Gary Finney and Ian Parkes talk to Caroline Morris the actress behind Erimem, Big Finish’s companion to the Fifth Doctor.
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CAN YOU TELL US A LITLE BIT ABOUT SOME OF THE THEATRE WORK YOU’VE DONE?
I’ve done mainly theatre, fringe, on tour, rep. I did Popcorn by Ben
Elton on the West End, which was at the Apollo. That was one of the
best jobs I ever did, Ben is very involved in all the theatre work he
does and he was just always around. You get a note section after the
show from Ben Elton so it was like listening to him do stand up. It was
brilliant just listening to him giving your character notes. He always
used to do impressions of everybody. He’s an absolute gem of a guy,
he’s very down to earth and unpretensicious and he just loves his
craft, you can tell that he’s just really in to what he does.
DO YOU HAVE A MEDIUM YOU PREFER AS AN ACTOR?
I love audio, I always enjoy being in the studio. I like the fact that
you can do take after take after take until you get one, which you
feel, is just right. With theatre you just have to hope for the best –
that the words will come out of your mouth in the right order and that
you don’t fall over the furniture. I love audio I really find it
satisfying to work in.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY EMBARRASSING MOMENTS ON STAGE WHERE THINGS HAVE GONE WRONG?
I’ve corpsed myself a lot on stage which is really bad and I shouldn’t
laugh. I have dried and I have forgotten my lines which is terrifying.
I dried once when I did Popcorn, luckily another actor helped me out
which I felt awful about. The first time I dried of course it had to be
in front of 700 people! (laughs) and your legs just turn to jelly. I
just wanted to leave the stage it was horrible.
ARE ANY MEMBERS OF YOUR FAMILY IN THE THEATRE OR ACTING PROFESSION?
No, not at all. Both of my parents are teachers and my brother works in I.T.
SO HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH BIG FINISH AND GET CAST AS ERIMEM?
I had never heard of Big Finish before and I get into it all through a
close friend of mine called Matthew, who is a massive Doctor Who fan
and he took me up to Panopticon one weekend. He said, “Come along
you’ll have a laugh”, and I always loved Doctor Who as a kid so I
thought it might be a giggle. I then met Jason [Haigh Ellery] in the
bar, and Matthew introduced me to him, and I had already done some
voice over work so I arranged to send them my voice over CD. Jason just
loves smoozing the ladies and giving his card out at any opportunity
[laughter] and I then got an invite to come in and audition in front of
Gary [Russell] and Nick [Briggs]. Eventually when the right thing came
up, Jason called me in and got me to do the part of Erimem.
WHAT WAS THE AUDITION PIECE, WAS IT SECTION OF SCRIPT FEATURING ERIMEM?
No, you go in and they give you a script and you just record it to mic,
so they’ve got you on tape and they can then go back and listen over it
WHEN WERE YOU TOLD THAT YOU WOULD BE A RETURNING COMPANION?
It was never a given actually, I thought: “Oh, I get to leave in the
TARDIS at the end, and maybe I’ll get a little part in the next story
where they drop me off”. I did Eye of The Scorpion in 2001 and then it
was a good year before I did another recording and I did know they had
been planning other adventures with her by then, because Gary (Russell)
said he really liked the dynamic between Peri and Erimem, and they
didn’t always need to be rescued they could sort themselves out, and
Gary really wanted an opportunity to explore that a bit more.
WHAT DO YOU SEE IS THE ROLE OF THE COMPANION?
It’s usually to get caught and be rescued by the Doctor and scream a lot [laughs]
AND TWIST YOUR ANKLE.
Yes [laughs], and fall down a crevasse. Just to add an extra element to
the story and give the Doctor a foil to play against and to further the
story. In stories like The Church in The Crown there were some really
good subplots going on, I think a lot of my action was with the Doctor
in that one and Peri got to go off and do all sorts of swashbuckling
around with Musketeer’s etc. Those elements added a completely
different level to the story.
I LOVED THE SCENE IN THE CHURCH IN THE CROWN WHERE YOU CHARACTER SAYS TO THE DOCTOR; “WHO ON EARTH WOULD PUT GLASS IN A WINDOW?”
[laughs] Yes, that was excellent. Thank you.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO RECORD A STORY?
They are done so quickly. You are in there for two days. Peter
[Davison] comes in there for the one because he’s terribly busy, doing
lots of filming and family things. It’s like 10am – 6pm and you go in
rehearse a scene then record it and then do extra takes if Gary
[Russell] so wishes.
HOW LONG IN ADVANCE BEFORE RECORDING A STORY WOULD YOU GET THE SCRIPT?
About a week to two weeks, just enough time to go through with your highlighter pen [laughs].
