The Doctor Who Companion

Get your daily fix of news, reviews, and features with the Doctor Who Companion!

Richard Franklin (1936- 2023)

Richard Franklin, who played UNIT’s Captain Mike Yates in Doctor Who, has passed away, aged 87.

The actor passed away in his sleep after fighting a long-term illness on Christmas Day morning 2023. Yes, it has taken longer than it should have done to report his passing, but obituaries are funny things, especially for those people we really care about. Acknowledging someone important isn’t part of our physical world anymore is, of course, gutting, but more than that, with obituaries, you have the task of making something worthy of someone special. How do you sum up a life in a few paragraphs? How do you close a chapter with a simple news item?

Because the thing about Mike Yates, and about Richard Franklin, is that he was fantastic.

Yates was such a well-rounded, interesting, compelling, and watchable character that he feels like he’s been in more serials than he actually has been. He debuted in Terror of the Autons — often, it’s often said, introduced to the show as a potential love interest for new companion, Jo Grant (Katy Manning); a love that never came to be, though there was always a flirtation and magnetism echoing between them. Yates was in a number of much-loved stories including The Claws of Axos, The Dæmons, and The Green Death, in which he hides a pain behind his eyes as he’s forced to say goodbye to Jo as she gets engaged to someone else.

After that, Yates’ journey twists into something unseen on Doctor Who before: he becomes the betrayer, someone whose ideals are manipulated so much that he apparently turns against UNIT. In Invasion of the Dinosaurs, however, he still remains true to his friends, including the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), Benton (John Levene), and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), trying to make sure they wouldn’t get hurt.

Sadly, his betrayal means he’s dismissed from UNIT, so the next time we see him, he’s trying to find himself at a retreat in Planet of the Spiders. He’s still fighting the good fight — he’s just no longer a captain. He calls in UNIT, seemingly not bothered by their animosity towards him: all that matters to Mike is that good triumphs. In some ways, then, Mike was the only member of UNIT, at least in the Third Doctor era, who was truly allowed to grow, to become more than solely the soldier.

The last time we see Franklin in Doctor Who properly was The Five Doctors, playing a phantom in the Tower of Rassilon — not the real Mike, but it was good to see our old captain again nonetheless.

But Franklin wasn’t finished with Doctor Who, of course; he even appeared in audio adventures, including Big Finish’s The Third Doctor Adventures and UNIT: Assembled. He even met the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in Paul Magrs’ The Nest Cottage Chronicles, i.e. Hornets’ Nest, Demon Quest, and Serpent Crest.

He loved playing Mike so much that he even wrote a novel about Yates: The Killing Stone, which sadly was never published, it having presumably been written for Target’s defunct The Companions of Doctor Who range. He even wrote, directed, and appeared in Recall UNIT at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1984. He was, it’s clear to see, a very talented man and we were lucky to have him as part of our Doctor Who universe.

Richard’s acting break came in the soap, Crossroads, in 1969, playing Joe Townsend, which followed his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where he won the Jenny Laird prize, awarded for “achievement in a thankless role” (and named after the actress who’d star as Neska in Planet of the Spiders). Franklin joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1963 and spent a short period in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

He’d go on to play Denis Rigg in another soap, Emmerdale, with more TV and film roles including in Blake’s 7, Dixon of Dock Green, The First Days of Spring, Twilight of the Gods, and the Star Wars movie, Rogue One.

Franklin was also deeply religious, converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism later in life, as well as being politically minded — indeed, he stood as a parliamentary candidate during several general elections, founded the Silent Majority Party, and wrote Forest Wisdom: Radical Reform of Democracy and the Welfare State.

I met him a number of years ago at a Doctor Who convention. I was a little anxious about this meeting — I always loved Mike Yates, so meeting the actor behind the character was somewhat intimidating — but I shouldn’t have been: despite the place being crowded, the queue stretching out behind me, he was warm and friendly, shaking my hand and giving me time; he seemed a bit amazed that he should be such a draw for fans.

But perhaps that was the magic of Mike Yates and of Richard Franklin. He had that warmth, that twinkle in his eye, and I’m not sure he ever appreciated just how good he really was.

Goodbye, Captain. We shall miss you.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of Richard’s family and friends.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Richard Franklin (1936- 2023)

by Philip Bates time to read: 3 min
%d bloggers like this: