Doctor Who “A Town Called Mercy”: Ben Browder Interview
Farscape and Stargate SG-1 star Ben Browder turns up as the Sheriff of a town called Mercy in next Saturday’s Doctor Who. And he’s pretty excited to have another sci-fi notch to add to the bedpost.
SFX: How aware were you of Doctor Who before you were offered the part in “A Town Called Mercy”?
BB: “I’d seen most of it. The new show, I mean. My kids have seen all of the new series since Russell T Davies started writing it, back with Chris in the lead, so, yeah. We have probably half the DVDs in the house and yeah, I knew exactly what it was.”
Were you watching it with your kids thinking, “Oh that would be a cool show to be in”?
“Well, you know, I mean honestly, when you look around and you go, okay, what shows would you wanna be on, you know? Other than being able to go back and being on the original Star Trek, you know, I mean, yeah, Doctor Who! How could you not wanna be in Doctor Who at least once in your career? They do a brilliant job with the show so, you know, it was kind of a no-brainer when I got the offer. It was in the middle of pilot season here, which is a busy time. I was like, ‘I really should be in town to look for a series of my own, but no, I’ve got an offer to do Doctor Who, I’ve gotta do that.’”
SFX: And we hear you’ve been wanting to do a Western for a while as well?
“Yeah, I’ve been wanting to do a western as well, so, you know, it sort of, it sort of all rolled up into one. I was like, ‘Ah, this is perfect, yeah.’”
SFX: You seem to be collecting roles in science fiction franchises like cigarette cards.
“Like cigarette cards?” [laughs]. “How old are you? Man, it’s like, yeah, ‘I’ll trade you one Doctor Who for a for a Battlestar Galactica and a Warehouse 13.’”
But is it like a great pension policy because now you’re getting invited to loads of different conventions for various franchises for the rest of your life.
“I hadn’t really thought about that, you know, but now that you mention it, maybe it is! I don’t know, it’s just a fun show and, you know, with my wife being English, and my kids being huge fans I had to do it. I mean, look, in my house, I have a TARDIS. It’s a small one, but I have a TARDIS. There’s a sonic screwdriver, too. We have Doctor Who paraphernalia in the house before I went on the show.”
So your children would have made you take the role anyway?
“I actually think that’s fairly common. I hear that from a number of actors. The odd thing is, I decided to keep the moustache I grew for the role for a while, and when people in Hollywood ask me what the moustache is for, I say, ‘Well, it’s for an episode of Doctor Who.’ And it’s funny how many people in the business in Hollywood go, ‘Oh, I that show’, I had no idea that it was that popular.”
What can you tell us about how your character fits into the episode?
“He’s the Marshal of the town of Mercy, he’s the one responsible for keeping the town safe.”
And how does he run into the Doctor?
“How does he… ? Huh, this is kind of a plot point. I’m not giving away spoilers! The town is preparing to… lynch the Doctor, how about that? That’s all you’re getting.”
Did you enjoy the Spanish location?
“The location we shot at was just phenomenal. It was shot in Spain in Almeria where The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and all the spaghetti westerns by Sergio Leone were shot. I was walking in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood! But it’s an odd sort of place because you’re in the south of Spain and here is this Western town, and when it’s not being used as a set, it’s used as a tourist attraction. So they have a kind of Western show that goes on and there’s guys wandering around in Western gear, riding horses with six-shooters. Of course, they only speak Spanish, and you’ve got the tourists kind of milling around…
“There was one day… We were eating lunch out back of the saloon, and it was one of the days where we were shooting in a canyon near the town. So the tourists were there in the town; there’s all these German tourists wandering around and these Spanish cowboys. And I came out of lunch and I’m wearing my outfit and I got my gun strapped on. I come out the saloon doors and there’s three guys, one of them on horseback and they look like they’re gonna draw on me, right. So I walk out on the street and they do! They draw on me! I’m like, ‘Guys, fellas, no, no no, we’re not playing this.’ And the tourists are standing around I’m like, ‘I’m not getting involved in this, I’m not part of this show.’
