INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Carole Ann Ford at L.I. Who


The original TARDIS crew: Ian (William Russell), the Doctor (William Hartnell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Anne Ford). [BBC photo]

Twice last fall – at RoberCon and L.I. Who – I found myself on fan panels discussing the many companions that Doctor Who has featured since it began in 1963. Both times, I made the argument that the best TARDIS crew may have been the original four: the Doctor (played by William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill).

As schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara were capable adults and equal to the Doctor in many ways, a situation that arguably has not repeated itself since, and Susan blended human and alien qualities (although not as much as Carole Ann Ford would have liked). The humans softened up the Doctor’s approach to other people and to the universe, and together they were an unstoppable team – even against the dreaded Daleks. Because Doctor Who was still finding its footing in the early years, those stories remain fascinating to watch now.

So it was quite a thrill to get to meet Ms. Ford at L.I. Who last year and interview her about her time on the show. She’s had mixed feelings about how the role of Susan affected the rest of her acting career but she’s always seemed kind and considerate to Doctor Who fans.

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Carole Ann Ford vs. the fanboy. [Photo by Adrienne Wise]

In my interview with her, we discussed the chemistry of the original cast, her meeting with current Doctor Peter Capaldi (who has insisted she return to the show at some point) as well as reviving the role of Susan for various Big Finish audio adventures.

[This is the last of my L.I. Who interviews, but look for more from the Signal archive coming up soon.]

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Paul McGann at L.I. Who


The gentleman and his Jules Verne time machine. [BBC photo]

As I’ve discussed before on this site, it’s now easy to forget that Doctor Who and its fans survived through the so-called “Wilderness Years” between the cancellation of the original series in 1989 and the wildly successful revival in 2005.

The great fan hope during that time was the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, which was a co-production among the BBC, Fox and Universal and which aired on Fox exactly 20 years ago today as a backdoor pilot for a potential new series. Say what you like about the movie’s flaws, but there was no question that McGann made his mark as the Doctor with less than an hour onscreen in the role.

When the film did not turn into a series, many fans (myself included) were quite disappointed. It seemed like Doctor Who was finally dead – and, worse still, we thought we’d never see the potential of the eighth Doctor fulfilled. Then Big Finish Productions got a license from the BBC to produce official Doctor Who audio plays. At first, it didn’t seem like McGann wanted to take part – so when it was announced that he’d return to the role for “Storm Warning” along side new companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher), I was very thrilled with the result.


The audio release that started the eighth Doctor’s second life. [Big Finish Productions]

No offense to the other Doctors making audios at the time (fifth Doctor Peter Davison, “Old Sixie” Colin Baker and seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy), but because the eighth Doctor’s tenure remained open-ended, the stories felt more like “proper” Doctor Who. It also helped a lot that McGann is a stellar audio actor with an expressive, unforgettable voice that added new dimensions to the Doctor’s character – many of which, I’m sure, were picked up for later Doctors when the series returned in 2005.

McGann has gone from strength to strength thanks to Big Finish, with the launch of the Eighth Doctor Adventures (which mimicked the hour-long format of the revived TV series and also starred Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller) and later the “Dark Eyes” and “Doom Coalition” series (the latter of which remains ongoing).

The eighth Doctor stories from Big Finish revived my interest in Doctor Who in the early 2000s, and I’m sure they played a big role in his Doctor’s return in the 50th anniversary minisode “Night of the Doctor,” which finally saw a regeneration but not into the Doctor any of us expected.


“Four minutes? That’s ages. What if I get bored, or need a television, couple of books? Anyone for chess? Bring me knitting.” [BBC photo]

When it comes to conventions or other appearances related to the role, McGann remained a notoriously private man for the first eight years or so after playing the role on TV. When he finally booked his first American convention – the 2004 Gallifrey con in Los Angeles – I arranged on short notice to fly out there for it. Who knew if he’d hate it and never do another one?


Paul McGann gets friendly with  the Doctor’s oldest enemy at the 2004 Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles. [Photo by me]

Luckily, that convention only started his love affair with Doctor Who fans, and over the years I’ve seen him at three other conventions: once at the last official I-Con (where I got a quick station ID for WHRW that I use to close every edition of The Signal) and twice at L.I. Who over the past couple of years. (He’ll be returning for his – and my – third year in a row this November.)

At last year’s L.I. Who, I fulfilled a longtime goal and got to interview McGann. Wish I’d had more time but the schedule was running late and others were waiting for interviews behind us. Perhaps I’ll get another shot this year – we shall see.

