The Red Lines Page

February 3, 2014

GallifreyOne 2014

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,drwho,Novels,Sarah Jane Smith,Short fiction,writing — Peter A @ 12:42 am

GallifreyOne 2014I am delighted to have been invited once again to the fantastic GallifreyOne, the world’s largest and longest-running Doctor Who convention. There’s a sparkling array of major guests attending:

  • Doctors Colin Baker and Paul McGann
  • Companions Arthur Darvill, Billie Piper, Katy Manning, Nicola Bryant, Jean Marsh, Matthew Waterhouse, Deborah Watling, Velile Tshabalala and Frazer Hines
  • Writers Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Jane Espenson, Phil Ford and Rob Shearman.
  • Guest stars  Tom Price, Gareth Thomas, Annette Badland, Tracey Childs and Stuart Milligan.
  • Production team members Derek Ritchie, Gary Russell and Dominic Glynn.
  • And loads more – check out the full list on the convention website

Quarter century

This is the silver nemesis anniversary of the convention. It with be my seventh visit to the event, so compared with many regular attendees I’m a bit of a dilettante.

I first went to The Eleventh Hour of GallifreyOne – which feels so long ago that it must predate the Time Lords mastering transmat technology, the universe was half its present size, and the GallifreyOne attendee count was only in the hundreds rather than the thousands who will turn up this year. Back then, the convention took place in a much smaller airport hotel, in Van Nuys. The BBC was unthinkably not making any new episodes of Doctor Who.

From gallifreyone.com

Nevertheless, there was still much to discuss about the 27 years of already-broadcast TV stories. It was a rare year that one of the Doctors did not turn up as a headline guest at the convention. But the only new Doctor Who being produced in those days was for the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, the Big Finish audio plays, and the Virgin (subsequently BBC Books) novels.

As a result, guests from the writing and production teams of those tie-in productions were invited to attend the convention. I was very pleased to go along to my first GallifreyOne convention in 2000. There were two Doctors in attendance (Peter Davison and Colin Baker) and along with me the tie-in guests included Justin Richards, Gary Russell, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Steve Cole, Paul Cornell, Dave Stone, Kate Orman, Jonathan Blum, Mike Tucker, Keith Topping, Bill Baggs and Gary Gillatt.

In subsequent years, I was at events at the Van Nuys hotel with David Howe, Stephen James Walker, Clayton Hickman, Lance Parkin, Lisa BowermanNev Fountain, Caroline Symcox, Lloyd Rose, David McIntee, Dale Smith, Paul Ebbs, Mark Wright, Jon de Burgh MillerNigel Fairs, Simon Bucher-Jones, Craig Hinton, Steve Lyons, Dave Owen and Nick Walters.

This first photo (above) from the 2000 event is from Alden Bates’s website, and shows Gary Gillatt, Steve Cole, Terrance Dicks, Gary Russell, Justin Richards, me, Mike Tucker and Paul Cornell.

Edit: Remote linking denied from tetrap.com for that photo, so I’ve replaced it with an alternative from the GallifreyOne website that shows the 2001 convention  (L-R, back:) Craig Hinton, unknown, unknown, Keith Topping, Paul Cornell, Shaun Lyon (Program Director), Nick Walters, Andrew Beech, and me; (L-R, front): Peter Lovelady and Justin Richards.

Past present

From gallifreyone.comThe turn-out at my first GallifreyOne fourteen years ago was just under 750 people. Whereas last year, just over 3,500 attended – and I suspect even more will be there this year. Like Doctor Who, the convention has grown hugely until it’s become something of a global phenomenon – I sometimes think I meet my UK friends at GallifreyOne more often than I do back home. And just like the TV series that it celebrates, the convention has not lost the charm and affection of its origins.

Of course, there’s a big focus on the current TV series. But the event still celebrates the whole fifty years of the series, and much more besides. So it’s especially nice in this celebratory year that some of the convention’s program of events remembers those tie-in productions that provided “new Who” in the years that the TV series was off-air, and when the GallifreyOne convention first welcomed us as guests. And indeed, once again welcomes some of us to be guests.

The second picture (right) from the 2001 event, The Twelfth Regeneration of GallifreyOne, shows Justin Richards, Steve Cole, Dave Owen, Keith Topping and me. This year is the first GallifreyOne for well over a decade that I have attended at the same time as Steve and Keith. I may still have that shirt. (I may even wear it.)

My schedule

I’m involved in a range of panels and signings this year. Here’s what I am signed up for at the moment:

Friday

  • 1:30 p.m. Kaffeeklatch. A discussion group, accompanied by Steve Cole. They may be taking a risk with this, because Steve and I aren’t particularly well-known for taking care of Gallifrey.
  • 2:30 p.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Paul Cornell and Keith Topping.

Saturday

  • 11 a.m.The Ancestor Cell Writing for characters you didn’t create. A panel with Deric Hughes, Christine Boylan, Tony Lee, Barbara Hambly and Jordan Rosenberg. A mix of TV writers, novelists, comics writers, and me.
  • 1 p.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Dominic Glynn, Rob Shearman, Tobe Hadoke and Keith Topping.
  • 3 p.m. Doctor Who – The Wilderness Years. Panel with Steve Cole, Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Gary Russell, Keith Topping and Rob Shearman. Moderator Felicity Kusinitz will try to ensure we are well-behaved and say something interesting about the books and audios that made up the “new Who” between 1990 and 2004. Penalty points for anyone who uses the word “hiatus.”

Sunday

  • 11 a.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Richard Dinnick, Phil Ford, Gary Russell and Keith Topping.

All weekend

If you’re going to the convention, do drop by and say hello. I’m happy to talk about the Doctor Who things I’ve done, or Torchwood, Blake’s 7, Sarah Jane Adventures, Bernice Summerfield… audios, novels, short stories, talking books… or anything else.

My previous experience of the wireless connections at the convention hotel is that it was either (a) sporadic when free or (b) ruinously expensive otherwise. I’ll try to tweet occasionally, and maybe post some photos. The convention hashtag is #gally1 if you’re following along.

If you haven’t yet signed up to attend the convention, alas, it sold out long ago. But do try to get tickets for next year’s event. It is such a wonderful, warm, welcoming convention that you will have a fabulous time, no matter who the guests are that year. (PS: they’re always great.)

December 9, 2012

Sarah Jane interview

Filed under: Audios,Mirror Signal Manoeuvre,Sarah Jane Smith,writing — Peter A @ 6:18 pm

Occasionally people ask me to do interviews for book and fanzines. Recently, Kenny Smith was asking about the Sarah Jane Smith audio that I wrote for Big Finish for a forthcoming Big Finish Companion. That reminded me that I’d done an interview for Will Brooks and his Sarah Jane fanzine (to be published in the new year). And that in turn reminded me that I’d done an interview with Ben Cook in 2003 for a previous Big Finish book.

The way these things work is that I answer questions and the authors chop out the boring bits and weave the rest into their publication. So for the sake of nostalgia, here’s the Q&A I did for Ben back in 2003.

GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING ‘MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE’

Okay, a bit of background information … When and how did you get into DOCTOR WHO?

I must have dipped in an out of the Patrick Troughton episodes, whenever there wasn’t something that a visiting relative insisted on watching instead on ITV (usually the Wrestling on World of Sport with Kent Walton).

The first evidence that I was hooked was in my Junior 1 A5 jotter at school. For my Monday Morning “what I did at the weekend” writing exercise, I would describe what had happened in the previous Saturday’s episode of “The Silurians”. I must have given my school teacher the impression that, while other kids were obviously going swimming or horse riding or visiting their relatives or riding their bikes, I must have been locked up by my parents with nothing else to do.

Subsequent evidence included a model dinosaur (a tough decision—it was either that or a large-format illustration to celebrate Manchester City). The dinosaur was made of old egg boxes and pipe cleaners and glue. To this day, the smell of Cow Gum makes me think of Jon Pertwee, who I remember with much greater affection than Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee. Not least because all I got back from Man City in the end was a badly-photocopied sheet of untidy autographs.

What is it about DOCTOR WHO that appeals to you?

It’s been a constant in my life, particularly my childhood. It was Jon Pertwee at primary school, Tom Baker at secondary school, and later it was Peter Davison at University. By that stage, of course, I’d got involved with fandom, writing articles, producing fanzines, and going to conventions—so it became more than a backdrop to my life, it was my hobby.

What are your strongest memories of DOCTOR WHO on television?

Too many to recall. If it were just a handful, then I’d feel like those people who can recall “the one with the maggots”, or “the one where they broke through the shop window”. And that would never do, eh?

And what are your strongest memories of Sarah Jane Smith on telly?

I was tremendously excited to find, from a close reading of the 1973 Radio Times Doctor Who Special, that there was to be a new companion. I was in secondary school by this stage, and being a naïve youth it was slowly dawning on me that these people were actors, and not just characters on TV. And there was an article (with large colour photo) of the new companion. So I enjoyed seeing her in Lincoln Green for her debut story, and there was a thrill of horror when she was controlled by the spider on her back in “Planet of the Spiders”.

But it was her sparky relationship with the new Doctor that really captured my imagination—how she responded to his taunting in “Ark in Space”, her terror and blindness in “Brain of Morbius”, that extraordinary Andy Pandy outfit in “Hand of Fear”. And then he went and abandoned her in South Croydon, the brute. Life wasn’t the same after that. K9 & Company didn’t even get transmitted in the North West of England.

Also, I want to know a bit about your career outside of DOCTOR WHO. What do you do when you’re not writing DOCTOR WHO adventures?

I’m a line manager in a software development laboratory that is part of the world’s largest multinational IT company. My team is a couple of dozen staff working on human-computer interaction and technical publications. I also have a couple of young sons: they are about the age I was when I first started watching Doctor Who. Their favourite Doctor is Rowan Atkinson.

So, how did you come to write MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE? Tell me the story. Were you asked? Or did you submit a proposal? What happened?

I had been invited along to the first Big Finish meeting where the original DW audios were discussed, but for some reason I couldn’t attend. So through a combination of poor timing and indolence I had not submitted any script ideas to Big Finish, though I’d always said I would like to have a go. So I suppose I’d been looking for an appropriate opportunity.

Unlike some of my DW author colleagues, fiction isn’t a full-time job for me, so it’s a matter of finding or making time to write. And if I’m going to do something professionally, I want to make sure that I won’t let the publisher down because (unlike many conventional hobbies) other people depend on you and there are companies with money at stake if you don’t deliver on time.

Then I was invited along to a convention in the North East of England, Dimensions on Tyne, where Elisabeth Sladen was one of the guests. She said that she was doing this series of Sarah Jane Smith audios for Big Finish, that I’d been recommended to her as someone who might write a good script, and that she’d like to ask me to submit ideas. I said that I was very flattered. Indeed, I was so flattered and taken aback that instead of adopting a suave and nonchalant attitude, and saying “why yes, how kind of you to ask, here are three brilliant suggestions and one of my business cards” I actually said “er… thanks… yes… um… was I alphabetically first on the list…?” Instead of treating me like an obvious loon, she continued to encourage me to contact producer/director Gary Russell.

So I did. I got the series outline from Gary, I submitted a story that fitted in with that, and mine was one of those that Lis and Gary chose.

Were you confident that your story would be taken up by Big Finish? Or did it come as a complete shock? What was your reaction to the script being accepted (shock, delight, horror …)?

I don’t know whether I was confident or not. One of the virtues of submitting a story proposal, rather than producing a whole script, is that it’s not such a big thing to shred if it gets rejected. I don’t know how many other people pitched ideas (though I know of at least one that didn’t make it).

I wrote the proposal in a tremendous rush over one weekend. I’d met Lis and Gary at the convention in November 2001. I also met Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts at the convention, and chatted to them in the green room although, for some reason, we chatted about lots of things except for the Sarah Jane Smith audios. Come to think of it, we didn’t even talk about Doctor Who very much either. Anyway, I didn’t get the series details from Gary until December, and he wanted submissions by the following week. My wife’s parents were visiting that weekend, but I made my apologies, sneaked off to my study, and bashed out a suggestion to meet the submission deadline.

Then I didn’t hear back for about a month, and rather assumed nothing was going to happen. I checked with Gary shortly into the New Year, and to let him know that I was about to go out of the country—to New York on a business trip. And that’s when he e-mailed me back to say that he and Lis had chosen mine as one of the five.

David Bishop, who is much more organised than I am about these things, and had a first draft of his script available before I’d even written a word of mine. He was kind enough to send me that draft, and so not only was I able to see how someone else had interpreted the regulars (Natalie and Josh), I was also able to steal his Microsoft Word template for my script.

However, I was slightly taken aback to discover on reading his script for “Test of Nerve” that he had written a story about a terrorist attack on the London Underground—the suggestion for story three. Now, I thought that I had pitched for that slot (mine was set in Scotland, and involved a fish farm—thrilling stuff, eh?) and so I knew I was going to have to give it quite a different spin. Gary’s guidance as script editor was invaluable. We agreed that I’d keep Sarah out of the UK for much of the story, keep Josh in the UK, and cut down on Nat’s involvement to stay within the time limit for the play.

Oh, and could I submit the script in the next two weeks, please?

On this basis, therefore, was my reaction to the commission one of shock, delight, or horror? It was a combination of all three.

And I’m particularly interested in anything you can tell me about how the SARAH JANE SMITH audios came about in the first place. What was your first involvement with them?

My first involvement was being invited by Lis to suggest ideas for a script. I knew the first two had been commissioned from Terrance and Barry, and that the other three slots were available. I had thought that I’d submitted something for story three, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was writing the “season finale”.

It wasn’t clear at the outset whether Miss Winters was definitely in the series, and so my outline allowed for her role to be taken by another character (with suitable changes to the motivation). In my first draft, it’s Miss Winters who pretends to be a journalist and meets up with Sarah, and so the “reveal” at the end is when the CEO that they’re going to gatecrash in India turns out to be… the person with whom Sarah has spent most of the adventure! In the end, that character became Wendy Jennings instead—a younger character—and Miss Winters makes her surprise appearance at the conclusion of the adventure instead.

What part do you feel you personally played in shaping the direction of the SARAH JANE SMITH audio range?

I think I’d be flattering myself if I suggested I’d shaped the direction very much at all. I suspect that mostly I got things into other people’s scripts because I was the first one to mention them in my script—the name of Sarah’s TV series and her former company, for example. There were some back-references to her pedantry about “less” and “fewer” as well. I proposed that Sarah’s changes of address should be mentioned in earlier scripts. And in the first draft of the script, Harris was a different character, though I noted that Sarah had not met Harris in person during “Test of Nerve” (which I’d read before writing my script) and suggested that he could play the role in my script, too. So I had some ideas how they might save on production costs by cutting down the number of different actors!

Where did the idea for the plot of MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE come from? What was your brief? What were your influences? Did you have to do much research?

I had followed some discussions about fish viruses in Scottish fish farms, and how a mixture of government incompetence and industry indifference had exacerbated the problem. And then I found out about a World War II biowarfare experiment that the UK government had conducted in the Indian Ocean.

I’d also written a previous audio for Paul McGann—his first “return” to Doctor Who after the TV Movie (in a short story that he read on a BBC cassette called “Earth and Beyond”). I’d set that story on the Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean that I had visited with my wife several years previously. I thought there was more I could do with that sort of remote location, somewhere that took Sarah Jane far away from her friends and away from the European technological environment where she’d feel more comfortable—and yet where, ironically, she was more at the mercy of her enemies’ technology while her friends frantically tried to get in touch. My first thought was to send her on holiday to Barbados.

Were you confident that the SARAH JANE SMITH series would be a success?

Yes. The Doctor Who audios were, and are, terrific, and Lis Sladen’s enthusiasm for the project was tremendous. Plus Terrance and Barry were writing two of the scripts! And the other authors were David Bishop (who’d done a Judge Dredd audio for Big Finish) and Rupert Laight (who had written TV scripts). And then me. But by the time they got round to “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”, if my story bombed, listeners would already have been treated to scripts from four experienced drama writers.

How do you find writing for Sarah Jane Smith? What did you want to do with character?

It was terrific. I could “hear” Sarah Jane’s voice in my ear from all those years of watching her on TV, but I could also imagine how her character might have developed over the years. I agreed with Gary and with Lis, who both wanted an edgier, more self-reliant character. I also liked the idea that, in my script, she was going to be emotionally and physically distanced from her remaining friends, so it’s more fun writing for that sort of character—one who is under pressure, and who has to drive the plot.

Did you talk to Elisabeth Sladen at all during or after the writing process?

After the convention, Lis sent me an audio interview that she’d done for MJTV productions, one of their “The Actor Speaks” series. That gave me some insights into how she saw the character might have developed since being unceremoniously dumped in Croydon with a stuffed owl in a cardboard box. And it also provided me with the current sound of Sarah Jane’s “grown-up” voice.

Lis suggested a couple of changes to the submitted script, via Gary, that made Sarah more in control of her first meeting with Wendy on the boat—and we discussed that in a phone call, too. It was all very cordial and constructive. Lis was also kind enough to thank me for writing a lovely script.

What were you aiming to achieve in the relationship between Sarah and Josh?

When I wrote the script, I had a Mancunian in mind for Josh, because that was the original character brief. That informed some of the wording of the dialogue. Once Jeremy had been cast, and the script got in to the studio, there were some adjustments. I liked the idea that he was able to be a cheeky fellow countering Sarah with sarcasm. You have to have a bit of tension, even if it’s just friendly, to make the characters’ dialogue come alive on the page and keep the plot ticking along.

And what about the character of Natalie? What did you make of her?

