Friday, May 27, 2016

Gordon Tipple interview

It's 20 years today since the Doctor Who TV movie starring Paul McGann was broadcast in the UK. Below is my interview with actor Gordon Tipple, who played the "Old Master" in the movie - for all of 37 seconds. It's as published in pages 42-43 of Doctor Who Magazine #497 (cover dated April 2016). Thanks to editor Tom Spilsbury for permission to post it here.

THE DWM INTERVIEW

SNAKE EYES!

He might have had a 'blink and you'll miss it appearance in the TV Movie, but Gordon Tipple really was a bona-fide incarnation oof the Master...
Interview by Simon Guerrier

“I'm probably going to get in trouble for this,” admits Canadian actor Gordon Tipple, “but I’m not a huge Doctor Who fan.”

So when in early 1996 he was first offered the part of 'The Old Master', exterminated in the opening scene of the Doctor Who TV Movie, did he know what he was letting himself in for?

“Oh, I was certainly familiar with the series and how it had been around for a long time. Going way back to my childhood in the 1960s and collecting monster magazines and stuff like that, I remember articles about Doctor Who and pictures of the Daleks. We couldn’t watch it in Canada then, but we knew about it.”

Born in 1953, Gordon grew up in London, Ontario. A childhood friend was David Boswell, the cartoonist who later created the cult comic strip Reid Fleming, The World's Toughest Milkman. So was Gordon into comics as a child?

“Oh, absolutely. Marvel and DC Comics, and of course Mad magazine. When we were kids, we thought that was just the funniest thing going. We thought it was real, cutting-edge humour.”

“David and I also had a fondness for horror and cheesy monster movies. As kids, we would try and put horror make-up on ourselves using latex rubber. At the time they called it ‘mortician's wax’, and I recall going with David down to a drugs store to try and buy some. The chemist there really gave us the third degree. He thought we wanted to disguise ourselves to pull off a bank robbery!” He laughs. “We eventually convinced him, and he relented and sold it to us. So yeah, we were playing with make-up and effects.”

Does this childhood interest in horror explain the path of his later acting career? His CV is full of roles in horror and science-fiction: as well as Doctor Who, Gordon appeared in four episodes of The X-Files, and two episodes of The Outer Limits.

“Yes, I like that stuff,” he says. “But it wasn’t really my choice to do those specific kinds of things. I’m at the mercy of my agent who puts me out for audition, the cast directors who are willing to see me, and then whether producers and directors like me enough to hire me. So I do all kinds of work. But then, when you get to do something like The X-Files, it’s a lot of fun and brings out the kid in you: ‘I’m going to get horribly killed? Oh, I’m going to love doing this!’”

In fact, Gordon has been killed in a lot of film and TV. He laughs. “Yeah, I was joking about it with a friend the other day. It seems to be, ‘This character really dies a horrible death, who can we get to do it? Oh yeah, there’s that guy…”

Was it his skills at dying that led to Doctor Who – where he’s killed off within the first minute? Again he laughs. “For the audition, as I read my line of dialogue they were just focused on my eyes and eyebrows. I have rather pronounced eyebrows, and they wanted me to be as expressive as I possibly could. So that’s what got me in there.”

We’ll discuss that line of dialogue in a moment, but once Gordon’s eyebrows had secured him the role, “they sent me to an optometrist’s shop downtown to fit me with those reptilian-looking contact lenses. I don’t wear contacts – just glasses for reading – and these things were really thick and uncomfortable. So they just put in one. There was a photography studio upstairs, and they sent me up to be photographed so the production office could see what I looked like. I then go back downstairs to the shop to have the contact lens taken out – and walk straight into a woman who’s come into buy new glasses. I scared the living hell out of her!” He laughs delightedly. “So we knew it looked good.”

When it came to recording, the contact lenses caused Gordon a lot of discomfort.

“My vision was obscured, but I was able to see just enough to get around. The problem was how quickly they dried out. The optometrist had to be there and was constantly putting on eye-drops so I’d be able to actually remove the lenses later.”

Gordon recorded his scenes at the sound stage in Burnaby, Vancouver, being used for the production. For the close-up of the eyes, he was also peering through a mask.

“Originally, in the wardrobe fitting, they had me in a kind of leather bondage mask,” he laughs. “You just saw my eyes, and there was a little vent for my nose so that I could breathe. Everything else was covered. They ended up modifying that so it covered just part of my face, because I also had that goatee thing going on.”

A goatee beard had been sported by the Master in two previous incarnations.

“I think the make-up department was given images of the guys that had gone before and tried to match me up.” Then it wasn’t a real beard? He sighs, trying to remember. “I’ve had a goatee off and on several times in my life, so I’m not sure. But looking at the image of me on set, that does look bigger than what I would have had.”

