Watling’s brother, Giles Watling, told the BBC, “She was a lovely, lovely girl, bubbly and vibrant.” He added that she will be “sorely missed.”
According to The Telegraph, Watling was diagnosed with lung cancer six weeks earlier. The official Doctor Who magazine initially also tweeted the news of her death on Friday. “We’re saddened to report the death of the much-loved Deborah Watling, who played the Second Doctor’s companion Victoria Waterfield. RIP,” the tweet read.
Producer Innes Lloyd approached Watling to audition for the role of Polly, which later went to Anneke Wills, after seeing her as Alice in the 1965 BBC play The Life of Lewis Carroll. Among her previous credits were television roles in The Invisible Man and William Tell.
“We both agreed that I wasn’t really ready for it,” she said of that meeting with Lloyd to the British publication TV Zone in a 1992 interview. “I was too young and inexperienced. He then suggested I go away, learn more about theater, and try again in about a year’s time.”
Watling did just that and eventually debuted as Victoria on Doctor Who in 1967 with “The Evil of the Daleks.” This was in the era of Patrick Troughton as the titular time-traveler.
“At first, I was very prim, in this long frock with big sleeves,” she recalled in 2013 to The Guardian. “But I thought, ‘I can’t stay in this for a year if I’ve got to climb mountains.’ So gradually Victoria got her own character and the frocks changed: she became stronger and stronger.”
She added, “There weren’t many women on Doctor Who. It was mostly men on the set. I went out with one of the camera boys; that was quite fun. I went out with a Yeti as well, and a Cyberman, but only for one night. I couldn’t take it. The height of him!”
Watling ended her relationship with the show in 1968, but she returned to the character for the 1993 broadcast Doctor Who: Dimensions in Time. In 2010, she released her autobiography, Daddy’s Girl.