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Mark Strickson, interviewed by Gary Russell

5:45pm, February 15, 2013, Program A

Gary Russell interviews the actor behind the enigmatic Turlough, Mark Strickson, whom we welcome back for his first appearance at Gallifrey One in twelve years.

     To be honest, when I went into the Mark Strickson panel, I was not expecting much. I have not seen very many Classic Who episodes, and I was just hoping to snag a good seat for the Opening Ceremonies which were to immediately follow his interview. I figured I would find a seat, sit down, and try not to fall asleep. That is not what happened.

     Mark Strickson has one of the most interesting and varied careers I have ever heard of. He started as a chorister with an early memorable role as a fairy in Midsummer Nights Dream. He was also in a very popular film version of A Christmas Carol. He enjoyed acting, but after some time in the business, he decided he wanted to do something more real. Acting is after all, by its very definition, pretend.

     He moved to Australia to get a zoology degree, and shortly thereafter he began shooting Nature Documentaries. Around the BBC, he is rather infamous for his Crocodile Documentary. They call the day it aired “Black Wednesday” because half of their viewers disappeared to watch it on ITV. Speaking of crocodiles, who knew that Mark Stickson discovered The Crocodile Hunter? When Strickson was making his first documentary (The Ten Deadliest Snakes in the World.), he and his production team sent out a request to local zoos to find someone good at handling snakes. Apparently Steve Irwin’s wife sent in a tape, and Strickson remembers they all thought that he was either going to be a star or a disaster. The rest is history.

     Speaking of snakes, Strickson insists that they are not scary. Sharks and crocodiles are scary. In fact, he has almost been killed by a crocodile... twice. Happily the first time he had a hollow bamboo pole with him. Apparently crocodiles have very tiny brains in a very large cavity in their skulls. If you hit them hard on the top of the head, they think they have encountered a much large crocodile. Of course, as Strickson pointed out, this strategy cannot be employed unless the crocodile is less than a bamboo pole’s length away, and those creatures are fast.

     Strickson has a lot of experience with scary animals. His only animal related injury, however, was from a pig named Tyson. He was using sardines and sausages to lure the pig towards a crocodile nest because pigs eat crocodile eggs, and he wanted to film it. Unfortunately Tyson mistook his finger for a sausage.
     Crocodiles, sharks, snakes, and pigs may be scary, but when it comes to the most dangerous animals, humans take the cake. Strickson told us about an encounter he had in a third world country with the locals which was far more life threatening than any animal encounters he had experienced. The story was somewhat complex, but it ended with a line something to the effect of “well apparently these men wanted to have sex with us, and then a gunfight broke out.” I found myself sitting there flabbergasted. This story was not a film he played a part in, this was his life. He has had malaria twice, trench foot, and DVT.

     With all the interesting other aspects of his life, it was not until nearly the end of the interview, that the interviewer finally got around to asking about Doctor Who. Strickson had been acting in a Soap Opera called Angels as a minor recurring character when he heard that Doctor Who might be interested in casting him as a companion. Apparently the producer of the Soap wanted him to take over the lead role, but he really wasn’t interested. In a bold, and possibly ill-advised move, he knocked on the producer of Doctor Who’s beg for the part a few weeks before they planned to have actors read for the role. Fortuitously, the Doctor Who guy had a bit of a personal tiff with the woman in charge of the Soap, so he let Strickson read for him. Strickson was given the role of Turlough.

     When talking about his time on Who, Strickson seemed to mainly remember how nice people were. He repeated the sentiment multiple times. When the interviewer asked him about what felt special about being on the show, Strickson pointed out that the people in charge of the show knew they had a brand with Doctor Who. the sentiment seems commonplace now, but at the time, it was quite a new thought. He also spoke about how special it felt to be a part of the Five Doctors. Although he left the show because frankly he wasn’t getting enough screen time, he says that he has always felt glad to have done Doctor Who.

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