The Red Lines Page

August 30, 2020

Interview: Counterfeit for Big Finish

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Counterfeit,writing — Peter A @ 3:32 pm

This is an interview I did with Kenny Smith of Big Finish in 2014. The questions were about the first Blake’s 7 audio script I wrote for them, “Counterfeit,” part of their very first Big Finish Liberator Chronicles box set and starring Gareth Thomas as Blake and Paul Darrow as Avon.

You can still order that volume from Big Finish.

I was reminded of this by something I have just been writing but cannot yet announce… so while I am biting my tongue, here’s something from years ago.

 Big Finish: What kind of brief were you given for “Counterfeit”?

Me: This was before Big Finish had a licence for full-cast audios, so I was told it was a “talking book” akin to their Companion Chronicles series for Doctor Who. I’d written one of those previously, Ferril’s Folly read by Mary Tamm as the First Romana, and I therefore had a good idea about how to make the format work with one principal narrator and a second supplementary voice.

The good news on this one was that not only did I have Gareth Thomas as the principal narrator, I could also have Paul Darrow as Avon. Producer David Richardson gave me some guidance on how much time I could expect to have for Paul in the studio – his stuff was recorded in a separate session from Gareth – and so I constructed the script to accommodate that limited availability to the full.

I pondered whether there might be scenes where Gareth would be a third-person narrator at points where Blake wasn’t in the scene, but we decided early on that this these Chronicles were always going to be “as told by the character.” Gareth did a great job – and he was charming company, too. It’s great to meet your heroes when they turn out to be as lovely as he was.

Counterfeit could have been set any time in Season A or B, but I think we concluded that it was going to take place before the TV story Breakdown, which was a feature story for Gan’s character… And that actually prompted some story thoughts.

How did you enjoy setting up the duplicity and no one being what they seemed?

That was making the best from the constraints of the production. You don’t make excuses for that kind of stuff, you make a virtue of it.

For example, David Jackson who originally played Gan died in 2005, and Counterfeit was produced in the days before Big Finish had established the B7 audios sufficiently well in people’s affections to consider recasting any of the principals.

It was therefore apparent to me that there would inevitably be a need, even in a full-cast audio, to accommodate the absence of main characters – without doing dumb stuff like having Gan locked in a cupboard or suffering from laryngitis. In a “spoken book,” that of course is handled by having the principal providing the other characters’ dialogue as reported speech.

My given narrator for Counterfeit was Blake. I thought this very first audio release would be too early to play tricks with making him an unreliable narrator – for example some sort of swap with his clone from the TV story Weapon. I decided instead that the best kind of narrative misdirection was an innocent but genuine misinterpretation on Blake’s part.

Thus arose the idea of concealing from the other characters, and from Blake, and therefore cunningly from the audience as well, that Avon was SPOILER! pretending to be Travis. Plus, Avon doing it without telling Blake was a character moment for them appropriate at that stage in Season A.

The audience are misdirected because that first discussion between “Travis” and Kerroll is in reported speech – which meant I could also have that as an additional scene for Avon (albeit disguised) without having to use any of the limited, valuable time that I knew Paul would be available in studio.

You subsequently get that splendid reveal to both Blake and the audience when “Travis” finally speaks, as an in-scene character, and it’s obviously Avon’s voice. I was also rather pleased with a verbal trick, which works nicely on audio, where Kerroll uncovers the deception. This is the “with his own eyes” comment that draws attention to something Kerroll then remembers about the real Travis, and of course it’s also something Blake’s 7 fans listening would know: Travis only has one eye, whereas Avon isn’t wearing an eyepatch. This is an additional reward for the kind of attentive listening you get with a Big Finish audience.

And once I’d done that, which placed our heroes at Kerroll’s mercy, it was an even more delicious twist to have Jenna pulling a yet more outrageous impersonation to rescue them – made possible again by the reported dialogue convention of this audio format.

There is, on reflection, a slight cheat: the scene where Kerroll first encounters fake-Travis is narrated by Blake, but within Kerroll’s point of view that Blake cannot witness personally. A questionable rationale for this is to decide Blake is relating the story to us after the adventure is over, and that Avon could have explained it to him subsequently – but it’s a bit of a stretch.

There are lots of Terry Nation names in there – was that fun to do?

I write quite detailed proposals, to convince myself that the thing has “legs” from the outset. It may have sections of dialogue, character names, ideas for effects, and so on. And then I pare it down to the required submission length for the proposal – a page, a couple of paragraphs, or whatever.

On the occasions when I haven’t done a “long form” version first, I’ve tended to discover when writing the final script that I’ve put something into my proposal outline that’s the equivalent of “at this point a miracle occurs.” And then I just have to spend time working that out when I’m writing the actual script.

Another reason for using familiar names is that this was a Season A story, and on TV those were all Terry Nation scripts. It’s sort of a running joke that he has a “go-to” list of names in his scripts over the years. I just followed suit! It’s an additional reward for the more devoted of Terry’s fans listening.

Where you happy with it in the end?

Very happy. I got to work for the first time with two of the TV heroes of my youth, and with people I know and like at Big Finish: David Richardson (producer), Justin Richards (script editor), and Lisa Bowerman (director). And it was especially welcome, because it came off the back of a tremendous personal disappointment at Big Finish.

I’d worked on an outline for the first of the Fourth Doctor audios – Tom Baker is another of my TV heroes, very much “my Doctor” from the original series. My story, set on Nerva Beacon, had gone through a variety of increasingly detailed iterations in a proposal for four episodes… then reworked for a two episode structure… reworked again… but finally, after yet another draft, producer Nick Briggs concluded that my story just wasn’t working out. Big Finish were understandably extremely keen to get things perfect for that very first series of their Fourth Doctor audios. So mine ground to a halt, and was never commissioned as a full script.

These things happen – that’s the whole point of doing proposals, after all. Nevertheless, it felt like being on the naughty step, and I was very despondent. It was therefore a tremendous fillip when, shortly afterwards, David asked me to pitch ideas to get in right at the start of this brand-new series of Blake’s 7 audios.

From this auspicious start, I subsequently got a chance to do the full-cast audio of Warship, and its novelisation (I love novelisations), and then another Liberator Chronicle called Incentive, where I experimented with the format even more. And after that, I wrote the Season C full-cast story Mirror. Plus I’ve been able to provide some input to the various Blake’s 7 novels, edited by Xanna Eve Chown. For a longstanding Blake’s 7 fan like me, it’s been an absolute dream come true.

With Cavan Scott subsequently acting as producer, and now John Ainsworth, the Blake’s 7 audio range has now extended in even bolder ways with its cast and content, authors and styles. I hope I’ll get the chance to do more of them in the future.

January 24, 2020

“Blake’s 7: Warship” interview

Warship Here’s an interview I did in August 2014 with with Kenny Smith for Big Finish. It describes some of what I got up to with the writing and recording of my Blake’s 7 audio Warship.

This was their first full-cast audio for that series, rather than the previous style of “narrated booked” in their Liberator Chronicles range.

I subsequently also adapted it as a novel for them.


Q: How did you find taking the outline for a Liberator Chronicle, and turning it into a full-cast play?

PeterABeardA: The original outline was a bit unusual for a Liberator Chronicle. It used the enhanced audiobook format, but with a larger cast. It already had scenes that would be narrated by Blake, Jenna, Avon, Vila and Cally.

When Andrew Mark Sewell (B7 Productions) and David Richardson (Big Finish) suggested it could be a full-cast play, I already had a structure that placed each character at the heart of key scenes of their own.

It was good to know I could also feature Zen and Orac, and even better when my begging e-mail about including Servalan met with approval. The suggestion, I mean – not the begging.

Q: Did you feel any pressure, as a result of that?

CounterfeitA: Whatever you write, you always want to create something that readers or listeners or viewers will enjoy. And of course you need the editor or producer to like it enough to commission.

But unlike novels, audios have another audience — you want the cast to enjoy performing it. Actors love working for Big Finish, but if they don’t have a good script then they won’t have fun in the studio. And if they didn’t have fun, they wouldn’t do more episodes.

So I was very conscious that Gareth, Sally, Paul, Michael, Jan and Jacqui had to have something exciting and motivating. I think that was the principal pressure — not disappointing my heroes from a show I’d always loved.

Q: Did much change during the course of writing the play?

