Friday 24 December 2021

On This Day... Christmas Eve

The Highlanders moved on to its second episode today in 1966.
The only other Doctor Who related episode to debut today was Combat, part of Torchwood's first series in 2006. 
This was written by Noel Clarke, who played Mickey Smith in the parent programme. It is basically Fight Club with Weevils.

Today we wish John Levene a very happy 80th birthday. No matter how many promotions he gets, he will always be Sergeant Benton of UNIT to us. Levene first got into acting when Telly Savalas came into the men's outfitters he was working in, in London's West End. Savalas was in the UK filming The Dirty Dozen, and suggested Levene should try for an extras role on the movie. He didn't get the part as he had no Equity card, so went about getting one. 
His first brush with Doctor Who was in The Moonbase, when he played one of the crowd scene Cybermen on the Moon's surface. Director Douglas Camfield, who was to become one of his mentors, then cast him as a Yeti in The Web of Fear. He used him again, this time without a burdensome costume in The Invasion. This is when we first got to see Benton, a member of the newly formed UNIT. Benton was a lowly Corporal in this. When the actor playing Sergeant Walters was late for rehearsals one time too many, and sacked by Camfield, Levene found himself being given a more prominent role to play in the final episode.
In The War Games, Levene once again found himself in a Yeti costume, for the trial scene in Part 10.
Benton was absent from the first two UNIT stories of the Pertwee era, but Camfield let it be known that he intended to use the character prominently in Inferno, he was written in to the preceding story - The Ambassadors of Death - appearing in only the later episodes and now promoted to Sergeant.
The rest is history. Levene realised that Benton's days were numbered when Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe took over. His last appearance was in The Android Invasion - playing both the real Benton and his android replica.
Levene starred in the first ever video spin-off from the programme - Wartime - playing Benton. He continues to reprise the character on audio.
There is a wonderful DVD extra of Toby Hadoke spending the weekend with Levene at his home in Salisbury. It's on the Special Edition of The Claws of Axos (and now the Season 8 Collection Blu-ray box set). His rare appearances on DVD commentaries are also worth listening to.

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