When Doctor Who went off air in 1989, it was the fans themselves that helped keep the flame alive. One particular group of fans were the team at Reeltime Pictures, who between the mid-eighties and early-2000’s, produced a colossal number of direct-to-video Doctor Who documentaries and films, each containing eye-opening interviews with the stars and creative forces behind the show (under the banner of Myth Makers). Each Myth Maker video explored the stories behind the making of the long-running programme, and were an invaluable resource for starved Who fans throughout the show’s barren Wilderness Years.
A huge number of these interviews were conducted by Nicholas Briggs, himself now a major player in the continuing story of Doctor Who. Best known as the voice of the Daleks, the Cybermen and countless other alien nasties in the revived TV Series, Briggs also serves as Executive Producer of Big Finish Productions, writing and directing brand new and official Doctor Who audio dramas starring the show’s original cast (including Tom Baker, David Tennant and even the late John Hurt) as far back as 1999.
To celebrate the re-release of the Myth Maker interviews in Koch Media’s ‘The Doctors’ series of DVD releases (including the latest release – The Doctors: Monsters!), Nick kindly lent us time out of his busy schedule to chat about his earlier work with Myth Makers and his subsequent work with Big Finish Productions and Doctor Who.
Hi Nick. It’s great to see these classic interviews available once again. Has it been revealing or enlightening looking back at them in retrospect?
Well it’s bizarre. Looking back at them, as you probably gathered, it’s a trip down memory lane. Keith Barnfather (founder of Reeltime Pictures and Myth Makers producer/director) and I have become firm friends since we first started doing them in the 80’s, and for me at least, in my own obsessive way, it’s a catalogue of both my hair disappearing and my own uncertainties about interviewing (laughs). I mean, the early ones I’m very green and don’t appear to know quite what I’m doing. But I think the ones on this latest release are fairly later on and by then I’d learnt a few lessons.
The other thing that hits me is that there was so much we did, and I was so busy concentrating on myself at the time and how to cope, I never quite realised that we were so lucky to be talking to these people and getting this real slice of insight. Especially from a time when Doctor Who wasn’t really that popular, and people were speaking about it in a different way. Sometimes speaking to people about Doctor Who back in the late 80’s and early 90’s was a bit like getting blood out of the stone. You’d sometimes turn up to interview these people and you could see they were thinking ‘oh dear, should I have agreed to this?’. And now, post-2005, you can’t stop speaking to people about Doctor Who. At Big Finish, I notice the difference in the Doctors in the Green Room, particularly Peter Davison. Suddenly I hear him say things like ‘yes, well back in my day, it was done with multi-camera’, and he’s telling anyone who’ll listen about Doctor Who, when before he was always a bit reticent about it all. One felt he might give up doing the audio dramas at any moment back then, because it was a bit of an uncool thing from his past.
From your time conducting these interviews, do you have any favourite stories or interviewees that stick in the mind?
Well, a key moment for me was around the time when I first started to get a bit more comfortable doing them, and we were interviewing Colin Baker. It was a pivotal moment for me because he allowed me the space to do my job, and he gave me confidence. His attitude was ‘well, you’re in charge’ when really, it was him who was in charge. It was really nice of him. He helped me feel really confident about myself, and I never really looked back after that, I was much happier doing them. The very next one I did was with Sophie Aldred (Ace), who is more or less the same age as me, and we both got on really well in that way you just suddenly do. I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing older people who slightly intimidate me, and here was someone my age. We relaxed, we had a laugh.
There had been all sorts of difficulties for me in the past. Jon Pertwee was phenomenally difficult to interview! He gave great value, he was a great Doctor, and he was very generous to me at conventions when I did interviews with him, but he was the opposite of Colin Baker. He would not allow me to do my job, he didn’t trust me. He kept stopping the interview to ask me to phrase a question differently or ask an entirely different question. It was a very painful process, he was very conscious of how he came across and his way of doing that was to make sure he controlled everything, rather then trusting people around him. I mean, I probably came across as an incompetent idiot, so I did very little to engender his trust, I presume (laughs).
