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A Chat With Three Time Lords And the Daleks

A Chat With Three Time Lords And the Daleks
By Kyle Church

Three Time Lords and the voice of the Daleks appeared in Auckland on Friday to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary since the Doctor Who series began. They presented at a short Question and Answer session where they answered questions from how they felt about the higher production values of the new series to why they thought the Daleks were evil.

Appearing at the session were sixth Doctor Colin Baker, seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, eighth Doctor Paul McGann and Nicholas Briggs voice of the Daleks and the Cybermen,

Host: Welcome to what is pretty much the biggest doctor who event in new zealand history and as far as I can tell at the moment the only real celebration new zealand is going to get of the 50th anniversary of the show beyond the specials that will be coming out later in the year. As a long-time doctor who fan myself, and probably someone who has been involved in fandom in nz for over 30yrs it's something I'm incredibly happy to be involved with To have four of the doctors together, and the logistics of pulling it off, its been a year in the planning. Its been a great opportunity to bring to fans, new and old, this event. So, on my left preceding we have, Colin Baker, who played the 6th doctor, Sylvester McCoy seventh doctor and Paul McGann the 8th doctor and Nicholas Briggs who is the voice of the Daleks, the cybermen and the ice warriors as well as others in the current Doctor Who series. All of these guests are involved with Big Finish, which is the Doctor Who audios, Nicholas is the Head Writer?

Nicholas: Executive Producer.

Host: Executive Producer of Big Finish and while there's a Doctor Who special planned for this year there's also a Big Finish audio special planned for this year which has Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin, Sylvester and Paul as well. It's an audio adventure of the twentieth century Doctors, is that being released November 23rd?

Nicholas: In November, I can't divulge exactly when, I have to make an executive decision at some point.

Host: And while the various Doctors have been on TV, they've had this era that they've done, they've also continued in books and audio adventures, and there are a lot of new stories that you can listen to that feature aliens and monsters and Doctors, and there's a multi-Doctor story.

Nicholas: Yes, just go to

Host: And that's been one of the reasons that Doctor Who's still around, it kept it going in the times between. Between '96 and 2005 there are nine years of wilderness of fandom.

Sylvester: It was the fans actually who kept it going. I mean, if it weren't for them there wouldn't be a Doctor Who now. They decided that they didn't want it to die and they asked Colin and I and Jon Pertwee and Peter and all that too, and made videos in their toilets and things like that.

Colin: Yep, and flushed with success we've carried on since then.

Sylvester: and now we can afford a studio

Question: Have you all been to New Zealand before?

Colin: Yes, I have been to New Zealand before, this about my third or fourth visit I think. I've been to Auckland and I've been to Wellington. I think we've all been to WETA, and seen what goes on at WETA which is very exciting. New Zealand's lovely, you're always very friendly. Your roads are so good, no potholes.

Sylvester: Well I've been a few times over the years.

Colin: You're in the hobbit aren't you?

Sylvester: Am I?! Oh yes, I'm actually on a stamp in New Zealand which is amazing, it actually makes me very proud. And a coin, I've been put on a coin. So yeah, it's been great. I love coming to New Zealand. It's slightly bigger than Britain, the weather's slightly better than Britain, the food is better and the wine is better, everything is slightly better and bigger and also the same. I rest my case.

Colin (to Paul): Have you been here before?

Paul: I have. I was here yesterday.

Sylvester: Ah, a time traveller.

Nicholas: This is my first trip to New Zealand, although my wife lived here, years ago when she worked at the UN.

Question: I always feel with Doctor Who, unlike many other characters you may play on screen, you can really only rent the character, but you never really own it. Is that how you feel?

Colin: Well, that's a good thing really. It takes away a huge amount of the responsibility. If you were the only one ever to play a part it would be a massive burden because it's such a big program. And the fact that we have all, one after another, played the same part, and all done it very differently means that the program is bigger than any one of us and that's the way it should be really.

Paul: Yeah, what's more the possibilities seem infinite because we don't know how many actors potentially after us get to play the part. We've probably still only scratched the surface.

Sylvester: Will they get to a lady doctor do you think?

Colin: What about a baby doctor?

Sylvester: In fact we've got one! He's only twelve Matt Smith, he's only twelve I'm sure! He's got a great face though.

Colin: There should be, there should be a lady. I mean, the legend is there are twelve generations, I'm sure they'll overcome that obstacle when the necessity arrives and extend it. But it's absurd to think that this personality does not have a feminine side of any kind. So there's got to be a female doctor at some point.

Audience Member: Well, the Doctor has a grand-daughter.

Nicholas: Yes, and they've already established in the more recent episodes haven't they, when the Doctor was referring to a particular Time Lord he said, “He was great, and she was quite good as well”. So the idea that a Time Lord can change sex when they regenerate has now been established in the TV show.

Question: Do the three of you look at current series of Doctor Who and think to yourselves, “Oh god I wish I had those special effects when I was doing the role”?

