Photo courtesy of Doctor Who Image Archive

Louise Jameson


by Carson Maynard

Louise Jameson came from a family that did not have a very large background in the acting field, although her mother did "one Scots porridge oats advert!" As do many teenagers, Louise suffered from acute shyness for a time, but this problem was resolved during her time at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Louise attended RADA from 1969 until 1971, by which time she felt fairly confident of her talents. She landed her first job - four lines in Cider With Rosie - quickly, and to this day she treasures her royalty check for six pence which she was paid when Cider With Rosie was sold to Iceland.

Louise's first big film part was, as she says, "terrible", but "I loved it! I played this randy virgin sacrifice who had her heart torn out by the Devil and spent most of the film walking around like a zombie."

Louise spent two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, during which time she performed in Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, and Blithe Spirit.

Then along came Doctor Who, in which Louise played one of the most divergent companions in the show's history - Leela, a female warrior who clad herself in skimpy animal skins and killed anything that threatened her. "What amazed me," Louise says, "was that I turned out as some kind of sex symbol for a while. I know that sounds stupid, because you put somebody in a leather leotard on after the football results, inevitably that will happen. But I was really shocked by that - very naive of me."

Louise was one of the companions who had seen the series before, with one of her most vivid memories being the first episode. "It became an absolute Saturday afternoon ritual. 5:25 pm, boiled eggs, baked beans, tea."

Although Leela was such a departure from other companions of the show's series, writers still seemed to look at her as simply a replacement for the previous companion, Sarah Jane, and thus wrote into their scripts many actions which Louise did not find appropriate for Leela. "Robert Holmes wrote terribly well for Leela, and Chris Boucher as well. But the others I spent most of the time saying, 'No, Leela doesn't scream actually - no, she's not going to sprain her ankle here.' I was forever crossing out 'Leela screams.'" To Louise's credit, she held onto her principles and only allowed Leela one scream - while she was being eaten alive by a giant rat during "The Talons of Weng-Chiang."

One of the troubles that Louise encountered on the show was her red contact lenses, intended to turn Louise's blue eyes into Leela's brown. They were very effective for the show's purposes - but not for Louise's. "I nearly killed a cameraman," she says, referring to a knife incident during the filming of "The Robots of Death". But Louise enjoyed the show immensely, and especially the character of Leela. "I loved anything pertaining to Leela that made her more than just an ordinary companion," she says.

Leela's departure from the TARDIS is considered one of the worst, as she hardly says a dozen words to the man she professes to love. "They were really trying hard to persuade me to stay, but I'd already accepted the part of Portia down in Bristol. But I think they thought I'd change my mind. They gave me no scene with the character I was supposed to be in love with. No scenes to fall in love, or get anything going! I mean, there were enough barbarians in this story to have married me off to one of my own type. Why did I end up with a prissy Time Lord guard?"

The character of Leela was slated to return in Tom Baker's final story, "Sealed Orders", which involved a return to Gallifrey, and Louise had been willing to go through one or two stories with Peter Davison, but this never materialized.

Immediately after she left Doctor Who, Louise took on the role of Portia in The Merchant of Venice. She has also added a large number of television credits to her name. The first of these was The Omega Factor (a psychic-occult series), followed by Tenko (a wartime drama in which she played Blanche) and Bergerac (a detective serial in which she played Susan). Louise has also appeared in Casualty, The Bill, and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, among others. Louise has also occupied the director's chair once, for a show entitled Falling Out. During all these projects, Louise found the time to have two children.

Although Louise declined to rejoin the program for the fifteenth anniversary special "The Five Doctors", fifteen years later she did come back in "Dimensions in Time", during which she had the opportunity to act opposite Sylvester McCoy. "'Will you wear your skin thing?' they asked. 'No,' I said. 'Two children on, I'm not going to get back into that leather leotard.' So they gave me this thing that made me look like a lump of potatoes."

Louise has also made another return to the world of Doctor Who, albeit not in the same format - she has been taking part in Bill Baggs' series of fan-produced videos. Her first was "The Terror Game", followed by "The Zero Imperative" and "The Devil of Winterbourne".

"I'd like to be known as 'the breeze that fanned the fire in the souls of her audience'."

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Louise is in the middle of a triumvirate of three of the best actresses ever to appear on Doctor Who (in my humble opinion, anyway). She is also the first either to suffer or to benefit from what I call the Sarah Jane Syndrome, in that Sarah Jane became the ultimate, old-fashioned Companion and all those who followed had to be something very different. And Leela certainly was very different, though Louise played her very capably. I hope to meet her in person someday.

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