The Red Lines Page

January 17, 2014

Talking to Big Finish

Big Finish Day 4Big Finish kindly invited me to participate in their event this weekend, Saturday 18th January, at the Copthorne Hotel Slough-Windsor. Guests include Paul McGann, Tom Chadbon, Simon Fisher-Becker, Pamela Salem, Andrew Smith, Michael Troughton, Peter Wyngarde, Julian Glover… ooh, there are lots of others, so check out the information about the event via this link.

The range discussions are about Counter Measures, The Avengers, and Sherlock Holmes, with other main discussions about acting for audio, sound design, and a main interview with Paul McGann and his son Jake.

I will be around with some of the other Big Finish writers to sign things, and talk to anyone who wants to ask questions or have a chat. So if you’re attending, I’ll be glad to say hello — and discuss any of the audios, short stories, or novels I’ve written for Big Finish. I’m not sure what, if anything, we’ll be saying on the day about the new full-cast Blake’s 7 audios.

All this reminds me that a while ago I did an interview with Kenny Smith as a contribution to his book The Big Finish Companion Volume 2. That was published in time for last year’s Big Finish Day, so now seems like a nice time to publish my version of the interview here — and encourage you to buy the book. Kenny was asking me about my audio The Four Doctors.

What was your original brief for The Four Doctors?

Big Finish originally asked me about doing a Doctor Who version of A Christmas Carol. The CD was coming out as a festive special for subscribers, and that was therefore quite a good proposal.

They were also quite keen that I kept the Doctors apart, and do something less obviously like previous multi-Doctor stories.

The other part of the brief was about a limit to the number of guest characters, and the amount of air time that we could afford for each of the four Doctors.

I enjoy a challenging brief, and sometimes what appear to be constraints actually turn out to inspire good ideas as you try to solve them.

Did the story have any working titles?

I liked the title “Reverse Engineering”. Looking back, I must have been bonkers to want to call it anything other than The Four Doctors, because that’s unambiguously what it’s about! Plus, it’s what will best advertise the audio. Plus, no-one had used the title before. So, what was I thinking?

Until quite late on, it was in four separate episodes. In fact, it was originally edited as four episodes, with each Doctor taking more of a lead in each. They combined it into one continuous narrative pretty much at the last minute. The episode titles were “Analysis, “Disassembly”, “Decompilation”, and “Reverse Engineering”.

What’s your first reaction when you’re given more than one Doctor to write about – delight, then horror?!

Definitely delight. I’d written an audio for Peter Davison (Key 2 Time 2: The Chaos Pool), but not for any of the other three Doctors. I’d done three novels for the Eighth Doctor, and short fiction featuring the Seventh. But this was my first chance to write anything for the Sixth.

How difficult was it to come up with a new spin on an old idea, by having a story with more than one Doctor, and also have to add in the Daleks?

Part of the brief was to keep them apart, for two reasons. One reason was the availability of the principal actors – you can record stuff separately and combine them later, but that’s a post-production complexity you may prefer to avoid. Another more important reason was to avoid retreading some of the sorts of “dandy/ clown/ fancypants/ scarecrow” dialogue. That’s quite amusing stuff, but it’s much more interesting to explore other things.The Four Doctors

My take on that was: don’t treat them as four separate people (who are really the same person) who interact with each other. Instead, treat them as the same person who interacts with another man, who has to work out that these four people are the same person. And then the fun for the audience is: we already know these four characters as the same person, and we can listen to the newcomer as he works that out.

In my script, the four Doctors work together over an extended period of time (from their perspective) because they are the same person, not because they happen to be in the same place at the same time. I had a variety of excuses about why the Doctor couldn’t meet himself in the story, with the crux being that distanced Fifth/Eighth conversation.

Having the Daleks is great. You can have lots of additional speaking parts for no extra cost, because the director is doing all the voices! I wanted the Daleks at the battle of Bajorika to have “old” voices, and my script suggested something closer to the voices from “Day of the Daleks”, albeit this ran the risk of giving Nick Briggs (a bit of a Dalek expert and purist) having an embolism.

Did you have any abortive ideas before settling on the final one?

After the Christmas Carol suggestion, I’d pondered doing something with the Doctor as Past, Present, and Future. And then I wondered about having the Doctor witness (but not interact with) the actions of his own past, present, and future – having a third party make the Doctor (as “Scrooge”) learning the error of his ways by witnessing his own actions. I also thought that was a bit Trial of a Time Lord.

