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.

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