Robin Phillips, who played Altos in 1964’s The Key’s Of Marinus, has died at the age of 73. A friend of the director, John Gorrie, he was brought aboard to assist the TARDIS crew as they struggled to complete a task (discovering the whereabouts of s series of hidden micro-keys) which they had to compete without being able to rely on the presence of the Doctor (as actor William Hartnell had a two week holiday booked). He is essentially the romantic lead, sharing action duties with William Russell’s Ian, and showing some real grit when facing down the evil Voord as they threaten the object of his affections, Katharine Schofield’s Sabetha.
Born in Haslemere, Surrey, on 28th February 1942, he left school at 15 but studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school, and appeared there at the Theatre Royal making his professional stage debut in a season which found him playing Konstantin in The Seagull and Romeo in Romeo And Juliet. Other Bristol productions between 1959 and 1961 included The Clandestine Marriage,and The Long, The Short And The Tall and he also appeared at the Chichester festival and Oxford Playhouse. In 1962 he broke into television and as well as Doctor Who he clocked up the usual fare that a capable young actor would hope to accrue on his CV – Compact (1962), The Saint (1965), The Avengers (1966), The Forsyte Saga (1967 – star Nicholas Pennell and he would collaborate again in the theatre) and the title role in David Copperfield (1969).
It is for his work as a director that he will be best remembered (he had first dabbled at Bristol), notably his role in revitalising Canada’s Stratford Theatre in Ontario. Prior to relocating to Canada he had directed in the UK for the Hampstead Theatre Club, the RSC and Chichester. There was initially some press resistance that a relatively young Brit should be taking over a Canadian theatre but he managed to erase what he described as the “twirling, spinning and shouting” that dominated productions and instead create work that was more modern in style and thus easier for the audience to absorb. He lured British theatrical greats such as Maggie Smith (he considered his working relationship with her to be the deepest he had in the business) and Brian Bedford to work alongside fine Canadian actors like Martha Henry whose admiration his working methods quickly provoked.
According to actor Barry McGregor “one of the great qualities that makes him what he is is that he teaches as he directs – that is so exciting.” He made “everyone feel valued and important to a production” felt actor Marti Maraden.
He was artistic director there from 1975 to 1980 and directed 40 productions, including a sensual Measure For Measure in his first year, followed by Antony And Cleopatra (with Smith and Bedford), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. He returned in 1986-87 to direct Cymbeline and The School For Scandal.
Elsewhere he ran the Grand Theatre at London, Ontario (1983-83), was artistic director at the Citadel Theatre from 1990-1995, helped found the Soulpepper Theatre in 1998 and also directed on Broadway. On the London stage in 2000/2001 he directed Jessica Lange in Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Lyric Theatre, also starring Charles Dance and Paul Rudd) and Francesca Annis in Ghosts (Comedy Theatre).
Casualty and Dynasty star Maxwell Caulfield, upon the news of Philips’ death, described him as a “borderline genius”. Stargate: Atlantis actor Torri Higginson Tweeted “Thank you for your stories, lessons and demanding presence every second”.
Philips felt that theatre was a vocation – “We do it for reasons other than just to entertain. If we do it well we can make a huge difference to people’s lives.” He was awarded the Order Of Canada in 2005 and the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.
He died on the morning of Saturday July 25 after a long illness and is survived by his long time partner Joe Mandel.