But all that seemed a rather better fit for three rather than four Doctors. And so I chose the much better idea of having someone else travel through the Doctor’s time line… but in the reverse order to the way that he experienced it, because it’s a story about a Time Lord after all.

All of which turned out to be just as well because, subsequently, we learned that Steven Moffat’s first Christmas special for Matt Smith was inspired by A Christmas Carol. If we’d gone anywhere near that, the BBC would (quite understandably) have rejected the proposal.

I had a number of other ideas, especially for elements of the third section. But I’m going to keep those to myself, in case I can find a use for them in some other audio or novel!

How much fun did you have writing for each incarnation, and was it difficult to write the distinctive nuances for each incarnation?

I had the best time ever. Though it wasn’t straightforward.

I’d written for the Eighth Doctor before in three novels, and even provided a script for an audio story (Earth & Beyond: Bounty) that was Paul McGann’s first new performance as the Doctor after the TV Movie. So I thought I’d find his character would be easier to write for than he was.

Earth & BeyondThe novelists were able augment the TV Movie character through the BBC Books – at that stage, there was only that one story to go on. We had to think our way into how the character would have developed, without losing what made him recognisable from the TV Movie. And while the TV series was off the air, we could “steer” him a little ourselves. One of my favourite, albeit trivial, editorial notes when I wrote the novel Kursaal was from a copy editor asking whether the BBC was prepared to “commit to the idea” that the Doctor lost a tooth in the previous story and that it was slowly growing back.

Over a decade later, by the time I was writing The Four Doctors, the authentic voice of the Eighth Doctor was unambiguously the Big Finish version – honed through all of those other audios they’d done for him, plus Paul McGann’s performance of course.

As it was my first chance to write for Colin Baker, I think he was the most fun to do in The Four Doctors. Colin is a lovely chap – I’ve met him at a couple of conventions as a guest. He’s finally been done justice by the Big Finish audios, so I was especially pleased to be the latest contributor to that.

Fan geek question time. The Dalek Prime appeared in the John Peel novelisations and novels – is that the Black Dalek’s official designation in your mind?

I should hand in my Geek Card, I’m afraid. I had forgotten that Dalek Prime was in John’s books. I’d read them, of course, so perhaps it stuck in my mind. I’d intended it as a new designation, because the story is about the developmental stages of both the Daleks and the Jariden – and I’d incorporated the Special Weapons Dalek as an example of how the classic series had already done that. I couldn’t use something like the Supreme Dalek from the post-2005 series, because Big Finish doesn’t have a license for stuff from the post-2005 TV show. We even had a slightly surreal debate about whether we were allowed to have a Dalek saying “Elevate!” as it went up the stairs after the Doctor and Faraday, because that phrase was first used in Rob Shearman’s new series Dalek story.

And I admit that when Victory of the Daleks was broadcast, and featured the new Dalek Paradigm, I was a bit nervous that my story would be seen as too close to some of the elements of that.

Which one was the Black Dalek again? No here, look, I’ve torn my Geek Card in two. Take it.

The scene at the end is a nice touch – just when I thought we weren’t going to get them meeting up. Was this always planned, or did you ever consider not doing it, just to be different?

Vortex 57Thank you very much. I agree, it’s a nice touch, but it’s also a scene that I didn’t write. Either Nick Briggs or Alan Barnes inserted that  because they decided they wanted to have a “meet and greet” with the four Doctors after all. My version had some “across-the-timelines” parallel dialogue instead. I especially like the gag about the TARDIS decor, so perhaps I should pretend I wrote it after all. Yeah, I planned it all along! 

[Subsequently, Big Finish revealed in issue 57 of BF magazine “Vortex” that it was Nick. I think they lost confidence at the eleventh hour in their original idea that the Doctors should never meet.]

Any thoughts on the final play itself?

It sounds a bit immodest when you say how much you like stuff you’ve written. With an audio, the script is just the starting point – the foundations of the production. No matter how good an actor’s performance is, or how fine the music and sound effects, or how well it’s edited together by the director, a bad script will sink an audio. Yet without all those additional things, even a great script just remains text on a page – so I was really pleased with the end result.

I was a bit sorry that the final version wasn’t in four 15-minute episodes, as we’d originally planned. I’d quite like to have had the different theme tunes crashing in. And as a subscriber-only audio with short episodes it wouldn’t have needed cliffhanger reprises – instead, I had some cunning “Part One” reprises in “Part Four”. Nevertheless, you get well over an hour of adventure. Even those short episodes would have been about twenty minutes long, which is longer than some episodes of The Mind Robber.

