Interview with Nicholas Briggs
Firstly I wanted to say hello and thank you for the interview.
Where did your love of science fiction begin, and as a child were you always the quiet one busy reading the many magazines, comics and books, a mind full of imagination, whisking yourself off on many adventures in your head, or were you into other things as a child?
Nick: I don’t think I was often that quiet. Mind you, I did used to beaver away writing stories and drawing my own comic book adventures from a pretty young age. My two main obsessions were war stories and Doctor Who. I also used to love Thunderbirds and all the Gerry Anderson series, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants and Tarzan. I was pretty noisy, acting out all these things. Running round with toy guns, playing with toy Daleks, trying to get the whole school to play Doctor Who and the Daleks… that worked on a few, mad memorable occasions: the whole school running around, it seemed, with half of them being scared humans and the other half holding arms stiffly out in front, screaming, ‘Exterminate!’. It probably wasn’t the whole school… it just felt like it was.
Had you always been interested in writing, or did you have another career choice before you settled to the career you have, and how many jobs have you taken before you reached this point and what were they?
Nick: I’ve always been interested in stories. So, as a kid, writing them down seemed just a part of acting them out and telling them. I also used to record my own stories on tape, often improvising all the characters. Crazy, really. I spent ages mucking about with tape recorders and making sound effects too. As for career choices, I went to drama school to train to be an actor at the age of 18. I had a great training and got a degree in Theatre Arts. But it was a long old struggle getting to where I am now. Much of it extremely enjoyable, but with plenty of poverty along the way. I got diverted into publishing and PR for a while, but I was always, relentlessly, finding ways of writing and acting throughout.
Although I’m not suggesting that your parents were also proud voices of Daleks but are you following in your parents footsteps with regards to writing or were you inspired by another and if so, who?
Nick: My parents had nothing to do with entertainment. My late father worked in the motor industry most of his life and also loved boats. My mother did a lot of secretarial work, but also trained in first aid and was a school nurse right up until her retirement. Both of them were always good storytellers, though. My Mum still will tell me a good tale about the old days or about something that’s happened to her in her life recently. My brother has been a broadcaster, producer and newsreader for many years, though. He works for the BBC in Newcastle.
You’ve provided the voices for a good many alien creatures over the years, but how many alien creatures have you provided the voices for?
Nick: Oh, I’ve no idea. You can count them, surely!
Roy Skelton and Royce Mills were the voices of the Daleks prior to 2005. When Russell T Davies brought back Who the voice of the Daleks was so much different, it had tone and each Dalek had a different ‘voice’ as it were. How did the role come about and how, when you’ve got a multitude of Dalek voices to deal with, do you remember which voice you need for each gold/bronze Dalek, and the Cult of Skaro?
Nick: It’s part of the acting job of doing Dalek voices to remember which ones go with which Daleks. I got the job because I’d been doing Dalek voices for Big Finish for about five years. And I’d written an article about Dalek voices in DWM. Russell listened to the Big Finish audios and liked my Dalek voice. He also saw from the DWM article that I knew how they were created technically, so he saw me as a total solution.
Which era of the Doctor is your favourite and why?
Nick: I don’t really do favourites. Patrick Troughton is my favourite Doctor and I would die happy if they found Evil of the Daleks. But I really do love all of them. I suppose the ones who were on when I was younger have a more special place in my heart. It’s been particularly brilliant to work with Tom Baker on the Big Finish stories in recent years. But I also very much admire Peter, Colin and Sylvester – and Paul. They all have such enthusiasm and affection for the role and they’re all really lovely to work with.
Not only do you provide the voice for the Daleks but you also co-wrote a book about them “The Dalek Survival Guide (ISBN 0-563-48600-7) published by BBC Books in 2002. Which is your favourite Dalek and were you seated behind the sofa with the rest of us during Doctor Who or were you brave and sat ON the sofa during the programme? What was the first episode of Who that you remember growing up and who would have been YOUR Doctor?
Nick: Loads of questions sneaked into that one. In order… My favourite Dalek? I like the Emperor in Evil of the Daleks. When I was a kid, I used to get very scared of Doctor Who, but would never stop watching. If my Mum thought it was scary, she would put the newspaper in front of my face until she thought the scary bit was over. I have a lot of newsprint memories! I’m not quite sure which was my first Doctor Who episode. It was certainly in the last William Hartnell series. I remember The Tenth Planet quite well. But I also have some memories of The Celestial Toymaker. I remember also being very upset that William Hartnell was leaving.
Which has been your favourite Dalek to provide the voice for? I liked the Cult of Skaro, each Dalek appeared to have a different tone to their voice.
Nick: So hard to judge. There’s always a challenge. But I suppose the greatest challenge was the first one in the episode entitled Dalek. Even though I always have a great time on set, you can’t really beat your first experience. It was truly a wonderful job to get. I never stop thanking Russell!
When you’re not working, how do you shut off from everything and chill, or are you always busy writing and planning for the next event, schedule etc?
