craze or Wills were happy with the way they were abruptly removed from the series - Craze would have preferred Ben to have gone out with a ‘dramatic bang’ rather than just drift away. Both actors were however paid off for the episodes in which they were originally intended to appear.

Following Doctor Who, Michael continued to work in television, with roles in Dixon of Dock Green, Gideon's Way, No Hiding Place, Z-Cars, Journey to the Unknown and many more. He also appeared in 21 episodes of the long-running soap opera Crossroads.

Although Craze continued to watch Doctor Who following his departure, he had no further connection with the series until 1973, at which time he posed for photographs with Anneke Wills and a couple of Cybermen in Norfolk for the Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Radio Times special.

In 1974, Michael left full-time acting and devoted his time to managing a pub in Shepperton. He continued to take on occasional acting roles, however. In 1994, he appeared in the BBC television play The Healer as well as doing several day's work on Kenneth Branagh's 1994 movie adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Director Graeme Harper, once asked Craze to appear again on Doctor Who playing a new character in a four part story (most likely The Caves of Androzani). Although Harper wanted to give Craze the part, he was overruled on the grounds that an actor couldn't be cast who had previously appeared in the series as a regular character.

In early 1993, Craze recorded an introduction at the Longleat exhibition for a later abandoned BBC Video release of The Tenth Planet. Craze was a guest at many Doctor Who conventions over the years, and it was at one of these events, ManoptiCon in Manchester in May 1993, that he was reunited with Anneke Wills for the first time in twenty years.

Craze's last convention appearance was as a guest at 35up, a 35th Anniversary event held at BAFTA in London, on Saturday 14 November 1998, where he was reunited once more with former co-stars Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines. Sadly, just over three weeks later he collapsed at his home and later died peacefully in hospital on Monday 7 December, aged 56.

This item appeared in TSV 56 (October 1998).