A chat with Nicola Bryant

16:00, Feb 26 2014
Nicola Bryant
STILL A FAN OF THE DOCTOR: Former Doctor Who companion Nicola Bryant

Former Doctor Who companion Nicola Bryant will be appearing in Dunedin and Christchurch over the next week as part of the Armageddon Expos.

James Croot caught up with the English actress who played the sexy American-accented Perpugilliam (Peri) Brown on the show between 1984 and 1986.

I understand this is your first visit to New Zealand, what are you most looking forward to?
I'm really looking forward to travelling from Dunedin to Christchurch by road and visiting so many of the beautiful sights on the way.  

What is the appeal to you of fan gatherings like Armageddon? What are the strangest questions/requests they have? 

I love meeting the fans of the show. I'm a fan too. On the whole, they are warm and interesting people. Admittedly I have had the odd strange request. The most 'difficult' was in the USA when a fan turned around to reveal the back pocket of his jeans had been unstitched and turned into a flap that revealed his bare behind. He then handed me a pen and asked me to sign his buttock as he wanted my autograph there. Apparently a "picture" of me was tattooed onto the other buttock. 

Do you find you have to swot up on the stories from your time on Doctor Who?
I've never felt the need to swat up on the show as the fans have all the answers. If I forget something they can always help me out. I don't watch my episodes, but I have had to review them for DVD commentaries. My step children, who are huge Doctor Who fans, have also watched the episodes, so I think I manage okay. 

What sort of audition process did you have to go through to get the role of Peri?

In many ways it was a standard audition. But the process went on for 2 or 3 months. Firstly they were auditioning only genuine American and Canadian actors, as the part was always American. So actors were flying in from abroad. There was a general meeting, then one reading an especially prepared script. The there were 2 or 3 more auditions, culminating in reading the actual script with script editor Eric Seward reading in for Peter Davison. My agent was then told by the producer John Nathan Turner that they had narrowed it down to two actors; another actor who had an equity card and of course me, but I did not have one, having just left drama school. They gave me six weeks to get one! Needless to say it all worked out. 

So how good was your American accent at the time (and how difficult was it to maintain throughout the series)? 
By the time I auditioned my American accent was already well established. I was married to an American Broadway star and my best friend in school was from New York, so I had been listening to the melody for many years.  I was spotted in drama school playing an American Nanette in No, No Nanette  by the agent who put me up for the role. He believed I was American as did the film crew from Denver who were present at the audition.  

How much say did you have in the character and her relationship with the fifth and sixth Doctors? 
Not much really. We're just actors and we simply perform the scripts as presented. I did however write my character a full back story so that I felt confident about who Peri was and what had shaped her life. 

Did you find the transition between them difficult at all? 
It was in some ways, like a completely different show. Peter (Davison) and Colin (Baker) had very different ways of working, and I was nervous enough, without a change soon after I had joined the show. In the end it all worked out and I now consider Colin to be one of my nearest and dearest friends. I'll never forget how considerate he was when my father died. 


What is your favourite story from your tenure and why?
I don't have a favourite story, though of course The Caves of Androzani does hold a very special place in my heart. 

Watching the new version of the show are you a wee bit jealous of all the special effects budget etc? 
Of course I am! But I think I was mostly jealous of Billie Piper's start. So much care was taken by Russell T. Davies in the writing of Rose's story. As much as I wrote a backstory for myself it would have been much more satisfying to see it on the screen. 

Would you be keen to appear in a future story?
Of course I would. I love the new show. I've enjoyed all the new Doctors and I can't wait to see Peter Capaldi. He's a very exciting casting choice.  

Was Peri an easy character to leave behind?
In reality I've never left Peri behind. I still play her in the fabulous Big Finish range. The way that Peri has developed under their auspices has been so exciting. This year I'm recording a new trilogy with Colin Baker as well as three short stories. I've been playing Peri for over half my life. 

You've directed a couple of the Big Finish stories. Is directing something you'd like to do more of? 

I love working with actors. It's a great pleasure to be able to support an actor to bring out the very best performance they can give, while keeping an eye on the whole picture and shaping is a very exciting job. I've loved directing with Big Finish, but of late I've been too busy to find the length of time necessary to direct any episodes. I would love to do more theatre directing too.  

Finally, what are your most abiding memories from your time on the show and what do you think is the enduring appeal of Doctor Who?

It's impossible to list my most abiding memories - there are so many. Working on Doctor Who wasn't just a job, it was becoming part of a family. I have made lifelong friends and I have travelled the world thanks to my role in a wonderful show. It makes me feel very blessed. All of the companions I've met are great ladies and we all feel a connection.It all sounds so "Disney" but it's the truth.  Doctor Who has endured for so long because not only is it a terrific family show that both children and adults enjoy, with a limitless format, but unusually for a television show, change is part of its appeal.  If you lose the star of a show it usually means the end, but with Doctor Who it's an exciting moment to see what the next  Doctor will be like, how he'll dress and what monsters he will meet. My youngest stepson (age 6) stayed up late until the end of the Doctor Who Proms to find out the name of the next Doctor. I don't think any other programme is so much a part of nostalgia and yet is so forward looking.

Armageddon Expo: More FM Arena Edgar Centre, Dunedin (March 1-2) and The Stables, Addington Raceway, Christchurch (March 8-9). For more information, see armageddonexpo.com