“So I walk down the street and the guy on the horse shot me in my back!
“Like, I’m thinking, ‘Well do I fall down or not? It was a bit like being Mickey Mouse at Disneyland or something. Ah, it was weird. It was an odd sort of place at times, but it was very cool.”
What were Matt and Karen and Arthur like to work with? I’ve heard before that they’re very, very welcoming to the guest stars.
“They are very welcoming. They’re very, very tight. They’re very close. This happens on a lot of sets, to a certain degree. They work together so much, they have their own particular bubble that they live in, and they pick up on each other’s jokes and rhythms and when you first arrive, you sort of, you sort of go. ‘Oh right, these guys have spent way too much time together.’ [Laughs] It’s literally like, you know, like a gang of kids who’ve been in school together for 12 years. They’re really tight, but they are welcoming and they’re very nice.”
“I think Matt is talented and diligent and hard-working, and he’s done a great job of stepping into some rather large shoes that have been left by the two previous Doctors so. He’s the motor that drives the day forward. He’s constantly working, constantly trying to get it right, and without his passion and enthusiasm, I don’t know that it would work. So, you know, he’s following in large footsteps and I think he does a magnificent job of it, and he works incredibly hard. He’s on his feet, you know, from first to last most days.”
You said elsewhere that you could never imagine the part of the Doctor being offered to an American. But if they were to offer it to you, what would costume would you like your Doctor to wear?
“Oh wow… hmm, if they were to offer it to me… I hadn’t thought about it, but, you know, I would, I think either wanna go very ’70s or the other option is to go Victorian with his clothes. Yeah, you know, I’m either going steampunk, or I’m going 1970s, and I’m thinking 1970s. It’s retro going back to the roots of the show but, you know, but appropriately so.”
You’ve also done a bit of writing on some of the past shows you’ve been on; would you actually like to write some of your own science fiction, or perhaps create a science fiction show for yourself?
“Yeah, I’d love to do that. It’s a lot of work and then, you know, it entails a bit of luck in actually getting something up and running, though.”
If John Crichton and Cameron Mitchell met up in a pub, what do you think they’d talk about?
“Girls.” [Laughs] “Girls and possibly, you know, wormhole travel.”
In a way Farscape was more like Doctor Who than the majority of US sci-fi shows.
“Well, Farscape was Anglicised in that way as far as science fiction goes. Yeah, you know, because it was primarily Australian crew, there were very few Americans on the ground. We were shooting in Sydney, Australia, which, obviously, is Australian, but it’s Anglicised. There’s similarities culturally that kind of cross into it. And the creature shop was out of the UK, so, you know, you had those sensibilities. And I trained in the UK, so, you know, I think that there’s an Anglicised sensibility about Farscape. I think it worked particularly well for British audiences.”
It had farting and toilet gags in it! We Brits were bound to like it!
“Well that was [show creator] Rockne O’Bannon! But coming out of the ‘80s and ‘90s, science fiction had got terribly serious, you know, and sort of stodgy in some ways. Message-driven. And Farscape was more experience-driven, and I would think that the experience of being surrounded by aliens would have to be kind of funny at times.”
What’s happening with your sci-fi detective noir series Naught For Hire?
“Naught For Hire is… you know, sort of peripherally still in development. It’s been held up by any number of other things, so yeah, it isn’t dead, but it’s still, you know, it’s still trying to find a home and the money.”
Take it to BBC America, see what they can do.
“That would be kind of interesting. It needs to find the right home.”
Returning to Doctor Who for a final question, is there one memorable moment from filming that sticks in your mind?
“My one great memory of filming? I mean there’s a lot of it that’s very memorable, you know. I suppose, it was, you know, laying in the dirt holding the Doctor’s hand that was most memorable to me…”
Yeah? That sounds intriguing… we won’t press further because it sounds like we’re verging on spoiler territory. Unless you were talking about wormholes…
Read our “A Town Called Mercy” preview.
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