Late last year, I attended a recording of Big Finish’s new series – Jenny: The Doctor Daugther. I always find the behind the scenes process fascinating. So it was a thrill to watch the development of this original series and chat with the cast and creative team behind the scenes. I also managed to convince a few of these talented people to answer a few questions for Blogtor Who.
Today Blogtor is posting our interview with Sean Biggerstaff. Sean portrays Noah, Jenny’s (Georgia Tennant) companion. He has been working on Big Finish productions for several years now, but he is best known for his role as Oliver Wood in the Harry Potter movies.
Blogtor Who: So, what can you tell us about Noah?
Sean: We’re very limited in what we can tell you about Noah. Not because it’s top secret but because he doesn’t really know much about himself. He has that in common with Jenny. He arrives in the universe fully formed, with no idea where he came from or who he is or even what he is. And throughout the series, he comes into the universe, starts to learn a bit how to operate, mainly from Jenny. But even by the end of the series, four episodes for this first series, most of the questions about Noah’s origins are still unanswered and left hanging, which means that it’s crying out for a second series, which is nice.
Blogtor Who: That bodes well for another series.
Sean: Absolutely. Pretty unabashed approach. Anyone who listens to it and enjoys it will be left with a lot of questions, which is interesting. And allows for the possibility of us coming and doing more, which I’m only too delighted to do.
Blogtor Who: Big Finish has a reputation for creating or enhancing existing characters in Doctor Who universe. The most obvious one, the Eighth Doctor, is really a Big Finish creation in a sense because the vast majority of his stories are from Big Finish. They’ve done marvellous things for Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor. Fans of Big Finish have grown to thoroughly love his character. So that could bode well for you and Georgia – another popular series for Big Finish.
Sean: Yeah, I hope so.
Blogtor Who: By playing the character of Noah, in Jenny: The Doctor Daugther you have joined the world of Doctor Who companions. After coming from Harry Potter are you ready to enter another big fan group?
Sean: Well, I’m already there because I’ve done Big Finish Doctor Who stuff off and on for like 15 years, but never a regular character like this. It was just bits and bobs before … But in actual fact, as you well know, the Who-fandom is so enthusiastic that if you’ve ever been in it at all. If you play the cyber spear-carriers second from the right in one episode of the audio series you get your own TARDIS Wiki-page.
So even though many people would remember Oliver Wood from Harry Potter if I’m doing a play most of the people who turn up at the stage door wanting me to sign stuff are not Harry Potter fans. They’re Doctor Who fans who want their Big Finish CD covers signed. In a smaller way, I’m already familiar with that world.
Blogtor Who: But you are in a very elite club this time. You’ve become an official companion.
Sean: Yes. It’s almost a coincidence. Although I’ve done Big Finish before, the reason I’m doing this is that Georgia brought me along because we worked together on an episode of Miss Marple many years ago and got on very well. So it was in Georgia’s insistence that became her companion.
And now I’d like to think, given that I have worked for Big Finish plenty in the past, that she was pushing an open door when she insisted on my role in the series. But Noah was less about my history with Big Finish and more my friendship and occasional working relationship with Georgia. And that is very nice.
Blogtor Who: What would you like the audience to catch from your character? He’s new. What do you think they should know about him?
Sean: It’s a weird one to play because I don’t have anything that I’ve planned for him or that I know about that’s being kept back. The audience is just discovering him as he discovers himself, which is different from any other character in anything else I’ve done. By the time you finish listening to this series, you will know as much about Noah as I do. It not really for me then to say what you really should or shouldn’t be taking away from it.
Blogtor Who: I was watching a few of the scenes recording and how many different version of the same lines were collected. Do I enjoy the construction of audio plays … so that’s the most challenging part and the most enjoyable part of doing the audio?
Sean: I don’t know about audio in general, but in these, it’s the fact that it’s a fun bunch of folk in here. Working with George is always great. Just the Doctor Who … it’s so unlike anything else that I’ve ever been involved with.
The Doctor Who world is just full of…..
Blogtor Who: Mad people.
Sean: Exactly. Every story is in a different place and different time and has its own definite set of rules or not. The fact that absolutely anything could happen, and any sort of character could come up, and it’s just these crazy situations that are just … but you have to go with it as if it is another day at the office, but what’s happening is entirely insane. Which is quite fun. I used to do jobs for Big Finish where I’d be playing four different characters who are all aliens from different planets in one episode kind of thing. And I’d be playing a crocodile king and then a seven-dimensional bat-like being. What’s the voice for that going to be like? And that’s a lot of fun. Although I’ve not done anything like that for a while
Blogtor Who: But getting back to the recording. What’s the difference between doing audio and say, television programme or live theatre?
Sean: Well there are huge, simply practical, differences. Largely, work straight from the script, and we literally stand around in a studio and read it from the page. It’s quite fun and relaxed. You come in at 10 o’clock in the morning, and you start work rather than film, where you come in at 7 o’clock in the morning so that you can get into costume and makeup and there’s … so, on a merely practical level, all these things are not a concern when you work on audio, which makes it quite fun and chill to … but then it’s a craft in its own right, which, I mean … I don’t do audio that regularly, so I’m still very much learning in that sense of how to sell things. Because obviously so much of what you do as an actor … an actor, listen, terrible sentence to use … so much of what anyone does to communicate at all is not just about what you see and the tone of your voice. So it’s interesting bearing that in mind. Does the way I’m saying that still work when you don’t also add the facial expression or the gesture to go along with it?
It’s quite an interesting exercise for someone who doesn’t do it very often. Just honing in on this one element of what you’re doing, and that’s all you have to deliver. And before you get used to it, you can feel quite silly, having to make the sounds of what’s supposed to be happening, when actually you’re just standing still in a vocal booth.
In fact, this week’s been great in terms of getting over feeling weird about not using your physical movements to define your character.
Blogtor Who: Many actors do that anyway when recording audio – the motions and movement.
Sean: Yeah, and to some degree, you can, but they don’t want the noises of your body moving or banging into things. They just want what’s happening with your voice because everything else is then after-effect. There was a scene today where I had to run down a ventilation shaft and jump over a huge turbine and not quite make it. I would have been slipping down towards the turbine, and then Georgia would have grabbed me by the hand, but we were only doing the vocal part without any of the movement. That is just weird. But being in here every day and doing a whole series has helped me get used to that. I don’t feel quite so self-conscious and silly about it.
Blogtor Who: Well I think you did a great job.
Sean: Thank you very much.
Blogtor Who: Thank you for your time.