The Red Lines Page

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

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