A: I’m a huge B7 fan. Nevertheless, I did a ridiculously large amount of research  in preparation (i.e. watching DVDs).

Producer David Richardson and script-editor Justin Richards had some excellent notes. Director Ken Bentley had helpful suggestions about not pedantically specifying how some lines should be delivered, and that I should trust the cast to do their job — exactly the kind of advice that would make actors happier in the studio.

Otherwise, apart from that first big switch into a full-cast play, I think it was mostly tweaks for clarification, or a couple of continuity things with the TV series. And it was originally called “The Galactic War.” I thought “Warship” was thematically stronger, and more like a B7 title.

Q: How proud do you feel now, knowing its success has led to more full-cast B7 plays?

Blake's 7: MirrorA: It was fabulous when they asked me to write another full-cast episode, Mirror. I also adopted a more full-cast “feel” for my next Liberator Chronicles story, Incentive. Doing a whole mini-series hinged on a strong first audio: positive reviews, good sales, and the cast being happy to return.

I was in the studio for the recording, and they really seemed to have a great time. That’s down to how brilliantly Big Finish looks after them in so many ways, of course. My script was just part of their experience.

So I’m proud to take some of the credit for the continued success of the full-cast B7 plays. Galactic credit, obviously.

Q: Where all the cast together for the recordings?

Counterfeit was mostly narrated by Gareth Thomas, and it was always planned that Paul Darrow would record his smaller role in that separately. I was at Gareth’s studio day for that.

With Warship, almost the whole cast were there — except Paul, again, who I think was absent for family reasons. I’m sure they’d have been very happy to record together otherwise.

That meant they had to cunningly photoshop Paul into the cast photo for the booklet and publicity – very skilfully, I thought.


Jacqui Pearce turned up for her bit on Warship, in her own words, “bald as an egg” because she had been having medical treatment. When it came to the photo call, she asked whether she should really be in the photo without any hair. Everyone told her of course she should!

She was bold and cheerful, but we didn’t have her there for long during the day. In any case,  my script only included a short section for her. But what a performance she gave in it!

January 1, 2020

Horizon interview

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Counterfeit,Incentive,Warship,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 1:19 am

B7logoI found this interview I did with the Blake’s 7 fan group Horizon in 2012. I can’t see it online any more, so I thought I’d share it here.

The Horizon folk have kept the flame alive for Blake’s 7 for years, and were enthusiastic supporters of the Big Finish series of  when audios I helped to launch them. They also knew me from when I edited the fanzine Frontier Worlds in the 19080s, and published the Tarial Cell encyclopaedia.

The interview happened in 2012, at which point they had heard  my first  audio Counterfeit for the Liberator Chronicles Volume 1, and knew that my full-cast audio drama Warship was coming along a few months later.


When did you first watch B7 and can you tell us about the impact it made on you?

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.46.12.pngI watched from the very first episode in 1978. I was 15, and the first episode was in the BBC’s New Year season. I’d been looking forward to it since seeing it trailed in the Radio Times, back in the days when it only contained listings for BBC programmes.

And as it was on January 2nd, during the holiday season with all the relatives around, I had to sneak off early from our evening meal to watch it.


Were you involved in any of the fan clubs in the 1980s? Did you attend fan events?

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.52.33.pngI was a distant participant – mostly because I was living in Scotland in the early 1980s, and most of the fan events happened in or around London. I went to a convention in Queen Elizabeth Hall, and another called the Teal-Vandor Convention in London.

At one of them, Vere Lorrimer talked about some of the forthcoming Season D and, while I loved his enthusiasm, some of the attendees bridled a bit because he kept saying “what’s going to happen, boys and girls, is…”

I recall the auction taking forever to get going – partly because the auctioneer wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the lots, even though they were things like visual effects board from the TV show: “I can’t tell what this is in the middle of all this black paint… who’ll make an offer on this one, then?”  I thought I could encourage bidding on one of the items, and put my hand up to suggest a fiver for something that turned out to be the effects board of XK-72 from “Breakdown.”

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.55.37.pngFortunately for me, that was the only bid. Unfortunately for me, it was the last fiver in my pocket, so I had to walk all the way back to the bus station because I didn’t have the tube fare. Carrying this big effects board. I still have it. (Pictured. No, I’m not selling it!)

We had a fanzine table at the Teal-Vandor convention, where my pals and I sold copies of our magazine Frontier Worlds. It had a splendid cover photo of Anthony Ainley as the new Master in Doctor Who (pictured). Not likely to be a big seller at a B7 convention.

And because the headline was in bigger, bolder print than the “Frontier Worlds” cover logo, people rather assumed that our fanzine was called “A New Body At Last!” Perhaps they thought it was sponsored by a gym.


Can you tell us about the publications you were involved with writing and editing in the 1980s?

By the time Blake’s 7 came around, Doctor Who had been running for more than a decade, Tom Baker had been in the show for years, and a well-established fan group had been going since the mid-70s. So my pals and I were linked in to that crowd of people – and the various fanzines they created.

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.47.31I got around to putting together a fanzine, Frontier Worlds, with Peter Lovelady (pictured here with me) and Tony Murray. It made sense to us to do one that combined our enthusiasms for B7 and DW. And it was rather less serious than some of the other fanzines at the time.

I bought several of the B7 fanzines that came along – titles like Liberator and Standard by Seven, and fan groups like “Liberator Popular Front” and “Horizon.” Unlike DW fandom, B7 fandom had a much higher proportion of women writers, editors, and publishers. Some of the people I remember from that time are Anne Lewis, Pat Thomas, Diane Gies, Susan Booth and Jean Sheward.

There were B7 “slash” zines too, which were of less interest – though Tony Murray did write a Liberator/Pursuit Ship spoof with a starring role for the docking tube that made me howl with laughter.

B7 publications tended to lean more towards fan fiction than DW fanzines, whose mostly-male readerships seemed to prefer reviews and interviews and background articles. Because we liked the background stuff, too, we started to research and write the Tarial Cell series of encyclopaedia – one for each season of B7. We got fantastic help with that from the indefatigable Judith Cross, who was David Maloney’s production secretary on the show.


What aspect of B7 interested you most back then? Do you still find it the most interesting aspect now?

I was more impressed by the plots and characters than the special effects, which was just as well, really. The series was darker than Doctor Who, but not quite as serious as Star Trek. Those are all aspects that work well in audio and novels today.

Back then, our pal Jeremy Bentham had been doing lots of work on Marvel’s Doctor Who Magazine, and suggested that Peter and Tony and I should put together a portfolio and then approach Stewart Wales, who was editing their Blake’s 7 Magazine.

1-blaketarrantAs part of that, we got a chance for a “behind the scenes” visit to the set for the finale of season D, “Blake.” We met deputy editor and photographer Ken Armstrong at the studio, and I have to say he wasn’t at all encouraging – though it would hardly be surprising if he wanted to discourage three spotty students who were suggesting stuff that he could be doing himself for the magazine. Besides, after we’d seen the conclusion to “Blake” being recorded in TV Centre, it was fairly clear what prospects there were for Blake’s 7 Magazine anyway.

So I wrote a “set visit” article for Frontier Worlds and accompanied it with a “novelisation” of the scenes that we saw. People seemed to like that, so I wrote up the rest of the novelisation. And when that sold well, we were going to do more – David Tulley did “Shadow,” for example.

But in the end, real life got in the way, and we stopped doing the fanzines after issue 18. We only produced two B7 novelisations, which is a pity because Paul Cornell was doing “Orbit” for us and that never got published – what were we thinking?

And, alas, Tarial Cell never got beyond Season B – I think that when we saw the Tony Attwood Programme Guide we thought we’d missed the boat a bit – though I still think that ours were better researched, more comprehensive, and more accurate. These days, there are online resources like the Sevencyclopedia, of course, but this was back in the days of no internet and minimal access to video recordings. What’s more, I don’t think I have a copy of my “Blake” novelisation any more, which is a bit careless of me.

[This subsequently proved to be untrue, so I made Blake available for free online, along with Shadow.]


You’ve sparked an interesting discussion about the correct way to spell names and places in the Blake’s 7 universe. Or should we say Blakes Seven? Is this a particular interest?

I recall there was a bit of grumbling about spelling when the first Big Finish B7 novel was published. And I’ve been involved in the preparation of the subsequent novels, so it’s something I’m always aware of!


