Published on April 13th, 2010 | by Christian Cawley
As a superb tie-in to the upcoming Victory of the Daleks - and to promote the excellent new Big Finish audio Homes and the Ripper (by the legendary Brian Clemens) in which he plays the lead role of Sherlock Holmes – we’ve got an exclusive interview with Nick Briggs!
Best known to Doctor Who fans as the voice of the Daleks and the Cybermen, Nick is also a key figure at Big Finish, where he is an Executive Producer, he directs and writes and also appears in the productions from time to time.
He’s also steeped in Doctor Who fandom – as you’ll soon see…
Nick kindly began by telling us a bit about his early days as a struggling actor…
I left drama school in the early 1980s and struggled and got nowhere for years, doing odd little bits of very forgettable work. After manfully struggling on, and getting far too involved doing Doctor Who audio plays for love and not money – and I played the bloomin’ Doctor! – I decided to officially give up and went to work for a publishing company. I eventually became an editor, but during that time, the 1990s, Colin Baker got me a job in seaside rep, which kick-started my theatre career. And since that time, I’ve worked in commercial theatre, directing, sound designing and acting.
I’ve been murderers, murder victims, countless inspectors, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and King Richard in theatres throughout the land. And I’m still doing all this, in conjunction with my Doctor Who work on audio and TV. I will, for example, be at the Theatre Royal Nottingham this summer, directing and acting in thrillers.
You’ve been one of the hardest working fans of the show in your time, with the Reeltime Pictures and BBV productions. What do you remember of this time?
These were the jobs I did before I really started to make headway in my career, I suppose. They gave me invaluable experience and taught me so much. And, of course, the Reeltime Pictures Myth Makers interviews introduced me to a lot of the old Doctor Who actors with whom I still work now in Big Finish. BBV gave me great experience of filming under extreme pressure, with virtually no budget as an actor, writer and director. Very character-building stuff! I’m laughing while I’m writing this!
In many ways these productions were the progenitors of modern fan made Doctor Who – how does it feel to know that people are still making fan films, and have you seen many of the recent ones?
I don’t think I’ve seen any recent fan films. Oh, I tell a lie, I did see one quite a few months ago. I can’t remember much about it except that it wasn’t half bad. The guy who was playing the Doctor was actually pretty good! I think he was American. And the girl was absolutely, proper, film star drop-dead gorgeous. The CGI wasn’t bad either. I seem to remember the script was a bit off. But, of course, the incredible technology that’s available to amateur film makers can give such a polished look now. God, I would’ve loved some of that technology to be available when we were doing Auton and Auton II, the straight-to-video dramas I directed.
That was quite a character you played in Children of Earth – relatively brief and subtly insidious. Did you have any particular politician in mind when you breathed life into him?
They sold the part to me as an Alastair Campbell type of spin doctor. I didn’t set out to impersonate him, obviously, and there’s no way Alastair Campbell would be as nasty as Rick Yates! But I did bear that bullishness in mind. It was great fun to do and I’ve lobbied Russell T. Davies for a return of the character – the way all actors irritate producers by asking for their characters to come back! – but there’s no sign of that happening, alas.
Have you any ambition to feature on screen in Doctor Who, or is voicing an army of various monsters enough for you?
I’m happy to do whatever they ask me. But I’d be a fool to turn down a good part on screen in Doctor Who. But, you know, when they’re getting really famous actors to come in and say about five lines, it kind of puts in perspective what my chances would actually be! Still, I’m ever hopeful.
Also as a writer/director, have you any plans for films or TV shows you would like to work on outside of the Who World?
I had a brush with writing for TV when I did some scripts for the now defunct Channel Five soap Family Affairs. It was lovely that I was given that opportunity and I’m eternally grateful to TV mogul Austen Atkinson who gave me the chance. But I found the work utterly soul-destroying. I think it’s long enough ago for me to confess now that after writing a couple, I kept making up excuses about being too busy to avoid writing any more. I think that writing that kind of television is for people far more determined to become TV writers than I am – people who are prepared to take all the crap script editing and nonsense notes. I could write a book on the stupid things that were said to me about drama, acting and writing during that process!
I’m much happier doing my own thing in my own little world of Big Finish audios. It means I get to explore my ideas without worrying about second-guessing the views of people who are frankly mostly not concentrating very hard, because they’re working on several scripts all at once. I once got pretty close to writing an episode of The Bill but it was like staring into the pit of Hell. Having said all that, if someone asked me to write a Doctor Who, there’s no way I could say no, despite the world of pain that would undoubtedly open up for me. Luckily for my sanity, it seems, no one is going to ask me. Although I can’t pretend I’m not a bit sad about that sometimes.
