Once again, the Whovians descended on Ronkonkoma, New York this November for a weekend of discussion, parties, and bumping into hallway Daleks. LI Who is a convention we never miss, and its fourth edition was one for the books. We still owe you a recap of the experience, including a couple of HOF-led panels. But first, we bring you our conversations with three notable members of the Doctor Who family. We had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Peter Davison, Jemma Redgrave, and Nicholas Briggs in the LI Who press room. And though we of course discussed the show, our interviews also touched on musical theater, glitter makeup, and how to tell a British crew member from an American one. (Hint: they react when you yell “Exterminate” at them.) We hope you enjoy our conversations as much we did. –Sage
Peter Davison – The Fifth DoctorSage: So I have my DVR set and I was in London last year and I saw you in Gypsy with Imelda Staunton…
Peter: Oh, really? (leans into the microphone) Yes, it airs tonight at 9 o’clock on PBS.
Sage: We were saying they should have done a screening party for us and you could have done live commentary. But it was so joyous and wonderful and you were fabulous, so I just wanted to hear a little bit about that experience and working with her.
Peter: It was great. The production was originally done at Chichester and when it came to the West End, they re-cast the part of Herbie, fortunately for me. I went off and I watched the black and white film version, which although it’s good, it gives you no clue as to how great of a musical it is. I thought “Oh this would be a good thing to do.” I didn’t realize what a great PART it was until I did it. I’d not worked with Imelda before and it was a slightly intimidating experience because she was so amazing all at once. She was very supportive and we got on really well and it was wonderful to do. I used to just sit in admiration of her and her energy.
Sage: I had no idea she had that voice. No idea!
Peter: She trained, she told me, she trained for a year before she started so her voice would be up for it. From my point of view, Gypsy is a play, a really good one when you take out the songs. The story is so well written. It was such a great acting opportunity. It worked really well and audiences seemed to love it. And all these famous people came to see the show! I would meet them after, they would usually just be asking me the way to Imelda’s dressing room. Meryl Streep! “Can you tell me where Imelda is?” She had no idea who I was! But THEN she said something rather nice about me and my performance, so I was happy. Put it on my tombstone.
Sage: As you should, if you got a compliment from Meryl. That’s such a great part too. In musicals, you have the romantic lead or you’ve got the character role. Herbie is just such a KIND person who is in over his head. It’s such a rare kind of part to see.
Peter: It is!
Kim: You just had your book (Is There Life Outside the Box?) come out. I LOVE the title.
Peter: I had such trouble with the title! I was working with a publisher, who shall remain nameless, before the one who eventually published it, who didn’t like the title and just wanted to have a picture of me standing outside the TARDIS on the cover. They named it on their own. I gave them the title and they changed it and advertised it on Amazon with a completely different title. I was a bit cross about that! I wanted to have the subtitle be “An Actor Despairs,” which is a play on the Stanislavski book An Actor Prepares. They didn’t like that, they said people might think it’s a miserable book. Eventually we decided to part company and we went with a publisher who just said “Call it whatever you want!”
Kim: Titles are important! I look at that title and I would pick it up. Is There Life Outside the Box is enough of a nod to Doctor Who…
Peter: I think for Doctor Who fans maybe there’s not quite ENOUGH about Doctor Who in there. I thought it was enough; it covers everything, conventions and events like this. But I didn’t want to make it just about Doctor Who, I’ve done other things as well, so I tried to give it equal space.
Sage: When did you start to get the idea “Hey, I would really love to write this down.”?
Peter: A friend of mine who had formerly written a radio series actually came to me and said “Why don’t we do your autobiography?” Meaning, “Why don’t I ghost write your autobiography?” He had done it before and he was very good at it. Because I knew him, I felt I was able to say “I would love for you to act as a go-between the publishers, but I would like to do it myself.” So he said fine and that’s what I did. I started with the book exactly where I said I started, which was the year I began to do Gypsy. I was about to fly to Australia, so that’s why there’s a kind of diary thing that goes through the book. I finally finished it last April.
Kim: And it just came out in October, yes?
Peter: Yes. You know, I’m really glad I did it. Because I tried to not make up stuff. I think sometimes actors tend to embellish.
Sage: Did you have to check in with people? Say, “Am I remembering this correctly?”
Peter: Yes! And sometimes their memories were different from mine and we would have to ask other parties. But quite often my memory was better than theirs! I was very gratified by that. I’m pretty sure it’s all pretty accurate.
Kim: And then going to David to write the foreword…
Peter: Yeah, well how could he get out of that? (Laughs) It was so easy for him! I wrote a highly fake foreword for him, which was based kind of on The Fiveish Doctors and the character I had for him there. So it was basically David complaining that he had been forced into writing the damn thing. But when he sent me his actual foreword, it was so much better that I just dropped the fake one completely. I wanted to put them both in!
Kim: We demand the outtakes for the next one.