How do you feel about Horizon forum members naming the “Anghelides Rule” on spelling hierarchy? 

So long as they spell my surname correctly, I am delighted.

[My blog post about that is here.]


Have you remained interested and/or involved with B7 in the intervening years?

I lost track of it for a while, because it was not on television. I wasn’t involved at all in the various prequels and new versions and spinoffs.


Thirty years on, does it still hold the same interest, or has your focus changed?

If anything, my enthusiasm has been revived. And because I’m approaching it from the production side as well as being a fan, that offers a fresh perspective.


When and how did you first hear that Big Finish were going to be recording new B7 audio books starring the original cast?

Right from the outset. I’ve known David Richardson since the time of Frontier Worlds, and been involved with Big Finish audios with their Doctor Who stuff since quite early on.

The B7 Liberator Chronicles have very similar script requirements to their DW Companion Chronicles, so that was one of the reasons they approached me for the opening box set.


Did David invite you to join the B7 team, or did you volunteer? Can you tell us how you came to write Counterfeit? And the first full cast venture, Warship?

David approached me directly, and I accepted immediately. He and I both have a huge enthusiasm for the original series, and were involved in fandom years ago. Plus, I’d worked for him on the DW audios, and I knew that his enthusiasm carries over into the production side at Big Finish. It’s really important that you enjoy working with people, too, and that you know they’re good at what they do — which David  certainly is.


What brief were you given for the script?

CounterfeitIt was to feature Blake and Avon, in an audio much like the DW Companion Chronicles series, and with Blake as the principal voice. Without being too heavy on the continuity, but just to “locate” it in the original series, it was to be set between “Project Avalon” and “Breakdown.”

I was given some idea about how much time there would be for Paul Darrow in the studio, so that determined how much Avon dialogue there could be. And there were some requirements not to have any other voices in the script – not even short bits with troops speaking, or tannoy announcements.

By the time I came to write my script, the splendid Simon Guerrier had already completed his (the swot). I got a copy of that to get an idea of some of the basics of layout, and some elements of the narrative style.


As writing isn’t your full time occupation, how do you find the time to be creative? Both coming up with original ideas for plots and finding the time to write them down.

I’m not someone who is regularly pitching proposals to publishers. Almost invariably the stuff I write because I’ve been I’ve been invited to pitch – which is not a guarantee of the idea being accepted, I should add. It’s also a recipe for not getting fresh commissions, because people remember who they have worked with recently, rather than working their way alphabetically through a Rolodex of writers.

I never accept a commission that I don’t have time for, because it’s a professional engagement that has other people’s livelihoods depending on it – schedules advertised, subscriptions paid for, script editors involved, directors engaged, studios and actors being booked and so on.

At one point, for example, I was very fortunate to be working on three things at the same time, and one of the companies asked me for a fourth… so I asked them which they wanted most, because the other would have to wait. They didn’t call me a slacker, and were very accommodating – and therefore, so was I.


How long does it take you to write a full length feature such as Warship?

Warship That very much depends. Sometimes there’s a lot of back-and-forth on the outline, and then there’s the drafting and revisions based on what the producer and script editor and director suggest (not always at the same time, unfortunately).

There can be other unexpected (but desirable) changes depending on particular circumstances. For example, I substantially rewrote one my completed scripts when we swapped one character for another at a late stage. The dialogue and motivations had to be reworked, because of course you can’t just swap characters in and out (no matter what they say about the first few episodes of Season D).


How about the novel? Was one medium easier than the other?

The novel has more than four times as many words as the audio script, and it’s not just a matter of putting “he said/she said” all through it. It was the Doctor Who novelisations, especially those by Terrance Dicks, that developed my early enthusiasm for writing tie-in fiction, so the prospect of novelising my own script was irresistible. And I’d done that “Blake” novelisation years ago, so I thought it would be fairly straightforward.

warship bookBut when I got into the writing, it was not straightforward. The Liberator Chronicles are written (largely) from one character’s point of view, because they are narrated. The full-cast audio is an open point of view, because it’s conveyed primarily through dialogue.

A novel can be written from the point of view of one or more characters throughout, or from an “omniscient” point of view with much more authorial voice. Those were the sorts of thing I had to think about.

I’ve written six novels and dozens of audios and short stories, and they all have their appeal as I’m doing them.


The two-handed format of the enhanced audio books is very different from the all-cast format of the TV episodes. What particular challenges did it bring?

When we talked about our B7 audios at the GallifreyOne convention in Los Angeles, I expressed mock outrage with fellow panellist Nigel Fairs that he had managed to make some of his scripts three-handers when the rest of us had been limited to two. And then, of course, I got a chance to do a seven-hander!

The audios have evolved a bit since that first box set. They now explore the possibilities of dialogue and interaction between the main characters, rather than leaning so heavily on the narrated sections.

You need to tailor the story to that restricted set of characters, of course. It might seem a bit odd if you ended up having a lot of scenes with a one-sided dialogue phone call between Avon and Dayna. Whereas if you place them both in the same room, but have Avon narrate her responses, that’s an acceptable convention of the Chronicles – though too much of that would also become rather hard work for the listener.

ShrinkerWhen you think about it, there are scenes in the TV series that work brilliantly as interactions between just two characters – think of Avon and Grant in “Countdown,” for example, or Avon and Shrinker in “Rumours of Death” (pictured).

And sometimes the scenes in the show with the whole cast in one scene are a bit of a jumble.  But there’s an expectation from the production team (and the viewers) that all the regular cast will appear in each TV episode, even if they’re just sitting at the teleport desk waiting for someone to call.

The trick to making it “like the TV series” is to focus on those recognisable “two-hander” elements, while also trying to do something original. There are plenty of different styles in the TV series when you look at episodes like “The Way Back,” “Sarcophagus,”, “Orbit,” “City at the Edge of the World,” “Redemption,” “Powerplay.”

So the Liberator Chronicles can be equally diverse – and exploit the things you can do in audio that you can’t do on TV, as I do with Travis in “Counterfeit.”


When you first watched Star One as a young teenager, how did you feel after the end of the episode? What did you then think happened next?

staroneI don’t recall knowing at the time that it would be the final episode for Blake and Jenna, so I was expecting the kind of continuity there had been between “Orac” and “Redemption.” Under the circumstances, I could see why they went for the very clever alternative that they did in “Aftermath.”

As to what I think happened next… you’ll have to listen to Warship to find out!


You’ve now had the exciting opportunity to revisit that as a full-cast audio drama for Big Finish. When were you first approached about writing it, and how did you go about it?

After it became clear that the Liberator Chronicles were going to be a success, David Richardson talked to me and two other authors about a three-story explanation of what happened after “Star One.” I was going to do “Blake’s Story,” which was the third in the trilogy, and we bounced some ideas around for that.

But when one of the authors was too busy to do the opening story, I said I’d do that one instead. As the proposal evolved, that turned into a full-cast audio – to be released separately. That in turn left a gap in the original three-story box set, and so I’ve written a replacement script.


Was it difficult writing a play for a group cast and trying to ensure that enough attention is given to so many characters?

It comes back to that thing I was saying about the original series – if you have the full cast, you expect to see them all involved. In the TV series, with thirteen stories in each season, you could focus on a subset of characters at the expense of others in some episodes.

That’s true for any long-running series with a large cast. But as this was our first chance to have the whole cast, I didn’t want to do that. The audience would want them all to be involved, and it wouldn’t be much fun for the returning cast if they got sidelined at this earliest opportunity.

The original idea of the script was very similar to the Liberator Chronicles narrated stories. Each character was going to have his or her own section, with dialogue and interaction with the others, and some scenes with them all in as full-dialogue sections. We decided early on that we were going to do as much full-dialogue stuff as possible, and then concluded that I may as well do it entirely as dialogue and effects.

Because each character had a “focus section” right from the outset, that meant I’d already worked out how to give them all something important and interesting to do.


Sadly, Peter Tuddenham and David Jackson are no longer with us. Did you ever meet them? As we won’t be hearing from Gan, can you tell us something about how you saw his character?

I never spoke to them in person, though I recall Peter being at a convention I went to. And we interviewed him by correspondence for Frontier Worlds.

In the Liberator Chronicles, we had the “regular cast” perform limited snatches of Zen’s dialogue. I think Michael Keating “does” him best. And then, for “Warship,” we were able to get Alistair Lock as Zen and Orac.