And as for writing outside the Who World, as you put it, yeah, I’d love to write a movie. I’d love to create a TV series. I’d love to do it all! Of course! I love stories. But in order to do all that, you have to suffer years of writing terrible TV in whatever ‘house style’ is imposed. I know young writers who are going through that now, and smiling through the tears, pretending that it’s all invigorating when really they’re dying inside and just want to express the stories they want to tell. I have so much respect for writers like that.
I feel too old, ugly and set in my ways to climb that mountain now. But – and you can guess what I’m going to say next, folks – if someone gave me the chance to have a go, I’d be straight in there! Despite all that pain. My ambition in this respect, would be to work with people who could really teach me something. And I certainly always believe I have so much to learn. I don’t think the learning curve ever ends.
My dream ambition is to create a science fiction franchise, though. We all have to have dreams, don’t we?
As an actor, Doctor Who aside, are there any roles, or types of roles that you would love to play? Along with this, you have a talent for voice acting, have you any plans for cartoon work or animated films?
As for planning to do animation workâ€¦ I’d love to. But it’s so difficult to control your career. But my real ambition as an actor is to play as many varied roles as possible. To stretch myself. But I’m also fond of strong leading roles too. For example, I’ve played Sherlock Holmes a number of times on stage over the years. And now we’re doing a series of Holmes audios for Big Finish, with me in the leading role. We’ve just released Holmes and the Ripper, by Brian Clemens, and we’ll be doing more, later in the year.
How important is it to faithfully reproduce the voices of Daleks and Cybermen whether on TV or for Big Finish?
I’m not sure what you mean by ‘faithfully reproduce’ the voices. If you mean, make them like they were back in the original series of Doctor Who, then I’m certainly hugely indebted to the some of the original Dalek voice artists. They invented that delivery. But what I hope I’ve done is take it a bit further, given it a few more levels. No, don’t laugh! If you think of the whole range of human expression in the voice as 100%, I think the original Daleks had 10%. I immodestly feel I’ve pushed it up to about 30%.
Something that’s happened with the Daleks now is that, for the first time in the history of Doctor Who, they’ve had some consistency in the voice. I’m the longest-running voice of the Daleks and I am in control of the technical effect on the voice. So, from Chris Eccleston to Matt Smith, the Dalek voice effect has always been the same. I don’t think there was an unbroken run that long in the original series, and frankly they just ‘guesstimated’ the setting on the voice modulator every time they set it up; so you have Daleks sounding a bit like Pinky and Perky one episode, then in the next episode they sound great!
Well, as you can tell, this voice thing is terribly important to me. I like to have pride in my work, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t have to see a psychiatrist about this at some point in the future, obviously!
Long-term Doctor Who Magazine readers may recall that an alternative (fake) Ninth Doctor was based on you back in the 1990s – I was actually pretty taken with that incarnation and was a little disappointed when he “Shayded” away…
Well, quite. You must be that one fan of my Doctor! I did actually feature in another DWM strip called Party Animals, where I was an indeterminate future incarnation of the Doctor. And aside from playing the Doctor in those amateur audios all those years ago, I featured in a Big Finish production as “The Previous Doctor”, when we had Arabella Weir as the first female Doctor. Oh, and I also played a mad bloke who thought he was the Doctor in a BF story called Minuet in Hell. He’d had all the memories of the Doctor blasted into his head, so woke up believing he was the Doctor. Hold on: and that was years before The Next Doctor. Funny how these ideas keep turning up. Ha, ha!
But it was a great thrill to be in the comic strip. I was working as Press and PR Manager or something at the Scifi Channel when that came out, and my boss kept introducing me to people as ‘Doctor Who’ and put photocopies of one of the first pages of the strip on everyone’s desk in the marketing department. Oh, how we laughed.
Next to David Tennant, you have lived the ultimate fan dream. Moving through the ranks of fan appreciation to officially working for the show and with classic Doctors for Big Finish. Is there ever a day that you wake up and say “No way can this be happening”?
I deliberately make myself think that from time to time, just to remind myself how lucky I am. It’s so funny that the second person I texted to say, ‘I’m doing the Dalek voices’ was actually David Tennant. And a year later, he was Doctor bleedin’ Who. Well, it’s only right that they give these jobs to the experts!
Many thanks to Nick Briggs for taking the time to speak to us. Holmes and the Ripper is available from Big Finish now for Â£14.99.