Time can be a funny thing, but in many ways it hardly seems like 20 years since I first saw Paul McGann’s Doctor on TV – and I’m glad that, two decades later, he’s still roaming time and space with new adventures. Glorious.


Obligatory nerd photo: Me with the main cast of the Doctor Who movie, Daphne Ashbrook, Paul McGann and Yee Jee Tso at L.I. Who 2. [Photo provided]

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Dan Starkey at L.I. Who


The man in the rubber mask: Mr. Dan Starkey

It takes a special kind of sci-fi actor to work under the prosthetics necessary to look like an alien – and even more special if he’s willing to do it more than once.

That’s why I have respect for guys like Dan Starkey, who has appeared in multiple episodes of Doctor Who as various Sontarans, the war-like race lovingly referred to as “potato heads” Here’s a video that shows the two-hour process in the makeup chair just to get the mask together. That doesn’t count the costume, which is tricky in itself.

Meeting Dan at L.I. Who last November was a real treat, because he can turn on the Strax voice whenever he wants – who needs a mask when you can hear a Sontaran call you “alien scum” right to your face?

For the 2014 Christmas special “Last Christmas,” he played Ian the Elf with a minimum of prosthetics, so people finally got a good look at him under the mask.

Dan has worked on audio adventures with Big Finish Productions in the past, but now that the company has a license to create Doctor Who content involving new series characters, it’s opened  up a whole new world – he can be Strax, not just another Sontaran clone. In the interview, he and I discussed the recent Big Finish release Jago & Litefoot & Strax, which sees his Sontaran butler teaming up with Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot, two Victorian era characters first introduced in the classic series story “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” who have gone on to have a successful second life on audio.

He also talked about co-writing the Big Finish story “Terror of the Sontarans” with John Dorney, starring seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.


Face to face with a Sontaran at L.I. Who. [Photo by Adrienne Wise]

INTERVIEW TWO-FER: ‘Doctor Who’ star Daphne Ashbrook


The always-lovely Daphne Ashbrook.

Doctor Who died in 1989. I was there and I remember it.

After a (mostly) remarkable 26-year run, the British sci-fi stalwart was finally canceled. Gone for good. Dead as a dodo. Et cetera and so on.

Except … when the show’s 30th anniversary rolled around in 1993, it became obvious that some kind of revival was afoot. Rumors flew around for the next couple of years:

  • Steven Spielberg was going to be involved. (True, until it wasn’t true.)
  • The series was going to be rebooted from the beginning, finally showing why the Doctor left his home planet of Gallifrey. (Also true for a while.)
  • The TARDIS would no longer look like a British police box, but have somehow have lips in the console room (?) and rap (?!?). (Bizarre.)
  • David Hasselhoff would play the Doctor. (That would make the Germans happy, at least.)

So when the film starring Paul McGann as the Doctor and Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Holloway finally aired in May 1996, I definitely remember having a sense of relief. Sure, the plot didn’t always add up (which I still blame on a variety of factors), but Doctor Who was back in a form that fans recognized. That it never turned into a series – that Fox chose to continue Sliders instead – seemed like a body blow at the time.

For someone who spent only five week or so filming Doctor Who, Daphne has been very open to meeting fans and talking about her experiences at conventions. That she’s a genuinely nice, funny and chatty person definitely helps.

Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited: Episode 08

Paul McGann as the dashing Doctor and Daphne Ashbrook as the faithful Dr. Grace Holloway in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie. [BBC Photo]

 I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Daphne twice now: once in early 2015 after we discussed a radio interview at the 2014 L.I. Who; and then at the November 2015 convention. The first time around, I wanted to know more about her albums (Grace Notes and All Good Dreamers) but naturally we ended up talking about Doctor Who, acting, meeting fans and all sorts of topics.

Last November, we mainly talked about her upcoming short film, Once More, With Feeling, which she wrote, produced and stars in. She did an Indiegogo campaign to help fund the movie, and she hopes that it will be going around to film festivals throughout 2016. Can’t wait to see it.

Learn more about Daphne at her website.


I must have been saying something VERY fascinating. [Photo by Adrienne Wise at 2015’s L.I. Who]

INTERVIEW: The British whimsy of Robyn Hitchcock


Robyn Hitchcock, the man who invented himself. [Photo provided]

For the past 20 years, one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters has been Mr. Robyn Hitchcock. He’s been writing neo-psychedelic pop/rock tunes for four decades now, starting with The Soft Boys and later as a solo artist, with the Egyptians and with the Venus 3.