Were you present at the recording of Warship? What can you tell us about it?

I was indeed. I’d met Gareth before, at the recording of Counterfeit, and Michael at the “Return to Gauda Prime” event in Oxford. But it was the first time I’d got to meet the others. I can’t really tell you anything else about it without giving away stuff from the audio!


We’ve recently heard that you’ve written the first Big Finish production that will feature Tarrant – Incentive, an audio book set in B7 Season Three. How do you see the character of Tarrant?

IncentiveCoverIn “Traitor” (Season D) Avon says that “Tarrant is brave, young, handsome… There are three good reasons for anyone not to like him.” That’s an amusing thumbnail sketch, but it has elements of truth.

His Federation training give him insights into their enemies that the other crew do not have, and he is not afraid to take charge – sometimes impetuously, and sometimes at the expense of others. It’s interesting that Avon trusts him enough, quite early on, to give him control of the Liberator.


There have been comments suggesting his character was inconsistent. Is this something you recognise?

Plastic action figures (preferably mint in box) are consistent. Human beings change and develop as circumstances move on, or in different circumstances. The same is true for other characters in Blake’s 7.

That’s what I like about them – they are not ciphers, and you don’t always know how they will react.


How do you see the relationship between Avon and Tarrant?

That comes out in Incentive, I hope. Ask me after that!


Were you at the recording of Incentive? And if so, can you tell us anything about it?

I was indeed. I’d met Paul before, and knew how well he returned to Avon. But it was the first time I’d got to meet Steven – and he is wonderful, too.

Again, I can’t really tell you anything else about it without giving away stuff from the audio!


What aspects of other characters would you like to explore, if you were given the chance?

I’m fascinated by how Vila and Tarrant manage to get on after the events of “City at the Edge of the World,” so that would be fun to explore.

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 01.06.49.pngSpeaking of which, I did ponder whether we should find an excuse to get Bayban (pictured) back again. B7 must be one of the few Big Finish series that Colin Baker hasn’t yet been in. I did suggest it to Colin on Twitter: We must find an excuse to get you in a Blake’s 7. Bayban’s dad? “He called me ‘pa’!” Colin’s reaction was: Bayban’s Dad? BAYBAN’S DAD??? Why not younger brother – or even Bayban himself. I never believed he died you know….

But who knows? The copyright situation with Blake’s 7 is notoriously difficult to work out once you get beyond characters created by Terry Nation. I don’t know who “owns” Bayban, whether he’s covered by Chris Boucher being a BBC staffer (and thus belongs to the BBC) or Chris being a freelance authors (and thus belongs to Chris).

When it comes down to it, when you can create brand new characters and use the regular cast created by Terry Nation, you’d need  a compelling narrative reason to resurrect the character.


You’ve now written for Avon and Blake in Counterfeit and for Avon and Tarrant in What defines the different dynamics of those pairings?

In Counterfeit they’re still at that stage where Avon is staying with Blake and the others for pragmatic reasons, though you’re aware that it’s not long until “Breakdown.” So there was a chance to play around with those changing aspects.

Incentive is set very early in Season C, so they are still at that “early tension” stage – Avon has made that unexpected choice to give him and Dayna access to Liberator, rather than politely dropping them of somewhere safe, and they’re still hoping that they’ll find their missing crew members… so there’s the unspoken anticipation that they are working their way around what will happen when they do finally locate Blake.


Are there any other particular pairings of characters you would like to write for?

There are some pairings I’d like to do… but I also know some of the things that are in forthcoming audios so perhaps I’d best not anticipate those. I am already deeply envious of those other authors.

Of course, I grit my teeth and tell them how wonderful it is, and how they were the perfect choice for the commission. And then I read their script and see that they were indeed perfect for the commission, and obviously I then have to plan to hunt them down and kill them.


And finally, we’d like to finish with a silly question that’s been discussed on one of the Horizon forums. If you could take any of the Blake’s 7 characters as a “Plus One” to a bar – who would you take, and why?

I would take Orac, because he’d be indispensable for the pub quiz.

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 01.08.26.png

December 21, 2019

Gauda Prime finale

Filed under: Blake's 7,writing — Peter A @ 11:11 pm

titlesGauda Prime Day is the anniversary when died-in-the-wool Blake’s 7 fans remember how the heroes of Season D died-on-screen.

I’ve blogged previously about how I and two pals, somewhat remarkably, were invited to the BBC studio recording of the finale episode, “Blake.” And then subsequently I wrote about our less-than-encouraging meeting with the photographer from Blake’s 7 Monthly.

This third blog describes the rest of our visit.

We returned to our viewing room after grabbing a quick snack and a toilet break. I popped into the gents. This was the point at which Michael Keating, in his Vila costume, also decided he needed a break. He stood at the next urinal. Now, you get the impression from his performance in Blake’s 7 that he is a slight figure. When he was not hunkered down to play Vila, and was instead concentrating on not splashing his costume, he seemed surprisingly tall.

I decided it was not the time to mention this to him. Nor did it seem appropriate at that precise moment to ask him for an autograph. And now that I think about it, I don’t think that I have ever mentioned this to him in any of our subsequent conversations in Big Finish audio recordings. Well, you can imagine how that might go: “We’ve met before. You probably won’t remember, it was a long time ago and you had your hands full at the time… er… these Big Finish lunches are terrific, aren’t they?”


Back in the viewing room, the film clips were playing silently over and over again. As well as the sequence where Blake talks with Arlen at the campfire, there were other location shots and model work, too. In one scene, Avon looks up when his hair is ruffled as something large flies overhead. In another clip, Vila, Soolin, and Dayna have a similar experience. We didn’t immediately make the connection that this was the Scorpio crashing – even though we’d seen the wreckage of the flight deck on the studio floor earlier in the day.

Closer examination of the film clips playing on the little monitor in our viewing room showed a map with its contours drawn out electronically, and then (rather more alarmingly) Scorpio taking flight as Xenon base exploded around it. A subsequent film clip revealed Scorpio crashing very impressively into a forest of pine trees, excellent work done by Jim Francis and the visual effects team. We would learn later from dialogue in the studio recording that this forest was Plantation 5.

I should probably mention here that, as far as I recall, we didn’t know that we would be watching the final-ever episode of Season D being recorded – for all we knew in advance, this was just one of the exciting episodes that year. As it was, we three enthusiasts were gradually realising something big was happening.

Another significant clue about events about to unfold should have been the various extras we’d seen in Federation guard uniform outside the studio while we got something to eat. None had yet appeared in the studio. Among the dozen or so of them, hidden behind those masks, were familiar names to Doctor Who fans including Pat Gorman and Dalek operators Mike Mungarvan and Cy Town.


The next series of scenes recorded in the studio were in the Gauda Prime tracking gallery. Paul Darrow’s wife, Janet Lees Price, played Klyn. She received a message from Deva (David Collings) discussing the shooting down of a ship that crashed in Plantation 5. On transmission, this was intercut with the Blake/Deva scene that we didn’t see recorded. Before Janet’s scene, the eagle-eyed production team noticed that she was still wearing her wedding ring, and ensured she removed it before the take.

1-blaketarrantOur first sight of Gareth Thomas on set had been in the brief sequence in the same set, in which he asks Klyn about a distress beacon on the official frequency.

Next in the same set was a longer scene that revealed Tarrant has survived the Scorpio crash – somewhat to Tony Murray’s disappointment (see previous blog). Tarrant’s rescue from the wreckage was borne out by the rips and blood stains on his costume and face.

1-screenpicBlake brings Tarrant into the room, and Blake asks Klyn what she’s looking at on the scanner. This turned out to be the electronic map contours we’d seen on our little monitor earlier in the day. Blake then moves off down a corridor, questioned by Tarrant. The whole sequence was recorded without problems quite quickly, something Vere Lorrimer told us had pleased the production team.

The final scene on the set was now prepared, and we could see Steven Pacey rehearsing his flight from Blake’s “betrayal” that happens in the earlier “short but profitable” scene that we didn’t see recorded. From this point, Tarrant runs into the tracking gallery on a cue from the studio floor assistant. We could see the floor assistant clearly in the reflective back of one set, though this wasn’t apparent when we watched the scene on transmission.

