As part of the release of the new Doctor Who DVD, The Doctors: Monsters!, we interview Nicholas Briggs, one of the men behind the release, as well as the voice of a number of iconic creatures from the franchise, such as the Daleks and Cybermen.
Nicholas, you’ve been working on Doctor Who since the show returned in 2005, but you’ve been involved with the franchise and the fandom for a lot longer than that, having worked with Reeltime on The Myth Makers series. How did that come about?
Well, through being a fan really, and through my career not going awfully well straight out of leaving drama school. Life is all about chance and coincidence, and luck, and I didn’t have any great luck so I went back to my primary interest from school and childhood, which was Doctor Who. I got involved with a bunch of Doctor Who fans doing Doctor Who audio dramas for fun, which I ended up playing the Doctor, along with writing and directing, doing sound design and music.
When we launched these we did a little convention in Southampton, and Keith Barnfather, the producer of Reeltime Pictures who make Myth Makers, had a great presenter called Keith Harrison, who is in I Was A Doctor Who Monster. But as you heard from the introduction to that Keith, although a fantastic broadcaster and interviewer, was not a Doctor Who fan. So he would ask questions that would betray that, and for Doctor Who fans who watched the interview it was a bit irritating that he would make those mistakes. And so Keith wanted to find someone who could do an interview by knew about Doctor Who.
So that’s how I started doing the Myth Makers. I’ve continued to spend my life getting involved with stuff to do with Doctor Who, which brilliantly led to me getting the voice of the Daleks job from the BBC.
The new DVD collects together a number of the Myth Makers along with the I Was A Doctor Who Monster documentary. As a Doctor Who fan I’ve watched a lot of the behind the scenes documentaries that are included in the BBC releases, but I did find that the Myth Makers goes a lot more in depth, such as when you interviewed the designer of the Daleks. What have been some of the best Myth Makers to have worked on?
Well, that one with Ray Cusick was interesting because he really was generous with his time and information, and he had all that stuff as you saw, all the original drawings, and he laid it all out for us. He wasn’t the cheeriest of people, but he was packed full of interesting anecdotes.
One of the pivotal points for me with my Myth Makers interviews was Colin Baker, one of the first where someone gave me responsibility, and said ‘you’re in charge, you’re doing this interview’ and because I happened to be at the right point in my development doing these interviews it had the right effect on me. So we had lots of fun doing that one. There was lots of messing around going on.
The next one I then did was Sophie Aldred, who’s the same age as me so we were both quite young at the time. She met up with us and she had an open topped sports car which we drove around, and she was just a crazy driver. She drove hell for leather and I was visibly terrified during the interview.
I think one of the most memorable experiences for me was Jon Pertwee, because he was just so terrifying. He was very conscious of what he wanted in the interview and would keep stopping it any time I asked a question that didn’t quite chime right with him. He was a great man and a great Doctor and I loved what he did, and in many ways he was very generous and nice to me, but that was quite a damaging experience for me.
There is an extent to which, as a Doctor Who fan, that I realised quite early on that what I really wanted to do is meet Doctor Who, not the actor. So there was this process of, without sounding negative, disappointment, because they’re only people.
Is there anyone who you would love to do something with, as either a Myth Makers or as an audio drama that you haven’t had the opportunity to do anything with yet?
Well, from an interview point of view it would have been lovely to have been able to interview Patrick Troughton because he’s my favourite Doctor. But unfortunately we missed that opportunity, and so we did a lovely tribute to him with some archive interview footage.
I don’t have a particular longing, I’m just grateful for all the people who do turn up, and who do do it. It’s mostly regrets on people we missed. I met Ian Marter who played Harry Sullivan, companion to the fourth Doctor Tom Baker, and he was such a lovely guy and died so early in his life, about two weeks after I interviewed him which was very tragic. It hit us all badly. I would have loved to have worked with him on Big Finish. It would have been amazing.
Liz Sladen as well, didn’t quite get the opportunity to work with her with Tom Baker in Big Finish. We were planning to do it, but sadly died.
I think my thought on that are only people who are completely beyond my reach. I think I’ve been lucky enough to have worked all the people I have.
You mentioned briefly before that you played the Doctor yourself as well, and were even used in one of the comics as a possible future regeneration of the Doctor. How did it feel to get to play such an iconic part even though it doesn’t completely count in cannon anymore?
