SFX Issue 39
On the eve of the release of Who videos “The Mind Of Evil” and Lust In Space, that straddler of Dalek appendages, Katy Manning, alias Pertwee era’s Jo Manning, talks to Anthony Brown.
Ask anyone involved with the Pertwee era of Doctor Who and they’ll tell you that Katy Manning really was the scatty Jo Grant, on screen and off. As script editor Terrance Dicks puts it: “She turned up late because she’d gone to the wrong place, rushed in, smoking like a chimney, scattering papers all over the place and getting everything wrong. She couldn’t have been worse, and went off in a cloud of confusion… At which point Barry [Letts] and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, she’s it, isn’t she?’”
But Katy Manning herself couldn’t disagree more. “Oh no,” she cries. “She was nothing like me. She was very much a character who was created. I think the only similarity between me and her was that she was fiercely loyal. My friendships go back 30 or 40 years…”
It’s that sort of devotion which led to Katy Manning making a 20-year odyssey around the globe, writing Australian sitcoms and a play along the way. “I’m not very good at sad stories, because they make me laugh, but my children were very premature, and little illnesses would turn into something major because they had no immune system. The doctors said, ‘Look, there really is nothing to do, except perhaps get them to a warmer climate.’ When you’re a mother, you don’t think about anything else, so I just went, leaving everything behind – the house, belongings, the lot. I always do that. I never take anything with me. But eventually I woke up, found my children had grown up, and I’d been out of England for about 17 years. It seemed the right time to come home.
“Isn’t that dull,” she adds. “I bet you wish that had been a much more interesting story!”
Clearly, Manning isn’t the kind of individual who likes to plan out her life. “No, if I thought about it, it wouldn’t happen. You can be so busy trying to make things happen when life’s going on over there, and you should be over there! When things happen, they just happen, which is an enormous pleasure.”
Ironically, Katy Manning’s returned to Britain just in time to shoot Reeltime’s Lust In Space, a video which accuses Doctor Who of sexism. The show’s critics have always claimed that Jo was the last of an out-dated breed of screamers, but that didn’t worry Manning at the time – or indeed now. “I don’t think feminism started to be discussed in the news till many years later, did it? It wouldn’t have been discussed around my era, certainly. She’s running around in mini-skirts with this guy who’s 2,000 years old and people are worrying about whether it’s sexist! I think we should be seriously worrying about why they’re watching it! No, I don’t know anything about that to be honest. I know nuthink; I am merely stupid; I am a woman; I know nothing… She worked, so it didn’t bother us.”
All the same, Jo was supposed to be a UNIT officer, yet she hardly came across as a hardened agent. “Well, no, but she wasn’t meant to. She was only supposed to be 18 years old, and was put there to translate what the Doctor was saying and what was happening to them. You could have gone through five minutes of plot, but when you had Jo there, eyes opening wide, you knew, ‘Uh-oh, something’s up.’ You couldn’t have done that with a companion that’s as bright as the Doctor – in any good comedy or drama you’ve got to have contrast, so you needed someone to say, ‘Hello, where do we go?’ She was smart in her way, in that if you told her what to do she’d get it right. Or perhaps not, but she’d try. And you get a lot more stories out of a character who got things wrong than a character who gets everything right all the time. What was nice about Jo was that one moment she was really bright and on top of it, and the next she hadn’t quite got it, and you never knew when she was going to do something irrational, which made it exciting for everybody.”
However, the Doctor’s assistant could be competent on occasion. In this month’s video release, “The Mind Of Evil”, for instance, she foils a prison riot with all the skill of a professional agent. “That’s one of my favourite stories actually. They wouldn’t put it out for a while because they thought it was too scary – that one and ‘The Daemons’.” Indeed, it was the latter story which featured what Manning reckons was a defining moment in Jo’s character. “Obviously, academia was not her strong point, but loyalty was. She’d step forward, shouting, ‘No, kill me, not the Doctor.’ Anybody else would’ve kept quiet, but she’d go through hell and high water for any of the UNIT group, which made her a very useful member of the team.”
However, her closest loyalty was always to the Time Lord himself. “With Jon and I there was no need to put any love interests into the show because there was this closeness between Jo and the Doctor, and there was no room for them to have anything else going.” Indeed, his influence was so great that when Jo finally left the series she ran off with a young ecologist who reminded her of the Doctor. But Manning doesn’t reckon the romance lasted. “Oh, she didn’t marry him. He wasn’t her type at all. He was just another stage of her maturing.”
So how did Jo end up? “I don’t know… I mean, she’d be a lunatic, wouldn’t she? It’s very odd answering questions about the character after all this time… I’ll suddenly catch myself and think I’m getting serious here. But I think she’d have become extremely bizarre, and done an awful lot of work for charity, for children and animals, and been a bit of a world traveller. And I think she’d have been married about 25 times…”
But would she have posed nude with a Dalek, as Katy Manning did in a celebrated 1978 photo-spread? “Well she did, didn’t she? That certainly wasn’t me, so it must have been my alter ego! She must have done it for charity, because if it would raise money for children she’d have done it.
“Of course it was Jo who worked out that you could stop a Dalek by putting your hat over its eye so it just spins round in circles, and I reckon that Dalek, with that woman’s body draped over it, wouldn’t have done a lot. I reckon it would just have stood there, quite happy.”