Nick: You’ve put your finger on my big problem. I find it very hard to relax, because in so many ways, much of my work doesn’t feel like work, because it’s stuff I love. But, of course, all the schedules and planning is proper, hard, grown-up work. But whenever I try to relax, I find myself writing a story or piddling around with sound effects and music. My main form of relaxing is going out for a meal with my wife and son. Walking on the beach or watching a movie. I love old black and white war movies.
Overall what are your top 5 favourite villains?
Nick: Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Zygons, Silurians.
Do you visit many of the Conventions and will you be at any events this year that we can find you at?
Nick: I often go to conventions. I’m having a bit of a rest from them at the moment, because although all the attention is lovely in so many ways, it’s also a bit stressful. The way some people get very cross if you don’t have time to give an autograph is really quite stressful. I guess it’s my duty to sign things, so I shouldn’t grumble. I can’t remember where I’m going to events this year.
Are you involved in any new projects that you can share with us?
Nick: I’m writing some lovely stories for Tom Baker at the moment. I’m also working on the music for the Charlotte Pollard series for Big Finish. Charlotte Pollard was our first Eighth Doctor companion. She’s brilliant and is getting her own series. I’m also doing the music for Survivors and Counter-Measures. And there are other scripts in the pipeline. It never stops, I’m pleased to say.
When you’re on a break with your family do you hope nobody will recognise you or are you quite happy to be asked for autographs and photographs while you’re sunning yourself on the beach or mid way through a meal? (I’ve often wondered if people groan when they see a bunch of people nudge each other and point in the direction of the celebrity and quickly locate all the exit points)
Nick: I don’t mind if people are polite. No, it’s a thrill. Don’t mind that at all. I think I’d mind if I was relentlessly followed around. But let’s face it, that really isn’t likely to happen.
You run Big Finish how did that opportunity come about and how many audio dramas have you been involved in, and how many have you made for Big Finish? How many genres do you cover?
Nick: I’m the executive producer, along with Jason Haigh-Ellery, who owns the company. Paul Spragg is our production assistant and part of the team, David Richardson is the line producer. We all run it together, with loads of other people here, too numerous to mention. I couldn’t begin to tell you what we do. There’s too much. Just go to bigfinish.com and discover the great stuff we do.
Sherlock Holmes is a really interesting character, what is your favourite story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?
Nick: I never know which one to choose. The Final Problem?
What was the last book you read?
Nick: I never have time to read books these days. I’m too busy writing. Isn’t that odd? I can’t remember the last book I read. I did read Any Human Heart by William Boyd, which is amazing. Actually, I think the last book I read was AE Van Vogt’s War Against the Rull. I love that. True space opera. I’d read it when I was a teenager and lost the book. So I ordered it on Amazon and re-read it, mostly in the bath.
If you were ever able to meet your 12 year old self what advice would you give him?
Nick: Don’t be so scared.
The role of Yates in Torchwood Children of Earth seemed quite a cold character, no family ties; it was just a business deal. Politics! Do you enjoy playing these types of characters, or are you comfortable playing any? Which is your favourite role to date?
Nick: I’ll play anything anyone wants me to play, within reason, if it’s well written. I’ve loved so many parts I’ve played, particularly Sherlock Holmes. But I also loved playing Larry in Closer.
With the new season of Doctor Who currently in production, will you be involved in the new series and will you be providing all the voices for the creatures?
Nick: I can neither confirm nor deny any involvement in the new series.
What has been the most challenging role you’ve played?
Nick: Probably Larry in Closer. It’s a play about dysfunctional relationships and is full of really harrowing stuff. Not suitable for kids and that’s for sure. But it was a great, if emotionally exhausting, experience.
Questions from fans
Denise Amparo: If there will be a crossover of DW and any sci-fi film, which film would it be and which of the characters you voice will you bring and why?
Nick: I love The Andromeda Strain. But I can’t think of any voices I’d do in that.
Pauline Howard: You have done so many alien voices in Dr who I wondered if you had a favourite and why?
Nick: My favourite is the Daleks, because they are, in their own stunted way, very expressive. It’s also very therapeutic, getting out all that hatred. I also like the fact that most people find Dalek voices thrilling. They always get a good reaction on set and at the read-through.
Mickie Newton: How did it feel to be offered a role in Torchwood where you would be seen as well as heard? Out of all the voices you have done for Doctor Who, which has been the most challenging? Which do you most enjoy acting to the camera or sat behind the camera only using your voice?
Nick: It was great to get the part in Torchwood. But I have spent most of my acting career being seen, on stage. It was fun. The most challenging voice is the Cyberman, because it has no emotion, so it’s always a struggle to get anything interesting into it. The Daleks are also a challenge, because they’re so exhausting! At the moment, I’d say I most enjoy acting with my voice or in theatre. But I’d love to have the chance to do more acting for the camera. I’ve done more that just Torchwood. I’ve been in a couple of movies and done some other television and video stuff. Yeah, I’d like to do more.
Echo Fain As an executive producer at Big Finish, do you have any hopes of seeing a line of Torchwood audio plays in the near future?
Nick: I’d love it if we could do that. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.