I’m not usually attracted to psychedelic stuff, but Hitchcock wraps weighty questions about the nature of human existence in a dream-like whimsy that invokes anything from trolly-buses and “balloon men” to glass hotels, Buzz Aldrin and three-legged chinchillas. A review I read the other day said he’s like Bob Dylan as filtered through Doctor Who, so maybe that explains why I love it. His between-song banter at concerts can be hilariously bizarre, too.

I interviewed Hitchcock about 10 years ago, around the release of his Olé Tarantula album. This time we got to chat because he was performing in Ithaca, and I recorded it for radio broadcast. (It aired March 16 on WHRW’s The Signal, and you can read the print version here.)

The 63-year-old musician talked from his home in Nashville (where he’s lived since last fall) about songwriting, zebras, David Bowie and what to expect on his next album. It’s a fun, suitably rambling conversation, and it reminded me again why he’s so fun and thoughtful at the same time. My biggest regret is that I had time for only three songs.

The Ithaca show with Emma Swift (March 24 at the Dock) was pretty amazing – lots of my favorites from the 1980s and ’90s, mixed with especially hilarious stories. Someone taped it, and I can’t wait to experience it again soon.


INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Ian McNeice at L.I. Who



‘We shall not falter or fail; we shall not weaken or tire …’ Ian McNeice embodying the iconic Winston Churchill in Doctor Who. [BBC photo]

One of the unexpected but fun interviews I did at last November’s L.I. Who convention on Long Island was actor Ian McNeice, best recognized by Doctor Who fans as Winston Churchill in a series of episodes during the Matt Smith era.


Apart from Doctor Who, he’s known for his numerous stage roles, TV appearances (Chef, Cadfael, Doc Martin, Jonathan Creek) and movie roles (The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, From Hell, Valkyrie, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls).

Now that Big Finish Productions has a license to make audios based on the new Doctor Who series, a box set called The Churchill Years Vol. 1 was released in January, chronicling Churchill’s other encounters with the Doctor.  I discussed the set with Mr. McNeice and learned what has since been announced officially: A second set will be released next year.


Churchill meets the Daleks for a sequel story. [Photo: Big Finish]

Mr. McNeice is quite the character, especially when let loose during L.I. Who’s traditional Match Game with the stars (known better to Brits as Blankety Blank – a fact that fellow guest Noel Clarke was happy to find out when I explained it to him). It’s no surprise that he dropped a couple of F-bombs during our chat, edited out for radio. Churchill would be proud.


Perhaps the only time during the weekend that Ian McNeice took off his cap at last November’s L.I. Who convention. He wanted to prove he really did have hair. [Photo by me]

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Noel Clarke at L.I. Who


Noel Clarke acting like a badass in the Doctor Who episode “Rise of the Cybermen.” [BBC photo]

You know that a character is going to get a bad rap – both onscreen and among fans – when his nickname is “Mickey the Idiot.”

So it seems almost inevitable that Mickey Smith would have his share of detractors when Doctor Who returned to our TV screens in 2005. Just like Rose Tyler had a mum in Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri), showrunner Russell T. Davies gave Rose a boyfriend to make her seem more grounded and real. Of course, right in episode 1 (“Rose”), Mickey acts like a frightened child, and when he’s briefly replaced by a plastic dummy, Rose doesn’t even notice.

One thing’s always been clear, though: Noel Clarke is no idiot.

I first saw him in person at the Gallifrey One convention in February 2006, between Doctor Who series 1 and 2. I admit I didn’t know much about him at the time, but I could tell instantly that he’s an likable guy as well as talented. He was hyping the about-to-be-released film Kidulthood, which he wrote and starred in. A sequel that he wrote and directed, Adulthood, followed in 2008, and he’s since kept busy with a wide range of writing and acting jobs.

In 2006, Noel told those who asked at panels that they should expect to see Mickey Smith grow and change in upcoming episodes – and he was not kidding. By the end of series 2, Mickey became a badass who helped to rescue our world and a parallel one from both the dreaded Daleks and Cybermen. This evolution gave Mickey more depth and showed us a wider range of Noel’s talents.

At the time of last November’s L.I. Who convention on Long Island, Noel had two main projects on the front burner: a series from Titan Comics called The Troop, looking at a group of all-too-real superheroes, and the just-announced Brotherhood, a third installment in the “Hood” films that he also will write and direct. It’s expected to be released later in 2016.

