Since 2001 India Fisher has been a regular on the Big Finish audios, starring as the young runaway Charley Pollard, who encounters the Eighth Doctor in the first adventure to star Paul McGann, Storm Warning.
Since then India has become a favourite with Doctor Who fans, appearing in 28 Eighth Doctor adventures and subsequently – in a superb plot development – a further 8 stories alongside Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, the last ‘season’ of which is available over the next month, starting with Patient Zero which is out now.
Charley’s time as a companion to either Doctor is set to end soon, however, with India moving on from Big Finish, marking the end of a much loved character played with such verve and charm over the years.
Before we get going though, there’s one thing to sort out – the matter of Charley’s relationship with the Eighth Doctor. Charley and the Doctor pre-empted the closeness seen on TV between Rose and the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and in some ways took it further with statements of love.
“Of course they have kissing in the TARDIS now – we held hands and there was a fuss!
“I have a good understanding of what I meant as Charley when I said I loved him. Poor Charley was running away at 16/17, led a sheltered life, ran away for adventure, she’d never had any sort of physical relationship; he became everything to her, a bit of a crush.
“So love was mixed up with him being a best friend, a father figure that she looked up to; her entire world was her and the Doctor. So not that sort of love, a bit of it was but only in a very tame Enid Blyton kind of way I think.”
Does it stem from the English only having one word for love? “Absolutely! It was a messed up love that she had for the Doctor, not in love but they loved one another, I think.”
The latest run of adventures with Charley and the Sixth Doctor sees the earlier incarnation of the Doctor getting wise to Charley’s self preservation white lies – distractions to protect the Doctor from what she believes to be the truth.
“They decided to swap over as I think they felt the Eighth Doctor and Charley had slightly run its course, it would shake things up, and of course Paul McGann went off to do things with Sheridan Smith. I thought that would be the end of Charley so I was really thrilled when they said they were thinking of moving me over to Colin’s Doctor and it really worked!
“Colin and I got on brilliantly, we’d met before at conventions and things but you never know how well you’re going to work together but it really clicks and that comes across in the recordings.”
So Charley finds herself somehow travelling with a different Doctor, once again proving herself to be a resourceful and inspired adventurer.
“To escape from being trapped on the island she builds a crystal radio set, does an SOS and thinks that in the appearing TARDIS is her Doctor – she’s unaware that there are various incarnations of the Doctor.”
And of course they’re very different Doctors… “They are both two completely different Doctors! I think character-wise Charley was completely in awe of the Eighth Doctor and thought he was completely extraordinary, and a couple of things he did shocked her to the core. She needs to be more grown up and worldly wise and that he is fallible, not the god-like creature that she thought.”
The great thing about this pairing is it’s a superb opportunity that Big Finish saw and took – something you wouldn’t be able to do on television without somehow explaining away the age of the actors involved.
“Big Finish have always been very clever about fitting things in – this chunk comes between these episodes in the original series and it’s the beauty of audio and you can get away with this. I appreciate I’m a lucky girl and that the fans haven’t said ‘What!?’ The stories with Colin and I are among some of the best I’ve done, they’ve pulled out the stops with actors and storylines.”
So with the end in sight for Charley’s time with the Doctor is there any chance of her making a return at any point? “My reaction to anything like that is leave them wanting more… they’ve flogged that horse. I’m not saying I would never – the beauty of time travel is that in the future I might be able to come back – and I hope at one point she can be picked up for a little special.”
And in the meantime, what have you got lined up next?
“Ah that’s the $1000 question for many actors – I don’t know! Luckily I narrate [BBC cookery reality show] Masterchef, so that pays my mortgage! I’m about to finish on a new series Masterchef: The Professionals, then series 6 starts recording in September. I’m lucky I have ongoing work so the pressure’s off. It’s that thing of the jobbing actor but I’m not holding my breath for the National to call me!”
It’s interesting that you mentioned Masterchef - a friend of mine is a huge fan and cookery shows are such a big part of television these days, good or bad.
“I love cookery programs and Masterchef is a great gig for me. Oh I’m obsessed by the voice over guy on [Channel 4 reality cookery show) Come Dine with Me, Dave Lamb. Masterchef is a great job and I get to sit and look at beautiful food all the time, great job if you can get it!"
So here you are now with a couple of months since your last recordings as Charley - in your 8 years or so in the role is there anything you'll miss?
"My time in Doctor Who has given me some great mates who will remain mates...Conrad Westmass [Eighth Doctor companion C'Rizz] and Nick [Briggs, Big Finish and BBC Dalek voice master]… it’s been very special for me.
“I loved the Daleks as it means you get Nick doing ridiculous Dalek voices, and he’s extraordinary as each of his Daleks has a different voice. There was a time when we were in the studio stood agog as he had four Dalek voices all arguing amongst themselves, each with distinct characterisations, and you’re there going “he’s too much time on his hands!”
One thing I always pick up on speaking to people with some connection to Big Finish is the closeness and family atmosphere. “It makes a massive difference – they all care first and foremost and that comes across when people are passionate and it makes an amazing atmosphere. When actors walk in who have never seen Doctor Who they always make them feel so welcome and part of the experience.
“It improves the end product to feel you’re a part of something – you can feel the love in the room and this makes you want to do your best for them. I’m really proud of some of the stories and I’ve been lucky over my Doctor Who career.”
Many thanks to India for taking the time out to talk to us. Patient Zero is out now, while Paper Cuts and Blue Forgotten Planet are both available in September – all from www.bigfinish.com.