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Doctor Who | News | 01 January 2004

Interview: India Fisher

Charley Pollard's alter ego quizzed.

The actress who plays the Eighth Doctor's assistant in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventures chatted to us about her role back in 2002.

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What drove you to become an actress and how did you go about it?

I was quite young. I was eleven, and went to a new school, and my best friend had drama lessons. She said "Oh, you must go to my drama teacher."

So I went to this very sweet woman in Uttoxeter, and did all the LAMBDA exams, and just fell in love with it really.

Through doing festivals, I realised that I really liked this and being up on stage was something that floated my boat. So I've always, from a very young age, decided I was going to do it, and I'd planned from a very young age to go to university and then drama school - because I'm a sensible girl - and realised it wasn't the best career to go into if you have no back-up plan.

So, I did university, then didn't do drama school after university and just thought, "I want to get out there and do it." So I just got PCR, which is an actors' thing which tells you breakdowns of all the jobs, and just applied for loads of things.

I was lucky enough to get lots of fringe things that have moved on. My career isn't going any great shakes, but it's not doing badly.

Teaming up with Big Finish and the pre-Charley days

Through doing something called News Review up in Edinburgh, Jason Haigh-Ellery gave me his card, and said, "I'm a producer of Doctor Who, do give me a call". I was like, "Yeah right", as you do. So, post Edinburgh I thought, "No, I'm going to be pro-active", and I phoned him. I didn't hear anything from him for about two months and then he said "Come in for an audition".

I went to an audition in the Grays Inn Road, above a pub. Gary [Russell, producer] was there, and Nick Briggs [writer/director]. All I remember of Nick was that he was a man sitting very sombrely behind a sound desk with huge earphones on.

I did the audition and they said, "Well, we have a vast library of voices that we use, we'll be back in touch." I heard nothing from them for months. Then they said, "Will you be the part of Peril in a Peter Davison one, Winter of the Adept.

So I went and did that, and I was lucky enough to get my mate Liz Sutherland - who played Alison - a part in it as well. It was great fun you know, the two of us thinking "Wow, we're being paid to do this."

It was superb, and Peter was lovely. It all went from there, because they then phoned me up and said, "Do you want to be Charley?" I was like, "Yes please".

How has Charley developed as a character over her first ten adventures? (from Kirsty Everiss)

Well, she was quite a rounded character to begin with. I was very lucky because Alan Barnes, who wrote the first one, Storm Warning, had got a very definite idea of the character he wanted.

She was easy, I mean from an actor's point of view, she's just written on the page. It was superb, she just jumped out at you. She's really go-getting, and ballsy, and she doesn't take any nonsense. She loves the idea of this Doctor person coming along.

She was going off on her travels anyway, and this Doctor comes along and just takes her to places she'd never go. Singapore was where she was going, and she thought that was the bees' knees, and then he takes her to far flung galaxies. So, she's stayed the same as a character, but the relationship between her and the Doctor has got a lot better.

Then there's all the banter, which I love. I love the original [Doctor Whos] where there was real warmth between the two of them, nothing going on, of course, but real warmth between the two of them and they just enjoyed one another's company. I found it a bit hard when you got the sort of, 'whinging' companions as I call them - naming no names and not insulting anyone.

But, there seemed to be points where you go "Why doesn't the Doctor just dump them on the nearest planet?" Surely they want to be there. So that's what I love about Charley. She's there, she wants to experience everything in life. She takes everything that's thrown at her completely on the chin, [such as] time travel. She's a 1930's girl and she's just open to everything. She's just brilliant to play. I love her, I wish I was like her more.

Your face has made it to the cover of The Chimes of Midnight. Did you always assume Charley looked like you?

No, I suppose there's the whole thing of [being] quite selfcentred and a bit of a meglomaniac if you want to become an actor, so you do just think [it's you]. With it being audio, there wasn't any real definites to how she should look, and how she should sound. They didn't want me putting on an accent, they didn't want me using anything other than my own voice, so I'd always just assumed that she'd look like me. So, although I suppose I don't have a 1930's hairdo and they never have me in 1930's costume... Although actually Clayton [Hickman, graphics designer] did a strange thing where apparently he put me onto Mr D'Arcy's body. When you see me in that coat with brocade on it, looking like a bellboy, that apparently is Mr D'Arcy from Pride and Prejudice. You can see the line on the neck [where the pictures are joined], so I've got my neck going into a very male chest.

