In the middle of July millions of people were glued to their television watching the Wimbledon Men’s Final. Many other millions were waiting to discover the new Dr Who - and to many people’s delight it turned out to be a woman under that mysterious grey cloak. Yeah, Jodie Whittaker and the BBC! It was a fabulous end to a thrilling weekend.
There was more media excitement, and collective emotional investment, in that announcement than there was in the outcome of our Westminster election (the one we didn’t need to have, and now look at our parliament, ugh, back to fantasy, no wonder we need to escape reality!). I think that tells us something about our love of time travel - our need to imagine the impossible, to dwell within boundaries which, temporarily at least, seem limitless. I’ve always been a rather occasional consumer of Dr Who, perhaps not quite having the DNA of a true Brit. I admit I’m the same with Shaun of the Dead. And yes, I know, it’s a right-of-passage for anyone adopting the UK as home, like Withnail and I, so much so I wonder why it isn’t on the UK passport test! But this week I had an experience which has brought the notion of time travel into sharp relief.
I was asked to appear in a scene for the 4th webisode of Neighbours vs Time Travel. It came up out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and I said yes because it sounded fun. Apart from another possible ‘appearance’ a few years ago as a Zombie (ha ha, for better or worse the dates didn’t work), I had never expected to recreate the role of Julie Martin/Robinson. Because, as fans know, character Julie (shared name a weird coincidence) fell off a tower in drunken hysterics to her death twenty years ago; after doing far too much nagging of her long-suffering husband. So upon leaving the show, as sorry as I was to part from the regular company of the actors playing my family - especially Philip (Ian Rawlings), Michael (Troy Beckwith), Debbie (Marnie Reece Wilmore) and Hannah (Rebecca Ritters) - there was no option but to bid them a sad farewell. I had made the decision to follow my heart (aka love of the theatre) to London. And we all went on with different things in life, in diverse locations, as actors always do. Chapter closed.
What surprised me last week was the flood of emotions I felt upon unexpectedly re-entering the Neighbours world. I filmed 10,000 miles away from the familiar sets, with a small OB crew (outside broadcast) in London, and no other actors present. Yet the minute I printed out the scene at home, and saw a rough cut of Ian doing his half of the scene in Melbourne (a telephone conversation between Julie and Philip), the memory and feel of a hundred things about that part of my life flooded back. Just hearing Ian’s voice, took me there, instantly. And I time travelled, as suddenly as the You Tube audience were to do a week later.
On a personal level I could see and feel myself as I was then. I could see everyone around me. My friendships from the show were instantly fresh and vivid, the activities I used to get up to (on and around the filming of the series), my apartment in South Yarra, my burgundy-coloured car, the restaurants I’d frequent, runs in the park, my personal trainer, the charity work, the Rainbow Warrior in port, Spring Carnival, cabaret shows at Mietta’s and Prior Engagements: my life of twenty years ago, suddenly present.
Smack bang in the middle of this flashback was my old friend, Ian Rawlings, the lovely man I worked with so closely and happily for a little over two years; and there, in the scene he’d already filmed, a picture of our kids on the wall. I have never forgotten how fond of them I was; nor the many positives about my Neighbours experience. But until I suddenly saw Ian again - kindness and good humour ever present in his voice, on and off the set - I didn’t know how much I had missed him (and our gang)! In historic interviews, I often said the best thing about my time on Neighbours was the line up of actors in the Robinson/Martin family – including Alan Dale and Anne Haddy (and for a shorter period of overlap, Stefan Dennis) – as we were so happy and comfortable together. Like the Alessi family, we worked and mixed very well together. Since, I’ve moved around the globe a lot, so I’m always missing people I love in Australia and New Zealand. That’s also the nature of showbiz. But it was precious to be reminded so quickly and warmly of that period of my life – without any effort on my part, without expectation or agenda. To be dropped into it for a few short days, like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, was simply sweet. It was not at all like talking about Neighbours, or thinking of it as a gig on my CV, it was a moment of intimate reminiscence and recognition – actually ‘being back there’, at the same time as ‘being where I am now’ in my life – which was the value and charm of it. No wonder time travel proves fruitful for so many writers.
Professionally, I also think Ric Forster, the producer, has done a terrific job with these webisodes. Everyone I’ve spoken to or engaged with on social media has commented on the comedy and slickness of the production. So bravo and thanks to Ric! And congratulations to the current cast for anchoring these wild leaps of imagination, and the entertaining appearances by all the guest characters. It was a lot of fun. It was emotional, in a good way. And it has given fans a real buzz.
[I’m still giggling about Alan
Fletcher’s rock ‘n roll riff; Jackie Woodburne’s Susan in the back of the limo after
her rendezvous with Dr Karl; Gary as the Back
to the Future character, Doc, and the waitress adding to the fray with “Great
Scott”; and my favourite lines when Paul Robinson gets pulled over by a
policeman for speeding in the time machine: “I thought you were a nurse.” “Shsh I’m undercover.” Classic.]
Julie Martin’s venture back from the dead is now over, as is our week of Halloween fun. And it is time to get back to reality. But as sojourn’s go, it was sweet and unexpected. Like a school reunion I suppose, when your favourite people turn up. It just so happened that this ‘blast from the past’ happened for me on camera. And it didn’t feel at all like work. It was exactly the fun I’d hoped. Thankyou Neighbours.
Now I get the whole time travel thing, I’m keen for more Dr Who...
(5 webisodes on You Tube)