I wrote her so that there was a kind of mother-teenager tension between her and Sarah, given that their interaction is that slightly distanced and impersonal effect you get on the phone. At the time I did that, I didn’t know that Sadie had been cast as Natalie. And on reflection if I had known perhaps I would have been a bit more cautious about using that mother-daughter thing as being too obvious, or maybe a bit impertinent of me.

As it happens, I’m glad I didn’t know and that I just plunged in! I think their interactions spark very nicely in the finished version. I was sorry that, on the day I was in the studio for the recording, Sadie wasn’t there—all her scenes had been done on a previous day.

We don’t see Nat, and unless she develops a squeaky wheel then you wouldn’t know she was in a wheelchair. There’s a tricky line you don’t want to cross, where mentioning her disability can be a way of defining her, and the character deserves better than that. David Bishop had already done a story where her disability was a plot point, so I just kept people aware of it by having her joke casually and naturally about it to Josh. Similarly, we know why it’s Josh and not Nat who gets on the plane to Bangalore, it doesn’t need spelling out.

Also, could you tell me a bit about what you wanted to do with Miss Winters in MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE? How many times did you have to re-watch ROBOT?!

I originally planned that Miss Winters was Wendy Jennings—actually so close to Sarah that Sarah cannot see her. When Wendy is talking on the train about whether Sarah does follow-up pieces on people she’s written about in the past, that was originally designed be to be Miss Winters secretly taunting her.

Patricia Maynard today looks quite unlike Hilda Winters from “Robot”, not to mention in any case that she was playing a role, and not herself, all those years ago. When she “does” the voice, you can recognise it (and very chilling it was to hear her adopt it again at the microphone, I must say—her natural speaking voice is quite unlike Hilda’s more strident tones). After so many years, then, it was quite plausible that Sarah would not recognise Miss Winters, and that Hilda could use this against her.

Because it wasn’t confirmed that Patricia was available until quite late on, I wrote a first draft script in which she did not appear at all. Wendy was therefore an older woman who linked up with Sarah in the Lakshadweep Islands, and was later revealed to be the CEO of a company that Sarah did an exposé on many years previously. When Patricia came on board, Gary and I rewrote the closing scenes to have Wendy as a younger woman working for Hilda.

I remember “Robot” quite well from its very first transmission. Although I haven’t seen it more than once or twice since 1974, and I’ve read Terrance Dicks’s book a couple of times, I didn’t re-watch the video or re-read the novelisation before writing “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”.

Okay, this is an important one … Could you talk me through the process of writing MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE (as far as you can remember)? What initial ideas were discarded? Which bits did you have trouble writing? How did the story develop from draft to draft? Tell me what was happening inside your head during the writing process.

Some of this is covered in previous answers. So the other bits of the process were like this…

I’d wanted to do something starting with an answerphone message for a while, and had scribbled some ideas in my notebook for this. Originally, I’d thought this would be the start of a short story, but obviously it works really well for an audio. And because Sarah was emotionally and physically distanced from Josh and Nat as the series reached its finale, it fitted in really well. If you leave a message, you don’t get the interaction of a regular conversation, so there’s the possibility of misunderstanding. And even if you’re on the phone talking with someone directly, you don’t get the body language and facial reactions always to get the meaning correct—it’s prone to misunderstanding, and that was good for the purposes of the story.

Another thing that I decided to do was up the stakes for the season finale. I’d imagined the Sarah Jane Smith series as very UK-based, and I liked the idea of getting Sarah away to a more unusual location. I don’t think I knew then that Sarah was travelling abroad with Josh for story four. But once Gary and I agreed that Sarah would spend pretty much the whole of my story out of the UK, I looked around for another venue for my finale. Originally that was set in a Scottish Loch, with the Scalar offices in a castle. But once Gary suggested keeping Sarah’s action almost entirely abroad, it made sense to go for a bigger finale and so I moved it all to the world’s biggest system of dams, the Parambikulam-Aliya project in India, and the Scalar HQ in an old colonial building. That in turn meant I could use the Lakshadweep Islands (off the western coast of India), rather than the Caribbean location I’d first envisaged for Sarah’s holiday.

The more I thought about the distance between Sarah and her friends, the more I realised I could do with phones. It can be a slight cheat, because there’s more likelihood that someone will describe what they can see to the person on the other end of the call. I tried to resist that, assuming that the listeners would be able to work out when lots of things were happening at once. For example, Josh carries on two conversations at once while he’s on the plane; he’s talking into the seatback phone to Nat, and at the same time ordering his posh nosh from the cabin crew; so as well as pushing the story onwards it also is a bit of fun at Nat’s expense, because she’s stuck in an internet café while he’s away enjoying himself. I also quite liked the idea that Nat could “witness” Josh getting beaten up because she was listening to him over the phone—on that occasion she’s helpless to rescue him because she doesn’t know where he is, rather than because she’s stuck in her wheelchair.

Throughout the writing of the script, I tried to keep in mind stuff I’d heard in other audios that did or did not work—to avoid the latter, and emulate the former. I wanted the dialogue to sound snappy, as though motivated by people actually talking with each other rather than at each other. And at the top of each scene I imagined what the background noises were going to be like—how that might affect the way characters spoke, what it told you about the location that therefore didn’t need to be explained in the dialogue. My favourite of these is when the sound of the Coimbatore train fades at the end of one scene into the noise of Nat typing on her keyboard in the next scene.

Because I was on a business trip away from home, I had to write some of the script while travelling or in my hotel during the evening. Some of the airport and plane scenes were written, therefore, while I was in a New York airport, or flying over the Atlantic. The scene set in Brandt’s hotel room was written in my hotel room. I’m not always this Stanislavskian about writing fiction.

I think I also had a deadline for submitting a story to Paul Cornell’s Bernice Summerfield collection A Life of Surprises at about the same time. So it was a busy time for me.

Gary reworked the end of my original submission to introduce Hilda Winters into the conclusion. I had a look at that draft, and did I bit more rewriting on those new lines. Elisabeth Sladen also had some constructive suggestions, including a request to put Sarah more in control of her first conversation with Wendy on the malmi’s boat. There weren’t many changes after that.

In the very early stages of producing my outline, there was another scene after the riverside shoot-out. It was set on the dam (or possibly in the turbine room), a final confrontation with Sarah facing down Miss Winters and Brandt just too late as the barrels of brucella virus go into the reservoir—foaming away before her eyes (which she would describe in her horrified dialogue, of course); and then she got locked in there while Winters and Brandt fled the scene and left her for the authorities to find her. Was it curtains for Sarah? No, because resourceful Josh had got to the barrels first, and substituted industrial-sized containers of Indian-brand Fairy Liquid—and then he and Sarah had to flee the scene before the authorities arrive, because Sarah s implicated in an unsuccessful attempt from which she will have to clear her name.

Looking at the amount of stuff already in the outline, I decided that this finale was going to make the script far too long, and arguably too over-the-top. So it got chopped, and Josh now makes his heroic appearance at the riverside instead.

Any initial working titles?

I didn’t give it a title when I submitted the outline. Gary and I were exchanging e-mail about something called SJS – Title? for a while. Once I had decided, it was always called “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”. I wanted a title that didn’t sound like a typical Doctor Who title, something that might have been an episode of The Bill or Casualty, a “realistic” drama series rather than a “fantasy” drama series.

How much did the script have to be rewritten before recording? Any major changes?

Most of the changes happened between the original outline and the first draft. Apart from the usual script-editing sorts of things, there were not so many changes between my submitting the rehearsal script and it being recorded, with one major exception. That exception was the inclusion of Hilda Winters, something that Gary and I agreed would need to be handled flexibly until Big Finish confirmed that Patricia Maynard was definitely available to play the part.

What did you think of Elisabeth’s performance in MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE?

She was terrific, wasn’t she? Hers was the only character where I knew the “voice” before writing the script. I didn’t know, for example, who would be playing Dr Brandt, so I wasn’t anticipating anything about the actor’s performance. So with Sarah Jane, I had a clear idea of what I thought her performance would be—even though I was writing her as a more central character than in the TV series.

And when it came to the recording, she brought so much more to it. If she thought there was a duff note in the dialogue, she’d suggest an alternative. And by the time she came to record my episode, she’d already established this rapport with the other regulars, and so the whole thing came alive in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

On the day that “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” was recorded, they also did some pick-up scenes from other episodes. So I was there when Lis did the scene by Lavinia’s graveside, from “Comeback”. That was just wonderful, very moving.

What did you think of the rest of the cast that the director assembled? Are they how you’d imagined their respective characters to sound like?

Unlike with the central character, and maybe Miss Winters for the concluding scenes, I had no preconceptions about the other cast members. I don’t know, if they’d told me they were casting Peter Miles in the production, whether it would have helped or not—I mostly know Peter’s Doctor Who performances, especially Nyder, so I might have made assumptions about how he’d play the role, instead of letting him find the character from my script.

I was quite keen to have an Indian character, because non-UK characters (extraterrestrial aliens excepted) were a whole crowd of people that I couldn’t remember Big Finish doing much with. I steered away from Americans, because they had done those before, and with mixed success I’d felt. I confess that I hadn’t known before the recording that Jeremy James and Toby Longworth would be in mine, let alone that they’d done so many different and distinctive characters for Big Finish previously. So at first it was a surprise to find that Toby (definitely not Indian) was playing Chakravarty. But what a great job he did—getting the character to slightly “put on” the Indian accent when he was pretending to be a taxi driver, but without going all Mind Your Language about it. And then, when revealed as a villain later on, doing a more Indian-RP version—I think he was basing it on Art Malik, and very well too.

Wendy was originally written to be rather older than Louise Faulkner played her, because I’d initially planned for that character to be Hilda Winters in disguise. In the revised script, Gary had suggested that she be the daughter of a former SRS villain, Jellicoe from “Robot”, so that changed things slightly. Apart from a section of dialogue in the Coimbatore train, where Wendy talks about how she became a journalist, very little in the dialogue needed to be changed to make her younger.

How did you find working with Gary Russell and Jason Haigh-Ellery?

I didn’t work much with Jason, though I think I first met him years ago when he was a mere stripling, and nursing a pint all evening in a London pub. I’ve met him on other occasions since, but for “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” my work with him was just getting him to sign the contract and then sign the cheque. He does that very well, I must say, and I’d be very happy to work with him again on this basis for increasingly large amounts of money.

Gary I have known for many years. Indeed, we were stripling contemporaries, flogging our fanzine wares at conventions half a lifetime ago. The writing and editing on this audio turned out to be unexpectedly rather hectic, with short deadlines and fast turnarounds. If this had been with someone I didn’t trust as much as Gary, I think I’d have been a lot more worried. With someone who you know personally and professionally, you can be a bit more relaxed even when things are frantic.

Did you attend the actual recording? Did you enjoy yourself? What was the day like? Any behind-the-scenes gossip – however trivial or weird?!

Yes, I went along to the day on which most of mine was recorded. It was great fun. I’d not been the recording of a radio play or an audio before, though I’ve been to quite a few TV productions, so I sort of knew what to expect of the etiquette on the day.

It was a shame not to meet Sadie, but all her scenes had been recorded already. On the other hand, it was the day when all Miss Winters’ scenes were done, so (hurrah!) I did get to meet and talk to Patricia Maynard. We all went out for lunch together, and I had the most wonderful time sitting at one end of the table with Elisabeth Sladen and Patricia Maynard and talking about our families. Although actors get to work with each other on and off over the years, this was the first time that the two of them had met since doing Robot, so they were “catching up”. Robin Bowerman told us about his (then forthcoming) role as Henry Ledbetter in Emmerdale.

After the recording, we all went for a pint, and Toby Longworth taught me a couple of magic tricks that I have subsequently used to amaze and baffle my relatives. One of them is so simple but effective that I taught it to my six-year-old son, Samuel, who now amazes and baffles his grandparents with it. The other involves a cigarette and, as far as I know, Samuel doesn’t know that one yet.

Do you enjoy listening to your work being recorded? Or does it feel strange …?

Oh, great fun. Once the script has been written, you have to let go of it. It’s in the hands of the cast and the director. So I kept quiet unless I was invited to comment. Well, OK, except for a couple of brief moments. One was a continuity thing I spotted, that I politely asked Gary about so that he could decide whether it was worth fixing on the day. (It wasn’t obvious that Winters and Harris were driving away, so I suggested an additional line to make that clearer.) The other was when one of the actors pronounced “CEO” as “see-oh” rather than as an acronym for Chief Executive Officer.

Some of the scenes from my script were recorded on different days, so they’d already done some of “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” before I got to the studio. They’d tried to phone me on my mobile a couple of times, to get some of the Indian pronunciations clarified. I didn’t hear these messages in time, unfortunately, so they decided for themselves. Not that I would have helped much, anyway, because to me they were just names off a map of the Indian subcontinent, or from Air India web pages. There was one speech of Wendy’s that’s full of them: Anamalai, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Udhagamandalam and so on. That needed a couple of takes.

What do you make of how DOCTOR WHO fans have received MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE?

They seem to have enjoyed it, don’t they? I put summaries of reviews on my website, http://anghelides.org [that was the old site, before this blog] so I’ve seen a few of them. With it being the season finale, there’s maybe a tendency for reviewers to comment on the whole series rather than specifically my story, and some of the comments are about whether there’ll be a series two. I suppose it’s nice that fans seem to want a series two!

And what did YOU think of the final product? What did – and didn’t – you like? And please, be as honest as you can. Gary has promised NOT TO KILL any writers who slag off Big Finish productions. And I believe him!

I really enjoyed it. It was very exciting to get my first audio play through the post! There are some things that worked out differently to the way I’d expected them, but that’s not to say that they matter or that I didn’t like them. The pronunciations of some of the words—Scalar and Chakravarty— weren’t what I had expected, but who cares? There was one typo in the script that was performed and recorded “as written”: the virus turns out to be “fat-replicating” rather than “fast-replicating” as intended. Not that it matters, unless it turns out that we have an unexpectedly-large number of endocrinologists subscribing to the series.

I had imagined the voicemail system to be a real human intonation, but with that stilted intonation you get from separately-recorded voice fragments pieced together—you know, the way that the intonation rises unnaturally at the end of numbers. The “robot voice” they used works just as well, and also saved on casting another voice. At one point I thought that I was going to have to write out all the possible combinations for the voicemail, along with other stuff like tannoy announcements for the airport and railway station, but that wasn’t necessary in the end.

The music soundtrack incorporated Indian themes, which was splendid and the effects—the sea, the restaurant noises, the train, the airport, the car chases—were great. And the fruit bat.

The Big Finish “Writer’s Guidelines” say at one point: “feel free to stretch both the listener’s imagination and BFP’s technical bods”. So at the top of one scene I wrote the direction: “The sea is shussshing up the sandy beach, slight wind in the palm trees. A lone fruit bat utters a fitful cry. (OK, the fruit bat isn’t essential. But I bet your effects guy can do a mean impression.)” Once I found out that David Darlington was doing the effects, I teased him constantly about how impossible this would be. He hunted one down, of course. A sound effect, I mean, not a fruit bat, obviously.

My only disappointment, I suppose, was that the CD booklet was a bit below par compared with the others in the series. They had changed the colour plates to incorporate the photo of Miss Winters, smiling over Sarah’s shoulder on the front cover (the early pre-release publicity version did not have her there, to preserve the big surprise for Test of Nerve). But the registration of one film must be a bit cockeyed, and that makes the text harder to read. The inside CD sleeve didn’t print at all, and there were a handful of typos. But if all I can find to quibble about is the packaging, that must give you some idea of how much I like the actual audio!

And best of all, of course, is hearing the dialogue come alive in the performances of the talented cast. Even better than I imagined it—I’m so pleased with that. Jeremy James as Josh makes me laugh out loud, even though (or possibly because) I wrote the dialogue, and Sadie Miller really sparkles as Natalie when she argues with him and with Sarah. And although it’s invidious to single anyone out of the cast for particular praise, it would be remiss of me not to thank Lis Sladen for her enthusiasm from start to finish.

What is it about storytelling that appeals to you?

Getting a reaction from people. The first reaction is mine: I’m delighted to say that I’m a terrific audience, and quite shamelessly laugh at my own jokes when I’m writing.

The second audience is the editor—whether it’s a novel, or a short story, or an audio script, I want to amuse or divert them enough to take it further. In the best cases, that sparks further thoughts or suggestions or observations from the editor, and that’s even better for the writing. When I co-wrote The Ancestor Cell for the BBC, Stephen Cole was a good audience for me, and I for him.

The final audience is the reader or the listener, and reaction from them comes a lot later—in reviews or in the e-mail that people send me, or occasionally when I attend conventions. It’s always great to hear from them how much they have enjoyed my writing.

An additional audience for audios, which I hadn’t thought too much about before writing “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”, is the cast. Their reaction to the script is a direct component of the final product. Their belief in it, their enthusiasm for the words, their understanding of the story, are vital. And I think any author has to love getting a positive reaction from talented actors.

If you were writing MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE again today, what – if anything – would you change?

I don’t know that I’d change all that much. With more time, maybe I’d have seen if anything could be dropped from earlier on to allow for that additional confrontation scene in the turbine room. There are one or two bits of dialogue and business I might have tidied up to make the logic of the final edit clearer. If things had been different for Patricia Maynard’s availability, I’d perhaps have featured her more in the earlier parts of the script. But on the whole, I think it all worked out rather well.

I’m particularly interested in any deleted or alternative scenes – i.e. scenes that were cut from earlier drafts of the MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE script or scenes that were changed considerably by the final draft. Are you able to send me any? Or point me in the right direction?

I’ve attached a couple of these (below) from the draft before Hilda Winters was introduced into the script. The first is the train scene where Sarah and Wendy discuss Planet Three (while this is going on, you’ll recall, Josh and Nat are talking in hospital about the Scalar company—that scene didn’t change). The second is the “reveal” where Sarah first finds out that Wendy Jennings isn’t who she seems.