I thought, "How bizarre" when I first saw that, and all my friends were going "Oh, did you go and do costume? When did you do this photoshoot?". I said, "No no no, it's all Photoshop, I didn't do a thing. That's my CV photo wedged onto someone else's body.

So I had kind of seen her like me, and I hope that people don't look at it and go "That's not how she should look, she should look like this". But then again, that's the beauty, or nightmare, of audio, people's imaginations you have to take on board, but it is me playing it. So, sorry people if it's not what you imagined Charley to be.

The Doctor faced a time paradox in Storm Warning - save Charley and disrupt history or let her die. What would you have done?

Well you see, it's a classic time travel question really. I'm the girl so of course I'd save the girl. No, actually I think I probably wouldn't. I think I'd go, "Well no, she was a silly girl, she stowed away, this is how history happened anyway".

Everyone else on the R101 died, so she should, but it's the Doctor's love isn't it? He adores messing with things, so he took me along, thank God. This is [Big Finish's] one whip they have over me. They keep going, "You've got to be good or we'll kill you off, because you are messing up the whole time continuum".

It's my one fear. I want to be a geriatric Charley. I want to be in a wheelchair and zimmer frame still going at 80, but they do have this slight sword of Damocles hanging over me in the fact [that] she shouldn't really be alive. There may come a point, not to give too much away, where she should be no more.

Which other Doctors would you like to appear alongside as a companion? (from Tom Douglas)

Oooh, I think it would have to be Tom Baker, because he was my Doctor. When I think Doctor Who I think big afro, big coat, big scarf, running around... So I would love to do something with Tom.

I've worked with Sylvester and with Peter and they're lovely, they're so nice and they're such good fun to work with. I'd be happy to work with them again, but I think Tom's the Doctor really. He's my archetypal [Doctor]. No offence to Paul.

Paul McGann. He's a bit talented and handsome, isn't he? (from Chris Loxley)

Well, yes, I have to say. When I first got the call to say, "Do you want to be a companion, and, by the way, it's Paul McGann's companion", it was a bit like someone saying, "Do you want to be a Bond girl, or do you want to work in the new Harrison Ford movie?"

I picked myself back off the floor and said, "Yes, yes please, quite a lot, thank you, please." I'd always been a huge fan of his, I think he's incredibly talented, very very good looking actually, and Withnail and I is one of my favourite films. I'm appalling, I can quote it verbatim, so it was that terror thing when I first walked in.

But he was so lovely, he was so straight and so down to earth that he made you just feel completely at ease. There was no panic when you were actually with him because he was just such a down-to-earth nice guy. He wasn't a star and he wasn't being standoffish, so you just instantly relaxed with him.

My one terror was that I was going to blurt out Withnail and I things. Actually, in the first four we did there was one point when we were on some flying pavement slab, and he says "Oh my god, I can't feel my legs!" and he sounded exactly like one of the lines from Withnail and I, and it just came up. I couldn't help it, I went "Why have you drugged the onions" and then went "Noooo, I've shown myself to be the worst fan in the world".

But he was really sweet about it, he just sort of clocked it and went, "Oh alright", and later on, we were having a photoshoot and he just whispered another quote of Withnail and I in my ear and I was just like "Okay, so he's alright with it".

But it is very bad. I have to bite my lip, because I am completely in awe of him, he's such a talented actor. The joy of working with good actors is, you raise your game. When you're surrounded by good people - and Big Finish have got some brilliant actors in and some brilliant scriptwriters and directors - your whole game is raised, and I just have such fun doing it. It's like a family now and I can just be completely at ease doing it.

We hear your sister is Francesca Hunt, who stars in The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. (from Kevin Schultz)

She does indeed, very impressive. I love her to bits. She's my oldest sister - she's the oldest and I'm the youngest of four.

Do you have friendly arguments about whether Jules Verne or Doctor Who is coolest?

Well, I had a late night call from her. She did [Jules Verne] in Canada about a year and a half ago, and I finally got a late night call where she went, "Well it's happened, I knew it would, I've been eclipsed by my younger sister."