Gordon Tipple's own photos,
as featured in DWM #497
What Gordon does remember, though, is “the suit that they made for me. You don’t get a chance to see it in the little bit I’m in, but it was this black fabric that looked like little snake scales, and it had red piping. I regret not asking if I could buy the suit at the time. It was very, very cool!” In fact, the suit can be seen in the TV Movie – at the end, when it’s worn by Eric Roberts’ Master, along with his magnificent robes.

As well as the suit, Gordon wore an oddly shaped hat that looked – when seen looking down from above – like the pupil of his reptilian eyes. He was then encased in a sort of cylindrical prison. Director Geoffrey Sax explained in a book on the making of the TV Movie that these sets and effects, though looking computer-generated, were physically created.

“Yeah, that prison was a real thing that they built. Those glowing tubes were this material where you put a light on it and it glows back at you. And they wanted a physical reaction from me when I die. Watch the hat, and you see me moving.”

As broadcast, Gordon’s brief appearance and death are accompanied by narration given by the Doctor – as played by Paul McGann. But the original script has narration by Gordon – and it was recorded. DWM emailed him a link to an audio track. “This is wild lines for Scene 1 apple”, says the voice of one of the crew – possibly director Geoffrey Sax. Then, in a gruff, menacing voice we hear Gordon:

“I hereby make my last will and testament. If I’m to be executed and thus cruelly deprived of all existence, I ask only that my remains be transported back to our home planet by my rival Time Lord and nemesis – he who calls himself the Doctor.” (Readers can find this clip at tinyurl.com/TippleTalks)

There’s a brief pause, and then the crewmember asks for another take, “a little bit quicker, for variety.” Gordon obliges.

“I’m amazed you were able to find that!” he enthuses now. “That was really something. And when I heard it, I remembered the circumstances. After we’d done the filming, we just sat off at the side of the set and they recorded me. And it was wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am – we were done.”

It’s a very different voice to the gently spoken man DWM is chatting with today.

“I don’t recall getting direction per se,” he says. “I guess I was thinking of making it determined, you know: ‘You’ve got me now, but not for long; I’ll be back to get you!’ That was my basic motivation.”

Recording on the TV Movie had originally been scheduled to run Monday to Friday, but Gordon recorded his material on Saturday, 10 February 1996 – the weekends being added because of the complex demands of the shoot. The extra filming day meant that Gordon was “very isolated – I was the only actor on set.”

Did that mean he didn’t meet the other cast members? “No, I didn't, unfortunately. I was hoping to get a chance to meet Eric Roberts, but no such luck. But that also meant I got a chance to look round. They put a lot of effort into making the sets, which were really terrific.”

And what kind of atmosphere was there on set?

“A definite sense of urgency,” he remembers. “You can hear it in that clip – they did the two takes and it’s ‘okay, we keep moving. Thank you very much.’”


His work on Doctor Who was done.

At what point did he learn that his dialogue wasn’t going to be used?

“I didn’t find out until after the fact. I think I saw it when it was televised and of course, my first thought was, ‘That’s not my voice!’” And how did he feel about it? “It’s no big deal. I’d been acting for a while and it’s not a rare occurrence. Pretty much every actor I know has had a situation like that. Your first thought is, ‘Oh my God – I must have been awful.’ But that’s not necessarily the case.” He laughs. “It’s a strange business, acting. You get used to it.”

DWM explains that late in the day the production team thought it better to have the Doctor introduce the story, to give him more of a role from the start.

“I’m inclined to agree,” says Gordon.

He said that acting is a strange business. Gordon spent one day on Doctor Who 20 years ago, but in October 2014 he was a perfect “zero” answer on the BBC One primetime quiz show, Pointless – where contestants had to name actors who’d played the Master, but not give answers other people had thought of. He’s delighted by that. Does he get recognised a lot?

“A bit. The first time was maybe ten years ago or so. I was at an audition and another actor came up to me and said, ‘Scuse me, are you Gordon Tipple? Everybody’s talking about you on the internet.’ I thought, ‘Oh God, what did I do?’ It was because of Doctor Who. I said, ‘Well that was a lot of fun, doing that little bit,’ and told him what I’ve told you. He said, ‘Oh, man, they would love to hear what you have to say.’” So did he go online? He laughs. “I like to keep a low profile. But I’ve had a bit of mail through my agent. Doctor Who fans are really organised – they include self-addressed and stamped envelopes! So I’m happy to send back an autograph.”

In fact, Gordon’s daughter Erin is “a huge fan. When she meets people at parties and they know her dad was in Doctor Who, she’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’m the Master’s daughter.’” He laughs. “Knowing I was going to speak to you, she gave me a lecture on what’s been happening in the series. After half an hour, my head was spinning. I thought it was terrific.” So does Gordon know that the Master is now a woman? “Oh yeah.” He doesn’t mind? He laughs again. “I could come up with some real smart-ass answer, but let’s refrain.”

How does Doctor Who compare to the attention Gordon gets from having been in The X-Files and other popular shows?