The most nerve wracking thing of all was going to the Royal Albert Hall to interview him, as he was doing a personal appearance as Worzel Gummidge. We interviewed him for a while in his dressing room and he was very welcoming, but then he put on the make-up and I had to interview him whilst he was dressed as Worzel Gummidge! And looking at a man with a carrot for a nose and turnips and corn on his eyebrows was quite terrifying! There was something really scary about the way he looked. Plus he always looked directly into your eyes. I always felt, and this is probably my own paranoia, he was always looking for any hint of inappropriate irony in you. He never wanted anyone to get one over on him and not take him seriously.
Really, I don’t think I ever got over meeting him when I was 7 years old. Or rather I didn’t meet him, as I was so scared. I went to a signing at a toy shop and he turned up in Bessie (the Doctor’s signature yellow car at the time) and he was enormous and he had his costume on and he was in colour. I was seeing Doctor Who in real life in colour for the first time in my life and I was sick with excitement and fear, and in the end, my mother had to go and get the autograph. I don’t think I ever got over that fear of meeting Jon Pertwee! I absolutely love his Doctor though, and all his stories. He’s the one I go back to rewatch the most these days.
Myth Makers paved the way for so many in-depth DVD documentaries. With so many classic Doctor Who documentaries and interviews doing the rounds in one form or another these days, do you feel there’s still lots more to discover? Why should fans revisit these Myth Maker interviews?
I think that the perspective on these interviews is unique. Quite a few of the people we originally interviewed aren’t around any more, so that’s the value of the Myth Maker interviews. They are like an untapped resource, because there are a lot of things said in there that no one’s been saying since. So I think they are always worth looking at from that point of view.
On the general point, I would say controversially that there are a lot of things which people who worked on Doctor Who have to say that they still won’t say in public. Bit by bit, some of these things have been getting out or they’ve found ways of saying them in public without telling the complete truth. But occasionally, you won’t be surprised to hear, and I would never betray confidences, I’m in situations at Big Finish and elsewhere where I’ve got to know some of these people reasonably well, and they will occasionally say ‘y’know, the thing is about…’ and something comes out and you think ‘ohhhh, we won’t be seeing that in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine’. Because we can all tell people things about our lives and jobs that we wouldn’t want to see in a newspaper. So on the general point, yes, there are still stories and stuff to come out, maybe in fifty years time. I’ll probably be dead by then, unless they make some kind of wonder drug to keep us alive well past our hundreds!
You are of course well and truly part of the Doctor Who family now, through your work voicing the Daleks and your writing for Big Finish. Did these interviews (especially the ones on the recent Monsters DVD release) help inform your work as a Doctor Who monster?
I think the answer is yes, inevitably. I’ve never really thought of it in that way, unbelievably no one has ever asked me this particular question before. I think yes, I suppose my whole idea of what Doctor Who monsters are has not only been shaped from watching Doctor Who all my life, but also by talking to these people, these performers and the things they’ve said in interviews.
Of course, we have to ask whilst we’re here – will we be hearing you in the new series of Doctor Who later this year?
I actually, sincerely have no idea. I am always the last person to know. There was a brief period in modern Doctor Who history where I did know in advance because I knew David Tennant, and he would send me a text or phone me to say ‘keep April free, because I’m just reading a Cyberman script’ or something like that. But after that, whilst I obviously got on with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, I didn’t have their personal phone numbers, so I never knew until very last minute.
And even now, whilst I do know Chris Chibnall and he lives near me, I still have no idea. If I am needed for this upcoming series, I’ll probably find out a week before. It’s great it’s so secretive this year, it’s creating a real sense of tingling delight in my tummy (laughs). Just seeing the new logo and the lovely animation they did to go with it, that hint of a Doctor Who style noise behind it. It’s exciting, isn’t it?
