An Interview with Sarah Mowat
Conducted by Robert Moore
Most fans of Big Finish Audio Production’s Doctor Who series will recognize Sarah Mowat’s voice from the popular Dalek Empire audio adventures. But her first exposure into the world of Doctor Who came playing opposite the 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors in Big Finish’s first production The Sirens of Time. Rob Moore caught up with Susan at the November 2002 Chicago TARDIS convention, where he found Susan a very open, honest and down to earth individual.
Robert Moore: I guess the first thing I should ask you is basically how you decided that you wanted to do Doctor Who
Sarah Mowat: I met the people at Big Finish through Lisa Bowerman who is the voice of Professor Bernice Summerfield. We worked together in a theater show for a couple of years and she introduced me to Jason [Haigh-Ellery] and Gary [Russell]. I had known Nicholas Briggs for a long time but had lost touch with him, and after doing a couple of short plays with the Benny character called Buried Treasure back in 1999, Nick rang me and said that he had written this part for me in Sirens of Time, and this was going to be the first Doctor Who audio adventure, with three Doctors, which was all very exciting! So I recorded that in 1999, over a weekend, literality just two days, and everyone managed to get together for those two days of recording. Working with the three Doctors was exciting.
RM: Of the three of them, was there anyone that you were a little nervous working around? I know asking if you had a favorite is like asking to pick either heaven or hell, but was there anyone that you felt a little more intimated working with or was there one that was more of a joy to work with?
SM: Actually they were all great in different ways, but they were all also quite intimating, because they were finding their characters again, especially for Peter Davison because it had been a long time since he played the role, so he was finding his feet. It was also their first experience of working together and all sharing the one microphone. Which was interesting because it was cramped, and it was also unknown territory for the company, because it was the first Doctor Who audio, so everyone was hopping that it was going to be a great success but not sure. The whole thing was quite nerve racking but very relaxing as well. It always is with Big Finish, there’s a lot of sitting around, chatting, laughing, eating, drinking, and then going into the studio and playing really, its just so much fun.
I think that first time was my first proper experience of recording any sort of audio plays in a proper studio. And the first time working with any of the Doctors. And I was very pleased when I heard it afterwards because the postproduction was excellent and it really brought it to life. I think it was an interesting idea to have it as four parts to the story, and for my character, playing three very different creatures at the beginning and then coming together into this sort of villain at the end was, well I’m so lucky because it’s just such fun really to do it.
RM: Tell me a little about your Susan Mendes character and how you felt about getting into that.
SM: I kept badgering Nick Briggs after Sirens of Time about when I could do another one. And he said that it would be difficult because my voice is quite associated now with Sirens of Time. Everyone else was getting jobs but me and I was getting annoyed. Until last year, which was 2001, and he said he had written this story about the Daleks with no Doctors involved, and that I would be playing this sort of heroine, which was very exciting. And of course Gareth Thomas, who had played Blake in Blake’s 7 was playing the joint lead. I always remembered the Daleks from a kid, because they were the ones that stuck in my mind, the ones I was particularly scared about as monsters go.
It was also very strange when he asked me to do the Dalek stories because I always had an association with the Daleks through my Godfather, who was Terry Nation’s agent. So he’s the man that you have to go to get permission to use the Daleks and he’s my Godfather. So it’s really odd how its all come around and now I’m working with the Daleks.
RM: What other monsters scared you as a kid?
SM: I was always quite scared of the Cybermen in a funny sort of way, and the ones that come out of the water, the Sea Devils. But the Daleks always made me very nervous. So it was particularly thrilling to hear the voice of the Daleks, I was talking to the Daleks.
RM: You could hear that in your headset, the voice enhancement?
SM: What happens was that Nick and Jason would take it in turns to play what was called the stunt Dalek. In the actual mixing room, which we could see through the glass of the recording studio, they would sit with an ordinary microphone which would have an effect put onto it which was played through into our headphones. So we were playing opposite somebody else talking in a Dalek voice. But the actual proper recordings of the Daleks were put on in postproduction.
RM: Like they did for the television show?
SM: Yes. Except this time we just finished recording the second series of Dalek Empire and the Daleks were actually recorded live. Nick was creating them live in another booth in the recording studio. So there’s a slightly different feeling, which I think I prefer. It was exciting hearing the voice come through and I had a lot to do with the Daleks as the character of Suz, because she goes on a huge journey. It’s all such fun at the beginning, the first scenes are so sort of carefree, and then it’s such a hideous experience she and everybody else goes through.