There were sundry other changes that Big Finish made for the final version. For example, the Jariden were renamed – I’d called them the Jai-Gerbar, which I thought was a bit more unusual without being too hard to say. And Ulrik was originally called Vaterlaus, a name I thought would sound brutally good when the Daleks were shouting at him. But the Big Finish team are smart folk who know what will and won’t work on audio, so I am entirely phlegmatic about the changes, which were all in the service of a better audio play.

And that’s the nature of a collaborative project like this. For example, in the third section it was originally a Dalek that escorted Ulrik to his cell, and who was subsequently overpowered by him and escorted to the roof to meet the Doctor. Script editor Alan Barnes didn’t like that, because he thought it implausible that Daleks would set up a base where they had to go up-and-down stairs and open cellar doors. He thought I should set those scenes in a Dalek ship near the battle of Bajorika. I said I preferred the different “soundscape” of a mansion, and liked the literal encroachment of the Daleks onto Jariden property. Plus it meant I could place the Doctor up on the mansion roof observing the battle, which would be less plausible if he was sitting atop a Dalek saucer. So Alan said “why not change the Dalek into a Roboman escort”, and then developed that into “why not say the Roboman is Ulrik’s grandfather” (whose mansion I had already decided it was, and whose relationship I’d already established in “Part One”).

That was great, because then I could make the Roboman part of the Jariden’s reverse engineering of the Special Weapons Dalek technology – so that back on the Vault of Stellar Curios in “Part Four”, Ulrik realises that what he was pursuing back in “Part One” is actually the grandfather he was also disparaging in “Part One” but who he set free from the Daleks in “Part Three”. Plus, in “Part Four” after the Roboman says “Awaiting Orders, Colonel Ulrik”, there’s a very straightforward line of dialogue that David Bamber delivers beautifully as he sets the creature on his enemies: “Kill the Daleks, Grandfather. Kill them all.” And that all started from a discussion about whether Daleks could plausibly unbolt a cellar door.

When it comes down to it, how many people get a chance to write a Big Finish audio, let alone one with the Daleks in it, let alone one with four Doctors? It was a wonderful experience, and I’m very proud of the final version.

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March 24, 2013

Good companions

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,drwho,Ferril's Folly,Four Doctors,IBM,writing — Peter A @ 4:39 pm

What a splendid day I had yesterday at the Big Finish Day 3 event in Barking.

ImageI also was pleased to chat with Kenny Smith, whose labour of love has just been published. It’s the Big Finish Companion Volume 2, and I commend it to you.

It quotes hundreds of people, including almost every writer, several Doctors, many companions, and loads of musicians, directors, sound designers, and cover artists.

Kenny was interviewed about it himself.

Here’s the full interview that I did with Kenny last year. To see how he has skilfully woven this into the book, and enjoy loads more fantastic stuff, go to the Big Finish website and buy the book.

 

Kenny Smith: How much did Ferril’s Folly change between your initial pitch for it, and the finished storyline?

Peter Anghelides: Quite a bit, and hardly at all! There was a long delay between it being pitched and then the final version that was produced. It was only in the latter stages that it was actually under contract for a Companion Chronicles FerrilAt one stage, I was one of the authors invited to pitch for the BBC Audio series that became “Hornet’s Nest”, which at the time had the rather splendid code name “Felt Hat”. So I worked up a version of “Ferril’s Folly” (possibly called “The Iron Lady” at that stage. Commissioning Editor Michael Stevens eventually went with Paul Magrs for all of those audio readings, which also turned out to be a sort of halfway thing between Companion Chronicles and full-cast audios. And in any case, Michael also recognised the origins of “The Iron Lady” because he gets to see Big Finish’s prospective storylines in his role at BBC Audio (now AudioGO). That version would have had the Doctor as the principal narrator, rather than Romana.

After that, Big Finish was making one of its occasional attempts to tempt Tom Baker to do their full-cast audios, and I re-jigged things as one of my suggestions for that. Alas, that came to nothing, either.

Some years after I’d first got the thumbs up for the Companion Chronicles version, I asked Big Finish whether they still wanted it, because I had some time free up to write it. And they said “oh, yes please” in a way that suggested they’d never thought otherwise. So we finally signed contracts, and I delivered it as originally planned – and in very much the same form that I had originally proposed.

Can you briefly explain why it was delayed after it was first announced?

I had agreed with Big Finish that the outline was what they wanted. But before we signed contracts, they also asked me to write the finale for their Key 2 Time audio plays trilogy, a story that became “The Chaos Pool”. As that was a full-cast audio, not to mention too good an opportunity to miss, I agreed. I was also contracted to write a Torchwood novel with BBC Books, and there was a wodge of other non-Who stuff I was working on at the same time.

