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SYFY WIRE obituary

Barbara Shelley, 'Doctor Who' actress and Hammer Horror Scream Queen, dies at 88

By Nivea Serrao
Barbara Shelley

Barbara Shelley, a British horror actress best known for her roles in horror classics such as Dracula, Prince of Darkness and a starring turn on Doctor Who, has passed away from underlying conditions after contracting COVID-19. She was 88. 

Her death was announced by her agent, Thomas Bowington. 

"She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the technicolour queen of Hammer," Bowington told the Press Association of Shelley's body of work with the British production studio, Hammer Film Productions. "On screen, she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness." 

Born Barbara T. Kowin in 1932, she first began her career as a model, before going into acting in Italy in the mid-1950s. She went on to work for the London-based Hammer, eventually earning herself the title of "Queen of Hammer," after regularly landing roles in gothic horror films such as Blood of the VampireThe Gorgon, and Rasputin: The Mad Monk, and Quatermass And The Pit. She also starred in the English horror classic, The Village of the Damned. 

Blood of the Vampire Poster


Despite earning the title of "scream queen" for her work in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, which she starred in opposite Christopher Lee, the scream she was most known for was actually dubbed by her co-star Suzan Farmer. 

Alongside all her film work, Shelley also had a prolific television career, having starred in more than 100 films and TV series during a career that stretched up to 2000, and featured appearances in projects such as The Cat GirlMan in the Dark, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. She'd also been interviewed by Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss in 2010 for his documentary, A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

The Cat Girl


Most notably, she appeared in a series of Doctor Who episodes in 1984, in which she played Sorasta in the Planet of Fire storyline, which featured Peter Davidson as the fifth iteration of the titular character, and Nicola Bryant as the companion Peri Brown. 

Bryant tweeted a tribute (below) after news of Shelley's passing broke.

"So very sad to hear of the passing of #BarbaraShelley," the actress said, sharing a few photos of Shelley. "A darling person and a talented actress. When we worked together on Planet of Fire she was so kind to me. She gave me a little owl, still in my possession and some good advice. #RIPBarbaraShelley. Wise and wonderful lady." 

According to Bowington, Shelley contracted the coronavirus after going to the hospital for a check-up and spent two weeks by herself in a ward before Christmas.