We should really chat about your work with Big Finish Productions. You produce countless hours of Doctor Who audio dramas, but you’re about to release a number of original non-Who related series for the first time. Can you shed some more light on these exciting projects?
Well, we wanted to celebrate as it’s Big Finish’s 20th anniversary this year. A lot of times, when people celebrate anniversaries, they give it the whole reflection and looking back kind of thing. But we’ve already done quite a lot of that at Big Finish, and we have such a huge archive of releases, we’re quite often doing it for lots of different things we’ve done. So we thought, why don’t we celebrate our anniversary by celebrating what made Big Finish possible, which is the creativity of all the lovely people who contribute.
We already had a few people pitching us some stuff, so we decided to do a series of completely original audio dramas. The audio drama market is already quite difficult to get into, unless you have something people already recognise, like Doctor Who. Nothing is as quite as successful as Doctor Who. It’s something to do with the uniqueness of us fans that we can appreciate the thing that we love can be represented in audio drama.
I mean, for example, the Stargate fans. A large swathe of them hated the fact that we were doing the Stargate series as an audio drama. They felt, inaccurately, that we were preventing a new TV series from being made by producing those audio dramas. Whenever we’d post something on one of the Stargate fan sites, we’d get masses of criticism and rejection. We’ve never had that with Doctor Who. Maybe in a few dark corners of the internet, but most fans are at least accepting of what we do.
So we just wanted to try out some original stuff. We have a launch this week for the first one ATA Girl, which is all about the untold story of female pilots in the Second World War, and that’s been created by Louise Jameson, who of course plays Leela in Doctor Who and she’s a very talented actor, writer and director whose done lots of different work with us before. Then we have Jeremiah Bourne in Time, written by Nigel Planer (The Young Ones). There’s our pre-war thriller called Shilling & Sixpence Investigate by Nigel Fairs, we’ve got Eve Myles in a horror series called Blind Terror, there’s also Transference, a crime thriller and then there’s the one I’m writing, The Human Frontier. And I’ve definitely missed one out – Cicero, because we’ve already released an episode of that, a story about the ancient roman lawyer, starring Samuel Barnett (Dirk Gently).
It’s exciting, because whilst you’ve occasionally dabbled with non-science fiction properties before, these will be something completely new for Big Finish in terms of content and audience.
It is a great line-up, very exciting. And we have to push and push and push with that, because there’s no absolute set audience with these. We do have a following, but it will be interesting going into new worlds with these and seeing the response.
And I guess there’s the scope to produce more creator-owned content should these be successful?
Yes. And also we aim to continue with some of these existing ones for a second or third series.
And in terms of Big Finish’s Doctor Who output, is there anything coming out you’re super excited for fans to finally hear?
Oh, loads. We have the Tales From New Earth series which is very exciting, taking those elements from the Russell T. Davies era and spinning that off. We have a great cast there, led by Anna Hope. And then we have the Tenth Doctor Chronicles, where we’ve got Jacob Dudman narrating, but he also does a great David Tennant impersonation and there’s lots of guest stars in that who you’ll recognise. It’s sounding absolutely brilliant, and we’ll be doing Eleventh Doctor and Twelfth Doctor Chronicles in that style as well, because we haven’t managed to get Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi in to secure a deal yet. I do think one day we will work with all the Doctors, though I don’t have any concrete black and white evidence in front of me to prove that statement at this moment. But fingers crossed!
And will we be hearing a bit more of David Tennant in some future Doctor Who audio adventures?
Well, hopefully yes. He’s very busy, and every now and then, I’ll ask him if he fancies another go at it. He’s not against the idea, it’s just a question of time and availability. But it’ll be fantastic to have him back.
A big thank you to Nicholas Briggs for talking to us. The Doctors: Monsters! is now available on DVD from Koch Media (RRP: £14.99).
You can check out and download Nick’s excellent Big Finish Originals and Doctor Who audio dramas here.