I explained to Big Finish that I wouldn’t have time for everything, and did not want to commit that I would deliver scripts only to let them down. I asked them which they wanted more – the Companion Chronicles or “The Chaos Pool”. They chose the latter, so that’s what I was contracted for. There was also some consideration that a story based during the first Key to Time sequence was a bit too close to their Key 2 Time stories. So as well as deferring my audio, and because they had already lined up Mary Tamm to participate, they commissioned a replacement “first Romana” story from Nigel Fairs called “The Stealers from Saiph”, and set it after “the Armageddon Factor”.

And as I mentioned earlier, other work and alternative versions of the story meant I didn’t get around to writing the script for several years.

Was finding a Key to Time device hard to include, and to explain away its lack of being found in the story?

I rather liked the idea of them not quite succeeding in a mid-season story, so I knew that I wanted them to find the segment and then have it slip from their grasp at the last minute. I then worked in a reason why they would have to let that happen – it’s a conscious decision, not a careless oversight.

I also decided on a distinctively different item for the segment’s disguise. We already knew it could be as varied as jewellery or a planet or a religious totem, and influenced other items around it. Plus there’s a lovely bit of dialogue in Jonathan Clements’ Key 2 Time script “The Destroyer of Delights” that suggests segments could be a grain of sand, or a leopard’s tooth, or a blob of molten lava, or even an atom of snot. That speech inspired me to make my segment something in a distant part of the galaxy that had then “infected” the meteoroid that brought it to Earth.

How did you find writing for the first Romana, having written for her second incarnation before?

I love that original “Key to Time” season. Much as I also enjoy Lalla Ward’s performance, I always wanted more stories with Mary Tamm’s incarnation… and this was a great excuse to do one. With another Riomana also in “The Ancestor Cell”, I suppose I’ve written rather a lot for the character now. There’s probably a collective noun: “A snoot of Romanas”, perhaps.

What did you think of the finished play, given its lengthy gestation period?

It’s wonderful to hear the final version, because it’s the application of acting and directing and sound and music and editing talent to my original script. Plus, I got to attend the recording in the studio, and that’s always great fun.

Any assorted bits of trivia, like origins of character names, etc?

Ferrill is obviously derived from “ferrous”, because of her affinity for iron. I originally called the scientist Öpik after an Estonian astronomer called Ernst Öpik. I found out about him because his son Lembit was, until recently, a Member of Parliament who spoke up about the dangers of asteroids striking the Earth – which in a way sadly typical of modern politics earned him derision rather than a thought that he might have an informed view. The script uses the phonetic spelling “Erpik” because there’s no point making life unnecessarily difficult for the actors.

I smuggled in other characters called “Clark”, “Stanford”, and “Andrews”, so that I had the excuse at one point to have a sentence that read: “The Doctor, Andrews, Stanford, Clark, and the others all raced out of the pub.” Because I knew that would make one of my colleagues who listens to the audios, an IBM Distinguished Engineer called Dr Andy Stanford-Clark, leap out of his chair in surprise when he heard it.

There’s also a vintage car joke in the dialogue somewhere. It was the sort of thing I imagined Tom Baker would have introduced as an ad lib during Season 16 rehearsals. See if you can spot it.

Any idea where in their timelines “The Four Doctors” story takes place for each of the Doctors, continuity-wise?

I have no idea. Any suggestions? I certainly didn’t worry about it when I wrote the script, and it doesn’t affect the narrative.

One imaginative reviewer suggested where they would each fit in, based on all sorts of things I didn’t even think – or wouldn’t even have known about, such as the costume worn by Sylvester McCoy on the front cover.

The first draft featured a reference to Charley Pollard being elsewhere in the TARDIS while the Doctor is gallivanting about. I don’t know whether that counts.

August 24, 2011

Four score

Filed under: Audios,drwho,Ferril's Folly,writing — Peter A @ 9:07 pm

The splendid new full-cast Fourth Doctor audios from Big Finish have been announced in the new Doctor Who Magazine. They’re available to pre-order here.

The “missing adventures” are Foe from the Future (devised by Robert Banks Stewart and adapted by John Dorney) and The Valley of Death (devised by Philip Hinchcliffe and adapted by Jonathan Morris).

John is also script editor for the brand new full-cast audios. They are:

It’s fantastic that Tom Baker has got involved with the excellent Big Finish team, along with Louise Jameson (for these stories) and Mary Tamm (for a further set, with titles and authors still to be announced).

