Doctor Who interview: Nick Briggs - the voice of the Daleks

Interview Simon Brew 27 Jun 2008 - 10:06
They're back! This is good.

Dalek war starts in The Stolen Earth, the next episode of Doctor Who. And we caught up with Nick Briggs to find out whatever we could about it. Some mild spoilers are inside...

Whenever you hear the Daleks talk, you hear the dulcet tones of Nick Briggs. As well as that, he's also one of the driving forces behind the Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventures. And in advance of the impending Doctor Who season finale two-parter, he spared us some time for a chat...

IF YOU WANT TO WATCH THE UPCOMING EPISODES COLD, THEN TURN AWAY NOW!

How do you feel about the hype building up to this big Dalek two parter?

I think it’s marvellous, and I think the story itself is a belter! I love the way it’s all come together for this final huge battle, where we find out quite what the Daleks are up to! It’s the most amazing, shattering, dastardly plot.

Which you can’t tell us too much about, I’m guessing!

I’ve had my brain erased I’m afraid!

How do you feel, as someone so intrinsically associated with the Daleks, that Doctor Who always comes back to them when it needs its biggest storylines?

Pleased! [laughs] I think it just has to be. I have lots of friends who aren’t Doctor Who fans, and one of them said to me that they thought Doctor Who used to be called Doctor Who & The Daleks, and isn’t that the name of the series?

They’re the most iconic enemy, and because of that, the drama always improves the higher the stakes, and the stakes are always higher with the Daleks. When the stakes are high, your heroic characters have to really step up and be much more heroic and inventive and interesting. That’s the crux of good drama, and that’s why we love it, and why the Daleks are always good for Doctor Who.

You say the stakes were high, and much has been made that this is Russell T Davies wrapping up his four series story arc. Did that make things even tougher?

There was no “you’ve got the make this good or we’re screwed, mate”! There was none of that. You always go there and try your best, and making any production is a question of getting it done. There never seems to be enough time, there are all sorts of exciting things to do. Multiplication shots of the Daleks and stuff like that. I didn’t feel any extra pressure. I suppose there was a bit more excitement because it did seem to be such a huge, epic thing involving so many characters.

Did that affect the logistics of the shoot?

Well, for the first time we did take the Daleks on location and put them on the street. That was more taxing for us! Quite funny though, sitting in a van in Cardiff in the middle of the night screaming Exterminate! With a speaker outside echoing across the street! You’re like, so how’s this going to remain a secret?

Were you all aware that this was Russell’s last series story?

It hadn’t been announced, but there were rumours around. It’s not really his last story: he’s doing the specials as well. I have to say I suppose it’s interesting from a more distant perspective looking at it, but none of that really featured in our minds. We didn’t think this is like this because it’s Russell’s last regular one. We were just this is another exciting script.

And I love it when these things turn up! My first experience of Russell’s huge, bombastic style of final episodes was the first series, when that arrived. I was woken up very early in the morning by the special delivery man, and I was sitting on my bed reading the most amazing, exciting Doctor Who story. A real page turner. And just loving it for that! Then thinking I’m going to be in it! Just amazing. It’s like that every time the Daleks round off a series. And you do think how is he going to top that, but he always finds a way. He has a great extravagance in his storyteller, he really knows how to add the extra layers to the cake.

This time of course, you have Julian Bleach as Davros too?

Ah, well, you may think that that’s the case, I don’t know whether he’s in it or not. [laughs]

But when the chance arises, how does it change the mechanic, to work off another Dalek character?

Last year, Mr Diagoras, that was interesting. He was the Dalek creation, but in human form. And he was very preoccupied with how much he should sound like a Dalek. And he did make me record all my own dialogue without any effects, so that he would have a clue how to do it. Interacting with something that is of Dalek origin, but not actually a Dalek, adds another dynamic.

The hierarchy of the Daleks has, of course, altered over the years, which must present a challenge in getting this across. When we spoke to you before, you talked, for instance, about altering the modulation in The Parting Of The Ways?

Oh yeah I did do that! That was just to amuse myself, noone else really noticed! This time round, and in subsequent stories, I though I’m not going to do that. I think it’s worked out fine.

There’s the Supreme Dalek in this one, and that leans back more towards the Emperor Dalek from Parting Of The Ways. The Supreme Dalek does sound a little bit more like the Emperor, but a little more Dalek-y. He does do some quieter bits. And we’ve got Dalek Caan as well, who’s crazy!