I IMAGINE THERE’S NOT A GREAT SCOPE FOR METHOD ACTING THEN?
No, not really [laughs]
DO YOU EVER HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SAY WHILST YOU RECORDING I’D LIKE TO CHANGE THIS, MAYBE A LINE OR SOMETHING?
They [Big Finish] are very good like that, they are very adaptable. The
writers and the directors aren’t precious. If there is something in the
script that they feel should not be changed they will say no. But they
are really open to you if you have suggestions on how to make the words
flow a little easier, or if it sounds more natural or if it helps the
plot along. They are usually really open to that, which is good.
Sometimes the actor can spot something in the plot, which say the
writer might not have picked up on because they are so close to it.
It’s always usually only a minor detail.
IN NEKROMANTEIA THE STORY WAS MUCH DARKER THAN YOU PREVIOUS THREE OUTINGS AS ERIMEM, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
When I first read it I thought it was fantastic, I thought it was
really challenging for all the characters in it and very scary. I
rather like the fact that it wasn’t your light hearted Doctor Who,
where good will out. There were times in it, when it looked like the
characters were really going to go through something really nasty and
traumatic and that does tend to get glossed over a lot. Particularly in
the television series you had to do that because you had to appeal to a
much wider family audience, but now in these CD’s you can really
explore the dark side of Doctor Who. I loved the challengers it gave my
character and I embraced it whole heatedly. It’s very cathartic as well
to do something like that as an actor – to explore a darker side of
your nature and to find yourself in a situation you would never be in
and to explore the emotions that are involved with that and how you
react to it.
THERE IS AT LEAST THE SUGGESTION IN THE STORY THAT YOUR CHARACTER IS RAPED.
Yes, it’s a bit of a grey area and we are not quite sure if it happened or not.
THAT SORT OF CONTENT IS QUITE AN ADULT TOPIC TO APPEAR IN DOCTOR WHO ISN’T IT?
Very, and she’s a young girl. Commander Harlon played by Glynn Owen is
such a revolting character and he has a complete disregard for anyone
and anything. What I found interesting about the character of Erimem is
that she has grown up in an environment as a Pharaoh where every single
thing she wants and says goes. She just isn’t used to people defying
her, or stopping her doing something or telling her she is wrong. Then
suddenly it’s like the carpet is whipped out from underneath her feet
and she has then got to deal with emotions that she never really knew
she had. So she has to explore the feelings of helplessness and the
fact that someone could want to physically or mentally hurt her – and
she’s not aware that things like that could happen it’s not a world she
I LIKE THE FACT THAT THE CHARACTER HAS
THIS WHOLE MYTHOLOGY ABOUT HER, WHERE SHE COMES FROM AND WHO SHE WAS
GOING TO BECOME BEFORE THE DOCTOR ARRIVES?
I do love that aspect about the character. I wanted to make her sound
foreign. I think that comes across in the writing. I know when Iain
McLaughlin [who wrote Eye of the Scorpion] he made her struggle with
words and made her sentences quite clipped, and she wasn’t as fluent
with language as the other characters. So that does give her a sense of
being alien and foreign compared to the Doctor and Peri which I like,
but it’s very difficult to make her Egyptian, you do want to bring that
into it because its such a part of her make up. She’s instilled in the
idea that one day she was going to be Pharaoh part of a royal family
and she grew up in a weird environment where she wasn’t allowed outside
contact with anyone else and the whole family set up was so incestuous.
She was surround by ulekes and slaves and never knew her Mum, she has a
real hang up about her Mum.
SO THAT COULD REALLY BE EXPLORED?
Yes, I think there is so much scope for the character – she needs a lot of therapy [laughter].
I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT THERE’S A
GOOD LOT OF CAMARADERIE BETWEEN YOURSELF AND NICOLA BRYANT, OR AT LEAST
THAT COMES ACROSS ON THE AUDIO’S, WOULD YOU SAY THE TEAM IS WORKING
Yes, I think so. Nicola [Bryant] is really fun to work with, she’s
always on the ball, she’s as bright as a button, she’s always coming up
with jokes, and she’s really good fun to be in the studio with. I think
the writers have geared it very much to Erimem and Peri rather than any
other dynamic. The are forming like a sisterly bond. In No Place Like
Home the Doctor has a cross moment with Erimem because he’s telling the
girls off because they sneaked away to a fancy dress party, which he
had expressed them not to do that. I really like the fact that they are
running about being naughty teenagers, treating the TARDIS like a hotel
and generally annoying the Doctor and I quite like it [laughter]. You
can imagine them like two naughty teenage girls, sneaking out the back
window and shinning down the drainpipe! [laughter].
