The main reason for our interview with Lisa was to discuss The Company of Friends – an unusual entry into the travels of the Eighth Doctor that sees him team up with four companions for four different adventures. Jemima Rooper becomes the audio incarnation of DWM’s comic strip companion Izzy and former EastEnders actor Matt di Angelo voices the BBC Books companion Fitz Kreiner while Julie Cox plays yet another companion to Paul McGann’s Doctor – Mary Shelley herself! Lisa of course plays Bernice Summerfield, in Benny’s Story.
“It’s a half hour play, great fun to be able to dip into another encounter with another Doctor. I’ve heard all about the notorious encounter in Dying Days (did they or didn’t they?) – this adventure is good old fashioned Benny, light in tone and banter. I know Paul socially but have never worked with him before and you never quite know how the dynamic is going to work. It was terrific and we hit the ground running!
“He’s very energetic as the Doctor and it seems to work very well. It will be interesting to see how the fans react. I haven’t heard the other three stories so don’t know what form they take but the casting is impressive with Jemima Rooper and Matt di Angelo and Julie Cox they’re really experienced and I hope listeners will put down their prejudices – people don’t sit on the fence about things in Doctor Who fandom.”
One thing that strikes me about Benny is that she’s an older character – a female character with years of experience who is the lead, the heroine.
“Recently there has been a big Equity petition – women over a certain age on TV disappear. This is why I’m so lucky as most actresses over 40 are reduced to playing one line as the heroes mother or in a suit playing a ballbreaker. There’s not a lot left for us and when there is it usually goes to the same five actresses. So this huge petition went out calling on the TV industry to get their act together.
“I don’t think it will make a blind bit of difference but there is certainly a gap in the market for older actors and actresses. Older actors are offered nothing more than doddering old men with Alzheimer’s!”
Do you think it’s the culture of the people at the top, their perception of the audience?
“TV executives think we’re all 12 years old and have no notion of anything beyond the youth market. There are so many older characters you could explore and its being completely overlooked. My father’s 91 this year and his brain’s as active as ever. These guys have proper stories to tell, they’re not sitting there bored. Life experience makes you more interesting and it makes me cross that so many stories, fictional or otherwise are being completely overlooked.
“Some of the best actors of their generation are being completely ignored, and I think it’s a tragedy that all of this talent and ability is being wasted.”
Your connection with Doctor Who onscreen goes back to 1989’s Survival in which you played Kara – you’d been working as an actress for a few years at that stage. How did Lisa Bowerman become an actress?
“I think it was just in my genes to be honest, I got into a youth theatre when I was 14 and by the time I went to drama school at 19 I had a bit of experience. We did plays every summer, toured with plays and I just love acting. When it came for auditioning for drama school it was either that or art school and I knew what I had a passion for.
“In those days it was extremely difficult, the competition was tough, there was no funding around. I was lucky enough to get into drama school and just had a great time and was extremely lucky to work on Casualty when it first started.”
And now of course you’re directing as well as acting…
“That only really happened in the last 3 years really. I did a lot of radio at Manchester and Pebble Mill and I also worked for Independent Radio Drama Productions who were the only other company other than the BBC making radio drama. When I started with Big Finish Gary Russell had promised I would be directing for them when they got the Doctor Who licence and I had to wait 8 years!
“When David Richardson came on board at Big Finish he moved me onto the Doctor Who stuff. At a company the size of Big Finish you have a lot of autonomy and I have complete power over all but the actors we inherit in ongoing roles, I absolutely love it! I have a really good time; I’m fond of the Companion Chronicles.”
Speaking of which, you were in charge for The Mahogany Murderers weren’t you?
“The one I absolutely love is The Mahogany Murderers with Jago and Litefoot from Talons of Weng Chiang. Those two are to die for, I’ve known Trevor for a long time, and we had such a laugh and Andy Lane did a cracking job with the script.”
Were you a fan of Doctor Who as a child?
“I think fan is overstatement but of course I watched it… I think my earliest memory – I’m convinced I remember William Hartnell but I think my Doctor was Jon Pertwee.
“I think that era – and it was due in part to the Radiophonic Workshop – there was something really creepy! I do remember The Green Death very vividly and The Daemons vividly. Although my brother was in Talons of Weng Chiang and he played one of the stage hands. I was always fond of Doctor Who but as soon as Peter Davison came into it I was off working away.
“With the Sylvester one [Survival] I was launched back into it and it was one of those strange jobs you think will last a few weeks and it never went away, it’s extraordinary!”
“It’s so bizarre – I’ll have conversations with people and they’ll say “You shouldn’t know that,”and I say “I know …how do I know that?”
“Obviously I’ve watched the new series, as I know a lot of people involved like Rob Shearman [Dalek] and Nick Briggs [Dalek and other monsters voice artist]. It’s extraordinary the grip on kids imaginations, it’s one of those beasts no one could have predicted.”
Even the years of fandom dreaming of a new series, no one could have predicted quite how big Doctor Who would become again.
“It made a lot of difference that Russell was a fan – frankly what they’ve done is extraordinary. I’m very hopeful for the Steven Moffat era, he’s a good producer and a great writer and his take on things will make a difference – that is something that was great about the original series every producer had a different take on it.”
What do you think of the new Doctor?
“I’ve gone on record saying I’m very hopeful about Matt Smith – I met him briefly when I took his photo a couple of years ago – he was such a nice boy, so self deprecating and keen to learn and I think he has extraordinary qualities as an actor. I’m very, very hopeful; I think he’s going to be great! I have every faith in the experience of Steven Moffat and I think he’s made a brilliant choice.”
Doctor Who has of course heralded a new age of Saturday teatime viewing with ITV’s Primeval and Demons and Merlin and Robin Hood on BBC One.
“For years people were telling us that family viewing was dead, and Doctor Who has proved them wrong!
“I wish producers would wake up to this, Doctor Who is the first show in years that has been writer lead – I was brought up on writer-lead television such as Dennis Potter but how much TV can you think of recently that has been other than Doctor Who? It seems it doesn’t happen anymore and I don’t understand why, HBO in America proved that it works. I hope TV executives will learn from that.”
“I just want to give you an example – when I did the first two series of [long-running BBC hospital drama] Casualty we were launched in the 86-87 drama series and I recently found the BAFTA brochure. In the year we were launched the BBC produced: Life and Loves of a She Devil [co-starring Tom Baker] The Monocled Mutineer [starring Paul McGann], The Singing Detective, Screen One, Screen Two, Screen Play, Theatre Night – where they put on stage plays in a studio environment, A Very Peculiar Practice [starring Peter Davison]… and EastEnders which had recently launched occupied a single page in the brochure.
“These days the brochure would be full of reality shows and soap, and they use soap as an excuse for drama output. I would say there was a huge difference between soap and drama, huge.”
We’d like to thank Lisa for taking the time to talk to us and giving a great interview; also thanks to Big Finish’ David Richardson for arranging the interview. Images are courtesy of Alex Mallinson.