Steven Pacey grappled briefly with Paul Darrow’s wife to incapacitate her, and then fought off a technician who springs out to attack him, only for the technician to be shot by Soolin as she runs into the room followed by Vila, Dayna, and Avon – the latter carrying a whopping gun.

The whole action sequence was rehearsed slowly, then faster, and finally shot – as was the unfortunate Terry Forrestal, playing the technician.

1-pauljanetA short sequence followed in which Janet Lees Price recovers briefly, and barely has time to call security personnel to the main tracking gallery before her husband brings his gun to bear on her and shoots her dead.

There was a short pause for the gun to be reloaded, and then it was the sequence when Blake enters the gallery along with Arlen (Sasha Mitchell). The climax of the story was about to unfold, but the walk-through was deceptively subdued.

Paul Darrow spoke rather than delivered his lines, but it dawned on us what was happening:

AVON: Is it true?

BLAKE: Avon, it’s me, Blake.

AVON: Stand still. Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?

BLAKE: Tarrant doesn’t understand!

AVON: Neither do I, Blake.

BLAKE I set all this up.

AVON: Yes.

Paul Darrow pointed his gun at Gareth Thomas and said: “Bang!”

Gareth lurched towards him. Paul said “bang!” twice more. Gareth reached Paul, grasped his arms and groaned “What the hell’s your name?” before collapsing to the floor.

This provoked much merriment up in the production gallery, who we could hear through our speakers but who could not be heard directly by everyone on the studio floor. “Tell Gareth that’s on tape!” said director Mary Ridge cheerily.

We were a bit more wary. Avon has just shot Blake? Three times! Maybe he’s just stunned. There was no blood. We know how these cliffhangers work out.

And the director seemed quite happy about it all. Earlier in the day, she had amused us when she was dissatisfied with some of the extras who were performing behind Klyn. At that point, she had declared “I’m coming down!” and descended from her director’s gallery to the studio floor via a long metal staircase attached to the studio wall.

Most of the time, the director’s words are relayed to the cast via her representative in the studio, production manager Henry Foster. He and the camera operators can hear what’s being said in the production gallery through their headsets, and Henry is the person who relays the director’s comments to the cast.

Throughout our time at this recording, Mary Ridge was cheerfully efficient. You do sometimes hear stories of other directors who yell thing like “Tell that idiot Gerald he delivered that with all the enthusiasm of a dead halibut, and now we’ll have to do the entire wretched scene again from the start” and the floor manager relaying that to the cast member as “Jonathan says he’d like to try the scene again from the top, Gerald, with a little more energy please.”

Now it was time for the Blake-Avon confrontation to be recorded on tape. The performances came alive, and the tension between them was electric:


AVON: [pained] Is it TRUE?

BLAKE: Avon, it’s me, Blake.

AVON: Stand STILL! Have you betrayed us? Have you… betrayed ME?

BLAKE: [dismissive] Tarrant doesn’t understand!

AVON: Neither do I, Blake.

BLAKE: I set all this up.

AVON: Yes!

BLAKE: Avon, I was waiting for you…

No “bangs” from Paul Darrow this time. His gun sparked into action as he pulled the trigger.

BLAKE: Oh, Avon…

The explosions of blood from Blake’s stomach were as much a shock to us as they seemed to Blake. The effects were activated by Gareth Thomas using device in his hand, squeezed at the appropriate moments.  The surprise on Gareth’s face was probably for real – it turned out that the explosive charges behind the blood bags were strong enough to leave bruises.

It was disconcerting later in the evening to see Gareth emerging from the gents toilet, still covered in gore. Again, this did not seem like a particularly apposite moment to say hello or ask for an autograph. It’s something I also didn’t mention to Gareth when years later I enjoyed talking with him in the more relaxed surroundings of the Big Finish green room, where he was always such entertaining company. Now, alas, I shall not have the opportunity to tell him.

It was time to rehearse-record the final big scene. Gareth Thomas didn’t have to lie down on the floor for this sequence – he got up and sauntered off set, looking remarkably chipper for a character who (we now had to accept) was not going to survive the episode. And as the walk-through of the next scene continued, it became increasingly apparent that none of our heroes would get out alive.

Arlen steps forward to take charge, and shoots down Deva as he rushes in to report the base is under attack. David Collings fell back against the wall so heavily that the set shook visibly – something still visible on transmission.

The Scorpio crew drop their weapons (for some reason – perhaps they felt as they were holstered that they’d just get shot down by her where they stood?) Vila bumbles his way “completely harmless and armless” towards Arlen. When she spots Dayna going to retrieve a gun, Arlen shoots her, and Dayna collapses into Tarrant’s arms.

Vila seizes his moment, and knocks Arlen unconscious. At the end of the scene, Michael Keating checked to see if Sasha Mitchell was all right, because he thought he had accidentally smacked her in the face for real. As scripted, Vila also says sorry to the unconscious Arlen.


One by one they fall: Vila pauses for a look around the room and is shot in the back by an arriving trooper (so that’s where they were!)  Soolin kills the trooper who shot Vila, but is then herself gunned down.

Tarrant, who has somehow left the room, perhaps to check what’s going on outside, races back in again.  hurries over to the motionless Avon, but is cut down by another trooper’s fire.

The irony for Tony, in our group of three dismayed observers in the visitor’s gallery, was that Tarrant died last. Furthermore, it became apparent on transmission that Tarrant is the last character ever to speak a line of dialogue in Blake’s 7 on TV.

Unlike the transmitted version, of course, this was all played out in “real time” and without any slow motion on any of the camera shots, so the whole thing cracked along at quite a pace.

As the rehearsal progressed, Mary Ridge needed the cast to give her and the vision mixer appropriate cues for the action, because the explosive squibs in weapons would not be activated until the actual scene recording. “If they won’t say ‘bang,’” she declared firmly, “I’m not playing.” Henry relayed this to the cast and extras, and they dutifully said “bang” on the next run-through.

On an actual recording, the explosive squibs in the weapons make enough noise to act as an action cue without the actors needing to say “bang” each time. The noise they make is merely a sparking fizz. The noisy gunshot reports, along with other bleeps and alarms and machine noise, were all dubbed onto the soundtrack during the editing stage later by special sound technician Elizabeth Parker.

Unlike Avon’s special gun, which had three charges, each of the other Federation or Scorpio guns have a single charge in them – you’ll see that the sequence is choreographed so that each of them only takes one shot.

Multi-camera video recording in the studio means that many of the shot-by-shot edits are achieved “as live” directly to tape by vision mixer Nigel Finnis, who sat beside the director in the production gallery along with the director’s assistant who calls out the camera numbers for each cut. There is the option later, if there is time, to tighten shots or select from the various continuous takes in the edit, or to combine scenes that were recorded separately in studio or on film but that happen contemporaneously in the narrative.

The awful events played out before us again, this time with the cameras recording to tape.

Troopers stormed in. Guns flashed. Heroes fell. The studio fell silent as the scene concluded, with just the flashing warning lights eerily illuminating the scene of devastation.

“Thank God,” declared Mary Ridge in the gallery, “they’re all dead!”

Sasha Mitchell and David Collings no longer had to lie down, and it was now time for Gareth Thomas to resume his position on the painted studio floor.

The troopers surround Avon. He looks at Blake, and then places his feet either side of the body to stand over it. He looks up, and slowly raises his weapon. The camera shot cuts closer, closer, and closer again. Avon grins.


We weren’t to know until transmission about the different gunshot sound effects that would play over the end credits. Was one of them Avon’s gun? Could he have survived? Our assumption on that studio day was that it wasn’t looking good for him.

On the studio floor, photographers gathered to take publicity stills of the final scene. A few more shots to finish off a day full of them. We watched this via the camera feeds that continued to relay a live feed from the studio floor to our observation room.

If the three of us were each to get back home, we knew we’d have to leave soon. We were conscious that we were guests of Vere Lorrimer and didn’t want to overstay our welcome, but after all we’d seen it was a wrench to tear ourselves away.

BBC studio recording days typically went on until 10 p.m. so there were some other scenes recorded that day that we would not get to see. I think included what would be the final scene of Blake’s 7 ever recorded for TV, as the doomed crew made their way in the flyer to Blake’s base.

1-flyerORAC: When we reach the appropriate coordinates, I can simulate the necessary signals to open the silo and allow this flyer to enter.

DAYNA: Oh, sounds good.

VILA: No it isn’t. Sooner or later we’re going to drop into one of these holes in the ground and never come out.

