What a splendid day I had yesterday at the Big Finish Day 3 event in Barking.
I also was pleased to chat with Kenny Smith, whose labour of love has just been published. It’s the Big Finish Companion Volume 2, and I commend it to you.
It quotes hundreds of people, including almost every writer, several Doctors, many companions, and loads of musicians, directors, sound designers, and cover artists.
Kenny was interviewed about it himself.
Here’s the full interview that I did with Kenny last year. To see how he has skilfully woven this into the book, and enjoy loads more fantastic stuff, go to the Big Finish website and buy the book.
Kenny Smith: How much did Ferril’s Folly change between your initial pitch for it, and the finished storyline?
Peter Anghelides: Quite a bit, and hardly at all! There was a long delay between it being pitched and then the final version that was produced. It was only in the latter stages that it was actually under contract for a Companion Chronicles At one stage, I was one of the authors invited to pitch for the BBC Audio series that became “Hornet’s Nest”, which at the time had the rather splendid code name “Felt Hat”. So I worked up a version of “Ferril’s Folly” (possibly called “The Iron Lady” at that stage. Commissioning Editor Michael Stevens eventually went with Paul Magrs for all of those audio readings, which also turned out to be a sort of halfway thing between Companion Chronicles and full-cast audios. And in any case, Michael also recognised the origins of “The Iron Lady” because he gets to see Big Finish’s prospective storylines in his role at BBC Audio (now AudioGO). That version would have had the Doctor as the principal narrator, rather than Romana.
After that, Big Finish was making one of its occasional attempts to tempt Tom Baker to do their full-cast audios, and I re-jigged things as one of my suggestions for that. Alas, that came to nothing, either.
Some years after I’d first got the thumbs up for the Companion Chronicles version, I asked Big Finish whether they still wanted it, because I had some time free up to write it. And they said “oh, yes please” in a way that suggested they’d never thought otherwise. So we finally signed contracts, and I delivered it as originally planned – and in very much the same form that I had originally proposed.
Can you briefly explain why it was delayed after it was first announced?
I had agreed with Big Finish that the outline was what they wanted. But before we signed contracts, they also asked me to write the finale for their Key 2 Time audio plays trilogy, a story that became “The Chaos Pool”. As that was a full-cast audio, not to mention too good an opportunity to miss, I agreed. I was also contracted to write a Torchwood novel with BBC Books, and there was a wodge of other non-Who stuff I was working on at the same time.
I explained to Big Finish that I wouldn’t have time for everything, and did not want to commit that I would deliver scripts only to let them down. I asked them which they wanted more – the Companion Chronicles or “The Chaos Pool”. They chose the latter, so that’s what I was contracted for. There was also some consideration that a story based during the first Key to Time sequence was a bit too close to their Key 2 Time stories. So as well as deferring my audio, and because they had already lined up Mary Tamm to participate, they commissioned a replacement “first Romana” story from Nigel Fairs called “The Stealers from Saiph”, and set it after “the Armageddon Factor”.
And as I mentioned earlier, other work and alternative versions of the story meant I didn’t get around to writing the script for several years.
Was finding a Key to Time device hard to include, and to explain away its lack of being found in the story?
I rather liked the idea of them not quite succeeding in a mid-season story, so I knew that I wanted them to find the segment and then have it slip from their grasp at the last minute. I then worked in a reason why they would have to let that happen – it’s a conscious decision, not a careless oversight.
I also decided on a distinctively different item for the segment’s disguise. We already knew it could be as varied as jewellery or a planet or a religious totem, and influenced other items around it. Plus there’s a lovely bit of dialogue in Jonathan Clements’ Key 2 Time script “The Destroyer of Delights” that suggests segments could be a grain of sand, or a leopard’s tooth, or a blob of molten lava, or even an atom of snot. That speech inspired me to make my segment something in a distant part of the galaxy that had then “infected” the meteoroid that brought it to Earth.
How did you find writing for the first Romana, having written for her second incarnation before?
I love that original “Key to Time” season. Much as I also enjoy Lalla Ward’s performance, I always wanted more stories with Mary Tamm’s incarnation… and this was a great excuse to do one. With another Riomana also in “The Ancestor Cell”, I suppose I’ve written rather a lot for the character now. There’s probably a collective noun: “A snoot of Romanas”, perhaps.
What did you think of the finished play, given its lengthy gestation period?
It’s wonderful to hear the final version, because it’s the application of acting and directing and sound and music and editing talent to my original script. Plus, I got to attend the recording in the studio, and that’s always great fun.
Any assorted bits of trivia, like origins of character names, etc?
Ferrill is obviously derived from “ferrous”, because of her affinity for iron. I originally called the scientist Öpik after an Estonian astronomer called Ernst Öpik. I found out about him because his son Lembit was, until recently, a Member of Parliament who spoke up about the dangers of asteroids striking the Earth – which in a way sadly typical of modern politics earned him derision rather than a thought that he might have an informed view. The script uses the phonetic spelling “Erpik” because there’s no point making life unnecessarily difficult for the actors.
I smuggled in other characters called “Clark”, “Stanford”, and “Andrews”, so that I had the excuse at one point to have a sentence that read: “The Doctor, Andrews, Stanford, Clark, and the others all raced out of the pub.” Because I knew that would make one of my colleagues who listens to the audios, an IBM Distinguished Engineer called Dr Andy Stanford-Clark, leap out of his chair in surprise when he heard it.
There’s also a vintage car joke in the dialogue somewhere. It was the sort of thing I imagined Tom Baker would have introduced as an ad lib during Season 16 rehearsals. See if you can spot it.
Any idea where in their timelines “The Four Doctors” story takes place for each of the Doctors, continuity-wise?
I have no idea. Any suggestions? I certainly didn’t worry about it when I wrote the script, and it doesn’t affect the narrative.
One imaginative reviewer suggested where they would each fit in, based on all sorts of things I didn’t even think – or wouldn’t even have known about, such as the costume worn by Sylvester McCoy on the front cover.
The first draft featured a reference to Charley Pollard being elsewhere in the TARDIS while the Doctor is gallivanting about. I don’t know whether that counts.