RM: Its kind of like Lord of the Rings where it starts off real slow and quiet and then 15 minutes later…
SM: Exactly. Total annihilation of everything that was known before. Parents get killed, civilization disappears, its all very, very bleak. And then out of that comes this hope. Of course its difficult to imagine how hideous it would be, to be taken over by the Daleks.
RM: Well tell me, what would Susan Mendes want to say to a Dalek but knows she can’t because she would get exterminated on the spot?
SM: (Laughing) Oh I can’t, I don’t ever say that word, but I think it begins with ‘F’. No, it was a great experience to do and really quite a bit of fun.
RM: It definitely brings up a lot of mental images when you’re listening to the program.
SM: I hope so. I think its quite epic isn’t it? You can really imagine the situation quite well from the way it’s written, the sound effects, which are put on afterward, the music is very good. And the fact that its in four parts, it kind of like the old fashion going to the cinema on Saturday morning. You’d get these cliffhangers, like any episode of Doctor Who. You’d have to wait a whole week normally, to find out what happened. In this case poor fans had to wait three months in between each CD they released, which I think was quite tough. But it certainly kept the interest going. Of course I lost the thread of it because it was being written in three-month gaps. So we never knew what was going to happen next. We only found out about a week before we were due to record them.
RM: I heard it was done a different way this time?
SM: This year we recorded them all together over three weekends. We got all the scripts in advance, and it was much more fun to do it like that. And of course they’re being released all together so that will be better.
RM: I know there’s not much you can talk about but I’d like to ask you one small question. Does the character of Susan Mendes survive the second set of recordings?
SM: The second set of recordings?
RM: Dalek Empire part two.
SM: I can’t answer that. I can’t answer that because that would give too much away.
RM: Well the reason I wanted to ask it was because the character of Susan Mendes would actually make a good companion for the Doctor.
SM: Oh I think she would. I think she is a great character. Initially when I read it I though she was quite independent, but she’s not really, she doesn’t have to be self-sufficient. And there’s no harm in thinking before Dalek Empire, in respect to a Doctor Who story.
RM: Especially after meeting you in person, I’m going to be really upset if you’re exterminated on CD four of the new series.
SM: Well I can’t say if I’ll be in all four CDs but I’m definitely in the beginning of Dalek Empire II, and that’s all I can say. (Laughing) And if I say any more I’m gonna get shot! I am going to push them to have another life for Susan. Another life for Susan in an earlier incarnation, an earlier time in her life she encountered a Doctor, or something like that. Of course it was so well written, the relationship between her and Kalendorf in Dalek Empire, that it was a similar idea of how she would work with the Doctor. Because they played off of each other so well and they were both quite vulnerable and strong, and I think it would be great to see her encounter a Doctor. So I’m gonna work at that. I’m gonna work at Jason, Gary and Nick and try to get them to think pre-Dalek Empire. Of course I think the Dalek Empire stories are quite self contained, but there’s nothing to stop something happening between the two parts.
RM: Well if your character does survive would you be interested in doing Dalek Empire part three?
SM: Oh absolutely I think its great. I just don’t know how many serials one could do with the Daleks. You may be able to do one off situations, one off stories with the Daleks.
RM: Well the character of Susan Mendes could become just as popular as Bernice Summerfield and have her own set of adventures.
SM: Thank you. That would be great, I’d love that. And I’m hoping that if I keep working at them and see if they can write me something else.
RM: Are there any other monsters, or Doctors that you would like to work with on a Big Finish Doctor Who
SM: I’d like to work with Paul McGann. I think it would be quite interesting to work with him. Because I never met him and I would like to work with him. I loved all of the Doctors when I did Sirens of Time because they’re such different people and they bring such warmth and humor in their own different ways. I was listening to Sirens of Time again on the plane over from England, and it makes me smile when I hear certain…their characters are so clearly defined from the point of view of the audio, and I think it works terribly well. I really wouldn’t mind if they write me into any of them actually, I’d be happy. They know how much I enjoy doing them.
RM: Well I do hope that the series continues if not the Dalek Empire or at least a Susan Mendes series. Maybe Susan could meet the Cybermen.
SM: That could be a good series; I could meet all the monsters. Maybe a couple of one-offs. Of course, you’d have to talk to Jason about that!
Interview ©2002 Robert Moore/Visagraph Films International.