The latest in the roll call of Doctor Who companions, Hattie Morahan has joined the Big Finish roster as Helen Sinclair. We spoke to her about her about joining the world of the Doctor in Doom Coalition…
You’re playing the new companion, Helen Sinclair – welcome! Are you a fan of Doctor Who? How well do you know it and how is it joining something so big?
I have to confess, I don’t know it very well. It’s been little snippets here and there. I have one friend in particular who is an absolute obsessive – adores it, he’s seen all of them, categorises them – but it’s slightly somehow passed me by. I remember it when I was little, I remember Paul [McGann] doing it, but I’ve never followed it religiously. So this, for me, is such fun to enter into the world but I don’t have the fanatic ‘oh my God, it’s Doctor Who!’. It’s just one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever done, I have to say! It’s just glorious.
How did Big Finish approach you?
My partner’s an actor, and he’s worked with them before and I’d worked with Paul before, and as far as I know the conversation just came up about needing someone and my name came up. Because I’d heard how lovely they were to work with, and I knew Paul, and Nicola [Walker] is just amazing, I thought what a lovely thing to do. So yeah, it just came through the usual channels.
What can you tell us about Helen? How does she fit into the dynamic alongside the Doctor and Liv?
She’s from the 1960s and worked in the National Museum, very bright and enthusiastic, and when she met the Doctor and Liv she was very frustrated about gender disparity in the museum and her frustrated ambitions in the old fogey world. Now she’s part of the team! What she brings to it, I suppose, is that she’s far greener, she’s the newbie in this world, so every new place they go to, every crisis, she’s still learning how the Doctor works, what he does. So that’s quite fun to play – not that she’s an ingénue but she’s just taking it all in and dealing with it in the moment. She’s quite plucky, there’s something quite gung-ho about her, I think. She gets on very well with Liv. There’s a sort of mutual respect, I think, due to both having an intellectual prowess, maybe, and being able to hold their own. She’s someone who is quite impulsive, not necessarily gets herself into scrapes but she has a fearlessness to her, which is very lovely to play and means that she goes into these mad situations and goes for it, sometimes doesn’t censor herself in the way that maybe she should. She’s a lovely, quite refreshing presence, quite dry as well, and just has an appetite for experience and adventure.
In the press bumph for Doom Coalition, they said that Helen reflects original series producer Verity Lambert.
Oh! How fascinating! My father’s a great old friend of Verity Lambert. She was extraordinary as a figure in her time, with the birth of Doctor Who, and the hierarchies – this sort of beacon.
How did you find the scripts for Doom Coalition?
They’re very witty. They’ve been done by a number of different writers but I just love the sense of freedom and play and adventure that the writers have. They can go to wherever they want and all sorts of things can happen. Audio techniques now are so extraordinary – they can create any effect, they can tell any story they like and there’s just such a lovely sense of adventure, fun and storytelling that was very appealing. At the end of the day, from an acting point of view, what’s really enjoyable is character interplay and dialogue and how characters rub up against each other, and I’ve found that all the scripts have been so strong in that respect, so that has been a real pleasure to play.
How are you finding the pace of recording? You’ve done radio before, but how does it compare to here?
I think it is quick. In radio often what happens is that a lot of time is taken up with people doing their own foley, in terms of footsteps, doors opening or closing, or you might have someone doing the spots in studio with you, but much more is incorporated in the can, in the recording alongside the voices, whereas here they do all of it in post. They’ve got it down to a fine art now with these isolation booths – it’s just you and your voice, and they do footsteps, they do running, they do distance, they do explosions…So that really speeds things up in terms of recording. What’s lovely about working at this speed is that it always feels fresh, it never gets stale. People are just throwing their ideas at it in a very free, open, experimental way, and I think that’s a great way of working.
It was remarkable how quickly you guys [Paul, Nicola, Hattie] ‘got it’. One take and it was dead on.
I think that is as a result of playing the character a couple of times, knowing what the relationships are. You have a sort of shorthand, you go ‘oh, I know how these guys are with one another’. Whereas the first day I came in there was a sense of ‘well maybe Helen’s a bit more like this’ or ‘maybe because she’s from the 60s we should make sure she sounds quite RP’ and stuff like that. Once you’ve got into the groove, you go ‘yep, this is Helen right?’ and they’re like ‘yep, that’s here, let’s do it!’. You were listening to scenes of the three of us but as soon as there are new characters with new voices then there might be a bit more time taken with ‘oh, can you make them a bit more growly-sounding’ or ‘a bit more alien-sounding’, you know, so it is always slightly quicker with characters that have come before.
Have you been prepared for what being the new companion means for your life? You’re going to be trapped doing conventions forever, you’ll have weird people like me after you for the rest of time!
Haha! For the rest of time! I mean, I haven’t had the talk. I haven’t really had much of that so far. I presume that the screen version is a whole other scale. I’ve heard little hints but if it’s all from enthusiasm, I won’t knock it!
You’re playing the Enchantress in the new Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. What was your experience of working on that?
It was lovely. I’d worked with Bill Condon before, so it was really lovely to be asked to be part of it. I got to fly, which was kind of cool! Lovely people. Tell you what, it is a bit like being a kid again when you go onto a set of something that scale. You see the work that has gone into the design – it’s mind-blowing. It’s like your fantasies have been made real. At every level the expertise in every department is just so thrilling to behold. Amazing choreography, amazing music, amazing design, amazing actors – I think it’s going to be quite special. I just caught little snippets but it was fun to do. I mean, with that book and that music, you can’t go wrong.
Doctor Who: Doom Coalition is being released on Monday 12 October. For all the latest geek-related news, pick up the latest issue of SciFiNow.