AVON: Sooner or later, everyone does that, Vila.

Tony hurried off to catch his train. Peter and I grabbed something more substantial to eat in the BBC canteen. We also did one final phone call to the editor of Blake’s 7 Monthly, this time at his home number. He told us he’d definitely send us details of what he wanted us to write for him. To be honest, though, after 38 years waiting I’m now beginning to suspect he’s not going to do that.

Before we left BBC Television Centre, Peter and I sought out Vere Lorrimer to offer him our very sincere thanks for inviting us to the day’s recording. He spoke to us of how the ending would be reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with its famous freeze-frame as the protagonists burst out of hiding to face their fate. Both Vere Lorrimer and Paul Darrow were huge fans of that genre.

Possibly seeing the glazed look in our eyes, he also told us that he hoped the characters were only “badly injured” and that a public outcry would bring the series back.

I’m pleased to say that, in my own way, I was subsequently able to do something about – albeit three decades later – when I wrote a Big Finish script for the first of the Liberator Chronicles audios, and then the first full-cast audio script, Warship.


September 2, 2019

Terrance Dicks, 1935 – 2019

Filed under: drwho,writing — Peter A @ 10:04 pm

To several generations of Doctor Who fans, Terrance Dicks was a huge part of the reason for their enthusiasm. As a story writer, but especially as a script editor, he cemented the popularity of the TV series during the time of Jon Pertwee.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.50.57.pngThen he started writing novelisations from the many eras of the TV series for Target Books — literally dozens of them. For a generation of eager readers like me, before the days of video recording or DVD releases, this was the only way to revisit the TV shows.

He once described his writing style as striving for a Simenon style sparsity, and there is an admirable clarity and conciseness in all his books. One of my pals can quote whole chunks of one Doctor Who novelisation verbatim because he used to read it aloud for speech therapy.

The common language of Doctor Who fans is sprinkled with Terrance’s word choices and choice phrases. It’s not just that he coined “never cruel or cowardly” as a succinct description of the Doctor. If someone describes pockets as “capacious” or refers to a “sprightly yellow roadster” or suggests someone has “bohemian elegance” or just uses the words “wheezing” and “groaning” together in a sentence, that’s usually a clue – a secret sign of your fannish credentials when you’re in polite company.

One of my publishing pals asked Terrance about writing a story featuring the Fifth Doctor. “Which one’s he?” inquired Terrance naughtily. “You remember, Terrance,” my friend replied, “he’s the one with the pleasant open face.”

If you think this sounds a bit childish, then I’d remind you that there’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.51.44.pngTerrance’s book with Malcolm Hulke, The Making of Doctor Who (1972) first intrigued me about how television is produced, and led into my academic work and subsequently the part work magazine In-Vision, to which Terrance graciously contributed.

His novelisations inspired me to write stories of my own, including Doctor Who fiction of course, and I returned to his books for stylistic inspiration when I began.

On the occasions I met him, he was charming and modest company. To my wife, he was the engaging conversationalist who poured her a glass of champagne at the wedding of mutual friends. To me, he was a gracious presence at conventions.

Terrance was a guest at the GallifreyOne convention in California, at the turn of the century when the absence of the show on telly meant that the only new “official” Doctor Who was in the magazine comic strip alongside the Virgin Publishing and BBC Books novels. The convention attendees lauded Terrance, and none more so than a crowd of the novelists who were also guests at the event. We cheered his every appearance, and told him how he’d inspired us to read, write, edit, and publish.

I don’t think Terrance couldn’t quite believe this at first, perhaps understandably wary that the ebullient enthusiasm of we young whippersnappers might not be entirely genuine. By the end of the convention, he realised it was heartfelt, though he was still modestly surprised. I like to think of him being pleasantly open-mouthed about the whole thing.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.51.15.pngA particular memory of one convention was sharing an autograph table with him. Inevitably, Terrance had a lot of things to sign. And never more so than when one convention-goer struggled up to the desk dragging his suitcase full of books. It looked like it might contain every one of the dozens of Target novelisations that Terrance had written.

Terrance politely signed a dozen of them, and then equally politely said to the young man: “Shall I sign the rest a bit later? Only I think it would be nice if I signed some for the other people in the queue.” Once the line had subsided, Terrance brought the young man back, and proceeded to sign the rest of the suitcase’s contents.

I try to remember that on the occasions I am at conventions or signings.

When they heard today that Terrance had died at the age of 84, some fans said something about Doctor Who died for them, too.  Whereas I remember what he meant to me as a child; I acknowledge the effect he had on my career as an adult; and I see his novelisations on my bookshelf as a record of both.

There are fans yet to come who will pick up a novel or watch a TV show, and discover Terrance for the first time.

July 1, 2018

Just In Time

Filed under: Bernice Summerfield,Short fiction,Uncategorized,writing — Peter A @ 11:23 pm

In Time

Big Finish have announced a piece of work I’ve completed for them. I’m one of seven authors in the anthology Bernice Summerfield: In Time, edited by Xanna Eve Chown.

It’s published later this year – just In Time for Christmas, in fact. You’ll find it available for pre-order in printed and eBook formats.


Other lives

The book celebrates two decades of Bernice Summerfield at Big Finish. She was the character who launched their original audio range.

Benny had a life in the Doctor Who New Adventures at Virgin Publishing before that, as well as appearances in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. But it was her arrival in the audios, and especially the lively performance of Lisa Bowerman (pictured on the cover), that paved the way for everything else to follow.

Here’s what the book blurb says:

From a rocky start at military academy to her sudden immersion in an alternative universe – via a variety of jobs and adventures on Dellah, at the Braxiatel Collection, and in the murky world of Legion – Bernice Summerfield is a woman who can be said to have lived more than one life. But one thing’s for certain: wherever she is, Benny can always be counted on to right wrongs, get the job done and, sometimes, even have a good time along the way!

To celebrate 20 years of Benny at Big Finish, each of the brand-new stories in this collection focuses on a different time in Benny’s life. There’s an adventure at St Oscar’s, a mystery at the White Rabbit, and even a surprising glimpse into the far future. Will Benny still be digging for artefacts at 80? You bet she will!


Voice of experience

loifeI’ve written for her before, in  Life During Wartime, still available from Big Finish at a bargain price.

Prior to that I wrote something for A Life of Surprises – no longer available from Big Finish, and selling for a price on Amazon so ridiculous that I refuse to provide a link to it.

Life of Surprises coverUnlike those occasions, however, I’ve had the chance now to meet and work with Lisa Bowerman.

For example, she directed my play story Ferril’s Folly. Big Finish have a sale on for their Companion Chronicles series at the moment, and that’s available at a discount.

So, I had her voice in mind as I was writing. Better still, they’ve also announced an audio book version, also available for digital pre-order.

InTimeAudio.pngI think Lisa will have fun with it, and I’m looking forward to hearing my words receive her Benny diction.

Will I be delighted to see my take on Benny published in the book? You bet I will!

June 9, 2018

Coming out as an LGBT+ Ally in 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Peter A @ 9:46 pm

IBM Careers UK & Ireland (@IBMCareersUKI)

08/06/2018, 13:01

Check out this super awesome Pride GIF with all of IBM’s greatest achievements! *proud moment!* #inclusiveIBM #PrideMonth2018

Seeing this IBM tweet and its cool animated GIF reminds me that this is a good time to reblog this:

April 3, 2018

Amazon update

Filed under: Blake's 7,drwho,Sarah Jane Smith,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 9:50 pm

I have updated my Amazon author page at

The UK one is the slightly less memorable

Edited to add… hurrah! It looks like there are a variety of international versions:


Edited again: it’s created an Audible page too: I think I need a better photo.

January 1, 2018

What do you think of it so far…?

Filed under: Technology,writing — Peter A @ 10:41 pm

Here is a super story, in three blog articles, about how BBC Research & Development has been working with Queen Mary University, London in an inventive recovery of a once-lost Morecambe & Wise TV episode.MandW

It’s full of interesting stuff about how TV used to work, changes in broadcast expectations of viewer behaviour, international broadcast relations, video and film technology, chemistry, physics, and software engineering.

There is an answer to that

I encountered the story first because of my interest in the Doctor Who connection with the “missing episodes” saga. But there’s plenty else to admire here about about how the BBC and QMU identified and overcame technical challenges never solved before.

