Friday, 7 June 2013
Nicholas Briggs on Doctor Who: The Dalek Contract
Nicholas Briggs, the executive producer for Big Finish as well as a frequent writer, director, and voice artist, talks about a release where he does all four in the latest issue of Vortex, the Big Finish magazine.
So Nick: big finale time. What can you tell us about The Dalek Contract/The Final Phase?
I can tell you that I actually cried buckets when I listened to them. Not very manly, I know. And a trifle self-indulgent, since I wrote and directed them. But the fact is that Alistair Lock has done such an amazing job at making them sound exactly like productions from the 1970s that I got hit by a huge wave of nostalgia. The score he’s composed sounds exactly like Dudley Simpson’s work for Genesis of the Daleks – which, to be fair, is precisely what I asked for. So really, I’m just thrilled that Alistair was talented enough to OBEY ME! Sorry, getting carried away there. The character is taking me over! But yes, it’s a big finale with all sorts kicking off. Most of the questions are answered, but not all! It sets up something for the future. The nicest thing for me is that we were able to get Romana to a point where she clearly wants to continue travelling with the Doctor. Mary Tamm made a point of telling me how much she loved these scripts, which was lovely to hear at the time, and it’s become something of a treasured memory for me now.
You first used the villainous Cuthbert in the Audio Visuals series; what’s different about him now? Will Audio Visuals fans have a head start on knowing who and what he is?
Everything you need to know about Cuthbert so far is in The Sands of Life, War Against the Laan and this Dalek finale. The essential character of Cuthbert, originally played by Barry Killerby in the Audio Visuals plays, is the same, right down to his liking chips. In fact, I develop that, with the addition of brown sauce – one of my weaknesses… I love brown sauce! Get me some now! Ahem, anyway…
What I’ve added to Cuthbert is a real mystery about who he is. There are many answers yet to come. But all you need to know for now is that he’s the head of a galactic corporation known as The Conglomerate and his business empire is tied up in the governments of a thousand worlds. He’s not an out-and-out villain. He does many good things; but essentially, he’s the worst kind of acquisitive capitalist. He will do whatever it takes to make a profit for his organisation and if he can cover it up, he doesn’t mind how bad the consequences are.
What has David Warner added to the role?
That’s the other ingredient I’ve added to Cuthbert: casting David Warner! He brings a real sense that this character is a powder keg that might blow at any moment. He’s just such a brilliant actor. The moment he opens his mouth, nuances flow forth and suddenly something that could have been just a stock villain gains extra dimensions.
How were Tom and Mary to work with on this story? Is Tom settling in well two series in?
Well, of course, some of this was recorded before and during the first series we did with Tom. So a lot of what you’re hearing here is his earliest work. People are always asking me what Tom’s like to work with. Everyone’s heard the old stories of him getting ratty and short-tempered on set in the old days. Tom talks about them too. So people always want me to tell them stories of terrible rows or of Tom throwing the script to the ground, likening it to whippet poo or something. But frankly, Tom is having a lovely time and is a joy to work with. We did exchange a few tense words about one little bit in this… I won’t give it away, but he had to do a different kind of thing for a scene and was quite uncomfortable with it. Oh, I’ll tell you. Basically, he has to sound like a Dalek. He wanted me to do it for him. But I said it kind of had to sound like him doing the voice. He was a bit reluctant to start with. But when he did it, it was great! Mary was as fun as ever. It’s true to say that we already knew she was ill, so we had to be careful not to wear her out. But I must say that she was so determined to do this. She was certainly up for doing more.
You’ve written many a Dalek story now; as their voice on audio and TV, do you feel a certain responsibility towards them, and doing them justice?
I’ve never thought of it like that. I suppose I have, perhaps unjustifiably, some proprietorial feelings towards them. They’ve been so important to me since childhood really. And doing them for Big Finish, then the TV series, has made them a huge part of my life. I feel I know them really well, so, frankly, I’m always dying to tell more Dalek stories. I have an infinite number of them stored away somewhere in the darker recesses of my brain. The way to do them justice is to make them as evil as possible. Make sure the story is about them and what they’re up to. Don’t just use them as generic bad guys. Make it about the evil of the Daleks. See what I did there? That’s my favourite Dalek story, by the way… Evil. I’ll die a happy man if I ever get to see that one for the third time – I saw it both times it was broadcast!
Will there come a time when you’ve had enough of Daleks or do you have a raft of ideas already prepped for them in the future?
I don’t envisage such a time. They’re just such fun to write for. They say write about what you know… and by jingo I know these critters!
Your Doctor Who book The Dalek Generation has come out recently; what was that like as an experience, and what could you do with the Daleks in that medium that you hadn’t before?
It was a really interesting experience. There was hell in there. It was a new thing for me to do. I found it daunting that what I wrote would be, literally, the last word in what the audience had to go on to enjoy the book. I’m used to everything I write being taken away, directed, sound designed and filled with scary music. Suddenly, it was just my words and anything that they could spark in the readers’ imaginations. That really scared me for a good while. Then I just got over it, entered the imaginary world I inhabit when I write anything, and enjoyed telling my story. If you love telling stories, there’s nothing better than being given permission to tell one. Editor Justin Richards gave me the permission! The main thing I could do in this medium – and this isn’t going to surprise anyone! – was describe them, their voices and the way they exterminated people. That was great. I could talk about the shape of them, the sound of them, the power of them. That was loads of fun.
How was it writing for the Eleventh Doctor?
I’m a big fan of Matt Smith’s Doctor. I think he just gets better and better and I dread the day he leaves. If I get the chance, I will strongly advise him to stay on forever the next time I see him. I think he has such a beautiful instinct for the part. And when I admire someone’s performance, I often find myself sort of imagining what it would be like to inhabit that performance. I’ve had to ‘do’ the Eleventh Doctor several times in AudioGo audiobooks I’ve read, so I really feel I have Matt’s Doctor voice and character in my head. And my son Ben makes me watch his episodes far more times than any normal adult would. That’s right, I’m blaming Ben! It’s not me at all. No, no, no… So I relished the opportunity to bring the Eleventh Doctor alive. I was bringing him forth from that imaginary, fully functioning, three-dimensional model of his personality that I already have in my head!
Writing for and directing great actors, sound designing, overseeing multiple ranges of new Doctor Who: best job in the world?
Short answer? Yes. Long answer? Yeeeeeeeees! I love what I do. This is the most fun I’ve had in my life. I hope I can do it forever. And I hope nothing ever changes about it. We’ve got it just right at Big Finish at the moment. Great people doing great work. I’m loving it.