Friday, August 07, 2009

Life as a dalek alongside Billie Piper and David Tennant

SO the truth is out. Billie Piper didn't get a Dalek to tell ex-hubby Chris Evans he was "exterminated". Just in case you were wondering. The story started circulating in the press about three years ago, while Nick "voice of the Daleks" Briggs was working alongside Billie in Doctor Who.

"Billie asked me to speak as a Dalek down the phone to some of her friends," he explains.

When Nick repeated the story to journalists, a tabloid reporter asked: "Did she get you to phone Chris Evans?"

"No," Nick said.

The next day, the headline was: Billie Tells Chris He's Exterminated.

"On the plus side, they put my age as 35," says Nick, 47.

Nick, from London, was asked to be a Dalek during the Doctor Who re-launch in 2005 and has been an irate-voiced fixture ever since. Prior to the TV series, he was executive producer on the Big Finish Doctor Who audio productions for the BBC.

He worked first with Christopher Eccleston. When he heard that the Doc from the North would be leaving after one series, he felt duty-bound to mention the rumour to his old friend David Tennant, who had worked with him on the audio productions and was a massive Doctor fan.

"I met him and told him he should go for the role. He said, 'Oh, that's an interesting idea'," recalls Nick. "In fact, he already had the part but he wasn't allowed to tell anyone."

He records his Dalek drone on set, as the action is being filmed. "It's better than just recording it in post-production. It creates a bit of special atmosphere on set," he says.

"Plus, there's the fact that my voice activates the flashing lights on the Dalek."

He admits he hasn't met young Doctor Matt Smith yet, so can't really comment on how the new incarnation is shaping up.

Will there be Daleks in the new series?

"You get shot at dawn if you reveal secrets," he says. "But could you have a series of Doctor Who without the Daleks?"

Nick voices all the Daleks, which can be tricky if there's a crowd of them declaring war. He admits he may be in danger of suffering "Dalek schizophrenia".

So how does he produce that special vocal blend of ear-jangling irascibleness and war-mongering villainy?

"You have to do some serious hectoring," he admits. "You have to get REALLY cross! It's like playing a very weird musical instrument."

Electronic sound mixing on a ring modulator gives Nick's vocals a fractious, tinny edge but the basic ingredients are all him.

"It makes me a much calmer person. Being a Dalek is a very good way of getting rid of all your aggression!" he laughs.

One place Nick won't be doing his Dalek monotone, though, is at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. For this summer, he will be moving from Doctor Who to Whodunnits in the 2009 Classic Thriller Season. Nick has almost a decade-worth of classic thrillers with Colin McIntyre under his belt. But this season will be special. Not only has he adapted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book The Hound of the Baskervilles; he's also starring as Sherlock Holmes.

"I would go almost anywhere to play Sherlock!" he said.

It turns out Sherlock, like the Doctor, is a hero.

"Anything a little bit out of the ordinary has always interested me," explains Nick.

His passion for his subject matter means he feels bound to stay faithful to the original. "In all the adaptations on film or TV, they seem to have changed things for no good reason. There's so much that's exciting and interesting in the original," he enthuses.

Nick has decided to reinvent the play using the framing device of Watson adapting a play about Holmes' most famous case.

"He's invited Holmes along to the Theatre Royal to get him involved," explains Nick.

As the case is recreated for audiences, the major conundrum is how the actors will manage to produce "the hound".

"Colin suggested not having the hound but you can't have the Hound of the Baskervilles without the hound!" laments Nick. So he's found a way around it but he's not saying what.

Audiences are staunchly loyal to the Royal's thriller season but Nick's hoping some new crowds may venture through the doors as well. When it comes to attracting new audiences, Doctor Who is, of course, the classic example.

"It's become cool and acceptable," marvels Nick. "Kids have gone bonkers about it in a way I never thought they would."

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