Well, it was just huge amounts of fun. It was great doing it back in the audio visuals day when I was very young. Me being used in the comic strip, that was really an extension of that because of couple of the editors of The Doctor Who Magazine, my dear friends Gary Russell and Gary Gillett, were both aware of the audio visual plays with me as the Doctor so they thought it would be fun.
They did this thing where there was a fake regeneration and I was revealed as the new Doctor. I remember it was very controversial. Some people thought that it was supposed to be a footballer even though it was an accurate drawing of me, because most people didn’t know who I was. But Doctor Who fans who knew me and knew the audio visuals knew.
There was a gathering every first Thursday of the month at a particular pub in London, the Fitzroy Tavern, of Doctor Who fans, and I used to go there as a fan. The Thursday after the Doctor Who Magazine had been published in which I’d been revealed as the new incarnation of the Doctor I was just about to go in and a friend stopped me at the door and said ‘you don’t want to go in there mate’. I could see lots of people had the magazine, and I think that there was an equal distribution of joy and hatred spread throughout the room so I turned on my heels and went home.
That was my first taste of the double edged sword of notoriety. The good thing with being the voice of the Daleks is that people are aware of me because of Doctor Who Confidential, but largely it’s not the sort of fame where you get approached in the street. Though that has happened from time to time.
When the series came back in 2005 you helped to reintroduce the Daleks, and even the Nestene Consciousness in that first episode, and then over the years you went on to play Cybermen and Ice Warriors. Are there any creatures from the classic series who you’d like to see come back, possibly one that you could portray?
Well, I could play a Draconian with some prosthetic make-up on. I’d love to do that. I wasn’t quite big enough to play the Ice Warrior, although I did do the voice of him when they brought the Ice Warriors back in ‘Cold War’. But I can’t think of any others really. I’ve had all of my dreams come true with the Daleks, Cybermen, and the Judoon, being able to create a voice from scratch, the Zygons, and Ice Warriors. I’m pretty much done on the classic Doctor Who monsters really, and I never tire of doing the Daleks.
You’ve been part of the franchise now through four Doctors and two show runners, are you excited for the new era that’s coming with Chris Chibnall behind the scenes and Jodie Whittacker in the lead role?
Yeah, I’m very excited. The brilliant thing about Doctor Who is that it does do this reinventing of itself. The beginnings and endings are always the most exciting times in Doctor Who. As a fan of old you get that real tingle in your tummy about what’s going to happen next, and it’s all going to change.
Just seeing that CG animation of the new logo and seeing the TARDIS rocketing through space and time and the strange sort of hint at what the new theme might be like. It’s just delightful times. Like everyone else, I watch those little snatches of Jodie filming on location and meeting fans between shots. It really brings you back to your childhood.
I think that she’s an amazingly strong and charismatic actor and I think it’s going to be great. All these hints that it’s going to be very new and very different, a slight change in emphasis, and I think it’s brilliant that they’re trying to keep the mystery and not tell us too much about it, so it’s really building up anticipation. What’s it going to be like? It’s going to be amazing!
You might not be able to tell us, but will we be seeing you in Jodie’s first season, will you be there voicing a creature?
Well I have no idea. I never know anything until the very last moment. So I can neither confirm nor deny.
I’m ever hopeful, Chris Chibnall has my phone number, I live in the same town as him, and we had met and chatted many times before he was show runner, so it was nice that I knew the new show runner. But no news on that front, but it would be amazing and I’d love to be involved.
Going back to the release of the new DVD, what would you say to encourage fans to go out and watch this who probably haven’t really watched Doctor Who behind the scenes before, or who aren’t familiar with Myth Makers?
Well, this is really all about the unsung heroes of Doctor Who. For British audiences Doctor Who gained its popularity because of the monsters. It was the Daleks that made Doctor Who popular, and it’s laterally people who have become fascinated by the character of the Doctor.
But, Doctor Who is about the monsters, that’s what everyone remembers. Aside from the police box it’s the monsters. It’s the Daleks. Do you remember when these things came out of the sea? Do you remember when the shop window dummies smashed through the window?
So you’ve got this fantastic roll call of monster people. There’s Cy Town who was inside Daleks for ages, Michael Wisher who played the original Davros and did Dalek voices, David Banks who played the Cyberleader. A really fantastic bunch of people. So if like most Doctor Who fans you love the monsters this compendium is everything that you can delight in Doctor Who monsters, how they were created, the difficulties and the trials and tribulations of making them come to the screen.
The Doctors: Monsters! is now available on DVD. The complete interview with Nicholas Briggs is also available to listen to on the Set The Tape Podcast.