And I’ve already mentioned the final scene that I dropped from the outline (above).

ONE FINAL THING (FOR NOW!) …
The plug! Using as many – or, indeed, as few – words as you like, could you sell MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE to readers of the Big Finish book who haven’t yet bought a copy of the CD? A free advertisement! An opportunity to bump up your royalty cheques! Tell our readers what MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE is about and why everyone should buy a copy …

What’s it about? It’s about a tenner. Go and buy it, you’ll love it. In fact, buy two copies, and give one to a friend.

AND, ERM, ONE OTHER FINAL THING …
There will be a bullet-point section in the chapter on SARAH JANE SMITH entitled ‘Thing to listen out for …’ or ‘Stuff you may have missed …’ or ‘Trivia’ or something. So, do you have any random titbits of trivia on MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE for me to include? Or how about any in-jokes in the script? Point them out to me! Nothing is too insignificant. No, really! Any bits of info that haven’t been covered by the questions above …

  • “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” has a continuity link to my Sarah-and-K9 story “Moving On” in Decalog 3.
  • I wrote two versions of the “Writer’s Notes” for the CD booklet, and let Gary choose which he preferred.
  • Harris was originally a South African called Willem Dehaan.
  • I made up Bandaru Chakravarty’s name by picking two different names from an Indian government site. In my first-draft outline he was called Dean Stolz! Chakravarty isn’t credited on the CD booklet, he is listed only as one of the two taxi drivers.
  • Wendy Jennings was originally revealed to be Helena Cartwright, the CEO of BioGuard (a company that was mentioned earlier in the series). Think it was BioGuard—I may be getting confused with an underarm deodorant.
  • Displaying my ignorance of London roads, I wrote a scene where Sarah’s taxi takes her from West London to Heathrow via the M25.
  • Sarah’s original alias on her business card was “Jane Bowman, Writer”.
  • My ten-year old son took the Author photo that appears in the CD booklet.
  • Because of the events of The Ancestor Cell (which I wrote for BBC books with Stephen Cole), fans hold me responsible for the destruction of all the available K9s.

RIGHT, THAT’S ALL FOR NOW. YOU CAN GO AND HAVE A LIE DOWN.

Thankszzzzzzzzzzz.

Changed scenes.

20. Int. Bangalore/Coimbatore train.

CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS SCENE. RAILWAY STATION SOUNDS AS BEFORE FROM OUTSIDE. MORE MUTED AS THE TRAIN DOOR SLAMS SHUT. GUARD’S WHISTLE AGAIN.

SARAH: [CONTINUED.] … I thought I might have missed you.

TRAIN STARTS OFF, AND BUILDS SPEED THROUGHOUT THE SCENE.

WENDY: Don’t worry, I hadn’t forgotten you. Here’s your ticket.

SARAH: Thanks.

WENDY: You look worried. I thought you might be more relieved to have got here. Any messages?

SARAH: Nothing new at the office. Now, once we get going, can I have a look at the stuff you’ve got on Scalar’s work? The stuff about Cynaro?

WENDY: Ah. [BEAT] That’s all back at the Planet Three office. In the files. On the server. Damn.

SARAH: [SOFTLY.] Because you can’t get back in to get it. Since you were made redundant.

WENDY: Oh. How long have you known?

SARAH: Long enough, it doesn’t matter. We can still work on this story together. If you want to.

WENDY: I got into journalism quite late, when some of my contemporaries were thinking about early retirement. I spent much of my early career running events, scientific research, and only recently into science journalism.

SARAH: So why leave?

WENDY: Planet Three had to rescue the company share price. They’d bid too high to retain their licence at renewal time, so they laid off the older and more expensive staff. It was such a generous redundancy offer that it seemed stupid to say “no”.

22. Int. Bangalore/Coimbatore train.

STEAM TRAIN HAS REACHED FULL SPEED NOW: THE USUAL CHUFFING SOUNDS AND RATTLING OF THE TRACK.

SARAH: So, Wendy, what’s the set-up when we reach Scalar?

WENDY: Remember you said Planet Three hadn’t removed your voicemail access?

SARAH: Yes.

WENDY: Well look, Sarah. They forgot to reclaim my I.D. and journalist accreditation. So I’ve used it to get an interview with Scalar’s C.E.O.

SARAH: It’s not a very flattering photo of you. Reminds me of someone, but I can’t remember who. An old school friend, maybe.

WENDY: Poor woman, if she looks like that! And less of the “old”, if you don’t mind. I can’t be more than five years older than you.

SARAH: Sorry. Though I haven’t been very kind to my friends back home, recently. Maybe I should call them.

WENDY: Put your mobile away. We’re in the valley now, you won’t get a signal. Talk to them when we reach Coimbatore. If the time difference isn’t too bad.

SARAH: They work odd hours, my friends.

WENDY: Can journalists have close friends, d’you think? Can one get that get that level of trust if they know you’re an investigative journalist?

SARAH: I think so. Yes. [BEAT.] I hope so.

WENDY: What about the people involved in your stories. Do you keep in contact? Ever wonder what happened to them?

SARAH: What, do follow-up pieces on them?

WENDY: That’s not really what I asked, is it Sarah?

BRING UP THE RATTLE OF THE TRAIN TRACKS AND CROSS-FADE IT INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

==========================================

33. Int. CEO’s office.

FADE IN.

BIG PLUSH OFFICE, LOTS OF CARPET AND BIG CURTAINS TO ABSORB THE SOUND. BUT THEY WILL RAISE THEIR VOICES A BIT BECAUSE IT’S A BIG ROOM.

DEHANN: In you go.

SARAH: Wendy! Thank goodness. Look who I’ve brought with me from Lakshadweep. And did I mention my lunatic taxi driver from London? [PAUSE.] Wendy, are you OK?

WENDY: You’ve got that worried look again, Sarah.

SARAH: You’re not all right, are you? What have they done?

CHAKRAVARTY: I’ll get the car ready.

WENDY: Yes, all right Chakravarty. Dehaan, you stay here.

SARAH: Wendy?

WENDY: Sit down, Sarah.

SARAH: I think I need to.

WENDY: I‘m quite all right, as you can see. [PAUSE.] You really don’t remember me, do you?

SARAH: From Planet Three.

WENDY: [IRRITATED.] No, not from Planet Three. Oh, look closer Sarah. Use your supposedly excellent powers of observation and deduction. I may have lost a bit of weight, got a lot older.

SARAH: [PONDERING.] I thought I recognised your I.D. photograph…

WENDY: You must meet so many people, Sarah. Meet and discard them in your journalistic career. You may profess to care about them. But be honest – all you really care about is the story.

SARAH: You used those words in your defence, didn’t you?

WENDY: Ah, illumination at last.

SARAH: Helena Cartwright. Business executive. You used to run Bio-Guard.

WENDY: [SAVAGELY.] Yes, I used to run Bio-Guard. [CALMER.] You ruined my business twenty years ago.

SARAH: I exposed your company’s irresponsible business practices…

WENDY: [OVER HER DIALOGUE.] That was your story.

SARAH: [CONTINUED.] I exposed your practices, I identified your culpability…

WENDY: [CONTINUED. OVER SARAH’S DIALOGUE AGAIN. LOUDER, ANGRY.] Those were your lies and your misrepresentations.

SARAH: [CONT’D. FIRMLY] … and I got compensation for the miserable victims in your workforce and your customers…

WENDY: [CONTINUED, OVER SARAH’S DIALOGUE AGAIN. FURIOUS.] Enough! That’s enough!

SARAH: [CONT’D. FIRMLY] … and you went to prison for a long, long time. Not long enough it seems.

WENDY: [QUIETLY AFTER SARAH HAS FINISHED SPEAKING.] That is enough. Unless it’s time for a follow-up story on me, Sarah?

SARAH’S MOBILE PHONE RINGS IN HER HANDBAG. SHE IS SURPRISED. OVER THE NEXT FEW SPEECHES, SHE TAKES IT FROM THE HANDBAG AND THE RING TONE GETS LOUDER.

SARAH: Oh!

WENDY: That will be your young colleagues. Calling you to warn you about me. Go on, answer it. But be aware that Mr. Dehaan is trigger-happy.

SARAH: I hope he doesn’t bear you a grudge for the ashtray.

WENDY: I thought Dehaan’s performance was almost as good as mine. Answer it!

================================

February 9, 2012

GallifreyOne update

The GallifreyOne people have kindly asked me to be on a number of discussion sessions at their forthcoming convention.

  • On Friday at 3:30 pm I’m doing something called a Kaffeklatsch. I’m not quite sure what that entails, though I imagine it involves having a coffee and a chat. People have to sign up for these things, apparently. My fellow chatter is the lovely and prolific Phil Ford, so perhaps I’ll let him do all the talking while I pour cups of Nescafé Gold Blend.
  • Straight after that on Friday at 4:30 pm I’ll be discussing the Doctor Who novels in a panel called “Back to the Pagoda,” accompanied by fellow enthusiasts Simon Guerrier, Robert Smith?, Graeme Burke, and Shaun Homrig. Simon is a colleague among the novelists. Graeme is editing a series of guides with Robert. Robert sports the most famous Doctor Who eroteme since Sylvester McCoy’s jumper. And Shaun is an Associate Attorney, and I am therefore legally unable to say anything more about him. I suspect most people will be at the other sessions during this time — Louise Jameson, Camille Coduri, Yee Jee Tso, and Daphne Ashbrook. But do come and visit us. (Even if it’s only to ask which room the Louise Jameson interview is in.)
  • On Sunday at 2:30 pm I will accompany Gary Russell, Phil Ford, Jill Sherwin, Racheline Maltese, and Jennifer Kelley for a panel discussion called “Sarah Jane is My Doctor.” Jill, Racheline, and Jennifer are stalwarts of this and other conventions, as well as writers themselves. Phil Ford will still be recovering from a coffee ovedose on the Friday. Gary Russell is, quite simply, my oldest and dearest  friend in Doctor Who. Oldest because he is 84 years old. And dearest because he’ll be making me pay for that comment all weekend.
  • Finally, at 5:30 pm on Sunday, I’m with Jason Haigh-Ellery and fellow story writers Simon Guerrier and Nigel Fairs on a panel about “Blake’s 7 on Audio”.  My CD Counterfeit is released this month, so we’ll be celebrating the launch of the new audio stories. West End Producer Jason is also the Executive Producer at Big Finish. Nigel is an actor, writer, and composer. And Simon is very tall. He’s a tall story writer.
  • There will be autograph sessions on the three days as well, at which I shall be scrabbling for the sharpies with  some of the aforementioned writers and producers. Depending on how famous one is, there are Premium Autographs, Sponsored Autographs, or Standard Autographs. I am in a category of my own (Bog-Standard Autographs) and will sign anything that gets within reach.
  • I am told by Lee Almodovar that there will be ribbons available, too. Not sure how those work, but a pass phrase or secret handshake may be involved. Check press for details.

If time and technology allow, I may tweet during the event. Hard to believe that the last time I was at GallifreyOne (back in 2009), Twitter was relatively unknown. Now the convention is almost twice the size, and I expect the #gally tag will be busy all weekend.

May 3, 2009

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

This audio was first published by Big Finish Productions in November 2002. Production code: SJ05Sarah Jane Smith: Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

These blog posts provide information about the commissioning, writing, and recording of my first audio play. They therefore contain a number of spoilers if you haven’t heard the play yet. In particular, you can get a big clue by looking at the revised cover in the interviews post; that cover, unlike the one on this page, features the villain!

Elsewhere, you can read my original proposal and my scenes breakdown before I wrote the final script.

As to how the audio came about… I was invited to visit Newcastle in November 2001, to be part of a BBC Books Writers panel discussion at the “Dimensions on Tyne” convention. While I was there, I met Elisabeth Sladen—who was a guest at the convention. I was very flattered when she told me that she knew about my previous Doctor Who writing, and that she would like me to consider submitting an idea for Big Finish Productions’ forthcoming Sarah Jane Smith audio series.

Well, how could I refuse? Sarah Jane is my favourite Doctor Who companion, and to be asked by the actress who starred in the role… So I took the opportunity to discuss the series with Big Finish Producer Gary Russell (who was also at the convention).

Shortly after the convention, Elisabeth Sladen sent me a copy of an interview she had recently given, in which she discussed how she thought Sarah Jane Smith would have changed over the years, what her attitudes would be today, the sort of person she might have become. (You can hear this interview for yourself by ordering MJTV’s audio CD The Actor Speaks Volume II.)

In December, Gary sent me the series outline for consideration. Based on this, I wrote a proposal for a 60-minute script, and sent it off over Christmas. By the end of January 2002, Big Finish and Elisabeth Sladen had decided which were the five scripts they wanted to do—and mine was chosen as the final of the five adventures. The others are written by Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, David Bishop, and Rupert Laight.

The audio was recorded on 26 February 2002, and I was able to go to the studio session in London and meet the cast:

Sarah Jane Smith Elisabeth Sladen
Josh Jeremy James
Natalie Sadie Miller
Harris Robin Bowerman
Wendy Jennings Louise Falkner
Brandt Peter Miles
Taxi drivers Toby Longworth

Mark Donovan

 
Directed by Gary Russell
Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery 

Gary Russell

Executive producer for BBC Jacqueline Rayner

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre: Reviews

msmThere was great enthusiasm for the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and the audio series got quite a few reviews. Here are summaries of those which commented on Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre.

Newsstand

Dave Owen in Doctor Who Magazine amusingly compared it with the UK’s written driving test: “It lasts 70 minutes, involved more suspense than you’d ideally want on a weekday afternoon, and the outcome is a mystery until you’re explicitly told.” He liked the way the story “deftly negotiates a number of treacherous ocales”, and saw “Sarah’s fallibility [as the] story’s heart. By walking into a trap, she faces a dramatic deconstruction worthy of a Shakespearian tragic heroine, learning she wasn’t as clever as she thought she was, that her friend is her enemy, that her ally has been symbolically killed, and that she will be implicated in her enemies’ scheme so that she faces not only death but disgrace.

Dave wasn’t so convinced by the plotting (an implausible continuity point from a previous story, and the obscure motivations of the villains); the production (“much of the realization sounds like a paint-by-numbers fleshing out of the proposal); or the dialogue (Wendy’s “over-formal and unnatural” speech, and Sarah’s “inability to make uninformative small talk”). But on the positive side, “there are no redundant lines whatsoever. In summary, though, Dave thinks this audio is worth another hearing “listening to this one a second time yields a wealth of significance absent at first”. Even if it does end the whole series “abruptly […] just as it was shifting into top gear.”

In TV Zone, Richard Atkinson rated the audio third of five in the series (with 6 out of 10), thinking it “much more engaging [than] the patchier contributions of veterans Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts” (authors of the first two episodes). He thought Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre was “genuinely witty with an ambitious scale that takes ‘SJ’ all around the world (more Bond than Bugs).” Richard thought it too similar to David Bishop’s Test of Nerve episode, and suffered “by ending rather abruptly when the villains only reveal themselves at a very late stage”. But he did also say that “it’s certainly successful in bringing our heroine’s paranoia to a quite unnerving climax.”

Web

“Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre is a triumph, combining a compelling script with bright performances from a strong cast and a sumptuous soundtrack,” wrote Simon Catlow in a long and interesting review on his own site about the Big Finish audios, Tertiary Console Room.

“A story that plays strongly to the strengths of the series and in the process creates a fitting final instalment” with “an intriguing and rewarding plot” plus “rich characteristics of the regulars”, there is “some welcome humour present which adds flavour to the drama and showcases the characters, particularly Josh. […] Anghelides’ dialogue is excellent and pushes the drama along well without resorting to blatant exposition.”

Simon enjoyed the pairing of Sarah and Wendy Jennings: “Anghelides uses her as a reflection of Sarah’s character before her credibility was destroyed. Thanks to the quality of the script, there is a real sense of believability that Sarah would put her trust into this character that she’s only just met as there is an empathy between them which she doesn’t share with her friends of old.”

He also has lots of praise for the actors: “Fittingly for a series which she is the star, Elisabeth Sladen has saved her best performance for last, showing both her guile and ruthlessness in the pursuit of the truth but balancing it out well with the impression that she’s overlooking something significant in the process.” The series has “reminded us what a good actress Elisabeth Sladen is.” He adds: “Both Jeremy James and Sadie Miller continue to impress with strong performances as Josh and Natalie […] putting their characters together here shows a genuine warmth underpinning the surface spikiness of their relationship with each other.”  And Simon has revised his disappointment from earlier in the series about the returning villain, because “after hearing Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre it becomes obvious that a wholly original character would have lacked the particular resonance [..] adds to the scenes of confrontation between her and Sarah Jane towards the conclusion of the drama.

Simon’s only real reservation was that the attack on the beach “does come off as ill-conceived […] there’s no real sense that they’re in danger”. But other than that, “the story develops excellently, moving deviously,” with the script able to “sustain the spectacle further through an air of unpredictability.” Simon also liked the way that the audio picked up on elements from the previous plays, drawing them together in way that “helps make the whole series more gratifying.”

He was impressed with the way the story used the end-of-series uncertainty to “create a sense of menace and dread […] Sarah’s enemies are out there, waiting to make their final move.” In the concluding scenes, the author raises the tension to “fever pitch.”. In summary, “A stylish close but perhaps not in the climactic conclusion that may have been anticipated.”

On his own site, Cameron Mason was enthusiastic, and rates it 8-9 out of 10: “Peter Anghelides has written a roller-coaster ride of a story. It starts off slowly, building up to thrilling climax that in the end seems a little too rushed—perhaps Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre could have done with being a double CD release.”

