The theme at this year's Chicago TARDIS convention Nov. 25-27 was the 1960s. Guests included Anneke Wills (Polly), Peter Purves (Steven), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Deborah Watling (Victoria), and Wendy Padbury (Zoe). Elliot Chapman, who provides the voice of Ben in the Big Finish audios, was also there.
Peter and Anneke were both on DW during the First Doctor era. Since I was able to spend more time talking to Peter at receptions/parties over the weekend and attended more of his panels, I'm going to focus on him. This was my first time meeting him, and he was a great guest.
Peter prefers the DW stories set during various historical periods to the "monster" ones and thinks The Gunfighters is an underrated story even though he believes the song in it (The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon) was not very good and his own performance was flawed. Since the director more or less left the actors to their own devices, he just had some fun with the part and played it as Peter Purves, not as the character of Steven. For instance, he dropped his gun and tripped over his spurs, which were not things that Steven would have done.
An audience member questioned why Peter generally speaks pretty highly of William Hartnell, while some other people associated with the show are more critical. Peter replied, "We speak as we find," noting that he and Hartnell had got on very well, though if Hartnell took a dislike to you, he was very bad. However, he gave Peter acting tips, took him out to lunch regularly, and just generally was kind to him.
He was actually a significant influence behind the casting of Steven. Peter was originally hired to play the guest role of Morton Dill in the serial The Chase, which was the last story for Ian and Barbara. As those two characters were leaving, it was planned that a new character (Steven) would join the show at the end of the serial. Maureen O'Brien (Vicki) noticed that Hartnell, who did not like change, seemed to take to Peter during rehearsals and suggested to Hartnell that he might make a good addition to the show. Hartnell liked this idea and championed it, which ultimately led to Peter being offered the part of Steven.
Peter and Anneke pictured above
Peter was dismissed from the show before the end of the First Doctor era, being told that the new policy was to keep companions around for only a year. At that point, his acting career stalled badly, and he was basically out of work for some time. It appears that he may have been cursed during this period. See, in the serial The Celestial Toymaker, a prop for something called the Trilogic Game is used. As it was going to be disposed of at the end of shooting, Peter instead took it home. Over the following year and a half, he left the show and had almost no new acting work. His career was going downhill fast. One day, he looked at the Trilogic Game, decided that it was bad luck, and got rid of it. The next morning, he was invited to audition to become a presenter on Blue Peter. He did, was given the job, and remained with the show for eleven years. So the next time you watch The Celestial Toymaker (episode four, the only one that still exists), remember this story.
When I got Peter's autograph, he recommended a Big Finish audio that tells of Steven's life after leaving the Doctor. I believe the title he gave me may have been a working title, since it didn't match up with any Steven audios in the Big Finish portfolio. After a bit of online hunting, I decided that the correct audio must be a Companion Chronicle called The War to End All Wars, so I bought it and plan to listen to it later this week.
Peter is also quite a dog lover and spent a lot of time at the convention talking to attendees who had brought dogs with them. At the Sunday brunch, I sat at his table. It turned out to be a table full of dog fans--it seemed that most of us seated there own at least one dog, and those who don't (for instance, I have cats only) still love them. We spent the first part of brunch talking dogs, with people's phones opened to photos of pets being passed around the table. Peter pulled out his own tablet and located photos of his dogs, including a five-week-old dachshund puppy he has yet to bring home. At a party that evening, I was sitting with one of my brunch tablemates when Peter approached to say goodbye and remembered us, noting that the time we spent talking dogs was a highlight of the brunch.
He was also the last guest I spoke to before leaving the hotel for home. On Monday morning, I was in the lobby with my bags when Peter was walking around in the area. He saw me, came over, and talked con for a few minutes.
And then I went to kill several hours before catching my train home and continued my annual tradition of getting lost in Chicago.
A video I took where Peter tells the story of the Trilogic Game: here
Peter discusses the numerous cast changes during his time on the show here