She said that she'd been asked to do a chat on a website for Jules Verne and someone asked if she were ever interested in doing Doctor Who. She said, "No, but my sister does them, India Fisher", and apparently got back, "No! Not India Fisher". And she was so insulted. She was going "How can they know you? You have international fans, it's so unfair."

She's very supportive, she's brilliant, I couldn't have done what I do without her. It's great. Whenever I have a panic moment I ring her up and go, "Oh, why is this happening and what do I do here?" Because she's eleven years older, she's been there, seen it, done it, and her career is going much better than mine.

She's superb, I love her to bits. [She's] really supportive. I'd love to do something with her, that would be great. I keep chasing, keep saying maybe we can get her in, but saying maybe [Big Finish would] have to pay her slightly more than they are paying me.

Earliest memories of Doctor Who

It would have to be Daleks. And I have a very definite set memory of what room it was in, but I wouldn't be able to tell you what episode it was. I just know that we used to live in the Staffordshire moors. This was earlier than seven because we moved when I was seven and I do remember literally that thing of, a very cold room, Daleks going on and running around and me being absolutely terrified of them. So I suppose it must have been Tom Baker. I don't know if I'm getting my chronology right, but, it was brill, I just loved it. But I was never - I hate to say it - a huge fan as a child, it was a bit too 'boysy' for me. But when I got this Doctor Who thing I went back and did my research. They're great, they're brilliant. Some of the stories are just superb.

Tell us about the recording schedule for the Eighth Doctor adventures

You get the scripts, sometimes as much as days in advance of going down to Bristol. They put everyone up in a hotel - very nice - and you go into the studio. Because Paul has a very limited amount of time he can give away, we did four in a week in the first [season], and then I think six in two weeks. So it is really really hectic.

[With] the Peter Davidson one, Winter of the Adept, you do one story in a weekend. So, [with the McGann ones] actually you're working at a far more breakneck speed than you usually do, and you're cramming them in.

So, it's hectic to say the least, and it's pretty fun. The joy of audio is that you don't have to learn your lines, you just go in there and read it, and I can do that, I can read (laughs). You're literally just called and sometimes, depending on the director, you do it scene by scene by scene, other times you jump around so there is a lot of, "Okay, so where are we now? We've just been kidnapped by who?"

As Charley I get kidnapped a lot, and taken off so the Doctor has to come and find me, so there's lots of screaming, lots of "Oh Doctor". I can now say "Oh Doctor" in about eight different tones of voice.

But they're very hectic, they're very fast paced. We start at nine, break for lunch, and then Paul has to leave at six, so anything that he's not in we can pick up and do after that. So, they're quite long days and it is tiring.

After the last one that we did last year, because we were doing two weeks or ten working days, I think Gary and Jason said never again, because everyone was a little bit tired and tempers got frayed. Poor Nick Briggs had his car written off, and it was January so everyone had flu.

I think they are going to slow it down slightly, maybe do four in a week rather than six in ten days, or maybe three in a week. They're good fun. I love doing it. I must say I'm always raring to go, but Jason does supply me with Red Bulls quite often enough.

Do you go 'bigger' when performing on audio to make up for the lack of visuals? (from Ken Holtzhouser)

Well, as you can obviously tell from this interview, I'm quite an animated person anyway, and actually that's why audio is just my perfect thing. I'm always told, in theatre and especially on telly - 'cos I haven't done that much telly and it's a completely different experience - "Could you just do a little less? Could you just be a little less loud?"

My family constantly sit there going "Shhh, shhh," because I get overexcited and just get louder and louder and louder. So it was a joy of no one ever saying to me when I do audio, "Can you just do a little less." They say to everyone, "Now, can everyone just pitch it up a little bit" and then they say "India, you're fine". So it was just my natural exuberance and.. I'm never knowingly underplayed. Not subtle me, but there you go. But it works for audio, luckily.

Tell us about your new play

Yes, it's called Tractor Girls, and it's about two female Ipswich Town football supporters. That's why it's called Tractor Girls, because they're Tractor Boys, and it's about their trip to Moscow, to go and play Torpedo.

Basically it's a farce, but it's a black comedy, because they get inveigled into lots of Mafia mayhem and there are lots of dead bodies being stuffed under their beds before I come in. It's with the Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Company, and it's a new play, by Dave Holman.