I had a fun chat with Noel at last November’s L.I. Who convention on Long Island, where we discussed The Troop, Brotherhood, the evolution of Mickey Smith and what Doctor Who has meant for his career.

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Noel Clarke goes against the grain with a Star Wars shirt at a Doctor Who convention. [Photo by Adrienne Wise]

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Camille Coduri at L.I. Who


The indomitable Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri). [BBC photo]

When Doctor Who returned to our TV screens in 2005, among the changes was making the companion character seem more well-rounded and real. Showrunner Russell T. Davies gave Rose Tyler a boyfriend, Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), and a mother, Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri). I recall that some people objected to the idea, but to me it grounded Rose in the real world – there were people back home who loved her and were waiting for her.

Sadly, for some fans, Jackie Tyler is the overbearing mum that they love to hate – but I’ve always seen her as a much more nuanced character, an ordinary woman thrown into an extraordinary world and worried for her daughter’s safety. She doesn’t choose to have a daughter who roams time and space, but she knows how important it is to Rose to do it.

It was really cool to chat with Camille at last November’s L.I. Who convention on Long Island, where we discussed not only Jackie Tyler but also the film King Ralph (with John Goodman) and the sitcom Him & Her (which I need to find streaming somewhere).


Camille Coduri deals with my questioning while the guy behind us apparently takes a nap. [Photo by Adrienne Wise]

ARCHIVE INTERVIEW: Duncan Edward Jones of Silverclub


Duncan Edward Jones (formerly of Silverclub, still a cool music dude)

A few years back, Caroline Boyd and I met somehow via the miracle of the Twitter. She hosts the Tuesday drive-time show on AllFM in Manchester, U.K. (5-7 p.m. GMT), and has a great taste in music. I especially love when she shares tunes from the rich Manchester scene (and its environs), which over the years has birthed acts like The Smiths, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, New Order, The Stone Roses and Oasis.

My favorite band Caroline led me to love, though, is Silverclub, an electro-rock act led by Duncan Edward Jones that combined catchy dance hooks and witty, dark, confessional lyrics. When I got the debut album in 2012, I listened to it so many times I thought I’d wear out the grooves on the CD. (That is how CDs work, right?)

I was thrilled to connect with Duncan for this interview that originally aired Aug. 14, 2012, on The Signal on WHRW Binghamton. We discussed how he got into electronic music, the formation of the band and the making of the album. Lots of fun moments in this one.

Sadly, Silverclub played a final gig in November 2015, so I did not fulfill my dream to see the band perform live. Still, I’m sure all the band members (which also included Henrietta Smith-Rolla, Gareth Carbery, Nick Cotterill and Ian ‘Budgie’ Jones) will continue to create new music – and I for one will be waiting to hear it.

ARCHIVE INTERVIEW: Eric Coker’s 2011 music review


R.E.M. called it quits in 2011 … and so far they have avoided any awkward reunion tours.

When I first got my own show on WHRW Binghamton in the fall of 2011, I spent my first semester on the air slowly learning how to fill 90 minutes of airtime in a fun and constructive way. It’s trickier than you might think, and I was still nervous about the whole thing.

During winter break, though, the slots for shows double in length to three hours because few or no students are on campus. I found that to be a daunting prospect. Coupled with a desire to play (and learn about) music that was outside my usual (limited) expertise, I invited a series of friends on the air with me. One of them brought a Cliff Notes history of power pop, and a co-worker tried to teach me about the finer points of electronic dance music (EDM).

Eric Coker is a guy I used to work with on the Press & Sun-Bulletin copy desk, and I sometimes get him to freelance music articles for the weekly entertainment section. He also knows a lot about music – more than I ever will. (If only I could do some kind of mind meld …)

Re-listening to the beginning of this recording (which originally aired Jan. 14, 2012), I sound clueless about what Eric’s plan was to fill three hours of airtime. Being much more organized than me, he had decided to review 2011’s music and look ahead to 2012. Among the topics: the breakup of R.E.M.

Note that this interview is so old that I was still using the on-air moniker “The Caffeine Kid” – but I swear it’s still me. (As if it could be anyone else.)

Since this first show, Eric has returned every January to look back at the previous year, and it’s become one of my favorite shows to do. He’ll be back on the air with me next Tuesday (Jan. 19) – a week later than planned, but he and I agreed that this week’s show needed to be a David Bowie tribute and he joined the all-star panel that saluted the music legend.