He liked the use of a voice mail system, which “works well to show the distance between Sarah and her friends”. And the confrontation between Sarah and her enemy is “an excellent scene […] A fine conclusion that leaves the way open for more.”

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre brings this increasingly assured short series of audio plays to a satisfying conclusion,” wrote Steve Hatcher on the Who Central site [now defunct]. “Peter Anghelides’ tight script, well directed again by Gary Russell, maintains a brisk pace, never allowing the listener’s attention to wander.”

Steve also praised the cast: “Once again Elisabeth Sladen is in fine form as Sarah, and probably for the first time both Jeremy James as Josh and Sadie Miller as Nat are both give enough to do to make a good impression as well.” He was less convinced about the returning villain, who he did not remember, noting that “the line that Sarah utters, when she is confronted by her tormenter [suggests] the writer and producers clearly were not confident that others would not share my confusion.”

“Not Quite a Big Finish” was Paul Halt’s judgement of the audio on the Ratings Guide site. He believed that it “isn’t quite all that I had hoped for”, but gave it 8 out of 10.

Paul enjoyed the story’s “breakneck pace”, but disliked the way that the exposition appeared “in dialogue hints throughout the first fifteen minutes [..] The script is well-written, so this exposition is more or less painless; nevertheless, some listeners may find it a bit frustrating.”

As to the story, it was “more than a little nonsensical, as Sarah travels to India to investigate a bio-warfare scandal from the 1940s and ends up uncovering an even more sinister, modern-day terrorist plot […] more the kind of tale you’d expect from a James Bond movie [and] lacking a real-world connection.”

Nevertheless, Paul thought “the most successful element was the characterization of an increasingly paranoid Sarah Jane. [Elisabeth] Sladen is at her best, playing Sarah at her most flawed and, consequently, most interesting.” He also praised Sadie Miller (“sorely missed” in the previous story), but thought  “Jeremy James’ Josh is a bit underused in this entry, though he plays a significant role in the story’s climax and does a good job with a fairly difficult scene at the end.”

Paul’s major complaint was that the audio “is more of a Season Finale than a Series Finale.” On the other hand, maybe that worked, because he concluded: “I will definitely subscribe again.”

The review by Joe Ford, also on the Ratings Guide site, is more about the whole series than specifically about Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre. He is clearly a big fan of “the exceptionally talented Elisabeth Sladen who imbued her character with a lot of charm and charisma” in the TV series, and who now in the audios “plays it to the hilt, not trying to make her likable or bland but a genuinely interesting character in her own right and well worth her own series.”

Specifically about this audio, Joe liked the “international feel” and the conclusion to “the wonderful ‘arc’ that has ran through the five stories.” He wrote: “The unveiling of the villain of the piece isn’t such a surprise […] but Sarah’s astonished and bitter reaction is well worth the wait. Indeed once the cat is out of the bag and the threat is exposed, the last ten minutes of Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre are utterly gripping. The plan to bring Sarah down is quite ingenious and her apparent helplessness leaves you gasping for a happy ending.”

Indeed, Joe thought there were “lots of lovely bluffs and red herrings”, with “three terrific action scenes […] The final car sequence was one of the best set pieces Big Finish have achieved.”

Roger Pocock seemed pleased with the play, and gave it four stars in his assessment on The Doctor Who Review site [since revised, but archived here] said that it “concludes the series of five plays with the showdown we have all been waiting for, and does it in style.” Roger’s principal reservation was that “At times the dialogue is a little unnatural, and Miss Winters’ motives are never made quite clear enough.”

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre: Interviews

msmI’ve done two interviews specifically about Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre. One is a BBC online interview  to accompany the launch of the Sarah Jane Smith audio series (click here to see that one). The other is a Big Finish Productions interview with Benjamin Cook (reprinted below in full).

This interview was conducted by Benjamin Cook, as part of his preparation for the Big Finish Productions book The Inside Story (published in November 2003). Ben sent me the questions, and I wrote the replies as you see them here.

Some general questions about writing Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’

Ben Cook: Okay, a bit of background information … When and how did you get into Doctor Who?

Peter Anghelides: I must have dipped in an out of the Patrick Troughton episodes, whenever there wasn’t something that a visiting relative insisted on watching instead on ITV (usually the wrestling on World of Sport with Kent Walton).

The first evidence that I was hooked was in my Junior 1 A5 jotter at school. For my Monday Morning “what I did at the weekend” writing exercise, I would describe what had happened in the previous Saturday’s episode of The Silurians.  I must have given my school teacher the impression that, while other kids were obviously going swimming or horse riding or visiting their relatives or riding their bikes, I must have been locked up by my parents with nothing else to do.

Subsequent evidence included a model dinosaur (a tough decision—it was either that or a large-format illustration to celebrate Manchester City). The dinosaur was made of old egg boxes and pipe cleaners and glue. To this day, the smell of Cow Gum makes me think of Jon Pertwee, who I remember with much greater affection than Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee. Not least because all I got back from Man. City in the end was a badly-photocopied sheet of untidy autographs.

What is it about Doctor Who that appeals to you?

It’s been a constant in my life, particularly my childhood. It was Jon Pertwee at primary school, Tom Baker at secondary school, and later it was Peter Davison at University. By that stage, of course, I’d got involved with fandom, writing articles, producing fanzines, and going to conventions—so it became more than a backdrop to my life, it was my hobby.

What are your strongest memories of Doctor Who on television?

Too many to recall. If it were just a handful, then I’d feel like those people who can recall “the one with the maggots”, or “the one where they broke through the shop window”. And that would never do, eh?

And what are your strongest memories of Sarah Jane Smith on telly?

I was tremendously excited to find, from a close reading of the 1973 Radio Times Doctor Who Special, that there was to be a new companion. I was in secondary school by this stage, and being a naïve youth it was slowly dawning on me that these people were actors, and not just characters on TV. And there was an article (with large colour photo) of the new companion. So I enjoyed seeing her in Lincoln Green for her debut story, and there was a thrill of horror when she was controlled by the spider on her back in Planet of the Spiders.

But it was her sparky relationship with the new Doctor that really captured my imagination—how she responded to his taunting in Ark in Space, her terror and blindness in Brain of Morbius, that extraordinary Andy Pandy outfit in Hand of Fear. And then he went and abandoned her in South Croydon, the brute. Life wasn’t the same after that. K9 & Company didn’t even get transmitted in the North West of England.

Also, I want to know a bit about your career outside of Doctor Who. What do you do when you’re not writing Doctor Who adventures?

I’m a line manager in a software development laboratory that is part of the world’s largest multinational IT company. My team is a couple of dozen staff working on human-computer interaction and technical publications. I also have a couple of young sons: they are about the age I was when I first started watching Doctor Who. Their favourite Doctors are Rowan Atkinson and Sylvester McCoy.

So, how did you come to write Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre? Tell me the story. Were you asked? Or did you submit a proposal? What happened?

I had been invited along to the first Big Finish meeting where the original DW audios were discussed, but for some reason I couldn’t attend. So through a combination of poor timing and indolence I had not submitted any script ideas to Big Finish, though I’d always said I would like to have a go. So I suppose I’d been looking for an appropriate opportunity.

Unlike some of my DW author colleagues, fiction isn’t a full-time job for me, so it’s a matter of finding or making time to write. And if I’m going to do something professionally, I want to make sure that I won’t let the publisher down because (unlike many conventional hobbies) other people depend on you and there are companies with money at stake if you don’t deliver on time.

Then I was invited along to a convention in the North East of England, Dimensions on Tyne, where Elisabeth Sladen was one of the guests. She said that she was doing this series of Sarah Jane Smith audios for Big Finish, that I’d been recommended to her as someone who might write a good script, and that she’d like to ask me to submit ideas. I said that I was very flattered. Indeed, I was so flattered and taken aback that instead of adopting a suave and nonchalant attitude, and saying “why yes, how kind of you to ask, here are three brilliant suggestions and one of my business cards” I actually said “er… thanks… yes… um… was I alphabetically first on the list…?” Instead of treating  me like an obvious loon, she continued to encourage me to contact producer/director Gary Russell.

So I did. I got the series outline from Gary, I submitted a story that fitted in with that, and mine was one of those that Lis and Gary chose.

Were you confident that your story would be taken up by Big Finish? Or did it come as a complete shock? What was your reaction to the script being accepted (shock, delight, horror …)?

I don’t know whether I was confident or not. One of the virtues of submitting a story proposal, rather than producing a whole script, is that it’s not such a big thing to shred if it gets rejected. I don’t know how many other people pitched ideas (though I know of at least one that didn’t make it).

I wrote the proposal in a tremendous rush over one weekend. I’d met Lis and Gary at the convention in November 2001. I also met Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts at the convention, and chatted to them in the green room although, for some reason, we chatted about lots of things except for the Sarah Jane Smith audios. Come to think of it, we didn’t even talk about Doctor Who very much either. Anyway, I didn’t get the series details from Gary until December, and he wanted submissions by the following week. My wife’s parents were visiting that weekend, but I made my apologies, sneaked off to my study, and bashed out a suggestion to meet the submission deadline.

Then I didn’t hear back for about a month, and rather assumed nothing was going to happen. I checked with Gary shortly into the New Year, and to let him know that I was about to go out of the country—to New York on a business trip. And that’s when he e-mailed me back to say that he and Lis had chosen mine as one of the five.

David Bishop, who is much more organised than I am about these things, had a first draft of his script available before I’d even written a word of mine. He was kind enough to send me that draft, and so not only was I able to see how someone else had interpreted the regulars (Natalie and Josh), I was also able to steal his Microsoft Word template for my script.

However, I was slightly taken aback to discover on reading his script for Test of Nerve that he had written a story about a terrorist attack on the London Underground—the suggestion for story three. Now, I thought that I had pitched for that slot (mine was set in Scotland, and involved a fish farm—thrilling stuff, eh?) and so I knew I was going to have to give it quite a different spin. Gary’s guidance as script editor was invaluable. We agreed that I’d keep Sarah out of the UK for much of the story, keep Josh in the UK, and cut down on Nat’s involvement to stay within the time limit for the play.

Oh, and could I submit the script in the next two weeks, please?

On this basis, therefore, was my reaction to the commission one of shock, delight, or horror? It was a combination of all three.

And I’m particularly interested in anything you can tell me about how the Sarah Jane Smith audios came about in the first place. What was your first involvement with them?

My first involvement was being invited by Lis to suggest ideas for a script. I knew the first two had been commissioned from Terrance and Barry, and that the other three slots were available. I had thought that I’d submitted something for story three, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was writing the “season finale”.

It wasn’t clear at the outset whether Miss Winters was definitely in the series, and so my outline allowed for her role to be taken by another character (with suitable changes to the motivation). In my first draft, it’s Miss Winters who pretends to be a journalist and meets up with Sarah, and so the “reveal” at the end is when the CEO that they’re going to gatecrash in India turns out to be… the person with whom Sarah has spent most of the adventure! In the end, that character became Wendy Jennings instead—a younger character—and Miss Winters makes her surprise appearance at the conclusion of the adventure instead.

What part do you feel you personally played in shaping the direction of the Sarah Jane Smith audio range?

I think I’d be flattering myself if I suggested I’d shaped the direction very much at all. I suspect that mostly I got things into other people’s scripts because I was the first one to mention them in my script—the name of Sarah’s TV series and her former company, for example. There were some back-references to her pedantry about “less” and “fewer” as well. I proposed that Sarah’s changes of address should be mentioned in earlier scripts. And in the first draft of the script, Harris was a different character, though I noted that Sarah had not met Harris in person during ‘Test of Nerve’ (which I’d read before writing my script) and suggested that he could play the role in my script, too. So I had some ideas how they might save on production costs by cutting down the number of different actors!

Where did the idea for the plot of ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’ come from? What was your brief? What were your influences? Did you have to do much research?

I had followed some discussions about fish viruses in Scottish fish farms, and how a mixture of government incompetence and industry indifference had exacerbated the problem. And then I found out about a World War II biowarfare experiment that the UK government had conducted in the Indian Ocean.

I’d also written a previous audio for Paul McGann—his first “return” to Doctor Who after the TV Movie (in a short story that he read on a BBC cassette called ‘Earth and Beyond’). I’d set that story on the Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean that I had visited with my wife several years previously. I thought there was more I could do with that sort of remote location, somewhere that took Sarah Jane far away from her friends and away from the European technological environment where she’d feel more comfortable—and yet where, ironically, she was more at the mercy of her enemies’ technology while her friends frantically tried to get in touch. My first thought was to send her on holiday to Barbados.

Were you confident that the Sarah Jane Smith series would be a success?

Yes. The Doctor Who audios were, and are, terrific, and Lis Sladen’s enthusiasm for the project was tremendous. Plus Terrance and Barry were writing two of the scripts! And the other authors were David Bishop (who’d done a Judge Dredd audio for Big Finish) and Rupert Laight (who had written TV scripts). And then me. But by the time they got round to ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’, if my story bombed, listeners would already have been treated to scripts from four experienced drama writers.

How do you find writing for Sarah Jane Smith? What did you want to do with the character?

It was terrific. I could “hear” Sarah Jane’s voice in my ear from all those years of watching her on TV, but I could also imagine how her character might have developed over the years. I agreed with Gary and with Lis, who both wanted an edgier, more self-reliant character. I also liked the idea that, in my script, she was going to be emotionally and physically distanced from her remaining friends, so it’s more fun writing for that sort of character—one who is under pressure, and who has to drive the plot.

Did you talk to Elisabeth Sladen at all during or after the writing process?

After the convention, Lis sent me an audio interview that she’d done for MJTV productions, one of their “The Actor Speaks” series. That gave me some insights into how she saw the character might have developed since being unceremoniously dumped in Croydon with a stuffed owl in a cardboard box. And it also provided me with the current sound of Sarah Jane’s “grown-up” voice.

Lis suggested a couple of changes to the submitted script, via Gary, that made Sarah more in control of her first meeting with Wendy on the boat—and we discussed that in a phone call, too. It was all very cordial and constructive. Lis was also kind enough to thank me for writing a lovely script.

What were you aiming to achieve in the relationship between Sarah and Josh?

When I wrote the script, I had a Mancunian in mind for Josh, because that was the original character brief. That informed some of the wording of the dialogue. Once Jeremy had been cast, and the script got in to the studio, there were some adjustments. I liked the idea that he was able to be a cheeky fellow countering Sarah with sarcasm. You have to have a bit of tension, even if it’s just friendly, to make the characters’ dialogue come alive on the page and keep the plot ticking along.

And what about the character of Natalie? What did you make of her?

I wrote her so that there was a kind of mother-teenager tension between her and Sarah, given that their interaction is that slightly distanced and impersonal effect you get on the phone. At the time I did that, I didn’t know that Sadie had been cast as Natalie. And on reflection if I had known perhaps I would have been a bit more cautious about using that mother-daughter thing as being too obvious, or maybe a bit impertinent of me.

As it happens, I’m glad I didn’t know and that I just plunged in! I think their interactions spark very nicely in the finished version. I was sorry that, on the day I was in the studio for the recording, Sadie wasn’t there—all her scenes had been done on a previous day.

We don’t see Nat, and unless she develops a squeaky wheel then you wouldn’t know she was wheelchair bound. There’s a tricky line you don’t want to cross, where mentioning her disability can be a way of defining her, and the character deserves better than that. David Bishop had already done a story where her disability was a plot point, so I just kept people aware of it by having her joke casually and naturally about it to Josh. Similarly, we know why it’s Josh and not Nat who gets on the plane to Bangalore, it doesn’t need spelling out.

Also, could you tell me a bit about what you wanted to do with Miss Winters in Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre? How many times did you have to re-watch Robot?!

I originally planned that Miss Winters was Wendy Jennings—actually so close to Sarah that Sarah cannot see her. When Wendy is talking on the train about whether Sarah does follow-up pieces on people she’s written about in the past, that was originally designed be to be Miss Winters secretly taunting her.

Patricia Maynard today looks quite unlike Hilda Winters from Robot, not to mention in any case that she was playing a role, and not herself, all those years ago. When she “does” the voice, you can recognise it (and very chilling it was to hear her adopt it again at the microphone, I must say—her natural speaking voice is quite unlike Hilda’s more strident tones). After so many years, then, it was quite plausible that Sarah would not recognise Miss Winters, and that Hilda could use this against her.

Because it wasn’t confirmed that Patricia was available until quite late on, I wrote a first draft script in which she did not appear at all. Wendy was therefore an older woman who linked up with Sarah in the Lakshadweep Islands, and was later revealed to be the CEO of a company that Sarah did an exposé on many years previously. When Patricia came on board, Gary and I rewrote the closing scenes to have Wendy as a younger woman working for Hilda.

I remember Robot quite well from its very first transmission. Although I haven’t seen it more than once or twice since 1974, and I’ve read Terrance Dicks’s book a couple of times, I didn’t re-watch the video or re-read the novelisation before writing Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre.

Okay, this is an important one… Could you talk me through the process of writing Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre (as far as you can remember)? What initial ideas were discarded? Which bits did you have trouble writing? How did the story develop from draft to draft? Tell me what was happening inside your head during the writing process.

Some of this is covered in previous answers. So the other bits of the process were like this…

I’d wanted to do something starting with an answerphone message for a while, and had scribbled some ideas in my notebook for this. Originally, I’d thought this would be the start of a short story, but obviously it works really well for an audio. And because Sarah was emotionally and physically distanced from Josh and Nat as the series reached its finale, it fitted in really well. If you leave a message, you don’t get the interaction of a regular conversation, so there’s the possibility of misunderstanding. And even if you’re on the phone talking with someone directly, you don’t get the body language and facial reactions always to get the meaning correct—it’s prone to misunderstanding, and that was good for the purposes of the story.