It must be a delight in a way: some perceived, wrongly, that the Daleks always spoke the same way, but we’ve had character Daleks over the past couple of series?

It’s a great challenge. You’re very grateful to the writers. Rob Sherman wrote Dalek, and did a fantastic job, and all the subsequent ones with Russell and Helen. It’s really lovely that they create loads of different challenges, and it’s not the equivalent of a speak your weight machine. It needs to be more different to be engaging, and I think they achieved that in the scripts.

Do you find the scriptwriters are deferential, either in their writing or on set, to your knowledge of the Daleks?

There have been a couple of occasions where I've altered things, and Russell’s really nice. He always says to me before a shoot, don’t forget, if there’s any concern you have, I’m always at the end of a phone.

In the Manhattan one, there was a slight discrepancy about which Dalek was which, because the script went with numbering the Daleks, and the dialogue identified them by their name. And there was an inconsistency in one that previously was established as a number by the second episode, and he clearly had a different name. I remember to-ing and fro-ing with the script editor. I had to know to do the different voice. We eventually worked it out, and it really was quite amicable. I think Russell said something like “it’s lucky we’re so sad!”.

There was also something in Doomsday where there was a speech that was all supposed to be one Dalek speaking, and I read it and thought this should be two Daleks speaking. So we split it, and we just told the guy who was switching from one set of lights to the other to do that. But the continuity lady said you can’t change it! So we had to ask the producer on set.

How do you feel know about the behind the scenes changes coming up on the show?

I think it’s all very exciting. I’ve known Steve [Moffat[ for quite a few years. Every time one of his episodes is on, he invites a load of friends round to his house to watch it, so I’ve been round there.

His children hide behind the sofa during the episodes! And for the one, Blink, that was quite funny, because afterwards Steve said to me when we all went out for a curry, what did you think? Did you like it? I said, Steve I liked it even though just before everything exciting happened, your kids whispered it in my ear seconds before. He said that’s their way of coping with it! Even then, they were saying things like “the statue has moved”, and then the statue moved. Thank you very much! [laughs]

I think it’s going to be exciting. Russell’s still got a good deal of work to do. I don’t know where he is with the writing of the specials, but I’m sure he’s got it all planned out. I know that he and Steve chat about stuff.

You did the voice for the Judoon before, and we’ve seen them in the trailer this time round. Is it fair to say you’re back on Judoon duty?

Of course!

Does that get a bit odd? Because at the best of times you seem to be having conversations with yourself as different Daleks, but throwing those in as well?

That was quite fun! I think that Billie Piper never encountered the Judoon, so when she heard me do the voice, I’m told by my Dalek operator friends who were behind the scenes at the time, she was “What’s Briggsy doing? What’s he doing now?!” It was quite fun!

And have you voiced more toys?

The Supreme Dalek I’ve done, yeah.

Is there anything else on Doctor Who that you’d like to do? Have you ever expressed interest in writing an episode, for instance?

Well I’d love to do that, but you know, in the entertainment industry we live in pigeon holes. And I do it with other people when I do the audio adventures. It’s very easy to think of people in a certain context. Obviously I would like to write Doctor Who, I would like to direct Doctor Who, I would like to be Doctor Who, I would like to be The Master. I would like to do the Ice Warriors. I’d do anything that was going really. I’d like to do the music and the sound effects, all the stuff I do for the audio adventures. Of course, I’d love to do all that, but I genuinely don’t sit in a room getting bitter about that!

And what’s next for the Big Finish audio adventures?

Well I’m just at the moment recording a whole load of stuff with Colin Baker, and you know that he’s been teamed up with India Fisher, so we’re doing some nice stuff with them. And yesterday or the day before, we recorded a nice story called Brotherhood of the Daleks, so I’m rather Dalek-ed out! It’s a really, really strange adventure, and loads of fun to do. And tomorrow I’m recording a story called The Rain Cloud Man, which is almost like a sequel to that one called The Condemned, set in Manchester and DI Menzies turns up again.

Have you invited Russell to write an episode yet?

Do you know, we haven’t. We’d like to get him to write a one-episode one, but I dare say he’s a bit busy! Maybe when he’s finished the specials we can get him to do one – that’s be good fun!

You can read our previous interview with Nick Briggs here.

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth is shown on BBC One at 7.10pm on Saturday 28th June. We can't wait.

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