Peter, you've written an autobiography Is There Life Outside the Box? that reveals more about your early life. I didn’t know about your mixed race background.

No, not a lot of people do because I look so damned bloody English which has been very useful in terms of working but I loved it, this exotic side to the family in the West Indies – it seemed kind of cool to us.

What did you take from your dad?

Funnily enough, 30 or 40 years ago, I probably would have said not a lot but I came to appreciate him much more. He was very relaxed and laid back about life in general to such an extent that I didn’t really get to know him. After I left, I would phone and say “hi it’s Peter here” and he would say “hello, I’ll get your mum”.

You had a disagreement with your dad about Vietnam or something and you later found out that he thought you were being disrespectful because he was foreign.

Yes, because he wasn’t British. He was basically colonial and he loved Britain and when he came here, it was a very different world to the one he thought it was going to be but he was still passionately pro-British as they were, that’s why so many people from the West Indies joined up during the War.

But he always felt slightly insecure about it and it didn’t help that, after the Ugandan crisis when lots of people left Uganda because of Idi Amin and they all wanted to come to Britain, and because of that, the Government introduced a kind of two-tier system of British nationality. If you were born in Britain, you were properly British; if you were born outside Britain, although you had a British passport, you weren’t properly British and I think he was incredibly wounded by that – I didn’t realise quite how much at the time because he had to go to London to register every few months at the Home Office and eventually they made him a full British citizen but I think it added to his insecurity about not being really British.

HeraldScotland: copyright BBCcopyright BBC Has that made you aware of race because you went to drama school and there was only one black student?

It’s extraordinary that we made no fuss about this – there was one black student and at that time, they basically said in the third year, we can’t guarantee to offer you parts. Nobody, not even the black people, were going: what is this about? But there was a South African guy who was white, but he was very anti-apartheid and he was a lawyer and he was the one who, when he saw my father, took me aside and said: you realise he would not be allowed into South Africa and I had never really thought about that.

At that time drama school was racist, now it seems to be classist.

I’d hate to say racist because they didn’t know they were doing it - there were some left-wing students but not even they were making a fuss. It was just accepted that because they were black they couldn’t offer them parts.

What about now, do you think someone from an ordinary background like yours would get into drama school now?

They would struggle to pay the money – it’s an incredible amount to pay for drama school. They’re not going to get support. It’s gone from one to the other. I remember, only about 15/20 years ago, people complaining that there were no parts for the middle classes any more on television and now suddenly it’s entirely the opposite – now, you will struggle to get a training if you’re working class – how do you do it? They need more funding. Scotland is the shining light but the fact that the fees for drama school are so high is disgraceful.

On the subject of your childhood, what surprised me I suppose was your shyness.

Yes, I was incredibly shy.

Yes and you talk about blushing – is that something you still have?

My saving part was Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small – I just simply found through doing that part, starting with a fete where Robert Hardy said ‘oh just be Tristan’ and that’s exactly what I did and that involved a certain amount of Tristan-like behaviour which is now indistinguishable in my head from me. I think I’m now more me than I was early on – when I look at old interviews on Youtube, I don’t even recognise the voice of the person speaking.

What was going on there?

I think Tristan was great in one respect, because it was a great part, but I was very aware that everyone thought I was a public school boy so I think I developed this rather posh voice. At Central Drama School, they wanted to teach you RP, so they tried to knock all the regional accents out of you so you had the facility to do it. But there was a period when I spoke in what my mother would call a “telephone voice”.

HeraldScotland: Copyright: BBCCopyright: BBC  I get the impression that it became a kind of trap.

It did. I remember I was offered The Last Detective and I struggled to use my own accent – I did eventually get there but when I first read it, I was playing the detective as a rather posh middle class person and I thought this is not right, and yet I was trapped. It was almost as if I thought if I turn up on television doing a bit of an off accent, I would be letting people down and they would think ‘oh, he’s not quite so posh as we think’. It’s madness.

It was Tristan and then it seeped back into your life and you being a different Peter Davison.

And rather humourless I thought in those television interviews.

But is Tristan still in there?

He lingers in a sense I can see in a social situation – if I were at a party, I can do the chit chat.

That’s a shy person – do you get the feeling you want to escape?

Yes. My son has a tiny part in the latest Tim Burton film and we went to the premiere and my wife said you should go with him because it would look really good and I said ‘no because if I go I will just stand in the corner with him because he’s very shy as well and neither of us will say anything to anybody.’

You’re self deprecating and sometimes underplay your abilities so when Doctor Who came around, you didn’t take the offer seriously did you?

It felt like a mad idea to me. I grew up with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton and they were older Doctors, avuncular figures, and I think the notion of me ... this is the thing, I’ve got to go off later on for a meeting for something, I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a part where I’ve thought I’m right for this. Nearly every part I’ve ever done, I’ve thought I’m completely wrong and I’m going to get found out.

