Deborah Watling (1948 – 2017)

❉ Remembering Deborah Watling, the actress behind Second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield.

The ‘Doctor Who’ family has lost one of its nearest and dearest  – Deborah ‘Debs’ Watling, who passed away yesterday (Friday 21 July) at age 69 after a battle with lung cancer.

It’s hard to put into words how devastating a loss this is to her family, fans and co-workers.

I was feeling a bit nostalgic earlier in the day, so I put on ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ whilst scrolling through my Facebook looking at all the lovely remembrances and anecdotes about Debs. After a while I began reflecting back myself on my experiences with conventions and the actors that populate them…

I won’t lie and say that Watling’s character Victoria ever truly resonated with me, despite her participation in some classic stories of the show, however I was always thrilled to see her. There’s a very good (and lovely) reason for this:

On the con circuit, the fondness (or the lack thereof) of any particular character will only take you so far. Eventually, you will end up dealing with the real person and who they are is almost certainly different than whoever they portrayed on the screen. (This is something that socially awkward fans seem to either struggle with or not accept at all.) You might adore Captain Jack, but John Barrowman is larger than life and that’s honestly part of his appeal. No, it’s not the characters that bring you back to conventions time and time again. It’s the actors themselves. 99.9% of the time, they are truly remarkable, lovely and interesting people. Their personalities and character are ten times richer than what their televisions characters ever had. Victoria Waterfield was terribly one dimensional. Deborah Watling, however, was practically in 4-D. They still haven’t made glasses for us to properly get a grasp on that woman.

Debs shimmied with all the life that could be filled into her tiny frame. She was honest, open and friendly with the fans. On panels with Frazer Hines, her co-star and partner in crime during her tenure on ‘Doctor Who’, she’d always have a wicked smile on her face. She played along with all his jokes (of which there were many), but always had a witty remark at the ready for him. She was fun, fiery and just a force of nature to reckon with. Naturally, she could hold her drink as well.

We may have liked Victoria Waterfield, but we loved Deborah Watling.

Fittingly, one of the last times I saw her was at the fabulous ReGeneration Who 2 in Baltimore last year. There was an unforgettable moment at a panel memorializing Patrick Troughton’s Doctor where she gave a speech. She wanted to thank the audience (the fans) for keeping Patrick’s spirit alive and for simply remembering him (and them) after all these years because otherwise they might simply be forgotten. Debs, and might I say, most of the audience were quite emotional after that. She played the part of Victoria for little under a year over 50 years ago, and most of her stories have been lost to time. Still, after all these years she’s beloved. It’s not because of episode 4 of ‘The Ice Warriors’, but instead the shared drinks at the bar, the little jokes, the memories made whilst having things signed or photos taken. The small moments add up.

A life lived, a life loved, and one that’s gone just a bit too soon.

We’re going to miss you Ms. Watling, but don’t worry, we’re certainly not going to forget you.

❉ Ian McCann is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and editor of The Causal Nexus, home of the ‘Chronological Hysteresis’ series.

❉ To buy Daddy’s Girl: The Autobiography of Deborah Watling by Deborah Watling, Paul W. T. Ballard (Fantom Publishing), click here.

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