WERE YOU AT ALL NERVOUS ABOUT ENTERING AN ESTABLISHED DOCTOR AND COMPANION RELATIONSHIP?
Yes, definitely. It’s daunting for an actor I think, because they had
such a strong sense together already. They are both so welcoming,
because Erimem is a completely new character and brings a different
element to each story and they’re travelling exploits it just works.
It’s not incongruous that she’s there and she’s not getting in the way.
It gives them [the Doctor and Peri] something knew to work on. I’m
hoping they think that anyway [laughter]. It was never a problem me
DO YOU EVER READ ANY REVIEWS OF THE STORIES?
Yes, its really nerve wracking because its horrible to read someone
criticising you but at the end of the day you’ve got to take that on
board as well. You need to take criticism with good grace because
otherwise how can you improve yourself. You don’t have to agree with it
or you can if you think that person is making a valid point – but I can
hack it! [laughs]
DO YOU LISTEN TO THE STORY WHEN IT’S COMPLETED?
Yes, I listen to them once and then give them to my mother [laughter], she’s very proud.
WHAT SORT OF REACTION HAVE YOU HAD FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHEN YOU TELL THEM YOU’RE INVOLVED WITH DOCTOR WHO?
People have been really cool about it, I think because Doctor Who is
such a die-hard British institution that if I do mention it everyone
immediately knows what I’m talking about. Obviously most people know
who Peter Davison is as well – particularly as he’s enjoying such a
renaissance in his TV career so they can immediately identify with what
I’m talking about.
WHEN YOU GOT THE PART AS A REGULAR
COMPANION WERE YOU WARNED ABOUT THE FANS, WERE YOU PREPARED FOR THEM,
WERE YOU TOLD THAT IN 12 MONTHS TIME YOU’D BE SITTING IN A RESTAURANT
WITH TWO GEEZERS ASKING YOU SOME DAFT QUESTIONS? [LAUGHTER].
Well, people do mention that it has got a really hardcore fan base,
people who are just very passionate about it. That’s really heartening
because that’s who you are catering for and its’ nice to be appreciated
and you can’t really criticise anyone for that.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES YOU FIND BETWEEN THE US AND THE UK CONVENTIONS?
The fans are the major difference; it’s a totally different style of
fan out in America compared to the ones in England. In England there’s
the whole gay fan base plus there’s a very young fan base because a lot
of kids are back into cult TV and there’s the die hard good old British
Doctor Who fan, who’ve grown up with it all their lives and have a real
passion for it. In America though they haven’t really got a reason to
be die hard fans because they haven’t really grown up with it, they are
obviously people who’ve come to it later in life and feel the need to
be a fan of something. So you tend to get you more collective eccentric
type fan out in America.
THE AUDIO’S ARE RECORDED OVER TWO DAYS THAT MUST BE VERY INTENSIVE?
Yes, it really is. You don’t get any chance to sit back and relax and
ponder of what your lines are. You have to get in there and say them
and do a performance every take, and Gary [Russell] has to be pleased
with what you are doing. Time is money in a studio and you have to
ready to go from the offset. There’s no time to muck about, you don’t
really have time to rehearse you read it through once before you do a
take and then Gary will direct and change things and do pick ups. It’s
very intensive and you really have to be concentrating 100%. I love it,
I really like working like that. I like working under pressure and I
like the fact that you get a result quickly. When we did the scene in
Nekromanteia where the character gets killed at the end, and Peri and I
are tied to stakes. I can remember doing that scene and it was really
freaky to do, because we all just went for it, and you feel knackered
afterwards and it’s bizarre, because you are expending all this
emotion, it’s really extradionary to do that, which is such a highly
HAVE YOU HAD TIMES DURING RECORDING
WHERE THE ACTOR YOU ARE SUPPOSEDLY INTERACTING WITH ISN’T THERE AND
SOMEONE ELSE IS DOING THE LINES FOR THEM?
Yes, I have and that’s quite hard but if you are concentrating on your
own performance you should be in the moment enough for it not to matter.
IN AN IDEAL WORLD THEN THREE DAYS IN THE STUDIO WOULD BE RATHER NICE?
Oh, yes, that would mean they’d be more time to sit around drinking
cups of tea and eat doughnuts [laughter]. Which is always good!!!
WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN MAYBE DIRECTING ONE OF THE AUDIO’S?
Mmm, (pauses) yes. You forget though that being a director your job
actually encompasses a much wider spectrum than just telling the actors
what to do and I don’t know if I’m technically minded enough to do
that. I bow down to all directors because they are just so accomplished
at what they do, I don’t know if I’ve got all the facilities to be a
director. [LAUGHTER]. I would love to do it, but…….