Another thing that I decided to do was up the stakes for the season finale. I’d imagined the Sarah Jane Smith series as very UK-based, and I liked the idea of getting Sarah away to a more unusual location. I don’t think I knew then that Sarah was travelling abroad with Josh for story four. But once Gary and I agreed that Sarah would spend pretty much the whole of my story out of the UK, I looked around for another venue for my finale. Originally that was set in a Scottish Loch, with the Scalar offices in a castle. But once Gary suggested keeping Sarah’ action almost entirely abroad, it made sense to go for a bigger finale and so I moved it all to the world’s biggest system of dams, the Parambikulam-Aliyar project in India, and the Scalar HQ in an old colonial building. That in turn meant I could use the Lakshadweep Islands (off the western coast of India), rather than the Caribbean location I’d first envisaged for Sarah’s holiday.

The more I thought about the distance between Sarah and her friends, the more I realised I could do with phones. It can be a slight cheat, because there’s more likelihood that someone will describe what they can see to the person on the other end of the call. I tried to resist that, assuming that the listeners would be able to work out when lots of things were happening at once. For example, Josh carries on two conversations at once while he’s on the plane; he’s talking into the seatback phone to Nat, and at the same time ordering his posh nosh from the cabin crew; so as well as pushing the story onwards it also is a bit of fun at Nat’s expense, because she’s stuck in an internet café while he’s away enjoying himself. I also quite liked the idea that Nat could “witness” Josh getting beaten up because she was listening to him over the phone—on that occasion she’s helpless to rescue him because she doesn’t know where he is, rather than because she’s stuck in her wheelchair.

Throughout the writing of the script, I tried to keep in mind stuff I’d heard in other audios that did or did not work—to avoid the latter, and emulate the former. I wanted the dialogue to sound snappy, as though motivated by people actually talking with each other rather than at each other. And at the top of each scene I imagined what the background noises were going to be like—how that might affect the way characters spoke, what it told you about the location that therefore didn’t need to be explained in the dialogue. My favourite of these is when the sound of the Coimbatore train fades at the end of one scene into the noise of Nat typing on her keyboard in the next scene.

Because I was on a business trip away from home, I had to write some of the script while travelling or in my hotel during the evening. Some of the airport and plane scenes were written, therefore, while I was in a New York airport, or flying over the Atlantic. The scene set in Brandt’s hotel room was written in my hotel room. I’m not always this Stanislavskian about writing fiction.

I think I also had a deadline for submitting a story to Paul Cornell’s Bernice Summerfield collection A Life of Surprises at about the same time. So it was a busy time for me.

Gary reworked the end of my original submission to introduce Hilda Winters into the conclusion. I had a look at that draft, and did I bit more rewriting on those new lines. Elisabeth Sladen also had some constructive suggestions, including a request to put Sarah more in control of her first conversation with Wendy on the malmi’s boat. There weren’t many changes after that.

In the very early stages of producing my outline, there was another scene after the riverside shoot-out. It was set on the dam (or possibly in the turbine room), a final confrontation with Sarah facing down Miss Winters and Brandt just too late as the barrels of brucella virus go into the reservoir—foaming away before her eyes (which she would describe in her horrified dialogue, of course); and then she got locked in there while Winters and Brandt fled the scene and left her for the authorities to find her. Was it curtains for Sarah? No, because resourceful Josh had got to the barrels first, and substituted industrial-sized containers of Indian-brand Fairy Liquid—and then he and Sarah had to flee the scene before the authorities arrive, because Sarah s implicated in an unsuccessful attempt from which she will have to clear her name.

Looking at the amount of stuff already in the outline, I decided that this finale was going to make the script far too long, and arguably too over-the-top. So it got chopped, and Josh now makes his heroic appearance at the riverside instead.

Any initial working titles?

I didn’t give it a title when I submitted the outline. Gary and I were exchanging e-mail about something called ‘SJS—Title?’ for a while. Once I had decided, it was always called Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre. I wanted a title that didn’t sound like a typical Doctor Who title, something that might have been an episode of The Bill or Casualty, a “realistic” drama series rather than a “fantasy” drama series.

How much did the script have to be rewritten before recording? Any major changes?

Most of the changes happened between the original outline and the first draft. Apart from the usual script-editing sorts of things, there were not so many changes between my submitting the rehearsal script and it being recorded, with one major exception. That exception was the inclusion of Hilda Winters, something that Gary and I agreed would need to be handled flexibly until Big Finish confirmed that Patricia Maynard was definitely available to play the part.

What did you think of Elisabeth’s performance in Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre?

She was terrific, wasn’t she? Hers was the only character where I knew the “voice” before writing the script. I didn’t know, for example, who would be playing Dr Brandt, so I wasn’t anticipating anything about the actor’s performance. So with Sarah Jane, I had a clear idea of what I thought her performance would be—even though I was writing her as a more central character than in the TV series.

And when it came to the recording, she brought so much more to it. If she thought there was a duff note in the dialogue, she’d suggest an alternative. And by the time she came to record my episode, she’d already established this rapport with the other regulars, and so the whole thing came alive in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

On the day that Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre was recorded, they also did some pick-up scenes from other episodes. So I was there when Lis did the scene by Lavinia’s graveside, from Comeback. That was just wonderful, very moving.

Back to top

What did you think of the rest of the cast that the director assembled? Are they how you’d imagined their respective characters to sound like?

Unlike with the central character, and maybe Miss Winters for the concluding scenes, I had no preconceptions about the other cast members. I don’t know, if they’d told me they were casting Peter Miles in the production, whether it would have helped or not—I mostly know Peter’s Doctor Who performances, especially Nyder [from the TV story Genesis of the Daleks], so I might have made assumptions about how he’d play the role, instead of letting him find the character from my script.

I was quite keen to have an Indian character, because non-UK characters (extraterrestrial aliens excepted) were a whole crowd of people that I couldn’t remember Big Finish doing much with. I steered away from Americans, because they had done those before, and with mixed success I’d felt. I confess that I hadn’t known before the recording that Jeremy James and Toby Longworth would be in mine, let alone that they’d done so many different and distinctive characters for Big Finish previously. So at first it was a surprise to find that Toby (definitely not Indian) was playing Chakravarty. But what a great job he did—getting the character to slightly “put on” the Indian accent when he was pretending to be a taxi driver, but without going all Mind Your Language about it. And then, when revealed as a villain later on, doing a more Indian-RP version—I think he was basing it on Art Malik, and very well too.

Wendy was originally written to be rather older than Louise Faulkner played her, because I’d initially planned for that character to be Hilda Winters in disguise. In the revised script, Gary had suggested that she be the daughter of a former SRS villain, Jellicoe from Robot, so that changed things slightly. Apart from a section of dialogue in the Coimbatore train, where Wendy talks about how she became a journalist, very little in the dialogue needed to be changed to make her younger.

How did you find working with Gary Russell and Jason Haigh-Ellery?

I didn’t work much with Jason, though I think I first met him years ago when he was a mere stripling, and nursing a pint all evening in a London pub. I’ve met him on other occasions since, but for Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre my work with him was just getting him to sign the contract and then sign the cheque. He does that very well, I must say, and I’d be very happy to work with him again on this basis for increasingly large amounts of money.

Gary I have known for many years. Indeed, we were stripling contemporaries, flogging our fanzine wares at conventions half a lifetime ago. The writing and editing on this audio turned out to be unexpectedly rather hectic, with short deadlines and fast turnarounds. If this had been with someone I didn’t trust as much as Gary, I think I’d have been a lot more worried. With someone who you know personally and professionally, you can be a bit more relaxed even when things are frantic.

Did you attend the actual recording? Did you enjoy yourself? What was the day like? Any behind-the-scenes gossip—however trivial or weird?!

Yes, I went along to the day on which most of mine was recorded. It was great fun. I’d not been the recording of a radio play or an audio before, though I’ve been to quite a few TV productions, so I sort of knew what to expect of the etiquette on the day.

It was a shame not to meet Sadie, but all her scenes had been recorded already. On the other hand, it was the day when all Miss Winters’ scenes were done, so (hurrah!) I did get to meet and talk to Patricia Maynard. We all went out for lunch together, and I had the most wonderful time sitting at one end of the table with Elisabeth Sladen and Patricia Maynard and talking about our families. Although actors get to work with each other on and off over the years, this was the first time that the two of them had met since doing ‘Robot’, so they were “catching up”. Robin Bowerman told us about his (then forthcoming) role as Henry Ledbetter in Emmerdale.

After the recording, we all went for a pint, and Toby Longworth taught me a couple of magic tricks that I have subsequently used to amaze and baffle my relatives. One of them is so simple but effective that I taught it to my six-year-old son, Samuel, who now amazes and baffles his grandparents with it. The other involves a cigarette and, as far as I know, Samuel doesn’t know that one yet.

Do you enjoy listening to your work being recorded? Or does it feel strange…?

Oh, great fun. Once the script has been written, you have to let go of it. It’s in the hands of the cast and the director. So I kept quiet unless I was invited to comment. Well, OK, except for a couple of brief moments. One was a continuity thing I spotted, that I politely asked Gary about so that he could decide whether it was worth fixing on the day. (It wasn’t obvious that Winters and Harris were driving away, so I suggested an additional line to make that clearer.) The other was when one of the actors pronounced “CEO” as “see-oh” rather than as an acronym for Chief Executive Officer.

Some of the scenes from my script were recorded on different days, so they’d already done some of ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’ before I got to the studio. They’d tried to phone me on my mobile a couple of times, to get some of the Indian pronunciations clarified. I didn’t hear these messages in time, unfortunately, so they decided for themselves. Not that I would have helped much, anyway, because to me they were just names off  a map of the Indian subcontinent, or from Air India web pages. There was one speech of Wendy’s that’s full of them: Anamalai, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Udhagamandalam and so on. That needed a couple of takes.

What do you make of how Doctor Who fans have received Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre?

They seem to have enjoyed it, don’t they? I put summaries of reviews on my website, so I’ve seen a few of them. With it being the season finale, there’s maybe a tendency for reviewers to comment on the whole series rather than specifically my story, and some of the comments are about whether there’ll be a series two. I suppose it’s nice that fans seem to want a series two!

And what did you think of the final product? What did—and didn’t—you like? And please, be as honest as you can. Gary has promised not to kill any writers who slag off Big Finish productions. And I believe him!

I really enjoyed it. It was very exciting to get my first audio play through the post! There are some things that worked out differently to the way I’d expected them, but that’s not to say that they matter or that I didn’t like them. The pronunciations of some of the words—Scalar and Chakravarty—weren’t what I had expected, but who cares? There was one typo in the script that was performed and recorded “as written”: the virus turns out to be “fat-replicating” rather than “fast-replicating” as intended. Not that it matters, unless it turns out that we have an unexpectedly-large number of endocrinologists subscribing to the series.

I had imagined the voicemail system to be a real human intonation, but with that stilted intonation you get from separately-recorded voice fragments pieced together—you know, the way that the intonation rises unnaturally at the end of numbers. The “robot voice” they used works just as well, and also saved on casting another voice. At one point I thought that I was going to have to write out all the possible combinations for the voicemail, along with other stuff like tannoy announcements for the airport and railway station, but that wasn’t necessary in the end.

The music soundtrack incorporated Indian themes, which was splendid and the effects—the sea, the restaurant noises, the train, the airport, the car chases—were great. And the fruit bat.

The Big Finish “Writer’s Guidelines” say at one point: “feel free to stretch both the listener’s imagination and BFP’s technical bods”. So at the top of one scene I wrote the direction: “The sea is shussshing up the sandy beach, slight wind in the palm trees. A lone fruit bat utters a fitful cry. (OK, the fruit bat isn’t essential. But I bet your effects guy can do a mean impression.)” Once I found out that David Darlington was doing the effects, I teased him constantly about how impossible this would be. He hunted one down, of course. A sound effect, I mean, not a fruit bat, obviously. Published version of the CD cover

My only disappointment, I suppose, was that the CD booklet was a bit below par compared with the others in the series. They had changed the colour plates to incorporate the photo of Miss Winters, smiling over Sarah’s shoulder on the front cover (the early pre-release publicity version did not have her there, to preserve the big surprise for Test of Nerve). But the registration of one film must be a bit cockeyed, and that makes the text harder to read. The inside CD sleeve didn’t print at all, and there were a handful of typos. But if all I can find to quibble about is the packaging, that must give you some idea of how much I like the actual audio!

And best of all, of course, is hearing the dialogue come alive in the performances of the talented cast. Even better than I imagined it—I’m so pleased with that. Jeremy James as Josh makes me laugh out loud, even though (or possibly because) I wrote the dialogue, and Sadie Miller really sparkles as Natalie when she argues with him and with Sarah. And although it’s invidious to single  anyone out of the cast for particular praise, it would be remiss of me not to thank Lis Sladen for her enthusiasm from start to finish.

What is it about storytelling that appeals to you?

Getting a reaction from people. The first reaction is mine: I’m delighted to say that I’m a terrific audience, and quite shamelessly laugh at my own jokes when I’m writing.

The second audience is the editor—whether it’s a novel, or a short story, or an audio script, I want to amuse or divert them enough to take it further. In the best cases, that sparks further thoughts or  suggestions or observations from the editor, and that’s even better for the writing. When I co-wrote The Ancestor Cell for the BBC, Stephen Cole was a good audience for me, and I for him.

The final audience is the reader or the listener, and reaction from them comes a lot later—in reviews or in the e-mail that people send me, or occasionally when I attend conventions. It’s always great to hear from them how much they have enjoyed my writing.

An additional audience for audios, which I hadn’t thought too much about before writing Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre, is the cast. Their reaction to the script is a direct component of the final product. Their belief in it, their enthusiasm for the words, their understanding of the story, are vital. And I think any author has to love getting a positive reaction from talented actors.

If you were writing Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre again today, what—if anything—would you change?

I don’t know that I’d change all that much. With more time, maybe I’d have seen if anything could be dropped from earlier on to allow for that additional confrontation scene in the turbine room. There are one or two bits of dialogue and business I might have tidied up to make the logic of the final edit clearer. If things had been different for Patricia Maynard’s availability, I’d perhaps have featured her more in the earlier parts of the script. But on the whole, I think it all worked out rather well.

I’m particularly interested in any deleted or alternative scenes—i.e. scenes that were cut from earlier drafts of the Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre script or scenes that were changed considerably by the final draft. Are you able to send me any? Or point me in the right direction?

I’ve attached a couple of these [they also appear on this web site] from the draft before Hilda Winters was introduced into the script. The first is the train scene where Sarah and Wendy discuss Planet Three (while this is going on, you’ll recall, Josh and Nat are talking in hospital about the Scalar company—that scene didn’t change). The second is the “reveal” where Sarah first finds out that Wendy Jennings isn’t who she seems.

And I’ve already mentioned the final scene that I dropped from the outline (above).

One final thing (for now!)… The plug! Using as many—or, indeed, as few—words as you like, could you sell ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’ to readers of the Big Finish book who haven’t yet bought a copy of the CD? A free advertisement! An opportunity to bump up your royalty cheques! Tell our readers what Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre is about and why everyone should buy a copy…

What’s it about? It’s about a tenner. Go and buy it, you’ll love it. In fact, buy two copies, and give one to a friend.

And, erm, one other final thing… There will be a bullet-point section in the chapter on Sarah Jane Smith entitled ‘Things to listen out for…’ or ‘Stuff you may have missed…’ or ‘Trivia’ or something. So, do you have any random titbits of trivia on Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre for me to include? Or how about any in-jokes in the script? Point them out to me! Nothing is too insignificant. No, really! Any bits of info that haven’t been covered by the questions above…

  • Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre has a continuity link to my Sarah-and-K9 story ‘Moving On’ in Decalog 3.
  • I wrote two versions of the “Writer’s Notes” for the CD booklet, and let Gary choose which he preferred.
  • Harris was originally a South African called Willem Dehaan.
  • I made up Bandaru Chakravarty’s name by picking two different names from an Indian government site. In my first-draft outline he was called Dean Stolz! Chakravarty isn’t credited on the CD booklet, he is listed only as one of the two taxi drivers.
  • Wendy Jennings was originally revealed to be Helena Cartwright, the CEO of BioGuard (a company that was mentioned earlier in the series). I think it was BioGuard—I may be getting confused with an underarm deodorant.
  • Displaying my ignorance of London roads, I wrote a scene where Sarah’s taxi takes her from West London to Heathrow via the M25.
  • Sarah’s original alias on her business card was “Jane Bowman, Writer”.
  • My ten-year old son took the Author photo that appears in the CD booklet.
  • Because of the events of The Ancestor Cell (which I wrote for BBC books with Stephen Cole), fans hold me responsible for the destruction of all the available K9s. [This was true at the time of this interview.]

RIGHT, THAT’S ALL FOR NOW. YOU CAN GO AND HAVE A LIE DOWN.

Thankszzzzzzzzzzz.

© Peter Anghelides 2003, 2009

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre: Scenes

msmThis story breakdown, scene-by-scene, reflects the comments that I received on the proposal from director Gary Russell. He wanted me to keep Sarah more in her holiday destination, reduce Nat’s involvement, and keep Josh in the UK so that he can be around when Sarah’s flat is turned over. Even at this stage, it wasn’t guaranteed that Miss Winters would appear in the final version, but we agreed that Wendy could be working for the villains–though she would not turn out to be Miss Winters.

A couple of other things that we considered: ensuring that Nat kept in touch with Sarah through internet cafés, and a UK-based policeman character who had already appeared in earlier stories. We adopted the former, but did not incorporate the latter.