Colin: Yeah, and the budget.

Sylvester: And the wages.

Colin: The BBC loves the program now. Certainly when I was doing it, and when Sylvester was doing it, it was a tad embarrassed that they were still churning out something that was 25 years old. And look at us now celebrating 50. The budget was dire, now it's larger. They acknowledge that they've got a good money generator so therefore they are spending money on it. One spaceship, when I was doing it, took a third of the budget. Now it's two twelve year-olds with computers and bang! there's a spaceship.

Sylvester: I think though, what we had and what is missing from the episodes, we had longer to develop the story, and I think now they're down to 45 minutes so there's a lot of wham bang stuff and I think that's sad, they're missing that. In four weeks you could actually develop a story with much more depth.

Colin: I think audiences have been taught to be impatient now. They want a resolution while they watch it, they don't want to wait a week. I think broadcasters fear audiences going away because they miss an episode. Now you come into any episode of Doctor Who and that stands up on its own.

Paul: But curiously this TV pilot that I was involved in, in 96, one of the criticisms that we heard from people who loved the show was that it was too glossy, it ran counter to what people, probably nostalgically, felt about the old show. It looked a bit creaky, the sets wobbled and that kind of thing. Which is an answer to your question because some people appreciated that, they didn't necessarily want it to look too slick.

Nicholas: I'll just add something. A former Executive Producuer Caroline Skinner, she's just recently left, said “I acknowledge that we had a good TV budget, but to make the kind of stuff we're trying to make it's still actually really tight.” Given that they're trying to make something that looks like a movie. Having been on set a lot in the new show I've sort of thought to myself, as an old Doctor Who fan, if you do go up to the set and give them a prod they're still sort of insubstantial. The difference is the way they make it now. In your day they'd make it so you rehearsed for a long time and then you'd go into the studio and then camera rehearse and then baboom! You'd do it quite quickly. Whereas now if a Dalek bumps into another Dalek they say, “Cut” you know, and they will redo stuff endlessly until they're absolutely certain.

Sylvester: Yes, and we didn't have that luxury.

Paul: But the expectations are also different aren't they? Now, not that they're competing with so-called video games, but certainly they're living within the same era and the same sphere and the expectations of kids now are probably that things have to look impressive, and quite slick.

Host: There're so many things, that if you look at the new series now, there's always little bits that they throw back to the old series. Really the ground work and the core story is still from the Twentieth Century. It's still from the earlier Doctors, and you go “oh UNIT turns up” and anybody who's seen the classic Doctor Who will go, “UNIT, know who they are, done.” So you have new characters who come in, who are totally new characters, but are standing on the shoulders of twenty-seven years worth of shows.

Question: You probably already know that New Zealand was the first country outside of the UK that screened Doctor Who?

Paul: We found this out this morning.

Question: What do you make of that? The fact that it's taken fifty years for some of you to get here?

Sylvester: It's a long way to swim. It's great, I mean, it's terrific. The thing about coming to New Zealand is that it is so very similar to going home in a way. There's a very great similarity to us, it's on the other side of the world, as far away as you can get, but yet there's something very close.

Question: This show's been on for fifty years now. Do you ever see a point where the show could actually legitimately finish? Or is this just going to be one of those shows that goes on forever and ever?

Nicholas: Well I think it's an Odyssey isn't it? Doctor Who is something about a journey, about a voyage of discovery with an amazing character who has insatiable curiousity, and his Achilles heel is his tendency to want to interfere, he can't help himself.

Paul: I mean it's hard to think it was designed from the outset as something that might run for 50 years.

Sylvester: Six weeks! A science program for children.

Paul: Well all this goes on obviously, and the longer the mythology builds... When we do conventions and things it's often amazing to hear people who have no right to know all this stuff. They've got this whole level of knowledge of forty, fifty years of mythology. It's getting bigger all the time so it's quite possible that fifty years from now we could all be sitting here Doctors.

Colin: There's kind of an entitlement isn't there because what's happened now is that young parents, who watched it when they were young are bringing their children and sharing the time of the parents, and the time of the children, at events where there are more than one or two doctors and “that's my Doctor” and “that's my Doctor”. And once that ball is rolling it's unlikely to stop because children of today are going to want to share it with their children and I think we'll be pressured to keep the program going. I can easily see Doctor Who on the screens twenty years from now.

Question: My ten year-old just saw his first Dalek episode and he wants to know “Why are the Daleks so evil”?

Nicholas: The Daleks are just really cross.

Paul: That's such an English answer.

Nicholas: You know, they've got a massive inferiority complex and they cover it up with a superiority complex. I mean, if you were a little squiddy thing trapped inside a tin pepper-pot I think you'd be quite cross. And because they're so cross they've decided they're better than everyone else. So everyone else has to do as they say, it's a bit like a two and a three year old actually, “You must do what I say, Mummy, Daddy. Stop talking.” All that kind of thing.

