Sophie Aldred, who played ’80s companion Ace in Doctor Who, stars alongside Carol Cleveland (Monty Python), Tom Price (Torchwood) and Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space 9) in new sci-fi comedy, The Search for Simon.
Out on DVD this week, The Search for Simon follows 39 year David’s search for his younger brother Simon, who, at the age of 7 (ish) in 1979, disappeared, due to a perceived alien abduction. After all, his Dad did tell him that he had been.
CultBox caught up with Sophie for a chat about The Search for Simon, Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures and more…
Let’s talk about The Search for Simon. For those who haven’t seen it, the marketing builds it as a comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. So how much of it is spoof and how much genuine sci-fi story?
“Oh goodness me. There’s a lot of spoof but there’s a fantastic story as well and actually it’s quite a moving story. I won’t give too much away. But it is plot-driven. It’s not pure spoof. The character of the brother that Martin Gooch plays is very appealing. But the sci-fi elements are very funny as well.”
So the brother who’s missing is Simon Jones, and then acting in it from Hitchhikers is Simon Jones. It sounds a bit meta-fictional. Is that relevant or just a comic twist?
“Oh, I think it’s – there are, if you look carefully, there are so many references. There’s so much in there. It demands viewing a few times, because you won’t get all the references first time through.”
Tell us about the character you play…
“My character is a kind of a boss of a secret space organisation. She’s very tough and it was fun to play a character like that. A very high-status boss character. And she gets involved with Simon when he’s on his quest. She was originally conceived as an American, but then we decided that actually she should be English. I think the name came from an ex-girlfriend Martin had.”
Does the ex-girlfriend have anything to fear from the characterisation?
“No, no, not at all.”
Were you involved early on, in early development?
“I was involved very late on actually. I bumped into an actor who I had seen in a show that Sylvester McCoy was doing. John said to me, ‘I’m working on this project with a friend of mine, Martin Gooch. I think you’d be fantastic for this part. Can I give you Martin’s number?’ He told me a little bit about it, and it was very much towards the end of the filming. And I rang Martin. He sent me the script; I thought ‘What fun!’ and that was it.”
The Search for Simon was a crowd-funded production. Do you think that’s the future for independent film-making?
“Well, I think it is a very good method of funding something you want to happen because there ain’t much funding going on these days, and it’s so hard to get distribution and so on. What with all this technology, I think it’s a brilliant way. It’s also incredibly democratic, and it’s a sort of involving process as well. Obviously, you’d prefer to be funded by some large company that’s going to give you lots of money and a massive big budget. But if you’ve got a project that you are desperate to do, then crowdfunding is a great way of doing it.”
And I suppose for you – back in the ‘90s, you were making fan-video Doctor Who productions, so this is just the next step?
“Yes, absolutely. It was always thus. People wanting to do it. The actors wanting to get out there and work. I think it is an excellent idea.”
I wanted to talk about your work as a voice artist, as you are known for Dennis the Menace and Tree Fu Tom. What is it that appeals to you about working in that medium? Is it just a case of using your voice or is there great physicality in being a voice artist?
“I’ve always loved doing voice work. When I was very young, I did a spoof of a radio show with a friend of mine, and we both ended up as actresses. I’d just started doing voiceovers when I got pregnant with my first son, and it seemed at the time like a really good way to combine being a mum and carrying on working. And I really enjoy what I do. In terms of physicality, it depends what you’re doing.
“For example, I’m doing an audio book at the moment, and you can’t be physical doing an audio book because it makes too much noise and the microphone is incredibly sensitive. But for something like Tree Fu Tom or an ensemble recording, there is a greater degree of physicality that you can bring to it.
“Certainly with David Tennant, who did the first series of Tree Fu Tom, he was incredibly physical, and I had to mind his dangling arms.”
I reckon all the Doctors have that about them. Presumably acting opposite Sylvester in a recording book, he doesn’t stand still?
“With Big Finish stuff, we’re actually in little separate boxes, and I think I have become more physical over the years. Definitely you get in a little world of your own and you get carried away.”
Obviously, you have never really stopped playing Ace. Many of the old companions look at the new parts given to the companions and feel, ‘We’re so envious.’ But presumably you don’t feel that because you were a companion who had backstory and you were given character development?
“I look at the companions now and think, ‘Wow! This is great because Ace paved the way for these women.’ I was incredibly fortunate because in the script editor at the time, Andrew Cartmel that was what he was bringing to Doctor Who, this relationship between the Doctor and the companion which had not really been explored to such great depth.
“The focus was on the companion in many ways as it is now. I just look at it now and think, ‘I wish you knew what happened to Ace!’ I do feel envious because it is such an enjoyable show to work on.”
And you could have gone back in The Sarah Jane Adventures if things had been different?
“Exactly, yes. That would have been amazing mainly because I would have loved to have worked with Lis. We knew each other from conventions. We really admired each other’s work, and it would have been fantastic icing on the cake to work with her in an episode, but sadly that was not to be.”
Now your eldest son is a teenager and brings friends round to the house, do you ever look at them and think, ‘I’ll nick that for Ace! I’ll use that’?
“Well, actually, he’s a very boringly lovely teenager and so are his friends. There is not the angsty stuff. But it is a completely different world for teenagers now with technology, so it would be a very different kettle of fish now.
“More than that, actually, I used my eldest son a few years ago – he is the model for the voice of Tree Fu Tom. I was playing an answerphone message from him the other day and I thought, ‘My God! I did quite a good impression of him on Tree Fu Tom!’”
Last year there was an exhibition of photos of you from the Eighties when you were being Ace. Do you ever look back on photos of yourself and think, ‘Damn, I looked good!’?
“Yeah, I looked back on those photos and thought, ‘Wow, if only I’d appreciated myself at the time!’ And then I’m sure I’ll look back on photos of me now and think, ‘Wow, I wish I’d appreciated myself at the time.’
“I think it’s probably human nature not to appreciate who we are being at any one point in time. But it did pull me up and make me think. I am so glad that that I did those photos and I have those photographs to look back on.”
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