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

by Peter Anghelides

7 February, 2002

1. No location.

We can hear messages on Sarah’s answer phone. One’s from Josh, saying that he’s got the info they wanted from the Public Records Office, and also that someone from Sarah’s former satellite TV company has been asking after her, so he needs to speak with Sarah about a woman called Wendy Jennings. [Apologetic—didn’t mean to fall out with her… etc. etc. Since office blew up… etc.]

2. Ext. Street.

Sarah gets a taxi to the airport, which screeches ahead of another taxi–brief argument between taxi drivers [one of them off-mike if you need to save on cast members or doubling].

3. Int. Taxi.

Sarah says he’s mistaken—gives him a business card. Jane Bowman, writer. No, you’re kidding. Are you undercover? There’s no address, where are you living? The Indian taxi driver is an admirer—“I’m your biggest fan!”—so it’s a pleasure to offer her a lift. No need to pretend with me, Sarah. Jane. Whatever. They set off.

<crossfade>

Sarah realises that the taxi driver is nattering away to her about her previous journalistic triumphs, but he’s also asking her what part of the town she lives in. She complains, and he confesses that he just wants to chat to her a bit longer. She winds the car window down, and tells him to get straight to the airport or she’ll start throwing her hand luggage out of the rear window and on to the M25—and she’ll set off her rape alarm in the car while she’s at it. He’s very apologetic, and agrees.

4. Ext. Airport.

Sarah’s taxi arrives at the airport. She tells him that it’s people like him who have made her life a misery, having to move from place to place. So won’t take a business card for the return trip then? Rip! He’s very apologetic again, and asks: “so, no tip then?” She tells him: “Hah! My tip is: mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Now push off.”

5. Ext. Airport.

Plane takes off sound.

6. No location.

Another message is from Natalie, phoning in from a crackly mobile, telling her she has info about Cynaro. A third is a fax. A fourth is Natalie again, wondering where Sarah is, and won’t she please get in contact with her. Worried—but you’re probably off enjoying yourself?

[I don’t know what the satellite TV company is but for the sake of this outline let’s call it “Planet Three” and Sarah’s programme was called “Satellite”.]

7.  Ext. Boat.

Sarah’s apparently on holiday on an Indian island in Lakshadweep. She’s going on a fishing trip with a group, in a boat off Agatti, asking the local fisherman guide what his parents did in the 1940s, and odd goings-on offshore. One of the other women on board: no point, he’s just a simple malmi. A what? A sailor, he doesn’t speak English—only Malayalam, or Mahl if you’re really unlucky. The woman reveals that she knows Sarah. Not another one. I seem tio have  met any number of dubious fans recently. No, not a fan, a colleague. Well, I’m a fan as well, of course. Well, a admirer. Er… I’m a reporter on “Satellite”—Wendy Jennings! Wendy joined Planet Three just after Sarah left. “Fancy meeting you here,” says Wendy, “I’ve heard a lot about you”. “All bad, no doubt” says Sarah. “No, you still have friends there,” says Wendy. “I hope I can be one, too.” But they are being observed by another passenger, “Spying Guy”[non-speaking], so they arrange to meet later. (Great, as if I haven’t got enough business cards.)

8.  Int. Restaurant.

Sarah and Wendy meet up and talk in a restaurant after the boat trip. They chat about inconsequentialities to start with—Wendy talks about how she carries too much luggage about with her on holiday, Sarah talks about how she carts junk between houses. “Odd,” says Wendy, “have you moved a lot recently?” “I just can’t seem to settle in the right place, I’m very particular. But there’s a pile of broken equipment in a box that I just can’t let go. I can’t repair it because they don’t make the parts for it yet.” “Yet?” “I mean, any more.” She quizzes Wendy about what she’s been doing since they met briefly at Planet Three. Wendy explains she’s out here in the islands, also doing some research (in her own vacation time) about some genetic engineering done for the Indian government by a private company called Scalar. It is hush-hush work to prevent fish diseases, because they’re trying to eliminate a parasitic infection in factory-farmed salmon in Scotland that could spread to wild fish stocks in the North Sea. (I hope I;m not putting you off your Red Snapper. Mm? The fish. No, it’s lovely. But tell me more about…)  The suspicion is because a UK company has with a research facility somewhere in India (not clear where). Cheap labour costs? Exploiting the incentives for hi-tech companies and low tax burden in India. Wendy shares her research with Sarah, who continues to pump Wendy for info without sharing any of her own! Wendy is surprised that Sarah wasn’t more surprised to see her here. Sarah seems to be on the verge of explaining when Wendy stops her—she’s spotted Spying Guy from the boat again, snooping on them from nearby. “Thursday, at sunset, Bangaram Island Resort. What is this a treasure hunt?.”

9. No Location.

We hear more answer phone messages, skip through the old ones, get to the new ones: Natalie asking “where are you, get in touch, I’m going to get my mate Duggie to help me drive by the Records Office” (she emphasises “drive by”); Josh saying that he still needs to talk to her about Wendy Jennings; a silent call swiftly clicked off from an unlisted number.

10. Int. car.

Natalie is driving past the Public Records Office with her pal Duggie. They use a wireless laptop computer to break the standard wireless encryption within ten minutes, and download a lot of stuff relating to Operation Halter. [If we need to avoid casting Duggie, he can be entirely off-mike and Nat can discuss things entirely with Josh on a mobile phone in this and their next scene.]

Natalie speaks to Josh on the phone—he’s gone to Sarah’s last lodgings (she has swapped around a lot to avoid suspicion, and they discuss how she’s becoming a bit more paranoid, a bit more obsessive). The info that Natalie has got about “Operation Halter” is interesting, but will be made public in about a month’s time. Any of it restricted, asks Josh. No, all available says Natalie. And where are you, by the way? Josh doesn’t have time to tell her—someone’s at the door of the flat. He hides. They break in (all over the phone). Burglars! Aaagh!

Josh? Josh!!

11. Ext. Beach.

Wendy and Sarah can meet up again later, on a secluded beach. Lovely evening, still very humid. Prefer it to Monsoon season! Some come to these Lakshadweep islands for the reefs, a more secluded spot than the Maldives. Further South? Yes, and beyod them of course there are the Chagos Islands, including Diego Garcia. The US military base? Yes. But I’m here for the beaches. Get a tan at Brighton. No, this continuous halo of creamy sand around the island. You should be in ravel journalism, it would be safer. look over there at the marks in the sand… where the turtles are nesting. Getting chilly—could have sat in hire car. Too nice tonight, though, says Wendy. Wendy asks Sarah wasn’t more surprised to see her on the boat trip. Sarah explains that she’d got a message on her answer phone just before going on the boat trip, which mentioned it. She is reluctant to say more to Wendy. What’s that? It’s a saddleback dolphin. No, that sound! Churning up your creamy sand, he’s going to hit the turtles. No, heading for them!! At this point, Wendy sees Spying Guy churning across the beach towards them in a jeep, and he tries to run them down. They narrowly escape. Wendy says that the guy has been following her since she arrived in the Bahamas—and now he’s trying to kill her! She must go to the local police. Sarah stops her—they’re not after Wendy, they’re after Sarah.

They’ll be safer in her hire car.

12.  Int. Hire car.

So Sarah explains to Wendy that she’s probably being pursued because of the story she’s researching. She explains about the answer phone—it’s actually a phone number at Planet Three, which Sarah dials in to remotely (with a code number) even though she doesn’t work there any longer, and only people who know the direct-dial number bother to leave messages on it. She’s using a GSM phone, one of these new disposable ones I picked up at the airport at Bangalore. Me too, says Wendy. Except the batteries in mine are dea so it’s useless. She doesn’t want to say more about her story, but feels she must when Wendy says they have to go to the local authorities. Sarah points out that the local authorities may also want her to leave the islands—including Wendy now, by association.

Watch their backs—mirror, signal, manoeuvre. I’m starting to think that I’ve been signalling all my movements too obviously.

Drive off. Conversation continues.

The story that she is researching, Sarah explains, is this: biological warfare experiments in the 1940s. In the later stages of WWII, British scientists bungled some germ warfare trials in the Indian Ocean during “Operation Halter”. Thousands of animals died, for little scientific benefit, from the brucella bacteria. It was a rehearsal for possible biological attacks in the UK. The calm waters of these islands were thought to be ideal for the tests. Now she has to pursue a scientist, Joseph Brandt, who is currently vacationing in these islands. Wendy helps her find him at his hotel suite—because he’s also the person she came to talk to about the fish-stocks story that she was researching in mainland India, as he’s advising Scalar, that private company working in India.

13. Int. Hotel corridor.

Brandt doesn’t want to talk to them, but Wendy persuades him to let them in (on Sarah’s “disposible” mobile phone, which she has borrowed to make the call—her own has got dead batteries. Dial carefully, there’s a scratch on the display that distorts the numbers a bit). They find out from Brandt that animals were put in containers on dinghies around the islands, and had biological bombs dropped on them, or were sprayed with bacteria. But the sheep and guinea pigs chosen for the experiments proved unsuitable. Of the 600 sheep shipped from Texas for the experiment, 500 had to be shot—or just “discarded” in the sea. A consignment of 200 rhesus monkeys could only be used after being treated for pneumonia. What’s more, the sea turned out to be rougher than anticipated, and the two converted tank landing vessels used for the operation were unable to pick up the dinghies in open water. So the tests happened just offshore from one of the islands, despite the threat to dozens of local fishing boats working there. Even one of the researchers became infected by the germs they were testing. The results of the tests, in the end, were judged to be meaningless because the conditions at sea made it impossible to assess the levels of bacteria.

Wendy goes out of the room to get better reception on Sarah’s mobile, and get them early flights back to the UK—they have to pursue this story back there, with contemporary evidence from the Public Records Office. Sarah can’t run the story herself—but she can do the research and get Wendy to run it as a story on Planet Three’s “Satellite” programme.

Still in the hotel suite, Sarah’s interested to know why Brandt is telling them his research now. He says he was on vacation here, trying to decide how to go public on this and also then tell Scalar that he doesn’t want to work on their project—which is more than destroying fish viruses, it’s reviving and extending the Cynaro research which was part of “Operation Halter” in the 1940s. nd now it’s going to be used in the Parambikulam-Aliyar Project. The what? “I think you’ve said quite enough, Dr Brandt.” He gets no further—Wendy comes in, escorted by a policeman who have spotted her in the corridor and brought her in to arrest them all. Wendy recognises him as Spying Guy [note—could he be Harris from “Test of Nerve”]. Hang on, a white policeman?? At this point the policeman produces a handgun and start firing. Brandt is killed, and Sarah and Wendy flee in separate directions. Sarah’s recovers her mobile phone.

14. Airport.

Sarah gets to the airport, and gets the first flight out of the country (to the mainland, and then wants to go on London).

15. Int. Hospital.

In the hospital, Natalie is visiting Josh. Josh is pretty badly battered. They’re going to have to concoct a story for the police about how he got beaten up. (Won’t press charges on his brother etc. etc.) He can’t tell her what really happened, or how they found the place (even he wasn’t sure where the flat was—Sarah’s been very cagey recently), but he’s sure he wasn’t followed. They ransacked the place while he was semi-conscious, he couldn’t stop them taking a load of cardboard boxes. Research? No, it looked like electrical equipment and something that was the size of an old-fashioned video recorder with little aerials on top.

We have to let Sarah know about the break-in—they could be on to her, wherever she is. Sarah has been picking up her messages at Planet Three. Nat can detect the call-in number next time she tries to pick up messages. Need to stay connected. Can’t do that here in hospital, so I have to get to the Planet Three phone system.

16. Airport.

Sarah dialling in her number.

Message one is from Wendy: dialled in to Sarah’s office number! Got a different flight out. Need to see her—don’t fly back to the UK, she’s located the Scalar offices in a city in the middle of Tamil Nadu State! If she meets at the Bangalore railway station, she’ll explain—and they can travel there together.

Second message: Nat, they have to talk. Your house has been raided, and Josh seriously injured. We must talk. Dial me on this mobile number.

End of messages. Sarah hangs up. Almost immediately, her mobile phone rings—it’s Nat!

How did you get this number? Could be traced! Rubbish, it’s a mobile-how can I know where you are. Get a grip, Sarah. Safe as houses.

Tracked it through the Planet Three phone system. I’ve no idea where you are Sarah. Yes, and that’s the way it’s going to say, since we’re on an open line via satellite! Well, I’m sitting in the car outside the offices now. I came straight here from the hospital. Is Josh OK? Yes, no thanks to you. Josh could have suffered–I could have got help to him sooner if Sarah wasn’t so overcautious about contacting the two of us, or about moving house so often to avoid imaginary pursuers, or changing your mobile so frequently and forbidding them to call you directly. Nat had to track down the phone number of Sarah’s flat from Josh’s call to her, reverse trace the address from the BT residential directory database, and then get an ambulance to him.

Anyway, while you’re worried about your calls being traced, someone is really trying to trace you—a woman called Wendy Jennings. Yes, I know al about her (irritated by the accusation). Well, did you know she was “let go” by Planet Three two weeks ago, took a redundancy payment, and is on paid vacation to work out her notice. Sarah says “no wonder she’s desperate for a scoop,” and explains about “Operation Halter”. (Where have I heard of that?) Now Sarah is going to meet up with Wendy and use this information to investigate Cynaro and the Scalar company in India. And something about a secret project called Parambikulam-Aliyar. Parum… Well, I didn’t get chance to have him write it down before he got shot through the head!! (Nat hunts out Scalar info. on laptop.) But this Operation Halter is horrifying…

Yes, I know about it, Josh was looking at some stuff on the internet yesterday. It’s no great discovery, it’s about to be made public.

Thanks a lot, Nat. I’ve been chased by jeeps on beaches and shot at by bogus policemen. Looking in my rearview mirror for tails. That’s just it, and now you’re jumping at shadows, seeing things in the mirror that aren’t there. Making a lot out of nothing, seeing a conspiracy where there isn’t one, and allowing Wendy to use her for the story. They argue. Sarah complains that she’s been pursued by killers, her home was burgled. Base it on facts, not fiction, Sarah. Doesn’t your passport say “Journalist”. Or is that as fake as your business cards? Maybe it should say “novelist”, if you’re moving into fiction like this. Wait a minute, business card… that Indian weirdo in a taxi on the way to the airport. He could have been tracking her, getting his colleagues to scour the area for her flat… and she’d been so careful!! Nat: have a word with yerself, sarah! There you go again! Paranoia.

All right, search results on Scalar and their involvement with research into fish viruses or brucella is. As well as their UK registered office, they have a research facility in a town in the mountains of India in the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state, and that they have Dr Joseph Brandt on their small staff. (“Then they have a vacancy,” says Sarah.) It’s all above board, and quite open—no secrets there, just like Josh has told her about “Operation Halter”. Sarah’s more irritated by Natalie’s dismissal of her suspicions, and the conversation gets awkward. Some unfortunate misunderstandings in this conversation—Sarah talking about how she’s being criticised for getting off her backside and doing something about her predicament, Natalie misinterpreting this as a slight about her wheelchair, etc. It gets heated.

She sends Natalie to the hospital to see Josh and sets off for India on her own. If Natalie’s not going to help, then Sarah will go to meet Wendy—another journalist will understand. She’ll get to the root of this story, no matter what it takes!

17. Int. Train.

Cut to the train to Coimbatore. Maybe cross-fade a number of moments in the journey’s conversation. Sarah is talking with Wendy.

They meet in the train, and are now travelling north together. Wendy wasn’t sure if Sarah would come. Sarah said they can work on the story together.

Wendy is cross with herself, because she left some key information about the Cynaro patent (the Scalar development which will cure the salmon parasites) back in her office at Planet Three, and of course isn’t allowed back in to get it. So she can’t answer all of Sarah’s questions about it.

Wendy got into journalism quite late, when some of her contemporaries were thinking about early retirement. She spent much of her early career running events, scientific research, and then gave it all up and came back as a journalist through doing some specialist research for Planet Three.

18. Hospital

Nat and Josh in hospital. Nat’s being allowed to visit out of normal hours, and stay longer, because she’s made a fuss about wheelchair access. While talking to Josh, Nat’s also connecting in via his nearby phone line to show him stuff off the internet. (When nurses walk by, she switches to a game.)

She tells him that she’s found some interesting things about Scalar—she checked their staff portfolio, and it seems only to have four full-time members. She shows him photos of the staff: here’s the woman who is the CEO, here’s their chief scientific advisor, here’s their business manager Willem Dehaan, and here’s their finance guy Bandaru Chakravarti. They note that the scientific advisor is Dr Joseph Brandt, who Sarah saw shot dead in the Bahamas. Josh recognises the finance guy, Chakravarti, as the guy who attacked him at Sarah’s apartment. He had an Indian accent. Now they start to get worried. Natalie tries to use an internet phone to contact Sarah (“Are you crazy? She’ll go mental.”)

But there’s no reply. They have to get out and get to her. Josh, you’re too ill! Too bad. Try her phone again. “She’ll kill us for using an open line again!” “They’ll kill her if we don’t. She and this Wendy are being set up”)

19. Int. Train.

Back on the train, Sarah checks her mobile phone to see if there is voice mail, but Wendy points out that they’re in a valley, and there’s no satellite signal.

Sarah asks Wendy about why she left Planet Three. Wendy says they had to rescue the company share price after bidding too high to retain their licence at renewal time, and so Planet Three laid off the older and more expensive staff. She’s using her accreditation to get them an interview with the CEO of Scalar. Wendy doesn’t officially leave Planet Three for another two weeks, and they haven’t remember to reclaim her ID card. Sarah looks at the ID card—“You remind me of someone, but I can’t remember who. An old school friend maybe?”

