Interview: Karen Gledhill (Counter-Measures)
One of Karen Gledhill’s first television jobs was as Allison Williams in the 1988 Doctor Who story Remembrance of the Daleks, a role she revived recently for Big Finish’s Counter-Measures series, which will shortly enter the studio to record a second box set. An accomplished writer and musician, she has penned an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Year 6 pupils, and enjoys the chance to flex her acting muscles. She chatted with Paul Simpson about reprising the role of Allison 23 years later…

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[Warning: some spoilers for Counter-Measures series 1 below]

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How did you first get involved with Doctor Who?

I had done a workshop at the Actors Centre with [Remembrance director] Andrew Morgan, so I was up for anything, any kind of work, telly work in particular. When he came up with Doctor Who, I was very pleased. I didn’t even need to audition for the part.

What were you told about Allison for Remembrance of the Daleks?

She wasn’t massively developed in the original…

She gets a lot more development in Counter-Measures

And I’ve asked for more of that in the next series.

What did you think of her as a character?

She was quite young and under the guidance of Rachel [Jensen] at that point; she’s working for Rachel, so very much the junior in the whole proceedings. I think it was quite difficult to write somebody in who was around about the same age as the companion – Sophie [Aldred] was playing a little younger than she was, but we’re about the same age. it was probably difficult to write a young woman in Doctor Who, but Ace was quite different: she had her own distinctive style. Ben [Aaronovitch] had to write someone who wasn’t like Ace, so he got this blue stocking, recently graduated from Cambridge, obviously very clever scientist, who was a bit more hands-on than her boss. I got to bash a Dalek up!

It sounds like I was the sidekick at that point: I could do and say things that Rachel couldn’t, somebody for her to bounce off more than anything. It mirrored the Doctor with Ace.

I was reliably informed at the Memorabilia event that Remembrance is one of the Top 10 all-time Doctor Who stories. It refers back to the very first episode of Doctor Who, so it’s iconic in that sense, and it’s the first time the Daleks went up stairs, which was a big moment for Doctor Who. Now they do all sorts of fancy things, but when they went up the stairs after the Doctor, that was a big thing.

Did you have a lot of practical problems filming with the Daleks?

No, they made me laugh more than anything! It is funny: only a small number of them could move at any one time. You don’t get much mass movement. I was very intrigued by Davros, how Terry [Molloy] managed to look quite revolting! In rehearsals they’d be buzzing around, normal people with rolled-up newspapers posing as all those various bits that stick off them.

It’s like everything in filming: they say the camera never lies, but the camera lies completely! What you see on the screen is nothing like what was going on. It’s always intriguing to see things after you film them because they never look the same.

In the intervening years, did you have a lot of contact with Who fandom?

It was a job I did; I had a lot of mail, a steady stream which has been very nice. I only very recently started going to conventions: that kicked off with Counter-Measures. I felt very humbled when I got to meet the fans, by their support and enthusiasm, and the sheer diligence with which they keep everything. I was very impressed.

Did you ever think that you’d return to play the character?

No. I couldn’t believe it when David [Richardson] rang. I thought it was great. It may have been Sophie’s idea: I’ve stayed in touch with her over the years, and we’ve had discussions, particularly when they started The Sarah Jane Adventures. We are real people, and it would be fun if we could spin this: it would be difficult on the telly because we’re all so old. I noticed in your review that you commented on some voices changing over the last 23 years, except Pamela [Salem], whose voice hasn’t changed at all…

She has certain inflections in the role…

No, she uses those anyway. That’s pretty much how she speaks. I couldn’t remember how I spoke then: I went back and looked at the episodes. It’s slightly excruciating to watch oneself from that long ago!

Were you asked for any input into the character for the scripts for the first series?

No. I was asked if I’d read them once or twice because I didn’t understand what was going on… I had read them! And I still failed to understand what was going on!

The character does grow across the four stories; in many ways, she has the most development of the original trio. Her relationship with Julian was going on during the Dalek story….

There’s no mention of that in the original story…

It adds an element retrospectively that someone thinks she can be manipulated. Did you see her as that naïve?

Possibly then, but certainly not now. He was quite convincing: they were going to get married! I don’t know that she was that dim to be taken in by him: everybody else was taken in by him, it wasn’t just her.

Did the betrayal feel right for you in terms of story development?

Yes, it made it that much more interesting.

What do you think she’s learned?

I’ve asked them for a new boyfriend for series two, but whether they’ll give me one, I don’t know. I think it makes it more interesting having a love interest going on in there. Maybe Doctor Who people won’t find that, but it’s more interesting for me.

One of the reasons Counter-Measures works well is that it’s not Doctor Who

It’s more Quatermass than Doctor Who.

And those ITC series…

So you have to have a love interest. It’s not going to happen with Rachel… well, there’s this funny flirtation between Rachel and Gilmore. There’s references to him having a relationship with the Czech girl.

I think it makes Allison more real: I hope there is another man in her life for the next series. Academics are quite frightening for chaps, but if they’re going to develop this and carry it on as a series, there should be a love interest, and go wrong a few times. That could be her trademark. It’s not up to me what they do – I said it jokingly, but I hope they might do it.

Is there anything else you’d like to develop?

No. I loved doing all the action stuff – you should have seen us in those cubicles. It was hilarious: when you shoot people, you climb over things, you run away, you do it all in that tiny little space. I like being chased by things, opening doors slowly and creeping around slowly.

Have you done a lot of radio work like this?

No. I’d love to do more, but it’s really hard work to get. I do the odd nice job – I did a Wallander a couple of years ago. My youngest daughter wants to be an actress as well, so I’m hoping when she’s ready to start, I can go back as well and do some more!

Click here to order Remembrance Of The Daleks from Amazon.co.uk

Click here to order Counter-Measures series1 from Big Finish

Click here to pre-order Counter-Measures series 2 from Big Finish

And here for our reviews of Counter-Measures

Thanks to David Richardson for assistance in setting up this interview.

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