Saskia Wickham was ice cool about taking the plunge as the new star TV’s top rated medical series Peak Practice, which starts a new series on ITV on February the 27th. But taking the plunge for real in the first episode left her ice cold and shaken. Saskia shifted her way through a dramatic scene filmed in a river in the middle of the big winter freeze, only to be told the cameras had failed and it would all have to be done again.
‘I could have cried,’ confessed Saskia. ‘I thought they had to be playing a joke on me and it would all be fine, but they were dead serious. They simply hadn’t got the shots and there was no alternative. On the first ‘unsuccessful’ take I had plunged into the water myself. But with the temperature so low, there was no way I could warm up enough to do it again. So they got a stunt double in a dry suit to leap in. However, the next shot was of me sitting on the riverbank having just come out of the water. So I sat there in the middle of December, and had buckets of water poured over my head. It’s at times like that you wonder about the glamour of television,’ laughed Saskia.
‘I cheered up when I heard the final scenes the underwater ones were to be done at the swimming pool, until I discovered it was outdoors. But they did try to have big fan heaters blowing on me but it didn’t help much. It looks good on screen, though, so I suppose that’s what really matters.’
The dramatic river rescue scene gets this new series of Peak Practice off to a heart pounding start. But viewers will notice big changes around the GP Practice set high in the Peak District. Resident docs Jack and Beth have packed their medical bags and headed to Africa, thanks to the decision of Kevin Whately and Amanda Burton to hang up their stethoscopes and move on to new telly challenges.
Third partner Will Preston now finds himself running the practice with two new docs Erica Matthews and Andrew Attwood, who was introduced in the last series.
‘I couldn’t believe the way I’ve got this dream part,’ confided 29 year old Saskia. ‘In this business you go for endless auditions and constant disappointments, but I simply got a call totally out of the blue from my agent saying the job was mine if I wanted it. I nearly dropped the phone on the spot. When I recovered I called my Dad right away told him what was on offer and asked what I should do. He must have thought I was mad and just said, ‘What do you think you should do, take it you silly girl’, this was last May and to be honest I had virtually nothing lined up workwise anyway, so there was no decision to make. When I calmed down, I reckoned it must have been the work of drama boss Ted Charles who’s behind things like Peak Practice, Soldier Soldier and Sharpe,’ said Saskia. ‘I worked with him some time back on Boon and at the end of that he wrote me a lovely letter saying how much he’d enjoyed working with me, and he’d look out for something for me again, sure enough he did and this was it.’
But the onscreen shake up itself was itself shook up just weeks into filming. Makers Carlton carried out multimillion pound surgery after deciding their original idea of having four main doctors just wasn’t working.
‘It was all very sad,’ says Saskia. ‘None of those who left, like Larry Lamb who was the other doctor, did so because they were bad, it was just decided they didn’t fit in. It seemed the bosses didn’t like the way things looked and wanted a change. It’s certainly a very unusual very expensive thing to do, as all the original scenes has to be reshot. Let’s just say a lot of weekends, which I thought was free suddenly weren’t. The style changed a bit and one of the things which I found right through was how enthusiastic, everyone was.’
‘Simon has been there right from the start and you might think he’d be a bit jaded but not a bit. He’s very positive and absolutely loves the show and that fires everyone up.’
‘I was never aware of following in Amanda’s footsteps,’ revealed Saskia. ‘I know she was very popular, but you can’t think ‘what if no one likes me’. All I can do is try to make sure people really love Erica, and want to see what she’s doing each week.’
‘I also couldn’t stop and think that 50 million viewers would be watching this and consider the pressure of suddenly playing the female lead. You couldn’t get in front of the cameras at all if you’re worried about that and felt the pressure,’ said Saskia. ‘I’ll just sit down with my family and watch the first episode, the same as everyone else, and hope they and everyone else likes it.’
One of those who have a more of a critical eye than most is Saskia’s sister in law Jo, who herself is GP. ‘She was one of the first people I phoned when I got the part and like the rest of my family she thought it was hysterical.’
‘They all know I faint at the first sight of blood. For that reason alone I could never be a GP. I also could never be so dedicated, I know from seeing Jo deal with people just how selfless and caring she is. I couldn’t do that all the time. While I couldn’t sit in on Jo’s surgeries I found her a great help. There was one scene where I have to resuscitate a little girl and I phoned Jo for advice, even though our medical advisors are excellent. In another episode, I have to pretend to give medicine to an imaginary person, my patient believes is there,’ revealed Saskia. ‘I asked Jo whether she’d heard of such a thing happening and she said, ‘Oh yes, absolutely.’ Just knowing how she’d react to things in real life made it easier for me.’