Sarah confesses that she shouldn’t have been so rough on some of her own friends recently (she doesn’t name Natalie or Josh). She told them “I’ll get to the bottom of this story, no matter what it takes.” Now she’s a bit embarrassed. Wendy is interested, talks to her about whether she can get close to people if she’s going to be an investigative journalist. Doesn’t Sarah remember the people she does stories about, does she keep in contact, ever wonder what happened to them? “What, do follow-up pieces on them?” asks Sarah.

20. Internet café.

Natalie talking to Josh on her mobile. (We’re with Natalie but can hear Josh down the line. As an aside, you can hear him doing a transaction saying things like “3,000 quid, are you kidding? I could buy a boat and get there for that much.”) Natalie has found out more about the Scalar staff. They were all members of a scientific research society in the 1980s. Some society members even went to prison for some undisclosed breach of the Official Secrets Act, which would surely disqualify them for working on any government contracts.

21. Ext. Scalar offices, India.

Sarah and Wendy arrive. They get a taxi out towards the Scalar headquarters, past the huge lake which drowned hundreds of villages and supplies ten million people downstream with drinking water. Scalar have offices in an old British Colonial building, where other companies also have offices.

22. Int. Scalar offices.

Scenes in the echoing halls of the Castle and its various corridors and rooms etc. One they’re in the building, Sarah sends Wendy on ahead of her, sneaking off while Wendy makes her own way to the CEO’s office for the interview.

23. Int. Research area.

Sarah finds a research area, where she rifles through some paperwork or accesses a computer and finds out more about the fish stocks virus, the brucella virus, and the patented cure called Cynaro. She gets a call on her mobile—it’s Natalie phoning from the hospital with news about what she’s found on the internet. Sarah is very surprised and cross, but accepts that Natalie has called her in an emergency. You and Wendy are being set up. Never mind, says Sarah, I’ve found what we’re looking for… we can get out of here now and alert the authorities. She is able to relate to Natalie what she’s found—detailed diagrams for the Parambikulam-Aliyar Project. What sort of project. It’s a large volume embankment dam, used for irrigatio and power generation. In fact, it’s a series of dams interconnected by tunnels and canals, and it’s harnessing the waters of seven rivers… Parambikulam, Aliyar, Nirar, Sholiyar, Thunakadavu, Thekkadi, and Palar. And Scalar have built machinery into the turbines to filter for viruses and to pump Cynaro into the water.

Natalie says that her internet search has cast up some debate on a secure internet discussion group that she’s hacked relates how Cynaro is a more controversial solution than fluoridisation. She tells Sarah about the Scalar staff, and that she’s worked out that they were all in the same scientific research society together. Sarah asks Natalie to do a drive-by hacking of the Planet Three offices, to get the information that Wendy left behind there.

Sarah starts to make her way out of the building, determined to go and find out what’s happening in the turbines at the dam.

24. Int. Corridor.

On the way through, Sarah gets stopped by someone in the corridor—and asks him for his help in finding her way out, saying she got lost when visiting DEFRA. He shows her the way. She realises she’s being led up stairs instead of down stairs. When she points this out, he says “I’m sorry, Miss Smith.” “How do you know my name?” she asks. “Oh it’s you.” “How could you forget me?” he say, “Even though you didn’t keep my business card, I’m sure you remember your biggest fan.”

25. Int. Car.

Natalie is talking to Josh. He’s complaining that these seatback phones cost a packet, and can she fiddle him a higher limit this credit card. It would be smarter to fiddle you a payment. Great! But that’s too difficult, and raising the limit too much will set off their software alerts. So how does a new limit of £10,000 sound? That’ll do nicely. I can’t get through to Sarah’s mobile. Try again now. I tried earlier to hack the Planet Three systems, but they must have wiped all Wendy’s personal files already, realises Natalie, there’s nothing there—not even a byline on an archived news report. Why would a company destroy her personnel files? What if they’re asked for a reference? No personal files not… ah, brilliant! I can check for personnel files. OK, I need this line now to do my drive-by hack. Talk to you later, bye.

26. Int. Little office.

He says he is Bandaru Chakravarty. He locks her in a small office, high up in the castle. “I may be some time. You won’t starve.” “Feed me? You can’t keep me here forever.” “You’ll be here some time. But don’t worry, I won’t forget you.” “You forgot to confiscate my mobile, you moron.” She checks her mobile—even by the window, it won’t work. She opens the window—still nothing. How can she contact Natalie?

26a. Int. Car.

Nat’s hacked the system. Wendy’s personnel file is still in the system, though it has a create date of only a month ago… Oh no, now that’s too much of a coincidence. No, it’s not even a coincidence. They’re the same person.” Call Josh—before he lands.

27. Int. Little office.

Chakravarti comes back to see Sarah. Two days. You didn’t come in here alone, he tells her. Sarah denies being accompanied. Never mind, he says, we know that Wendy Jennings came with you. She’s in our CEO’s office at this moment. She’s a very informed lady. I think we should go and join her.

28. Int. CEO’s office.

Sarah is taken to the CEO’s office. She’s glad to see Wendy there, but worried when she recognises one of the policemen from the island (who introduces himself as Willem Dehaan—you look better in uniform). She warns Wendy that they’re in danger. “I’m not in danger,” says Wendy. “You don’t remember me, do you? I may have lost a bit of weight, got a lot older. You, Sarah, just meet and discard people in your journalistic profession. You profess to care about them, but all you care about is the story.” Sarah finally recognises that Wendy is Helena Cartwright, the business executive of Bio-Guard who she exposed and ruined years ago. “So, is it time for a follow-up story on me, Sarah?”

Sarah’s mobile rings unexpectedly “That’ll be your colleagues, calling you to warn you. Answer it, but be aware that Mr Dehaan is trigger-happy.” She swapped the SIM card out of Sarah’s mobile phone on the island and replaced it in a Scalar-adjusted handset. They can when it will or will not receive a signal, and record all her conversations on it. (Safe as houses, thinks Sarah.) Sarah has a brief conversation with Josh, who warns her what he’s heard from Natalie—that Wendy and the CEO of Scalar are the same person. Sarah carries on a conversation with him, but Josh gets cagey towards the end of the call. Then it cuts off.

Miss Cartwright explains that Josh is smarter than she thought—he suspects something, but can’t have guessed that Scalar were able to modify the phone call “live” as it was being made. They have enough samples of Sarah’s voice from the Planet Three voicemail system, and recordings that “Wendy” took during their recent train journey, to synthesise Sarah’s speech and reply to Josh plausibly enough for a cursory hearing by him over a mobile phone. (In fact, Josh is still talking to “Sarah” now—“the call hasn’t ended, and my colleague behind you is typing in your responses.”)

The pile of junk that they stole from Sarah’s apartment, along with Sarah’s research papers, proved a useful source of futuristic parts when they cannibalised it. [And how typical of Sarah to have anthropomorphised the equipment. “It even had a pet name, like your car does, I imagine.] Miss Cartwright has been close to Sarah for a long time. [References here to previous adventures in the series.] Watching her, steering her. Mr Chakravarti returned your research notes, suitably modified, to your apartment shortly before he left for India. It’s shocking what you’ve done to create this fictional story, Sarah. What was it your friend said: “novelist not journalist in your passport”. I imagine that’s what the newspapers will say when they hear all lies you were going to tell to the world about Scalar, just to resurrect your career. “No-one will believe you,” says Sarah, “others know that Dr Brandt died in the Bahamas, you’ll have to explain.” “No they won’t,” says Dr Brandt, coming in through the door in a surprise vocal ending to the scene (or perhaps he’s the typist at the terminal behind her). “And now, what will your few remaining friends think when they learn that, in the process of framing Scalar, you’ve poisoned the drinking water for tens of millions of innocent Indians?

29. Int. car

Chakravarti drives Sarah and Dehaan to the dam, ust following the road along the river. Cartwright and Brandt follow in a different car. They’re going to flood the turbines with a mutated brucella virus instead of Cynaro. In the car on the way there, Chakravarti plays a tape of Sarah’s phone call with Josh. (This is a chance to hear Josh’s exact words again, but the “dialogue” for Sarah is changed.) She is saying that Scalar have realised that they’ve been rumbled, and are on their way to the turbines to destroy the evidence—but she is going to go ahead and contaminate the water anyway, because that’s what they were planning and Scalar will be caught and blamed as a result. Josh is getting more and more suspicious as the call goes on.

On the journey, Sarah wraps her handbag strap around Dehaan’s neck (“stop this car or I’ll strangle him”, etc., choking noises, Chakravarti: Give me the gun, you idiot! Don’t let her grab it! Dehaan: (gurgling) Keep your eyes on the road!) Sarah sets off her rape alarm, and in the ensuing confusion the car crashes into the river. (“The water, aaagh!” SPLOSH!) As they panic, Sarah talks herself calmly through smashing the window with the gun, getting out on to the bank, etc.

30. Ext. River bank

The car goes under. “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre,” says Sarah breathlessly. Then Chakravarti splooshes out of the water, snarling at her. Gunshot. Splosh.

At which point, Josh appears in his hire car. (“With this and the plane fare, I think I’m just about at my new limit on this Visa card. I hope Natalie can hack me some more.”) He didn’t believe it when Sarah said she was going to poison the reservoir, recognising some unlikely phrase of Sarah’s (a code phrase that she’s talking rubbish, or some grammatical mistake she once said sarcastically she would never use unless held at gunpoint). But, Sarah points out, someone else is going to poison the reservoir, and blame her for it. They can even fake her voice. And here they come! Cartwright and Brandt’s car charges them down (“Look out! Steering straight for us!” etc.), smacks into the side of the hire car and then, when Sarah takes a pot shot at them (much to Josh’s consternation “I’ll get charged for that, and I signed the Collision Damage Waiver.”) swerves off and away.

They won’t get to the dam, says Josh. He and Natalie have anonymously passed on a warning, with a known terrorist code word, that the dam is a target for a bomb attack. And they have also passed on information about Miss Cartwright’ SRS history and non-security clearance to the government, so Scalar will have to be closed down in the UK and in India. Sarah points out that she may still be implicated along with Josh and Natalie, because of the paper trail that Cartwright has left. And Cartwright and Brandt have enough technology still at their disposal, outside of Scalar, to carry on their vendetta.

Off to the airport. Time to go home.

Where’s home now, Sarah? The office is gone. Your apartment’s been trashed.

Home is where my friends are. So let’s go home and find Nat. And be careful how you drive, Josh.

I know, I know, I heard you tell that creep earlier… mirror, signal, manoeuvre.

No, forget the signal. We know who were facing now. And I don’t want them to know when we’re ready to make our move.

THE END

Cast (seven):
Sarah Jane Smith
Josh
Natalie
Wendy Jennings
Joseph Brandt
Spying Guy
Taxi Driver

© Peter Anghelides 2002, 2009

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre: Proposal

Filed under: Audios,drwho,Mirror Signal Manoeuvre,Sarah Jane Smith,SJA,writing — Peter A @ 7:00 pm

msmThis original proposal kept Sarah in the UK for a lot of the time. I had also assumed it would be story 4 of 5, and not the season finale that it became. Knowing that Miss Winters was to be the surprise villain, I wanted to have her at the centre of my story, and so the proposal envisaged her tracking Sarah from very close quarters.

The concluding scenes take place here in a Scottish Castle, and the threat is to the population of Glasgow. The final version of the script upped the stakes somewhat, though it did lose an additional scene and possible finale. The taxi driver, who features at the start of the recorded version, doesn’t show up until well into this proposal. And continuity enthusiasts may be pleased to see that the not-quite-appearance of K-9 was considered even at this very early stage.

Also on this site you can see how I subsequently did a scenes breakdown.

Outline for a Sarah Jane Smith audio

Suggested for story 4 of 5
60 minutes
by Peter Anghelides
16 December 2001

We can hear messages on Sarah’s answer phone. One’s from Josh, saying that he’s got the info they wanted from the Public Records Office, and also that someone from Sarah’s former satellite TV company has been asking after her, so he needs to speak with Sarah about a woman called Wendy Jennings. Another message is from Natalie, phoning in from a crackly mobile, telling her she has info about Cynaro. A third is a fax. A fourth is Natalie again, wondering where Sarah is, and won’t she please get in contact with her.

[I don’t know what the satellite TV company is but for the sake of this outline let’s call it “Planet Three” and Sarah’s programme was called “Satellite”.]

Sarah’s apparently on holiday in the Bahamas (or the Seychelles, or somewhere exotic with a big time difference between it and the UK). She’s going on a fishing trip with a group, asking the local fisherman guide what his parents did in the 1940s, and odd goings-on offshore. She is distracted by another person on the boat, who reveals that she’s a reporter on “Satellite”—Wendy Jennings! Wendy joined Planet Three just after Sarah left. “Fancy meeting you here,” says Wendy, “I’ve heard a lot about you”. “All bad, no doubt” says Sarah. “No, you still have friends there,” says Wendy. “I hope I can be one, too.” But they are being observed by another passenger, “Spying Guy”[non-speaking], so they arrange to meet later.

Sarah and Wendy meet up and talk in a restaurant after the boat trip. They chat about inconsequentialities to start with—Wendy talks about how she carries too much luggage about with her on holiday, Sarah talks about how she carts junk between houses. “Odd,” says Wendy, “have you moved a lot recently?” “I just can’t seem to settle in the right place, I’m very particular. But there’s a pile of broken equipment in a box that I just can’t let go. I can’t repair it because they don’t make the parts for it yet.” “Yet?” “I mean, any more.” She quizzes Wendy about what she’s been doing since they met briefly at Planet Three. Wendy explains she’s out here in the Bahamas, also doing some research (in her own vacation time) about some genetic engineering done for the UK government by a private company called Scalar. It is hush-hush work to prevent fish diseases, because they’re trying to eliminate a parasitic infection in factory-farmed salmon in Scotland that could spread to wild fish stocks in the North Sea. They have a research facility by a reservoir and a dam near to Glasgow. Wendy shares her research with Sarah, who continues to pump Wendy for info without sharing any of her own! Wendy is surprised that Sarah wasn’t more surprised to see her here. Sarah seems to be on the verge of explaining when Wendy stops her—she’s spotted Spying Guy from the boat again, snooping on them from nearby.

Wendy and Sarah can meet up again later, on a secluded beach. Wendy asks Sarah wasn’t more surprised to see her on the boat trip. Sarah explains that she’d got a message on her answer phone just before going on the boat trip, which mentioned it. She is reluctant to say more to Wendy. At this point, Wendy sees Spying Guy churning across the beach towards them in a jeep, and he tries to run them down. They narrowly escape. Wendy says that the guy has been following her since she arrived in the Bahamas—and now he’s trying to kill her! She must go to the local police. Sarah stops her—they’re not after Wendy, they’re after Sarah.

So Sarah explains to Wendy that she’s probably being pursued because of the story she’s researching. She explains about the answer phone—it’s actually a phone number at Planet Three, which Sarah dials in to remotely (with a code number) even though she doesn’t work there any longer, and only people who know the direct-dial number bother to leave messages on it. She doesn’t want to say more about her story, but feels she must when Wendy says they have to go to the local authorities. Sarah points out that the local authorities may also want her to leave the islands—including Wendy now, by association.

The story that she is researching, Sarah explains, is this: biological warfare experiments in the 1940s. In the later stages of WWII, British scientists bungled some germ warfare trials in the Caribbean during “Operation Harness”. Thousands of animals died, for little scientific benefit, from the brucella bacteria. It was a rehearsal for possible biological attacks in the UK. The calm waters of these islands were thought to be ideal for the tests. Now she has to pursue a scientist, Joseph Brandt, who is currently vacationing in the Bahamas. Wendy helps her find him at his hotel suite—because he’s also the person she came to talk to about the fish-stocks story that she was researching in Scotland, as he’s advising Scalar, that private company working in Scotland.

Brandt doesn’t want to talk to them, but Wendy persuades him to let them in (on Sarah’s mobile phone, which she has borrowed to make the call). They find out from Brandt that animals were put in containers on dinghies around the islands, and had biological bombs dropped on them, or were sprayed with bacteria. But the sheep and guinea pigs chosen for the experiments proved unsuitable. Of the 600 sheep shipped from Texas for the experiment, 500 had to be shot—or just “discarded” in the sea. A consignment of 200 rhesus monkeys could only be used after being treated for pneumonia. What’s more, the sea turned out to be rougher than anticipated, and the two converted tank landing vessels used for the operation were unable to pick up the dinghies in open water. So the tests happened just offshore from one of the islands, despite the threat to dozens of local fishing boats working there. Even one of the researchers became infected by the germs they were testing. The results of the tests, in the end, were judged to be meaningless because the conditions at sea made it impossible to assess the levels of bacteria.

Wendy goes out of the room to get better reception on Sarah’s mobile, and get them early flights back to the UK—they have to pursue this story back there, with contemporary evidence from the Public Records Office. Sarah can’t run the story herself—but she can do the research and get Wendy to run it as a story on Planet Three’s “Satellite” programme.

Still in the hotel suite, Sarah’s interested to know why Brandt is telling them his research now. He says he was on vacation here, trying to decide how to go public on this and also then tell Scalar that he doesn’t want to work on their project—which is more than destroying fish viruses, it’s reviving and extending the Cynaro research which was part of “Operation Harness” in the 1940s. He gets no further—Wendy comes in, escorted by two policemen who have spotted her in the corridor and brought her in to arrest them all. Wendy recognises one of them as Spying Guy—when he speaks, we hear that he has a distinctive South African accent–and the other man is a silent thug wearing sunglasses. At this point the two policemen produce handguns and start firing. Brandt is killed, and Sarah and Wendy flee in separate directions. Sarah’s lost her mobile phone.

Sarah gets to the airport, and gets the first flight out of the country (to wherever-is-convenient, and then on to London).