NO PLACE LIKE HOME WAS RECORDED IN JUST TWO HOURS,
It was great fun though, it was a great script! It was a giggle,
there’s some of the corniest gags in that but they are so bad they are
great! [laughter]. It was just really fun to do, we just went in there
and did it. It did itself though because it was just so well written,
it flowed off the page. I also loved the fact that you got to explore
the TARDIS, and you never really get to do that.
YOU WERE ALSO INVOLVED IN THE 40TH
ANNIVERSARY STORY – ZAGREUS IN WHICH YOU GOT THE CHANCE TO PLAY A
DIFFERENT CHARACTER – MARY ELLSON, WERE YOU SURPRISED TO FIND YOURSELF
PLAYING SOMEONE DIFFERENT?
More than anything I was chuffed to be a part of it. I knew that Big
Finish wanted to include as many people as possible and wasn’t sure if
they could write a part for Erimem into it, so it was great to play
Mary. Plus I was on hand to make lots of cups of tea [LAUGHS] which was
very important [LAUGHTER]
THERE WAS A LOT OF SECRECY SURROUNDING THE STORY, WERE YOU GIVEN A FULL SCRIPT OR JUST THE SECTION YOU WERE IN?
Just the section I was in although they said it was because if they
sent everyone a full script it really would be the demise of the Amazon
rainforest [LAUGHS] as it was so huge.
HAVE YOU A FAVOURITE STORY OUT OF ALL THE ONES YOU’VE DONE AND IF SO WHICH ONE?
Yes, I really love No Place Like Home although I think maybe The
Council of Nicea is becoming my favourite. I had a really meaty part in
that one. It was a lot of fun.
YOU’VE DONE A MIXTURE OF STORIES, SOME
SET IN THE PAST LIKE THE CHURCH IN THE CROWN AND SOME LIKE THREE’S A
CROWD, WHICH ARE SET IN THE FUTURE. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE OVER
EITHER GENRE? AND DO YOU FEEL THAT ANY ONE GENRE WORKS BETTER FOR
No I don’t have a preference I like future and historical equally. I
think it all comes down to a damn good story at the end of the day that
makes an adventure gripping and appealing to its audience. And of
course spectacular acting from the cast and the wonderful Big Finish
IF THE CHARACTER WAS TO HAVE A FINAL STORY, HAVE YOU ANY THOUGHTS ON TO WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO HAPPEN TO HER?
I’d think they should write a character for Keanu Reeves [laughter],
and Erimem could leave with him [laughs]. It would nice to have a bit
of romance actually, yes I’d like to leave where she perhaps finds a
fella somewhere on some distant planet. I think she would be a good
teacher, because she has a thirst for knowledge and she wants to learn,
so maybe they could drop her off and some big library somewhere and she
could give a few lectures once in a while. Or maybe she’s going to end
up somewhere in present day England, isn’t that where Doctor Who
usually ends up at some point or other? [LAUGHS] I wouldn’t like
to die horribly somewhere, although I nearly seem to do that in each
adventure! Now to die dramatically and heroically is a different story
but when Erimem does leaves the TARDIS I would like to think she’s out
there somewhere in the galaxy righting wrongs and always up for a fight.
SO WHAT’S NEXT FOR ERIMEM, AND HAVING
PLAYED THE PART FOR A WHILE ARE THERE ANY SIDES TO HER CHARACTER THAT
YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE EXPLORED?
For the future of the character I don’t know, there’s always the fact
that somewhere along the line my character will have to go to tally up
with all the other Doctor Who stories. I think as a character she’s
been evolving from someone taken out of her natural sphere, to
realising she’s a vulnerable young girl to finally finding her feet
again and her niche in the TARDIS with Peri and the Doctor. I’d
definitely like to see her growing in confidence and into the young
woman she’s going to become. Also the relationship with Peri is an
important dynamic with this TARDIS crew so hopefully their friendship
will go from strength to strength.
FINALLY, THE NEW TV SERIES HAS BEEN A HUGE SUCCESS, DID YOU WATCH IT AND WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF IT?
Yes I did see it. I thought it was wicked. Eccelston! What a hunk!
[LAUGHS] Saying that I’m sure David Tenant isn’t going to disappoint.
INTERVIEW COPYRIGHT BREATHE PRODUCTIONS. REVISED AND UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2005.
INTERVIEW BY GARY FINNEY AND IAN
PARKES CONDUCTED AT BROWNS’ CAFE IN LONDON. TRANSCRIBED BY GARY FINNEY.
SPECIAL THANKS TO IAN FARRINGTON FOR HIS ASSISTANCE AND SUPPORT.