Bernard Cribbins interview: Doctor Who, David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Daleks

Cameron chats to the wonderful Bernard Cribbins about Peter Cushing, Daleks, David Tennant, and being "the Doctor's most faithful companion"

Bernard Cribbins is one of the true Doctor Who legends, instantly becoming a fan favourite with his character Wilfred Mott alongside David Tennant and Catherine Tate during The Tenth Doctor era. Not only that, Bernard holds the very rare position of being in a Doctor Who movie, 1966’s Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD (out later this month on a shiny new cleaned-up Blu-ray release). 

I caught up with the national treasure to chat about all things Who, kicking off by looking at his cinematic offering, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

Peter Cushing played Dr. Who in your film, what was he like to work with?

I’d worked with him previously on a film called She which we did out in Israel. It was lovely to be in harness with Peter, who was a lovely man to work with and he was playing my boss in the film She, and virtually the same thing happened when we got into the Doctor Who film.

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How did you rate his portrayal of Dr. Who?

I thought he was rather quaint ‘cos he played him rather professorially and I always said that it was like he was chewing a mint at the same time [makes over the top chewing noises], smacking his lips! [Laughs] 

Looking back, what are your feelings on Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.?

I enjoyed it actually. I enjoyed doing it and we had a good time on it and a lot of giggles. We got smacked wrists one day, Peter [Cushing] and I, because it was the first scene where we meet up with a Dalek. We’d been captured and been marched up to the spaceship, and there’s a Dalek coming down the ramp and inside it was a guy called Bob Jewell, who was Australian, and he was the operator inside. And of course, he had the lines to speak to us so we could play the scene. He said something to the effect [Bernard puts on an Aussie accent], ‘And if you don’t comply, you will be exterminated’. Peter and I got terrible giggles and Gordon Flemyng, the Scottish director, was growling [Bernard treats us to a Scots accent], ‘Come on! Stop bloody laughing and do it!’  He got very cross with us and we had to apologise and wipe our tears away. It was the incongruity of a Dalek and [puts Australian accent on again] this little Aussie voice inside.

How do the 60s movie Daleks compare to those you faced in 2008?

I think they’re a bit upmarket now, aren’t they? They’re a bit like turbo-jobs! [Laughs] No, I think essentially they’ve got the same menace which is what was intended in the writing Terry Nation [creator of the Daleks] did all those years ago. I think they work extremely well as villains. 

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When you got the job in the film were you aware of Doctor Who on television?

Sort of, yes. I’d been working a lot in the theatre so I didn’t see too many episodes on a Saturday afternoon. Around that time I’d been doing a lot of theatre work so I wasn’t very familiar with them. 

Are you surprised that people are still enthused at the Dalek films?

No, no. I think a lot of people that saw them as children will still be intrigued and want to see them again; quite sure that that’s a huge part of its popularity. And also the fact that Doctor Who on TV screens is still very popular and people want to see another version of it, I’m sure. And also it was a good movie!

Were you keen to do another Doctor Who film?

I’d do one tomorrow of there was one! They’re good adventure stories, well written and well directed and they’re fun to do. And you’re usually working with a lot of people you know. It’d be great to do one – see if you can sort one out for us Cameron! [Laughs] 

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I think a lot people would like that!


Would you like to return to Doctor Who on television?

Yes. I would love to get back into it. It would be nice. I was thinking the other day that the unit down in Cardiff, that I was working with, were one of the best units I’ve ever worked with on any feature film or anywhere else. I’ve got such admiration for them. Everybody on the unit, from tea boy to producer, director were on the ball – everybody did their job. That is so essential. The quality of that shows through in the stuff I did with David Tennant.

What was it like working with Catherine Tate and David Tennant?

They were both smashing. They’re both lovely, absolutely lovely. We had a lot of fun doing it, a few laughs here and there [Laughs]. And good work as well, what more could you expect?

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There was an odd thing happened when I was doing the sequences with David Tennant. There was one day we were working and it was the first time I went into the TARDIS. Before we go out I said to David, ‘Do you know, the first time I was in the TARDIS was in 1966?’ and he looked at me and he said, ‘I wasn’t even born then!’ [Laughs] 

To be involved with David was absolutely super. 

Were you upset to learn that Russell T Davies had effectively made you the man that caused the “death” of David Tennant’s Doctor?

[Laughs] Well, he wrote it in such a charming way that I went in to save someone else anyway and was therefore trapped. I was just going [knocks four times on table], ‘Oi Doctor!’ I didn’t know what I was doing. It was a very nice bit of writing – the fact that, on the face of it, his best friend was the betrayer was rather sweet.

It was a heartbreaking moment

It was indeed, yes. He’d [Russell T Davies] written that, as he wrote most of his stuff, absolutely beautifully. 

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Were you ever approached to play the Doctor?

[Laughs] No, I wasn’t approached but I went along for an interview when Jon Pertwee was leaving and sat there with the producer and he said, ‘Right now, I’ve seen a lot of your work, what else can you do?’ I said, ‘Well I’m a very good swimmer. I’m not very good on horses.’ He said, “No no, he doesn’t ride a horse. Haw haw haw [Derisive laughter]’. I said, ‘I was a paratrooper, so I can fight,’ he said, ‘No no no, he doesn’t do any fighting at all. No.’ 

Of course, Tom Baker then got that particular role and one of the first things I remember him doing was knocking somebody out! [Laughs] I had a little laugh at the time when I was crying and thinking, ‘It wasn’t me!’ That was the nearest I ever came to becoming The Doctor.

What’s your favourite Doctor Who memory?

There was a nice moment at the end of the TV series. We had the wrap party and I was called on to stage by Russell T Davies, who’d written it, and he gave me two photographs in a frame. The top of the photograph was Peter Cushing and myself and a Dalek coming out of the River Thames and that morphed into David Tennant and myself going into the TARDIS. Underneath it said: ‘Bernard Cribbins – The Doctor’s most faithful companion.’ 

Russell is a cute observer, and that was so nice. A thing he did in the series, on TV, we’d been taking, having a cup of tea (or something) and I’d been allowed to wear my parachute regiment badge in my hat as the news vendor in the initial Christmas thing I did [2007’s Voyage of the Damned]. I talked about having been in Palestine, when the troubles were on out there, and he incorporated that into a scene with David when we were in the spaceship looking down [during The End of Time Part Two] and it was almost verbatim of what I’d said, two or three months before. That’s Russell putting his finger on things. 

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You’ve worked with Russell again recently on the BBC CBeebies show, Old Jack’s Boat.

When I knew I was doing that [the series], I got in touch with Russell and said, ‘Look, I’m doing this,’ and he said, ‘I’d love to do a couple,’ and he did two beautiful stories for me. Absolute crackers, they really were. I watched them the other day with a friend and we both got a gulp and tear in the eye. He’s such a clever lad.

Do you watch the current Doctor Who with actor Matt Smith?

No, I don’t to be honest. I’ve seen bits and pieces but, no, I’m doing other things on Saturday afternoons. 

What would Wilf make of the much younger Eleventh Doctor?

He wouldn’t mind at all. He could give him more advice than he could David Tennant! [Laughs] 

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Finally, who is your favourite Doctor?

I have two that I’m torn between – Tom Baker and, of course, David Tennant, with whom I worked. I would have to say if they were both in the same episode, that would be bliss. 

Many thanks Bernard, you’ve been brilliant.

My pleasure!

Doctor Who & the Daleks, and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. are out now on Blu-ray from StudioCanal.

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