A Big Finish Doctor Who stalwart, Nicola Walker will next be heard in the soon-to-be-released Doom Coalition. We spoke to her about her time with Big Finish, comparing Sylvester McCoy with Paul McGann and more.
How did you come to work for Big Finish in the first place?
Hmmm…good question! Actually I don’t know how they got my name. Often with Big Finish what happens is you work for Big Finish once, you have a fantastic time, and you say to them ‘I know someone who would really enjoy working with all of you’ and, unlike many other production companies, they are good to their word and check out that person, and bring them into the family (if it works for them). I’m not sure whether someone gave them my name, I’ve never asked, but I came in to play Liv Chenka for what I thought would be one story…
So you didn’t know that she’d be coming back?
No! I had no idea! It was a one-off job. The work I thought was really good, and the environment I thought was amazing. I’d never recorded in that kind of studio. You’ve been here today, so you know it’s a unique studio. These booths that are connected to each other – each track is independently recorded but you have contact with everybody, you can see what everybody’s doing. I could see Nick Briggs…I think he did six, seven, eight, nine different Dalek voices, and I kept missing my cues because I was standing there open-mouthed while he went through this gamut of characters. [Robophobia] was a really unusual and creatively very fulfilling experience, but I imagined it would be a one-off.
Then obviously Liv came back for Dark Eyes 2 through to Dark Eyes 4, and then she became proper, fully-fledged companion. Where’s she going now?
Well it was a surprise for me that she became a companion because she was quite a dark character originally [in Dark Eyes], preoccupied with surviving and fighting the Daleks. This story just sort of packed with death and disaster. I really didn’t see it coming that she would become a companion and when the Doctor says ‘here’s a key to the TARDIS’ I was so overjoyed! REALLY overjoyed! It’s quite embarrassing how pleased I was…So, yeah, now I’ve been travelling with him for a while and what’s becoming clear is that they have a very very good relationship, and they also have a good relationship with Helen, so you have this fabulous triumvirate. Helen and Liv are very different women but they really get on. And Liv’s relationship with the Doctor, I think, is getting better and better because she really respects him, loves him in a very honest, open way. I don’t know where [Big Finish] are going to go with it, and I do slightly live in fear that they’re going to send me the next set of scripts with a letter saying ‘you die in this one’. They’ve been joking about it today! But, you know, death doesn’t mean death in this world.
How does working with Paul McGann compare to working with Sylvester McCoy? [Liv first appeared with the Seventh Doctor in Robophobia]
That’s the point where it becomes very exciting because you start with one Doctor and you get to meet other Doctors! It was a thrill to meet Sylvester and work with him. I’m very happy to be with the new regeneration. I don’t think Liv’s going anywhere. She’ll stay with that Doctor, I think. I can’t see her working with another Doctor apart from Paul’s. There isn’t really a difference. What’s fascinating is that you get an understanding of why Doctor Who works. You get a very clear understanding because you have two incredible actors who are totally different who pass the baton. There’s no problem in my head as an actress, or as a character, that they are both the Doctor. It’s fascinating, I can’t explain it. The difference is huge because they’re two very different men and they approach the work in different ways, but both with great good humour and both incredibly welcoming – they’ve been doing it for a very long time, I’m a mere beginner!
What kind of response have you had from Doctor Who fans?
Yeah…quite a lot! People said as soon as I started doing Big Finish ‘you will notice the power of Doctor Who fans’ and I didn’t really take much notice. I have noticed now! Now I know, now I understand. Of course you know – it’s culturally been a part of my life forever, and I’m a fan myself so I understand it. The one thing, definitely, that I’ve noticed that all of the fans share is a real seriousness of their love for the programme which I find really endearing. People that I’ve met care very passionately about the show, whether it’s the audios or the television or the books, it crosses all those formats. There’s such a huge love of it.
As an actress you always bring a sort of believability to your roles. How do you manage that when you’re dealing with space monsters and resurrected space zombies and Daleks? How do make your character believable?
To tell a story in this sort of world – I don’t know how it’s categorised. Put it into sci-fi – that would imply that it’s fantastical, often futuristic, beyond the realms of reality and the normal. But of course what sci-fi allows you to do is examine the normal in a really extreme way. It’s my favourite genre and I’ve only once before, on television, got to do something that approached sci-fi with The Last Train.
That was the next question! The Last Train – what memories do you have of making it?
The Last Train – it was so ambitious. I watched it back not that long ago. What it lacked in budget it made up for in heart. It was trying to inhabit that real old school sci-fi Day of the Triffids territory, Survivors territory. It was harking back to that great age of television, 70s paranoia and nuclear Armageddon…I don’t think we had the budget. There were scenes where there were meant to be like a hundred men on horseback, and we had three. This poor guy had to keep riding around, taking a wig off and putting a hat on, painting the horse…nowadays you would just do it all computer generated very cheaply but at the time I don’t think it was that easy.
There was a lot about that job that I absolutely loved – the cast, the script, and the intention. Often great sci-fi asks really basic questions about how you exist after times of great trauma. That’s what that story was about, these individuals – how do you start again when you’ve lost everything? I LOVED it. It didn’t completely work but sometimes the stuff that doesn’t completely work is the most enjoyable. And the scene where we look out over a ruined Sheffield was BRILLIANT!
I remember the dogs [one memorable scene sees characters hunted by a pack of feral dogs]. I remember the director saying ‘I say action, you two run and the dogs chase you’ and us saying ‘are they trained to stop before they get to us?’. The director was like ‘oh yeah yeah yeah’ but they didn’t! It was a matter of running for your life from these Dobermanns or Rottweilers or crosses. There was no acting, we were just terrified!
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.