The Red Lines Page

November 24, 2020

Interview: Incentive to write

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Incentive,writing — Peter A @ 8:08 pm

Here’s an interview I did a while back for Big Finish.

It’s about the Blake’s 7 audio I wrote for them called Incentive (released seven years ago in 2013). It’s still available for purchase via Big Finish.


Q: How did you enjoy picking up from the events of Star One?

I’ve always enjoyed doing “jigsaw puzzle” commissions, where I’m asked to accommodate certain places or events. In some ways, I prefer it to a blank page.

Firstly, there’s the pleasure of playing with the continuity of the original series – expanding it without breaking it. And secondly, it’s a great way of getting a clear “steer” from the person commissioning the piece without being forced into a straitjacket of a pre-determined storyline. It’s my writerly incentive.

Being given a restricted or specific set of characters for the story is another example. In the case of Incentive, these were Avon and Tarrant, plus one new speaking role of my own devising.  There was an additional requirement to address two other characters – Blake and Jenna – without actually featuring them at all.

It came about because I’d written Warship. Producer David Richardson was originally going to include that as a story called “The Galactic War.” [Interview about that here.]

It was to be the first of three stories in the Liberator Chronicles Vol VI box set – the other two being Jenna’s Story and Blake’s Story. David’s first thought was for me to do Blake’s Story, because he knew I’d been on-set during the recording of the Season D finale Blake in 1981. [Reported in these three previous blogs: part 1, part 2, and part 3.]

So the gag was that I’d already been to Gauda Prime.

When the original author couldn’t do “The Galactic War” for some reason, I asked to do it instead of Blake’s Story – because I’d secretly fancied doing that one all along, and had been too timid to ask. When that script expanded to become a separate release, it left a “gap” in Vol VI – and this time, I wasn’t too timid to ask to fill it.

Q: Was it a hard one to do, finding reasons for the crew giving up on looking for Blake and Jenna?

With Blake and Jenna having their journeys completed in Vol VI, the remaining question for the box set had to be: why did the Liberator crew stop looking for them during Season C? Blake gets a few passing references in the first three episodes, and nothing until the end off the season. Poor Jenna gets very little mention, and her name doesn’t pass anyone’s lips after the second episode.

I had written the post-Star One story Warship to describe Blake and Jenna’s departure from Liberator. I decided not even to have them in “flashback” in this new story, because of what else I knew was in the box set.

The other Season C question, with Blake’s absence in particular, is why Avon continues to strike out against the Federation now that he has taken control of Liberator. It surely can’t be because he’s let a couple of newcomers on board at the end of the TV story Powerplay. And so my script offers an explanation for this puzzler, too, in Avon’s closing discussion with Tarrant.

So that provided all the jigsaw pieces for what became Incentive.

Q: What was your highlight of writing this one?

I had to substantially rewrite it after I’d completed the first draft of the script.

Now, rather than get a horrible sinking feeling about it, actually, I was delighted – because the reason was a special request to change the cast.

The script was originally commissioned, and written, as a story for Avon and Vila. There were “reported” sequences for the other absent Season C cast members – Cally, Zen, and Orac, because the restricted cast requirement for Liberator Chronicles meant we weren’t going to have Jan Chappell or Alistair Lock take part in this one; and Tarrant and Dayna were not in it because neither Steven Pacey nor Josette Simon had agreed to take part in the Big Finish series.

Unbeknown to me, though, Big Finish had just secured Steven Pacey’s participation. Producer David Richardson asked me if I’d like to rewrite my script to feature Tarrant instead of Vila.

The dynamic between Avon and each of those characters is very different. And they have their own distinctive dialogue, reactions, and motivations. I reworked the script from the start. It prompted additional elements that, as I wrote the revision, honed and improved it.  

Q: Again, how do you look back on it?

I’m really pleased that the extra work it required also made it a very different style.  By this stage, the many previous Liberator Chronicles had experimented with ways of exploiting new opportunities with the format.

When I look back at my first one, Counterfeit, [see interview here] it seems very much more “writerly” – much more restrained in its narrative ambition, and adhering more closely to the familiar conventions of a “talking book.” From the outset with Incentive, even with Vila as the second lead, I’d wanted to use the interrogation structure to make this more like a full-cast audio (albeit with a small cast).

The rewrite gave me a further opportunity to remove some of the more obvious narration. There are scenes between the three cast members. But you’re also aware that when Avon and Tarrant relate their earlier journey, they’re not talking to an unseen audience of listeners, they are talking to Bracheeni within the action of a scene. What’s more, Bracheeni can interact with them during that narration, whether in dialogue or employing his noisy torture device.

I was also able to remove a couple of less convincing sections of Vila talking to himself while locked up – though I decided as a little in-joke to refer to the fact that he’s (silently) imprisoned in an adjacent cell.

In the TV series, even if the focus was on a subset of the principal cast for an individual episode, they were each contracted to be in all the episodes. All of them would therefore have some lines and action, even if it was only trivial. In my script, I could make a virtue of the other characters’ necessary absence by choosing not to include them in unnecessary “contractual obligation” scenes just so that the whole cast had something to say.

I was a bit sorry to lose Vila – Michael Keating is always excellent in the studio, and fun company in the green room. But how could I resist writing the first new Blake’s 7 audio to star Steven Pacey as Tarrant?

He was also terrific, of course. And the green room was lively – because of the other scripts being recorded at the same time, we had Brian Croucher and Tom Chadbon there, too, plus Adrian Lukis (playing Bracheeni) and Ken Bentley (director).

Steven Pacey and Paul Darrow at the studio recording

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