I play Kaz, who's one of the Tractor Girls. There are two but the second one, my friend, bottles it at the airport because she sees a dead body, so she goes home to Ipswich. I'm on me tod and I make friends with Natalia, who's the Russian chambermaid at my hotel. We have to save the day because the undermanager of the hotel gets kidnapped by the Mafia.

It's very good, it's touring from the 30th of Jan to 30th of March, shameless plug. It's touring all round the southeast and Wakefield and Blackburn and Halifax, which made me laugh because I was told it's just the southeast, and then we got the tour rundown and I was like, "I don't call Blackburn the southeast, personally".

It's not actually coming into London, but it is going to Hemel Hempstead and Reading and Maidenhead, so Jason can come and see it in Maidenhead and it's rehearsing at the moment. We're about to go into the pre-production week, which is why my voice has gone quite so badly, and this is my last weekend in London until the tour starts. So it's all mayhem from here on.

What's your favourite story so far, and why? (from Christopher Rankine)

My favourite is the last one, Neverland, but I suppose I can't tell you too much about it because it hasn't come out yet.

But it's my favourite, selfishly, because it's mainly me. No, no, it's not. It's very good, I get to explore a different side of Charley, let's put it that way. Although Chimes of Midnight, by Rob Sherman, I think is just a superb. Superb writer. Chimes of Midnight is a really clever piece, and so I'm interested to see what people's reaction to that is, because it's a bit of a departure, but I think it's really good.

I've loved doing them all actually. Storm Warning I loved, I thought that was a really good story, and a really good opening for all the characters.

We hear Chimes of Midnight is supposed to be a bit Sapphire and Steel-ey. What do you think?

It is a smidge Sapphire and Steel-ey, yes. It's all set in one location, it's all a bit Tales of the Unexpected meets Sapphire and Steel meets bizareness.

Would you like to play Charley if the show returned to TV?

No. [It would] bore me senseless. (Laughs). No of course I'd love to, but I get the feeling they'd get Helen Baxendale or someone to play it. That's my plan, I'm hoping that by the time they bring it back, if the BBC ever do decide to bring it back, then Paul just won't be able to do it with anyone but me. But I think I've got two hopes really. I would love to do it.

Would there be anything you'd change about the character to make it work on TV?

Less loud. Less big. No, I think she'd work for TV, she's a good girl. She does her thing and runs around, and gives the Doctor as good as she gets, which is what I like. She's not, "Oh I've broken my ankle Doctor, no, you go on without me." She's right there in the thick of things and is prepared to do for Cybermen and things like that. She doesn't flinch away from these things. So I think she'd work brilliantly in telly.

How did you get your name and have you been to India? (from Faiz Rehman)

I've never been there, but I do have do go sometime just for the sheer confusion I would cause. It's a rather boring story really, my parents were great Indiophiles, my dad went to India in a year off from university and had a great time, hired a jeep and apparently borders were closing as they were driving along. He thought it was just the most wonderful place.

My mum's always been totally in love with everything Indian. They were going to go on a second honeymoon and take the whole family, then she got pregnant with me and so they decided to call me India instead.

I think the slightly more boring answer to that is, like most people's parents, they just liked the name so they decided to call me it, because they knew a little girl who was called India and they went "Oh, nice name." But it's becoming a lot more common, I have to say, and I'm deeply upset. If I had to go through school with a name like India and take all that grief, I want to be the only person on the planet with that name.

I keep meeting people now that go "Oh, my friend's just called her youngest daughter India". And the strangest one I had was whilst I was working selling Sainsbury's reward cards, handing them out with my clipboard, and I heard somebody go, "India! Come here." So, of course I span round, and this little seven year old girl was there going "Sorry Mummy." And I was like "Huuhn, no, you can't be called India". And it was deeply depressing. But I do love the name.

When the time comes, how should Charley leave? Death or marriage?

Oh, it's got to be in a blaze of glory. If Charley gets married off, I will never forgive her. She's got to be like, strapped to some metor that's going to destroy the world unless she can divert its course by beating it to death.

She's got to be blown up or sent off somewhere, or just internally combust! That would be good. I don't want her left on the planet with some nice, strange man. She's an adventurer. That's her big thing, she's Charlotte Pollard, Edwardian adventuress and she's go off in a blaze of glory. If not I think she'd probably shoot herself. So there you go.

You have a great voice. Will there be singing in Doctor Who?