HeraldScotland: Copyright: Peter DavisonCopyright: Peter Davison When you were in a Michael Winner movie with Diana Rigg, you thought ‘I’m s**t, she’s going to expose me.' Have you always felt that?

Yes, and about this afternoon as well. It doesn’t really go away. I’m more philosophical about it now. I’ve reached a certain age where I’ll go off for this meeting – I don’t really like going to the meetings, I don’t know why they can’t just offer you the part and save you the hell of going to meet these people but if they say no, that’s fine. I’m fatalistic about it.

But as you say, with Doctor Who, it was a punt, you were 29 years old – did you ever get over that?

I had no idea what I was doing – by the end, I think I was quite comfortable in what I was playing and you always, in Doctor Who, I’m sure there were many people behind my back saying ‘oh he’s nowhere near as good as Tom Baker’ but I had enough people who came up to me and said ‘you are fantastic, it’s the first time I’ve really loved Doctor Who’ or ‘you feel like my Doctor’ and so there were enough of those for me to feel bolstered up. Maybe I only stay in a role til I’m confident enough to do it and then I leave.

You were never entirely happy with the scripts and the producer on Doctor Who.

No, it wasn’t a big budget show – it wasn’t like it is now. It wasn’t prestigious – it was watched by more people and it was sold to just as many countries, but on the BBC canon, it was down at the bottom – it was basic, earn-us-money show in order to make more prestigious shows. But we knew that – we were never going to get the top quality scriptwriters – we did get some good scripts because they were writers who were interested in the genre – we also got ones that were just thrown together.

There were glimpses of the way the show was going – you were young like Matt Smith or David Tennant and towards the end it was being directed more interestingly.

Yes, Caves of Androzani, the last story I did, I was very happy with. Had that come the year before, I might well have done another year. It’s hard to explain because people always think we were at each other’s throats but I didn’t agree with quite a lot of the producer John Nathan Turner’s direction and the way he wanted the show to go. But we never fell out; this was just normal discussions you have with your producer. I didn’t like that he wanted an American companion – I didn’t think was necessary. He thought it would get more American viewers – in my experience, the opposite was true. They watched Doctor Who because it was British.

HeraldScotland: Copyright: Peter DavisonCopyright: Peter Davison What about the new series? I think it’s lost a bit of the charm of the old one, and the plots are complicated. Do you agree?

I think they’re too quick – It’s almost like Trailer Television sometimes, as if you’re watching an enormously long trailer and I prefer the two-parters which are effectively the same as a four-parter was in my day. They need a bit of the Broadchurch philosophy applied to it – let’s slow it down and enjoy the meandering nature of the story.

What about leaving Doctor Who? You said ‘I tried to imagine my life after Doctor Who, never imagining that there wouldn’t be one’

In other words, I would only ever be in Doctor Who. There is no life after Doctor Who. I am still Doctor Who. But I’ve never felt the need to distance myself from it. When Peter Capaldi was announced, I was on the show where he was announced and they said ‘just go on and say something to him as you walk on stage’ and I said ‘you will never leave this part, this is it’.

Are there good elements?

Oh no, a lot of it is good.

What are the less good bits?

I suppose it’s that, despite the fact that it wasn’t the most popular thing I’ve done, it wasn’t the best thing I’ve done, it wasn’t the best written, it’s the first thing that people ask about, but in a way that’s good. Let’s face it, I played an iconic part that I grew up watching and I’m very privileged to have done that – I mean, there are only 12 of us. And it never stopped me getting other parts – that would have been the bad thing.

That was unusual though. It did for some of the others.

Yes, it did for some of the others and I think part of that was I had done something that was popular before it and although Tom Baker had been working a lot before Doctor Who, people didn’t really know who he was.

You seem to carry it most lightly – William Hartnell seemed to go into a big depression afterwards, Jon Pertwee just had this massive ego and thought he was the Doctor, Tom Baker struggled and Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker have struggled – you carried it most lightly.

Yes, but only because I was lucky. I was trepidatious even though I had only done Doctor Who for three years but I got a part very quickly after that in Anna of the Five Towns and when I was talking to the producer about half way through the filming, he said to me ‘you know, we had long discussions about whether we should cast you’ and I discovered it was very touch and go whether I would get it because I had just been flying around in the Tardis.

You mentioned that Doctor Who wasn’t your best work – A Very Peculiar Practice probably was, wasn’t it?

Yes, it was the best written and At Home with the Braithwaites, in terms of the quality of the scripts.