  1. You Can’t See the Join!
  2. Lasers and X-rays
  3. All the Pictures. Not Necessarily in the Right Order.



Hello folks

There is plenty more to admire in the BBC’s R&D work, if you’re interested. There’s  Artificial Intelligence, 5G Broadcast (it’s not just “another G”), object-based media, scalable and lightweight live video production over IP, Data Science research, improving ways of sharing archives on social media with speech-to-text tech, conversational interfaces, and loads more

Often it’s in partnership with universities, designed to advance broadcast technologies and models in an open way, and shared in regular white papers.

It certainly makes me proud of the BBC’s collaborative and open approach to advancing TV tech for everyone.

December 31, 2017

Blake’s 7 interview from 2015

Filed under: Blake's 7,Counterfeit,Incentive,interview,Mirror,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 4:05 pm

ScorpioAttackThis week I’ve done an interview with Big Finish about some of my Blake’s 7 writing. It will be published as part of their Big Finish Companion series of books.

It reminded me that in February 2015, I did a similar interview with Jonathan Helm for his Blake’s 7 fanzine, published later that year.

Originally, Jonathan had asked me to contribute a 500-word review, but I thought it was more fun to do something longer about the Big Finish stories I’d worked on.

And now, nearly two years later, I thought it would be interesting to publish it here on my own blog.

Q: Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for my Blake’s 7 fanzine. I really appreciate your help.

Frontier Worlds #15A: You’re welcome, Jonathan. Blake’s 7 fanzines like Liberator and Standard by Seven were the first chance I had to share my enthusiasm for the series with fellow fans when the series was originally on TV.

Later on, I set up a fanzine called Frontier Worlds with two of my pals, and that had interviews with people involved in making the series. So it’s flattering (and a bit of a surprise) to find myself having the chance to do the same thing 30 years later.

Q: I also wanted to thank you for your input into the Big Finish range. I’ve really enjoyed your work for the series. Listening to Warship was like scratching a 32 year itch. I also have fond memories of the Frontier Worlds fanzine from long, long ago!

A: Thank you! Me too.

Q: Warship was the first full-cast release from Big Finish. How did you get this prestigious gig?

A: I’d written scripts for the Big Finish Doctor Who ranges previously – full cast, Companion Chronicles, and a multi-Doctor story. So I suppose they thought I had the right kind of experience for doing a Blake’s 7 audio.

CounterfeitProducer David Richardson knew what a big fan I am of the TV series. He commissioned a Liberator Chronicles story from me called Counterfeit [pictured]. And when that turned out well, he approached me about the “mid-season gap.”

The original idea was to have three Liberator Chronicles that explained what happened after the TV story Star One. That was going to be a box set called “The Galactic War.” I was going to write the concluding story: “What happened to Blake?” Steve Lyons was doing “What happened to Jenna?” And another writer was to do the opening story, “The Galactic War.”

There were sort of two reasons that David asked me to do the Blake episode. He thought I’d do a good job on it. Plus it was a sort of in-joke because I had, with my Frontier Worlds co-editors, been on-set at BBC Television Centre as a guest of the producer for the recording of the finale episode Blake, and so I allegedly knew how Blake had reached Gauda Prime!

Things worked out a bit differently with that box set, and I took on the “Galactic War” story instead. The original author had been keen to do it, but couldn’t fit it into a busy schedule.

Una_McCormackWhich was a shame for them, but turned out rather well for me. The three of us had met up at one of the Big Finish Days to discuss initial ideas – me, Steve and the other person. I remember meeting another author that day, Una McCormack [pictured]. She’s written Blake’s 7 audios subsequently, but at the time these ones were not announced. I had to bite my lip about what I and the other two authors were plotting.

Sorry, Una!

Q: Warship was originally to have been a Liberator Chronicles. How did the story evolve from there?

NigelFairs-240x300.jpegA: I’d persuaded David Richardson to let me write the “Galactic War” story instead of “Blake’s Story.” From quite early on, it was agreed that I could include all the main cast – which was unusual for the Companion Chronicles. I had written them with a single cast member. And at a GallifreyOne convention panel in Los Angeles, I had feigned outrage at Nigel Fairs [pictured here, from his website] when he was explaining how he’d included as many as three of them in one of his scripts. Imagine what a treat it was for me when Big Finish asked me to use five!

I wrote an outline for a Liberator Chronicle, with distinct sections narrated by Blake, Jenna, Avon, Vila and Cally. Andrew Mark Sewell of B7 Media very sagely pointed out that, if they were all narrating a section, then we may as well make it a full-cast audio. As it was no longer a Liberator Chronicles story, they decided to make it a separate audio release, with a second disk of material and a special CD booklet.

An additional bonus was that the original Galactic War trilogy for what became Liberator Chronicles 6 was now missing a story, and was able to offer them a replacement for that in a story called Incentive.

Q: What are the differences in writing a full-cast play compared to writing for the Liberator Chronicles?

A: The Liberator Chronicles focus on a particular subset of the cast, because obviously only one or two characters are speaking their own lines. Or three if you’re Nigel Fairs, obviously.

CountdownThe stories are still in the spirit of the TV series, but concentrate on specific moments in a story. The TV series sometimes hones in on a particular character or two – for example, Avon and Del Grant in Countdown [pictured] – but there’s always stuff happening with the rest of the main characters elsewhere in the same episode. TV stories gallop along with the dialogue and visuals, whereas a narrated book may cover less story in more words as your characters describe events or locations or people.

With Companion Chronicles or Liberator Chronicles, you’re also exploiting the specific conventions of a narrated book. You can confine the point of view very narrowly, and pull off some tricks in an audio that you couldn’t on TV – for example, the way I smuggled Travis into my episode Counterfeit.

You can go even further that that, as James Goss does brilliantly with Three in a single conversation between Servalan and Cullen. That sort of thing never happened in the TV series.

It rarely happens in any popular drama series – EastEnders occasionally has a two-hander, but in 5,000 episodes has done it for fewer than two dozen half-hour shows.

LCVol6In a TV full-cast episode, you need to give your main cast members something to do – even if, notoriously, it’s merely sitting by the teleport. But with the audios, you want everyone to be happy: the cast members in the studio should have something interesting to perform, and listeners deserve an exciting and interesting plot that meaningfully involves their favourite characters.

The latest set of B7 full-cast audios have rather brilliantly exploited the absence of Dayna as a plot point, rather than making some feeble excuse about why she’s there but not audible. Contrast that, for example, with my story Incentive [box set pictured], which gets away with having action involving Cally, Vila and Dayna “off-mic” by concentrating on the key scenes that involve Tarrant and Avon.

I was especially pleased with Incentive, because I used the presence of a third character, Bracheeni, in a way that made a Liberator Chronicles more like a full-cast audio.

warship bookQ: Warship was the first full cast audio play in the Blake’s 7 range. Was this intended to be a one-off?

A: When I wrote it, we hoped it would do well. Big Finish were trying it out to see if it would succeed, because it meant getting a lot of principal cast members together and that makes it harder have lots of other guest cast.

They also wanted to see if it sold well, because it’s obviously more expensive to have that large cast. It was important that the actors enjoyed their experience in studio – for it to be a fun environment with good colleagues and an interesting script, with something substantial for each of them to perform.

And it had to be a critical success, too, in order to encourage future sales of similar full-cast audios in the range. The e-Book of Warship [pictured]was another way of generating interest for the episode – and fulfilled an ambition of mine to write a novelization.

We always hoped it would be more than a one-off, but couldn’t guarantee it. I’m obviously very happy that it worked out so splendidly.

Q: Was it tricky trying to juggle so many main characters and giving them all something to do in Warship?

Warship A: I always want to give each character something significant to do in a story. On that occasion, I knew it might be our only chance to do a full-cast audio. I didn’t want to miss the chance to write for each of them. And it was important for this first audio to make each of the actors feel fully involved, too.

My draft of it as a Liberator Chronicles story already had narrated sequences for each main character. I even thought I might get away with a short section narrated by Orac at one point. I reasoned that, if Alistair was going to play Zen then I should ask Big Finish if they’d let him do Orac, too.

And when they said yes to that, I asked if I could include Servalan – because I knew that Jacqueline Pearce had agreed to do some of the other Liberator Chronicles. Working out her availability, they agreed I could include a short sequence for her, too. If I’d know they’d already made contact with Brian Croucher, maybe I’d have pushed my luck and asked to include a cameo flashback involving Travis!