No I wouldn't like to bring any singing to the Doctor Who. No, that's fine thank you. I have done the singing thing before. I did News Revue where Jason saw me. That was a revue, so it's all-singing and all-dancing, not that I can really do either. I'm not the next Martine McCutcheon, let's put it that way. I mean, My Fair Lady aren't clamouring on the door for me.

Musicals aren't really my thing. I may have to update my CV somewhat, because soprano I ain't at the moment. I do enjoy singing, I love it. I always did it as a kid, and I did it in sixth form, did a lot of choral singing. Being part of a huge choir, with a huge noise, is just one of the best things in the world. So, I don't mind parts that bring singing to it, but no, musicals, I haven't got that good a voice.

What's been the most unexpected aspect of working on Doctor Who? Have you been recognised in the street yet?

That's been the most unexpected, I have to say. I really thought - no offence to Big Finish - that there are fanatical fans of Doctor Who, but that's surely Doctor Who off the telly.

I really didn't realise there was such a huge following for the audio things, and that really, really got me. Thank you, all of you. I get letters, and everybody's so lovely at conventions, and I've been spotted in the street three times now. Actually, that was all in the space of two weeks, so I started to wonder if my friends had set it up, but it wasn't. [It was], very sweetly, people were going "You're India Fisher".

I have to say the most freaked out I was, was at Gatecrasher, a one day festival. I was in this huge tent with, it must have been, 50,000 people all dancing away to Roger Sanchez or something like that, and this bloke walked past me in the crowd. And he just turned his head and carried on staring, and I thought "Hmm, bit cheeky, you know, come on," and he came back and went "You're India Fisher". And I was just like, "Well, how did you know that?" And he went "Well, I don't like to say too much, but I'm a bit of a Doctor Who fan".

All my friends were going, "No. But it's audio, how do they know what you look like?" And so I have to say, it's been the fans that's been the thing that I never expected and has been the nicest thing about it, because it's great. A nice little ego-boost, thank you very much.

What are your upcoming plans and acting ambitions?

Well apart from the upcoming play, I don't have anything on, so all work offers gratefully received. But, it's just a question of you have to plod on, and you have to hope that you get something else before your next one finishes.

I've been quite lucky. I did a play before Christmas, and then got this play while still doing that, so it's good. I'm hoping to keep the ball rolling. [As for] my ambition, I'm a bit crap because everyone expects you to go "Oh, Hollywood, and I want loads of money", and I don't actually.

And I don't want the sort of fame that means you can't go to Sainsburys. I feel so sorry, you see in Hello, and all the celeb magazines, "Shock horror, Patsy Kensit seen in tracksuit bottoms at ten thirty on a Sunday morning going out to get milk". You're like, "The poor girl's going out to get a pint of milk". I don't want that, I don't want to ever not be able to live my life.

Just to be a respected actor would be great. The likes of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. They're just my heroes. To be able to support my family, and work, and be comfortably off.

I'm not saying I don't want any money, but to be comfortably off and not have to work in an office, which I have to do inbetween acting jobs at the moment. Just be able to support myself through acting and enjoy the work I do. So that's my rather boring ambition. But of course, if Spielberg did phone up, I'm not saying I'd turn him down.

Do you think the Daleks and Cybermen are still scary on audio?

I think they are as scary actually. I think the voices work really well and, not being too rude, I think it works on audio because it's not the whole creaky set and bits of egg box stuck to your face for scary alien monster [thing]. You can get the voices and then it's up to your imagination what they look like. Everyone knows what the Daleks and Cybermen look like and I think Big Finish have got the voices so perfectly, that it does just conjure up the instant image, and they are terrifying.

I really wanted to play a Dalek, and Jason refused to let me because, apparently there are no female Daleks. So, I really want to be a Dalek, they're great.

It's very funny when they do the Dalek voices, because, they're in a separate booth, and they have the voice synthesiser so it carries on [when they've finished the lines]. So, when they're going, "I'm sorry was that line alright" it's still in Dalek voice, and it just cracks you up.

Jason was playing one, he was stunt Dalek, because they were going to do it [properly] later, so he was just there to read the lines in and it was hilarious, it was just like, Jason as a Dalek going, "I'm not sure I read that right, was that right?" and "Shall we go and have a cup of tea?" as a Dalek, so I love it when there are Daleks and Cybermen.

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