HeraldScotland: Peter with his first wife Diane. Copyright: Peter DavisonPeter with his first wife Diane. Copyright: Peter Davison But I got the impression that A Very Peculiar Practice – you thought ‘right, this is serious stuff now.’ And you thought that maybe the stuff before was less serious. This was proper acting for the first time – is that right?

I think it was the first time I worked with a really good director. I remember thinking when I was doing Doctor Who, and even All Creatures, they were very competent directors – some of them on Doctor Who were, I think, terrified. But you can tell when you’re working with a director when you’re being given a perceptive note and that makes you question what you’re doing and that’s good. When I was doing Doctor Who, I thought I might even want to direct because there doesn’t seem that much to it. I began to think that directing was quite an easy job, in my arrogance, so I asked about the directing course that the BBC did.

To give up acting?

I think it was more to do with whether acting gave up me, which was a possibility after Doctor Who, but I never got round to doing it. And then I worked with David Tucker on A Very Peculiar Practice and realised there’s much more to it. We had very intense discussions that I’d never had before, except possibly in theatre. It made me think and challenged me, but also then put me off being a director.

When you look back at your career, do you have regrets that you haven’t done more ‘serious’ stuff?

Yes. When I decided after doing The Tomorrow People that I wanted to do more television, I was basically out of work for a year. So I suppose I could have said ‘Ok I really want to raise my profile and do something special’ but at that time the only way of doing that really was through theatre. I would have been happy to have gone to the National, but they never rang up and I suppose I never had the conversation with my agent.

My agent at that time was a very sweet man but he was focused on getting a job that paid well and doing television stuff until one day he dropped dead and I went to a different agent. I was aware for some time before he died that maybe I should move on to a better agent – he was quite middle to low level in terms of agents and contacts and that’s really what it’s about. So I was aware that I really ought to leave but I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I liked him a lot.

But when I went to my next agent, they immediately tried to move me on to better stuff. And I remember going to an audition at the Young Vic to do an Arthur Miller play and David Thacker, the director, was a bit snooty actually. He said to me ‘why have you never wanted to do anything at the Young Vic before?’ and I said ‘well, no one’s ever asked me’ I don’t know if they think these things are decisions you just make – you can’t say ‘Ok, I'm prepared to go up for things at the RSC or the National now’. I’ve always been fairly fatalistic so if something comes up and I think it’s OK to do, I’ll do it. I was very lucky – A Very Peculiar Practice, At Home with the Braithwaites, Last Detective, all these things just landed on my lap.

HeraldScotland: Peter with his first girlfriend Jocelyn. Copyright: Peter DavisonPeter with his first girlfriend Jocelyn. Copyright: Peter Davison That period in the 90s, when your career was in reverse - normally you go from supporting roles to starring roles and you were going from starring roles to supporting roles – what happened there do you think?

I think people just got a bit sick to death of me – not the viewers, it was the people who made the programmes after you’ve done a lot and I had literally gone from job to job to job until we finished All Creatures in 1989 and I think probably parts came in and they would say ‘what about Peter Davison?’ and they went ‘no, we see him in everything’. There’s no doubt I went slightly out of fashion.

In that period, you had a bit of debt from the marriage, and you weren’t working so much and you were in a one-bedroom flat. Was that a low point?

I think I manage to compartmentalise these things so in one respect there was a constant nagging worry about this debt and my bank manager, who was very supportive because I was vastly in debt, would call me and say ‘what are we going to do about this?, how are you going to pay this back?’ I was trying to avoid the intermediate stage where you’re basically insolvent so it was touch and go whether I should do that. So I tried to pay a little bit back, I had money coming in. So I was doing OK and I was doing theatre more.

You weren’t depressed in that period were you?

No, there were moments when I was anxious and I was on my own, which was a weird feeling, but I was doing plays where I was just an ordinary member of the company, I did a play in the West End, I had a really nice time and I think it was when I discovered more about me, especially after the marriage break-up. And I met Elizabeth and we had a baby and then magically, as if it was meant to happen, things started rolling again.

On the marriage to Sandra, was that part of that whole thing of ‘oh God, I’ve bought houses, I’m in debt, I’m living this life' and there was part of what we talked about earlier of being the Peter Davison that wasn’t the real Peter Davison. Was it all mixed in?

Yes, I think it was. I very much felt, when I became unhappy in the marriage, I remember thinking that there were too different versions of me and I would go away filming and I felt ‘I’m not really being me’ – in fact, that was me. There was a person in the set-up that I’d got locked into where I was sort of affluent in the public eye, married TV married couple. I felt that I was putting on a fake thing, but I didn’t quite realise that. There was a moment where I realised ‘you know this is how I think I am’.

By that time, I was unhappy in the marriage and it was all going horribly wrong. So when I suddenly ended up on my own I was thinking ‘wow; I don’t have to ring up and say ‘I’ll be five minutes late’ or whatever, you weren’t responsible to anybody.