Alistair Lock had already played Zen in a 2010 B7 Media story called Escape Velocity, because Peter Tuddenham had died three years previously. Alistair was also closely involved with Big Finish as a sound engineer and musician. So B7Media were happy to let him reprise the role in my story.

BLAKEZENUp until that point, if we’d needed Zen to say anything in a Liberator Chronicles story, the principal cast member had to do the lines. In the studio for Counterfeit, Alistair and I spent some time trying to explain the correct intonation of “Confirmed” to Gareth Thomas [pictured, getting pronunciation advice from Orac].

So, by the time we’d agreed to make Warship a full-cast audio, I’d already worked out key things that involved each of the main cast — Blake and Cally’s investigation of Megiddo, Vila delousing the hull, Jenna’s brave flight into the alien fleet, Avon confronting Blake on the observation deck, Servalan’s attempt to capture the crippled Liberator, and so on.

And of course, once I knew I had the entire cast, I also looked for opportunities where they could all interact in the same scene – inevitably, given the storyline, that was on the flight deck.

Q: You’re a big fan of the series. Is this a help or a hindrance when writing for Big Finish?

A: It’s a bit of both. Personally, I need to feel an enthusiasm for a series, and some sympathy and interest for its characters, before I agree to write for it. That’s what made it easy to say “yes” when Big Finish invited me to get involved.

I remember the TV series with great affection, and enjoyed having yet another excuse to rewatch the DVDs. Is suppose a risk when you’re writing about something you know really well is to feel constrained by what’s gone before. Whereas you need to bring something new and interesting to it, just as the writers of the original TV series did each week.

You want to innovate and extend the franchise without disrespecting or ignoring what made you fall in love with it in the first place.

Q: How do you feel the TV series handled the departure of Blake and Jenna?

incentiveIt made the best of the situation at the time. I imagine [the BBC] wish they’d called the series something other than “Blake’s 7” at the outset, though. The original idea was to make Season C more about the hunt to find Jenna and Blake, but that changed once they got into the scripting.

On the other hand, it did give me a good excuse to write Incentive [starring Steven Pacey and Paul Darrow, pictured in studio] as a way of exploring why that had happened. Crayoning outside the lines.

I wish they’d mentioned Jenna a bit more. Right up until the finale, I don’t think she even gets as a namecheck in 23 episodes.

Q: Was it tough to handle tie all the dangling threads together while still telling a compelling main story/were you given a detailed story brief?

A:  The brief was quite succinct: explain what happened between the end of Star One and the beginning of Aftermath, an exciting and compelling explanation of the previously unseen Galactic War.

Actually, it was commissioned as “The Galactic War” until I convinced them that “Warship” was a better title. I thought my alternative identified a central “character” in the series, sounded more like a Blake’s 7 episode, and located a key location in the episode

Script for WarshipQ:  How important is it to get the continuity right?

A: It’s that thing about being a fan again – I want it to be Blake’s 7, after all. Big Finish is run by professional actors, writers, directors, producers, script editors, sound engineers and so on who are fans. We love the stuff we work on. That’s as true for “Blake’s 7” as anything. For the past couple of years, I’ve also doing continuity reviews of the novels.

You have to resist the temptation, though, to be constrained by the TV series. I’ve learned to recognise in myself a fannish desire to “join the dots.” But dot-to-dot is not very creative, nor does it produce especially interesting pictures. You have to sketch freehand, and sometimes crayon outside the lines.

Some fans grumbled about how Simon Guerrier [pictured] wrote into one of his Liberator Chronicles scripts that the Liberator had an observation deck — because that had never appeared before. I thought, “So what?” It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t actually contradict the TV series.

SimonGIt’s not like we ever exhaustively explored the ship on screen. And there were places mentioned maybe once on telly for a plot point, and rarely or never heard of again – the hold we see in Time Squad, or the room full of jewels we hear about in Cygnus Alpha.

So, why not introduce a gymnasium, or a laboratory, or an observation deck? Besides, it gave me an excuse to extend and develop the observation deck in Warship as the ideal location for a key scene between Avon and Blake. Thanks, Simon!

When I write something, I need to decide what’s relevant to the story and what makes it work. I was particularly conscious of continuity in Warship. To take just one example – how long did the war last?

CallyStarOneThe continuity about that is contradictory in the TV series, anyway. The war gets mentioned as late on as Animals. I can think of several ways of accounting for how so many of Justin’s pupils were killed during the war – and whether Justin’s Federation scientific warfare team was already in place before the war broke out. There are brief mentions of the war in Children of Auron and Moloch that don’t give much clue about its duration. But Volcano is set on a planet right in the middle of the war zone, and where some of its greatest battles took place. That implies a more extensive conflict.

But the evidence of our eyes in is that the war starts in the final episode of Season B and concludes in the opening episode of Season C. CallyAftermathWe also see that Avon, Vila and Cally are still wearing exactly the same clothes [see Cally’s in the example pictures here] as they escape from the Liberator in Aftermath that they wore on the flight deck at the conclusion of Star One – which shows that there’s not a substantial gap between the two episodes.

And as it happens, that’s also appropriate for the structure of a full-cast audio episode in the spirit of the original series that connects the two TV stories. Though I also included some sections within the pacing of my episode that allow a bit of wiggle room for fans to make up their own minds a bit.

And I have a whole blog post on whether Orac is “he” or “it.” Don’t get me started.

B7Series1Q: Did you re-watch the episodes as research?

A: I don’t need any excuse to rewatch Blake’s 7! But yes, I did do a lot research – and not just the two episodes either side of my story.

Q: Were you happy with the critical reception for Warship?

A: I was delighted. One of my favourite reviews was someone rating it nine out of ten because they wanted to have a score available if subsequent full-cast audios were even better than this one. (Had they never seen This is Spinal Tap? Go up to 11.)

Q: You went on to write Mirror for the ‘Series B+’ range. Was it tricky fitting your story into the wider ongoing storyline?

A: Script editor Justin Richards outlined broadly what the episodes needed to cover, and what key aspects of the overall story had to be in each. Otherwise, it was up to the writers to fit things together. I had the chance to read all the other scripts, and comment on broader Blake’s 7 continuity in them. That gave me a good opportunity to ensure my script tied in neatly with them, and offered links from mine into theirs.

Blake's 7: MirrorThe brief for my story suggested a title that I thought gave the game away too much, and I proposed Mirror [pictured] as a more Blake’s 7 title — plus something I could exploit as an ambiguity. When I read one of the earlier scripts, it had some reference to a mirror or mirrors that I thought would pre-empt the twist in my story, so I haggled with Big Finish to play that down or remove it (without compromising the other script, obviously).

I was keen to include some continuity with the broader Big Finish audio series, which had the additional benefit of giving Jenna motivation for her actions in Mirror by involving the character Space Major Kade. You don’t have to know who he is, but it’s a little bonus for fans of the other audios.

I also included a tribute to the original series director and producer Vere Lorrimer. In studio for Warship, Michael Keating had joked that we ought to have a planet called Vere, and I thought “why not?” It raised a few affectionate smiles in the studio for Mirror.

Q: Do you prefer writing for the Blake led crew or the Series C line-up?

A: I like it all. The dynamics are different in each, and it’s great fun to write stuff that plays to the strengths and enthusiasms of the different actors.

I must confess, though, that it was a particular treat to write that first full-cast audio, and then get a chance to write the first script that Steven Pacey recorded for Big Finish.

Q: Are there particular characters you enjoy writing for?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have written for so many of them. Vila is great fun. Perhaps that’s because I sit at the back of the director’s booth on recording days and laugh as Michael Keating reads out my jokes in the dialogue.

Maybe it’s odd, but I also enjoy writing dialogue scenes involving Orac. He’s particularly good value in scenes involving Avon, of course. And I even managed to write a dialogue exchange between him and Zen in Mirror. Or should that be “it”?

Q: Would you like to write for the range again?

CavanScottA: Definitely. I think there’s plenty more to do in the Big Finish Blake’s 7 universe. New producer Cav Scott [pictured] is another big fan of the series. I’ve talked to him potential stories and ways that Big Finish Blake’s 7 can expand. I’d love to explore them further.

Q: Thanks again for your help.

A: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for asking.

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