The X-Files is still very popular. It’s not uncommon for me to be in a store or restaurant and somebody’ll go, ‘Hey, you’re that guy...’ He cites the 1995 episode Humbug as one that seems to stick in people’s minds. “I played a guy called Hepcat Helm in this story about a freakshow. But I think Doctor Who takes the prize for people’s interest. It’s great that it has fans who are that passionate about it.” DWM

[I previously wrote about the experience of watching the TV Movie at the time, and how things have changed, with guest contribution from Joseph Lidster.]

Monday, May 23, 2016

Paperback of The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who


I am utterly in love with clever Martin Geraghty's cover for the paperback edition of The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, to published by BBC Books in July.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wheel turn

Yesterday, the Lord of Chaos and I took a turn on the London Eye to help his cousin celebrate her birthday. I'd not been on the Eye since my days of courting the Dr, back in the summer of 2000, and had forgotten how high it is, and how strange to be right over the river. His Lordship entirely loved it - "This was my best day ever," he squealed, unprompted. Here are some photos:

His Lordship and a cousin as the ride begins.

Hungerford Bridge - and Cleopatra's Needle.

The Royal Air Force Memorial with golden eagle on top.
The TARDIS lands the other side of it in Rose (2005).

Shell building, Waterloo station, building site, playground.

Best effort at Buckingham Palace, nestling in the greenery.

The office.

The office, landscape.

Afterwards, I was required to ride the carousel.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Lady Vader

It has been an eventful week, with the Dr giving birth to a beautiful baby girl who, online, we'll call Lady Vader.

Given our history - assured, despite our best efforts, that we were unable to have children at all, then the birth of a baby girl who lived just eight days - it's nothing short of miraculous. There have been months of stress and terror, and of trying not to hope. Even when she was born, the Dr had to stay in hospital longer for tests (on the Dr not the baby) just to be sure. But now here she is, keeping us up until four in the morning demanding to be held.

We are all a whirl of emotions - though had been warned by people who've been through similar loss that the relief of a healthy baby would be mingled with sadness. But generally, cautiously, happy...

The Lord of Chaos is extremely pleased to be an older brother - and took great delight in helping choose her online and real-life names.

Actually meeting the baby has been really good for him, too: until now, all the worry and tension clouding the house has been around some abstract quantity. Now there's a real, mewling creature to tiptoe round. And when she cries, he knows - thanks to a magnificent book - to resignedly sigh, "Stupid baby!"

All this baby stuff has meant I'm a bit horribly behind on anything else - what my friends are up to, what work I should have finished, what it's like being out in company. But on Thursday, the Dr and Lady Vader wanted to sleep so I was dispatched from the hospital early and got to the launch of the Cartoon Museum's ASTOUNDING exhibition, Doctor Who: The Target Book Artwork, running till Sunday 15 May.

While there, me and m'colleague Dr Marek Kukula were accosted by this random punter insisting on a photo:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

George Watson's People of 2016

http://peopleof2016.tumblr.com/post/143028499312/109-simon-guerrier-39-writer-london-my-wife
Me, by George Watson
Yesterday, I became #109 in George Watson's "People of 2016", a daily photographic blog. That's me in Soho after not enough sleep.

I've known George since we started comparing notes on short films and documentatries we were both busy making. Thrillingly, he's also the author of one of the children's fan letters to Doctor Who companion Sophie Aldred included in her book, Ace! The Inside Story of the End of an Era (1996, written with special effects high brain Mike Tucker).


Friday, April 15, 2016

Doctor Who special effects

The latest Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition is devoted to six decades of effects in the series. As well as the astounding revelation that the heat barrier in The Daemons (1971) was a physical effect made from tinsel, there's a couple of things by me.

To understand how last year's episode Heaven Sent was realised, I spoke to Will Cohen, Louise Hastings and Salvador Zalvidea at Milk VFX, Kate Walshe at Millennium FX and Samantha Price at BBC Wales.

(The feature also owes a lot to Warren Frey's amazing hour-long interview with director Rachel Talalay, for the Radio Free Skaro podcast. Following that, Talalay posted a video of her demo for the SFX team, demonstrating how they could make a dissolving hand for the episode using a bath bomb kit.)

I also spoke to Academy Award-winning Paul Franklin from Double Negative, who hasn't worked on Doctor Who but explained to me its influence on his own work - including what bits of the series were used as placeholder footage during the making of the movie Interstellar.

(I met Paul when he and I were panelists on The Infinite Monkey Cage last year.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Making Doctor Who Adventures 97% weirder

To mark 10 glorious years of kids' magazine Doctor Who Adventures, my former boss Paul Lang has written a magnificent celebration of its daftness and delight. He describes this especial foolishness as my masterpiece:

I've already posted all the episodes of daft comic-strip AAAGH! I wrote, and other bits and pieces I did. But there was the time we got "Koquillion" into the wordsearch. Or got the Daleks to write the horoscope (every star sign had "You will be exterminated!"). Or wrote comic strips in which the Doctor battled bogeys, bananas and space owls... Such happy times and places.