How did you come to get involved with writing a Big Finish adventure?
Ages ago, David Richardson told me that at that point, it had never really been explored, who the Doctor had stolen the TARDIS from. I thought that would make such a lovely story. Most of the stories reach out and reach out and reach out [further from the TARDIS].
Also, I have an incredibly vivid imagination personally; I’m a bit dyslexic and dyslexics are all picture thinkers. That’s the way we work: it’s neither good nor bad, it just is. And I thought our imagination is our strongest friend, our biggest ally and our greatest enemy. It’s fear of projected outcomes that stops people exploring their lives, developing their lives, reaching their potential, but it’s also the thing that can make you reach your potential – if you imagine yourself winning the race or landing the lead role, somehow the Laws of Attraction work.
I thought it would make a very interesting story to go inside the TARDIS, go right into the very heart of the TARDIS, and right into the very heart of our imaginations. In effect, the story closes down and down and down, and creates this incredibly scary world, full of memories and imagination and fears.
We all did have a childhood friend at some point, or somebody or something we talked to. I think a lot of adults do. In a way, God becomes an imaginary friend to a lot of people. Some people would say he’s imaginary, and some people would say he isn’t, but there’s this kind of constant companion with you. What if they really did exist? What happens to them? The whole thing came together from that.
I had a friend at drama college who said that when she was a little girl, she only ever sat on half her chair. She was brought up Catholic, and she did that so her guardian angel could have somewhere to sit down. It’s such a sweet idea that it was so real for her, that she would be that uncomfortable all day at school to accommodate a guardian angel.
It’s an idea that’s been explored by Michael Marshall Smith in his novel We Are Here that came out around the same time this is being recorded.
It often happens – it’s just in the zeitgeist somewhere, and people have these ideas at the same time.
How much did the story change from your initial idea to what’s been recorded?
Originally, we first talked about using maths, rather than painting – painting’s quite hard to depict on audio, and maths would have been much easier to do. But this came from Big Finish, and I think they made a good choice, because it sparks the listener’s imagination.
They say the best films are on radio, don’t they! When they suddenly put voices to Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, I thought, ‘That’s not his voice. How can you come up with a voice like that?’ And I’m sure there are people all over the world thinking the same thing because Pooh was a childhood friend for me, all that A.A. Milne stuff; I was obsessed with that.
You can hear the voice in your mind…
I still can. It’s just a usurper Disney has got hold of!
Did you find it odd working from a script you’d written?
Only for the first two pages. I’ve literally just had a quiet word with Nigel, who’s doing all the post-production on it, and said, ‘I think I overwrote that first scene. If you can see anywhere you can edit it in post-production, please do’, and he told me, ‘That’s just your writer’s head. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine. It’s because you hadn’t relaxed as being an actor at that point.’ I don’t know if he’s right; we’ll see if it hits the audio. But after the first scene, I felt fine.
No, but I’d already done it out loud. I was nervous about Tom’s reaction, to be really honest. I was worried he’d do a ‘Who wrote this rubbish?’ speech.
He seemed to be very complimentary!
He seemed to be, yes – maybe he’s just being kind because he likes me now.
Are you still finding new aspects to Leela in these stories, or are you refining the ones you know already?
She had so far to go but she can read quite well now, and the Doctor is teaching her to ask questions. There’s a fair bit more comedy because I’m asking questions he can’t answer, and he bluffs his way through them. There’s that nice element creeping in; she’s obviously got nowhere near the knowledge that he has, or indeed the intelligence – Time Lords have got these vast brains – but there’s still a way to go.
Is it constricting knowing where she goes in the future, with Gallifrey and the later Chronicles?
No, and I just excuse that in my head that we just jump about in time. In telly, you often shoot the last scene before the first scene. I’m kind of used to keeping the timeline in my head.
Gallifrey has always felt like a little separate bubble somehow. I’m always maintaining a very physical status in that as opposed to Lalla’s very cerebral Time Lady. There wasn’t quite as much room for development in those scripts, although I adored working with her of course.
Did it feel odd to go back for Gallifrey V and VI after doing the first season with Tom?
Yes, a little bit.
A little bit. I had hoped it would be a little bit more successful. I wanted to fund a regular drama thing but I haven’t quite got the confidence to do that. It has certainly covered costs and a little bit extra, but it’s not the galloping success I had hoped for.
It can be a slow burn.
Absolutely and maybe it just needs to go to download. People lend each other CDs; I do it myself. I know it’s illegal and one shouldn’t do it, but I think apart from the autograph hunters, I think the CD is probably going to have its day quite soon. I’m sure downloads will overtake them.
Any follow up coming?
I hope there is. It’s part of a trilogy that Nigel has written – the second one, Cruising was done at the Brighton Festival in 2013. The characters overlap. And there’s one more to come. It will be a trilogy.
I’m not in Cruising, but there’s a character I could play. It’s not dissimilar to the Doctor – there have been three different captains of a particular spaceship…
And the third?
I’ll be involved in that, but the second is all connected in. That will be good to do. I love doing audio – especially with Big Finish. I can’t speak highly enough about them.
[Thirteen months later when the play was released, Louise kindly agreed to answer a few more questions:]
Were you surprised by anything you heard on the day of recording in terms of the way people approached their lines etc.?
I wasn’t really surprised by anything on the day of recording. Steph of course produced a really wonderful performance and it was interesting to observe the green room dynamic, Tom was obviously full of respect, as she was for him.
David R leaned across at one point and said ‘This is liquid gold isn’t it?’ I tried to keep out of the box to be honest and just work as an actress on the day
How much were you involved with the editing process, particularly given Nigel was doing the sound design? Did you get a chance to hear the work in progress?
I didn’t hear any editing ‘work in progress’ – Nigel tends to do his soundscapes in one big sweep rather than in layers.
I am sitting with my unopened copy on my desk – full of anticipation – it is awaiting my next long car journey!
Did the whole writing process give you different insights into playing Leela?
I had to resist writing Leela in questions – it’s so easy just to have her parrot the last couple of words from the Doctor – and I complain when other writers do it!
With the benefit of hindsight, would you do it again?
Yes. I would definitely do it again, and again and again and again and…
Have the reviews of it posted so far surprised you in what people have taken away from it?
I have been very flattered and touched by the feedback.
Thanks to Louise for the extra time spent on this, to David Richardson & Ken Bentley for the warm welcome at the recording and for the photos.