Colin: Well see, they were created as a means for Davros to control the universe, so they were made to be cross.
Nicholas: He saw all the positive bits of people as a weakness, so he took those out.

Sylvester: That's the fantasy, that's the thing, but what makes them frightening is the question. And I think I know what it is. I think what's frightening is the visual thing. And it's something to do with the fact that we weren't long out of a war, the Second World War. Have you seen those German sink-plungers coming over? I think it's tanks, they were the most terrifying thing in the First and Second World War and suddenly someone invented a tank for one person. To have those massive tanks coming down over Westminster Bridge towards the Houses of Parliament is very frightening. I think deep down, the adults who watched it from the beginning were in tune with that fear. And I think that that fear is why we still find these pepper-pots frightening.

Nicholas: And I also think there's something to laugh at them, you'll be surprised to hear. Because they're a beautiful amalgamation of a tank and sort of kitchen utensils and radiators and things. It's certainly a very British thing for us to laugh at villains. You know like with Hitler- short chap, moustache, ridiculous. And the British made out that Napoleon was a lot shorter than he actually was in order to mock him. It's that beautiful synthesis of the horrific and the completely ludicrous. The only other thing I'd say, shortly after doing the first Dalek episodes we did a Doctor Who prom in London. One of the things they had was a Dalek going round where all the kids were sitting on the floor. And I said to them, “Shall I do a bit of improvising?” They said, “This is a concert you can't make noise while the music's on.” The Dalek started going round and after a while the kids started to kind of go up to it and hug it and eventually the poor guy inside, he couldn't move it because they were all holding on to it. So the second performance they said to me, “Why don't you say something.” So I waited until they were all round it and hugging it and then I shouted, “EXTERMINATE!” And they all ran for the hills. So I'd say the voice has something to do with it. It's a bit like going to your fridge and then it threatens to kill you.

Colin: I have a little story I'll share with you. If you've worked with Daleks, or certainly when we were doing it, it was quite hard for the Doctor because the bottom of the Dalek had four casters on it, not dissimilar to those you'd have on your armchair at home. And there's a man sitting inside it on a little plank and he propels himself by walking with his legs sitting down. Now, if on the floor someone had dropped something like a peanut shell, and that caster hits the peanut shell, the Dalek will topple over. So one was used to running away very slowly with the Daleks chasing you because you could be a mile away before they'd gone five yards. So that generates a kind of nonchalance towards the Dalek as an actor. However, one night after recording, I was returning to my dressing room, walking across the empty studio which was lit only by emergency lights so it was very dark. And in the middle of an empty floor was one Dalek. As I walked past the eye-stalk followed me, and for a moment I experienced a fear that every child has ever experienced. I was alone in a very dark place and suddenly, for a millisecond, it was real. What had happened was, was that the operator and gone inside with a can of oil because it was squeaking all day and he was oiling it. But if a hardened old pro like me can still be frightened by the bloody thing they obviously got something right.

Sylvester: Yes I was once doing a signing with this queue of children and suddenly this little girl got terrified, real terror and it was horrible to watch, I've never seen a child as scared as that before. And I looked round and a Dalek had come over behind me. So I just stood up and said to her, “Don't worry, I'm the Doctor, I'll look after you”. And she believed me thank god, and her fear went. But I've never forgotten the fear of that little girl, for that thing, that Dalek thing.

Question: Nicholas, when you say “Exterminate”, and you're doing Dalek voices, do you feel very evil when you're saying that?

Nicholas: Yes. I'm lucky enough when I do the Dalek voices, as you probably know, I'm on set. Because as I say, it's my voice that makes the lights flash. So yeah, you have to play the part as much as all the other actors.

Paul: Is it not the word itself? If it was something like “exfoliate” would it have the same effect?

Nicholas: No, I think you're right.

Question: Sylvester, you had to do your own regeneration, without Colin's assistance...

Sylvester: Yes! Some actor didn't turn up!

Question cont.: And you had to wear a curly blonde wig, and Colin's coat. Colin, do you think he got the essence of you?

Colin: I have to say that these pretenders here think they're the Doctor. Now, there was no regeneration- as far as I'm concerned I did not regenerate, therefore I am still the Doctor and these are all imposters.

Sylvester: No no no no, I'm the one actor who's played two Doctors, so I regenerated from me into me, and then you know, handed it onto Paul because he needed the work.

Question: Colin, you also have the distinction of being the only actor to have ever been in the situation of needing to execute the Doctor.

Colin: Yes, it is true. I was playing a character called Maxil and my job was to execute Peter Davison. It's a good way of getting a job isn't it? As a result of playing that part I got on rather well with John Nathan Turner, we shared some humorous times together and he thought I'd do to play the part, which was very nice. So I was the only actor who was in the series before playing the Doctor. It was decreed that they would only recruit the Doctor from someone who hadn't been in the show before, so I broke that mould.

Host: Well let's wrap it up at that point, so Colin, Sylvester, Paul and Nicholas thank you very much for that, we appreciate it.

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