We hear more answer phone messages, skip through the old ones, get to the new ones: Natalie asking “where are you, get in touch, I’m going to get my mate Duggie to help me drive by the Records Office” (she emphasises “drive by”); Josh saying that he still needs to talk to her about Wendy Jennings; a silent call swiftly clicked off from an unlisted number.

Sarah gets a taxi from the airport, which screeches ahead of another taxi–brief argument between taxi drivers [one of them off-mike if you need to save on cast members or doubling]. Sarah wonders how he knows her. Taxi driver is an admirer—“I’m your biggest fan!”—so it’s a pleasure to offer her a lift. They set off to her lodgings.

Natalie is driving past the Public Records Office with her pal Duggie. They use a wireless laptop computer to break the standard wireless encryption within ten minutes, and download a lot of stuff relating to Operation Harness. [If we need to avoid casting Duggie, he can be entirely off-mike and Nat can discuss things entirely with Josh on a mobile phone in this and their next scene.]

Sarah realises that the taxi driver is nattering away to her about her previous journalistic triumphs, but he’s also taking her the wrong way round the M25—she’s not that jet-lagged that she hasn’t noticed at last. She complains, and he confesses that he just wants to chat to her a bit longer. She winds the car window down, and tells him to turn around and take her straight home or she’ll start throwing her hand luggage out of the rear window—and she’ll set off her rape alarm in the car while she’s at it. He’s very apologetic, and agrees.

Natalie speaks to Josh on the phone—he’s gone to Sarah’s last lodgings (she has swapped around a lot to avoid suspicion, and they discuss how she’s becoming a bit more paranoid, a bit more obsessive). The info that Natalie has got about “Operation Harness” is interesting, but will be made public in about a month’s time. Any of it restricted, asks Josh. No, all available says Natalie. And where are you, by the way? Josh doesn’t have time to tell her—someone’s breaking in to Sarah’s flat! Gotta go.

Sarah’s taxi arrives at Sarah’s home. She tells him that it’s people like him who have made her life a misery, having to move from place to place. He’s very apologetic again, and asks: “so, no tip then?” She tells him: “my tip is: mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Now push off.” She goes in to the flat, and we gather from what she says to herself that the place has been broken into. Then she finds Josh in the hallway, beaten up by the intruders.

Josh is pretty badly battered, and she calls for an ambulance. He can’t tell her what really happened, or how they found the place (even he wasn’t sure where the flat was—Sarah’s been very cagey recently), but he’s sure he wasn’t followed. They’ve ransacked the place while he was unconscious.

[Possible continuity point to help the series here, but not essential to this story: Miss Winters is keen on hi-tech, and we want to raise the stakes for the story 5 finale. We also want to dispense with K-9 implicitly, rather than explicitly. In my short story for Decalog 3, K-9 ends up in a box in the attic because Sarah can’t get the correct parts for him after he breaks down. So maybe the stuff stolen from Sarah’s flat is the box containing the remains of K-9, which Miss Winters and her cronies cannibalise for their futuristic set-up, and who we therefore never see again. It doesn’t have to be named as K-9, so it could be any futuristic junk that she’s kept for old time’s sake, but sad fans like me will know what it is.]

The guy who beat Josh up was a middle-aged guy, but broad and strong, and he had a distinctive South African accent. Sarah says this must be Spying Guy. Josh does tell her that Wendy Jennings has been looking for her. Sarah says she’s met her. Josh asks if she knows that Wendy was “let go” by Planet Three two weeks ago, took a redundancy payment, and is on paid vacation to work out her notice. Sarah says “no wonder she’s desperate for a scoop,” and explains about “Operation Harness”. Now she will use Wendy’s information to investigate Cynaro and the Scalar company up in Scotland. Josh says “Operation Harness” is no great discovery, it’s about to be made public–she’s making a lot out of nothing, seeing a conspiracy where there isn’t one, and allowing Wendy to use her for the story. They argue. Sarah complains that she’s been pursued by killers, her home was burgled and she was taken on a detour by a mad fan! Hang on, the taxi driver could have been the other “policeman” in the glasses—they could both have been on the same plane as her, and used the taxi ride to get her to reveal her home address and then have one of them get there before her and raid the place before she returned. Josh sees this as more paranoia, and that it’s just a coincidence about the South African accent but starts to have a coughing fit. Then the ambulance arrives, and he’s in no fit state, etc. etc.

As the ambulance arrives, Sarah calls her answer phone service. We hear answer phone messages. One is from a panicked Natalie, warning her about going to her own apartment, that Josh may be in trouble, and asking for a meeting a prearranged venue. Sarah leaves a response, agreeing to the meeting, and asking Natalie to hunt out info about a company called Scalar and what their involvement with research into fish viruses or brucella is.

Sarah also hears a voicemail which seems to be from herself (her voicemail system identifies the number of her mobile. It’s from Wendy Jennings—she remembered what Sarah said about the voicemail system, and used Sarah’s own mobile to call it. She wants to meet too, in Central London in three hours—her plane just got in. There’s an alert that there’s a brand new message on her voicemail—it’s Natalie, confirming their meeting.

When they meet in an internet cafe, Sarah explains to Natalie about Josh. Similar tense conversation about her paranoia—for example, Natalie could have got help to Josh sooner if Sarah wasn’t so overcautious about contacting the two of them, or about moving house so often to avoid imaginary pursuers, or changing her mobile frequently and forbidding them to call her directly. This irritation simmers in the background of the scene. During which, Natalie can show Sarah through an anonymous account that Scalar are a public company, they have their registered office and research facility in a castle in the Grampian hills in Scotland, and that they have Dr Joseph Brandt on their small staff. (“Then they have a vacancy,” says Sarah.) It’s all above board, and quite open—no secrets there, just like Josh has told her about “Operation Harness”. Sarah’s irritated by Natalie’s dismissal of her suspicions, and the conversation gets awkward. Some unfortunate misunderstandings in this conversation—Sarah talking about how she’s being criticised for getting off her backside and doing something about her predicament, Natalie misinterpreting this as a slight about her wheelchair, etc. It gets heated. She sends Natalie to the hospital to see Josh and sets off for Scotland on her own. If Natalie’s not going to help, then Sarah will go to meet Wendy—another journalist will understand. She’ll get to the root of this story, no matter what it takes!

Cut to the train to Scotland. Maybe cross-fade a number of moments in the journey’s conversation. Sarah is talking with Wendy.

They met in London, and are now travelling north together. Wendy wasn’t sure if Sarah would come. Sarah said they can work on the story together.

Wendy is cross with herself, because she left some key information about the Cynaro patent (the Scalar development which will cure the salmon parasites) back in her office at Planet Three, and of course isn’t allowed back in to get it. So she can’t answer all of Sarah’s questions about it.

Wendy got into journalism quite late, when some of her contemporaries were thinking about early retirement. She spent much of her early career running events, scientific research, and then gave it all up and came back as a journalist through doing some specialist research for Planet Three.

In the hospital, Natalie is visiting Josh. She’s being allowed to visit out of normal hours, and stay longer, because she’s made a fuss about wheelchair access. While talking to Josh, she’s also connecting in via his nearby phone line to show him stuff off the internet. (When nurses walk by, she switches to a game.) She tells him that she’s found some interesting things about Scalar—she checked their staff portfolio, and it seems only to have four full-time members. She shows him photos of the staff: here’s the woman who is the CEO, here’s their chief scientific advisor, here’s their business manager Willem Dehaan, and here’s their finance guy Dean Stoltz. They note that the scientific advisor is Dr Joseph Brandt, who Sarah saw shot dead in the Bahamas. Josh recognises the business manager Dehaan as the guy with South African accent who attacked him at Sarah’s apartment. Now they start to get worried. Natalie tries to use an internet phone to contact Sarah (“Are you crazy? She’ll kill us for using an open line!” “They’ll kill her if we don’t.”) But there’s no reply. Josh clambers out of his hospital bed, despite Natalie’s arguments that he’s too unwell.

Back on the train, Wendy returns Sarah’s mobile phone to her. Sarah is going to use it to check her voice mail, but Wendy points out that the train windows are “silvered” anti-mobile phone, and even if she goes to the end of the carriage they’re in the middle of the countryside and probably won’t get a signal.

Sarah asks Wendy about why she left Planet Three. Wendy says they had to rescue the company share price after bidding too high to retain their licence at renewal time, and so Planet Three laid off the older and more expensive staff. She’s using her accreditation to get them an interview with the CEO of Scalar. Wendy doesn’t officially leave Planet Three for another two weeks, and they haven’t remember to reclaim her ID card. Sarah looks at the ID card—“You remind me of someone, but I can’t remember who. An old school friend maybe?”

Sarah confesses that she shouldn’t have been so rough on some of her own friends recently (she doesn’t name Natalie or Josh). She told them “I’ll get to the bottom of this story, no matter what it takes.” Now she’s a bit embarrassed. Wendy is interested, talks to her about whether she can get close to people if she’s going to be an investigative journalist. Doesn’t Sarah remember the people she does stories about, does she keep in contact, ever wonder what happened to them? “What, do follow-up pieces on them?” asks Sarah.

Natalie talking to Josh on her mobile. (We’re with Natalie but can hear Josh down the line. As an aside, you can hear him doing a transaction saying things like “400 quid, are you kidding? I could buy a car for that much.”) Natalie has found out more about the Scalar staff. They were all members of a scientific research society in the 1980s. Some society members even went to prison for some undisclosed breach of the Official Secrets Act, which would surely disqualify them for working on any government contracts.

Sarah and Wendy arrive in Glasgow. They get a taxi out towards the Scalar headquarters, past the huge Loch Kefildes dam [made up name] which supplies Glasgow with most of its drinking water. Scalar have offices in Castle Brewster, where ScotWater and DEFRA also have offices.

Scenes in the echoing halls of the Castle and its various corridors and rooms etc. One they’re in the building, Sarah sends Wendy on ahead of her, sneaking off while Wendy makes her own way to the CEO’s office for the interview.

Sarah finds a research area, where she rifles through some paperwork or accesses a computer and finds out more about the fish stocks virus, the brucella virus, and the patented cure called Cynaro. She gets a call on her mobile—it’s Natalie phoning from the hospital with news about what she’s found on the internet. Sarah is very cross, but accepts that Natalie has called her in an emergency (it’s a wonder she got a signal this far into the castle). She is able to relate to Natalie what she’s found—detailed diagrams of the dam, and a construction that Scalar have built into the turbines to filter for viruses and to pump Cynaro into the water. Natalie says that her internet search has cast up some debate on a secure internet discussion group that she’s hacked relates how Cynaro is a more controversial solution than fluoridisation. She tells Sarah about the Scalar staff, and that she’s worked out that they were all in the same scientific research society together. Sarah asks Natalie to do a drive-by hacking of the Planet Three offices, to get the information that Wendy left behind there.

Sarah starts to make her way out of the building, determined to go and find out what’s happening in the turbines at the dam. On the way through, she gets stopped by someone in the corridor—and asks him for his help in finding her way out, saying she got lost when visiting DEFRA. He shows her the way. She realises she’s being led up stairs instead of down stairs. When she points this out, he says “I’m sorry, Miss Smith.” “How do you know my name?” she asks. And he says, in his taxi driver voice: “I’m your biggest fan.” He says he is Dean Stoltz. He locks her in a small office, high up in the castle. She checks her mobile—even by the window, it won’t work. She opens the window—still nothing. How can she contact Natalie?

Natalie can’t get through to Sarah’s mobile. She’s doing her drive-by hack of the Planet Three offices. But they must have wiped all her personal files already, realises Natalie, there’s nothing there—not even a byline on an archived news report. But her personnel file is still in the system, though it has a create date of only a month ago.

Stoltz comes back to see Sarah. You didn’t come in here alone, he tells her. Sarah denies being accompanied. Never mind, he says, we know that Wendy Jennings came with you. She’s in our CEO’s office at this moment. She’s a very informed lady. I think we should go and join her.

Natalie is studying more of her drive-by hacking results. She says to herself: “Now that’s too much of a coincidence. No, it’s not even a coincidence. They’re the same person.” Rings Josh, but can’t get through to him.

Sarah is taken to the CEO’s office. She’s glad to see Wendy there, but worried when she recognises the guy with the scar (who introduces himself, with his South African accent, as Willem Dehaan). She warns Wendy that they’re in danger. “I’m not in danger,” says Wendy. “You don’t remember me, do you? I may have lost a bit of weight, got a lot older. You, Sarah, just meet and discard people in your journalistic profession. You profess to care about them, but all you care about is the story.” Sarah finally recognises that Wendy is Hilda Winters of the SRS. [Maybe she even pulls off a wig with a sort of wig-tape-ripping sound. :=) ] “So, is it time for a follow-up story on me, Sarah?”

Sarah’s mobile rings unexpectedly “That’ll be your colleagues, calling you to warn you. Answer it, but be aware that Mr Dehaan is trigger-happy.” They’ve had Sarah’s mobile long enough to be able to ensure when it will or will not receive a signal. Sarah has a brief conversation with Josh, who warns her what he’s heard from Natalie—that Wendy and the CEO of Scalar are the same person. Sarah carries on a conversation with him, but Josh gets cagey towards the end of the call. Then it cuts off.

Miss Winters explains that Josh is smarter than she thought—he suspects something, but can’t have guessed that Scalar were able to modify the phone call “live” as it was being made. They have enough samples of Sarah’s voice from the Planet Three voicemail system, and recordings that “Wendy” took during their train journey to Glasgow, to synthesise Sarah’s speech and reply to Josh plausibly enough for a cursory hearing by him over a mobile phone. (In fact, Josh is still talking to “Sarah” now—“the call hasn’t ended, and my colleague behind you is typing in your responses.”)

The pile of junk that they stole from Sarah’s apartment, along with Sarah’s research papers, proved a useful source of futuristic parts when they cannibalised it. [And how typical of Sarah to have anthropomorphised the equipment. “It even had a pet name, like your car does, I imagine.] Miss Winters has been close to Sarah for a long time. [References here to previous adventures in the series.] Watching her, steering her. Your research notes were returned, suitably modified, to your apartment shortly before we left for Scotland. It’s shocking what you’ve done to create this fictional story, Sarah. The lies you were going to tell to the world about Scalar, just to resurrect your career. “No-one will believe you,” says Sarah, “others know that Dr Brandt died in the Bahamas, you’ll have to explain.” “No they won’t,” says Dr Brandt, coming in through the door in a surprise vocal ending to the scene (or perhaps he’s the typist at the terminal behind her). “And now, what will your few remaining friends think when they learn that, in the process of framing Scalar, you’ve poisoned the drinking water for the whole of Glasgow?

Stoltz drives Sarah and Dehaan to the dam. Winters and Brandt follow in a different car. They’re going to flood the turbines with brucella virus instead of Cynaro. In the car on the way there, Stoltz play a tape of Sarah’s phone call with Josh. (This is a chance to hear Josh’s exact words again, but the “dialogue” for Sarah is changed.) She is saying that Scalar have realised that they’ve been rumbled, and are on their way to the turbines to destroy the evidence—but she is going to go ahead and contaminate the water anyway, because that’s what they were planning and Scalar will be caught and blamed as a result. Josh is getting more and more suspicious as the call goes on.

On the journey, Sarah wraps her handbag strap around Dehaan’s neck (“stop this car or I’ll strangle him”, etc., choking noises, Stoltz: Give me the gun, you idiot! Don’t let her grab it! Dehaan: (gurgling) Keep your eyes on the road!) Sarah sets off her rape alarm, and in the ensuing confusion the car crashes into the reservoir. (“The water, aaagh!” SPLOSH!) As they panic, Sarah talks herself calmly through smashing the window with the gun, getting out on to the bank, etc. The car goes under. “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre,” says Sarah breathlessly. Then Dehaan splooshes out of the water, snarling at her. Gunshot. Splosh.

At which point, Josh appears in his hire car. (“With this and the plane fare, I think I’m just about at my limit on this Visa card. I hope Natalie can hack me some more.”) He didn’t believe it when Sarah said she was going to poison the reservoir, recognising some unlikely phrase of Sarah’s (a code phrase that she’s talking rubbish, or some grammatical mistake she once said sarcastically she would never use unless held at gunpoint). But, Sarah points out, someone else is going to poison the reservoir, and blame her for it. They can even fake her voice. And here they come! Winters and Brandt’s car charges them down (“Look out! Steering straight for us!” etc.), smacks into the side of the hire car and then, when Sarah takes a pot shot at them (much to Josh’s consternation) swerves off and away.

They won’t get to the dam, says Josh. He and Natalie have anonymously passed on a warning, with a known terrorist code word, that the dam is a target for a bomb attack. And they have also passed on information about Miss Winters’ SRS history and non-security clearance to the government, so Scalar will have to be closed down. Sarah points out that she may still be implicated along with Josh and Natalie, because of the paper trail that Winters has left. And Winters and Brandt have enough technology still at their disposal, outside of Scalar, to carry on their vendetta. But now at least they know who they are fighting.

[I originally had a confrontation on the dam (or in the turbine room), with Sarah facing down Miss Winters and Brandt just too late as the barrels of brucella virus go into the reservoir--foaming away before her eyes (which she describes in her horrified dialogue, of course) and then locked in there to be discovered by the authorities later as Winters and Brandt flee. Only to discover that Josh had got to the barrels first, and substituted industrial-sized containers of Fairy Liquid or something—and then he and Sarah have to flee the scene before the authorities arrive, because Sarah s implicated in an unsuccessful attempt from which she will have to clear her name. Not sure if this is better, or too over-the-top?]

The End

Cast (seven):

  • Sarah Jane Smith
  • Josh
  • Natalie
  • Wendy Jennings
  • Joseph Brandt
  • Spying Guy
  • Taxi Driver

© Peter Anghelides 2002, 2009

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,130 other followers