You had a bit of a second youth didn’t you?

Yes, probably I did.

You were doing stuff you couldn’t do in your twenties.

Yes, stuff I never did in my twenties – I was always in a relationship. There was no time really that I hadn’t been since I was really about 16 – it sounds a bit mad.

HeraldScotland: It was a good period for you – you retuned your attitude to property, relationships, your career…

It retuned a lot of things and I don’t mean this as a criticism of Sandra, and I’ll take responsibility for this, but I think that I believed that I was attracted to a certain sort of girl, woman, and I think it was wrong. My mother was a very dominant and strong woman, and my father was sort of in the background – my mother was the one who was driven, she was brighter to be honest and she gave that up to bring up a family and so I think somehow – and I never consciously thought this so it was never oedipal in that sense, but I think I was drawn to women who told me what I should be doing so there was a certain comfort when Sandra would say ‘I think we should do this’ ‘I think you should do that’ ‘we’re going here this weekend’ and I would go ‘oh, ok’ and do it. And even when we broke up, I kind of realised, when I met Elizabeth, I realised it was wrong, it was a mistake on my part. It was always going to be doomed to failure.

It’s taken you 40 years to realise it.

Yes, only 40 years to find out!

You were quite a square when you were going out with girls when you were younger weren’t you?

I remember being at a festival and the News of the World were going on about how disgraceful it was, there were naked girls frolicking and there were drugs. I never saw any of it. No girls naked. No drugs.

But you were into music?


And you still do it?

Yes, but the possibilities are endless so I never finish anything.

What about that EMI moment when you turned down a deal – what do you make of that now?

I don’t know – the EMI deal was a bit like that Groucho thing – you don’t want to be a member of any club that wanted me as a member and it was a bad deal. The money was rubbish so I suppose I thought if EMI was interested, I was good enough to do better than that. It’s a bit confusing in my head about why I said no – I’m not entirely sure. I don’t beat myself up about it.

What about films, because I get the impression you regret not doing more – you’ve only done two, one of which was a disaster, Parting Shots.

Yeah, I’m rather proud of that disaster – you really need to watch it, it was called possibly the worst film ever made. Yes, I regret that I was never available - there were times when maybe something would have been available if I hadn’t been tied up. You know, I went to America when Sandra went over for pilots and I met a couple of agents over there and the fact that I wasn’t available got them terribly excited but I was very aware that if I came back six months later and said ‘OKI’m available’ they’d have gone 'sorry'.”

Are you in a film with David Tennant?

Yes, it’s been written by Daisy Aitkens and Georgia, who always says she doesn’t like acting although I think she secretly does – she’s very good Georgia, but, maybe perhaps because of David, she doesn’t want to be competing, and when I did the 50th anniversary Doctor Who mini-tribute, because it got out of hand, it was originally meant to be a five minute thing but the BBC got involved and gave me a bit of money and I got Georgia in as producer and she was very, very good at it – it’s certainly something she hasn’t got from me, probably from her mother – she’s very organised.

HeraldScotland: Copyright: Peter DavisonCopyright: Peter Davison The Doctor Who spoof was good – have you thought about more writing?

I have – I’m looking to sit down and do something. My big failing is application, in everything. You asked if I wanted to do more serious work, I’ve been content to let things happen and I think probably the same with the writing. I’ve never got round to it.

How weird was it when David started going out with your daughter?

I didn’t think it was that odd – I was the first one to say to her. She did a Doctor Who and they weren’t going out on that, but he asked her out to the theatre and she said ‘David Tennant keeps asking me to go to Shakespeare, I think he’s trying to get me interested in Shakespeare’ and I said ‘have you thought about the fact that he likes you?’ and she said ‘no, no, it’s not that’. Her logic was ‘he’s David Tennant, he could have anyone. If he wanted to ask me out, he would just say, come out with me’.

But it takes a long time, and I’ve never done that. I never thought that it was particularly an advantage – it is probably, but not when you’re inside it. But whatever it was, he was incredibly slow – I think they had gone to several theatre shows over three months so he persevered and then one day she rang me up and said ‘I think we might be going out’.

Did it take you a while? Did you get on with David straight away or was Doctor Who a thing between you?

He’s a charming man so I suppose in a way I’m a bit more intimidated by him. We get on fine. I’ve always been uncomfortable generally dealing with male company – I don’t know why – I’ve got three sisters. I don’t have the sport thing. I can’t join in that conversation.

So what’s the film about?

It’s about a lesbian couple who decide to have a baby and then inadvertently they both end up pregnant – it’s a comedy. I’m playing a friend of one of them. It’s called Fish Without Bicycles.

Is There Life Outside The Box? An Actor Despairs is published by John Blake Publishing at £20