I’d been hoping to be involved with the “Leela” stories, and was approached in January this year about writing something based on Nerva Beacon. This went through a number of iterations, all the usual stuff before a script is actually commissioned: initial idea, outline, remove something a bit too like the TV series, add/remove K-9, four-episode outline, two-episode outline… Until alas, at the end of March, it became a zero-episode outline. BF felt that the story wasn’t working out, and so it didn’t go to script. Mine was initially called The Unwanted Army, but by the end its title was Flames of the Karvadi.

This is third time unlucky with Tom Baker for me. I didn’t get very far with the original BBC Audio project in August 2008 that eventually became Hornets’ Nest. At the time, BBC Audio was variously calling that “Project Beehive” and “Codename Felt Hat”. Then I was one of the writers who Big Finish asked to pitch ideas in March 2009, when they were at the point of one of their periodic approaches to Tom Baker. One of the several ideas I had was a reworked version of what eventually became Ferril’s Folly.

So although those all came to naught, I did get the chance to write that “Companion Chronicle” set in the Fourth Doctor’s era. And even if things don’t work out in the end, as inevitably can happen in the overall process, it’s always nice to be asked. Not everything makes it from pitch to publish.

I won’t say too much more about Flames of the Karvadi here, because the location and timing was specified as part of my original brief from BF. From the title of Nick Briggs’s replacement, I don’t think I’ve given too much away so far! But obviously, if I decide not to reuse my own original story elements, characters, and monsters for something else, I may post the story outline here.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to hearing the new Tom Baker audios in January. One additional exciting snippet from that DWM news story is that Geoffrey Beevers is returning as the Master in Alan Barnes’s season finale.

July 31, 2011

Interview: Ferril’s Folly

Filed under: Audios,Ferril's Folly,writing — Peter A @ 7:25 pm

Dan Tostevin interviewed me for Doctor Who Magazine’s preview of my audio “Ferril’s Folly”. Now that’s been out for a while, here’s the original interview.

Q: Why has there been such a long delay between Ferril’s Folly being announced and actually released?

A: I forget when it was first mentioned in DWM, but I seem to recall that Big Finish originally approached me at end of 2007. They liked my proposal, which was set slap bang in the middle of the Key to Time season. Then they asked me to write the conclusion to their “Key 2 Time” trilogy [The Chaos Pool], plus I was already busy with my Torchwood novel “Pack Animals”. So I asked them which they wanted more, and they chose The Chaos Pool, and I ended up writing for the other Romana.

I think doing a Key to Time story so close to their sequel trilogy would have been a bit too similar anyway, and as a result they commissioned Nigel Robinson to do Mary Tamm’s first Romana Companion Chronicle, and set it between Seasons 16 and 17.

Q: Did the story change significantly in the years between the original commission and the final recording?

I’m one of those writers who will cheerfully reuse or cannibalise stuff rather than waste it. I suggested the story as part of something else Big Finish were doing, and I also pitched it as an idea when I was one of the authors BBC Audio was considering for the Hornet’s Nest Tom Baker audios (then rather splendidly codenamed “Felt Hat”, I seem to recall). That was reworked to foreground the Doctor, of course.

But BBC Audio went a different way on that, and the other thing with Big Finish didn’t happen. I asked them if they still wanted it as a Companion Chronicle, and they said “yes” in a tone that suggested they’d never doubted it. The only significant change over three years was that I removed a chase sequence where pylons stalked the Doctor across the landscape, because in the meantime Steve Cole had also thought of that and used it in his BBC Audio Ring of Steel.

Q: Anything you’re willing to say about the character of Lady Ferril herself?

I thought it would be good to have a strong female villain, like Vivien Fey from that era of the programme. And to more strongly differentiate her from Romana’s cut-glass English accent, I made her American. I’m not always convinced by some of the “American” accents we’ve heard on Doctor Who over the years, but Madeleine Potter is the genuine article in Ferril’s Folly. She’s brilliant.

March 5, 2011

Ferril’s Folly

Filed under: Audios,Ferril's Folly — Peter A @ 4:13 pm

There’s a Big Finish announcement about my audio play Ferril’s Folly, the penultimate story in series 5 of their splendid Companion Chronicles series.

You can read a short synopsis about the story, and hear a downloadable preview with snippets from both of the cast members.

I was in the studio to hear this story being recorded last November, and did a few “wildtrack” sounds, so you can probably hear me screaming in the background.

The story has been placed between The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara. So how will this fit in with the Doctor and Romana’s search for the Key to Time? Only a few more months before you can buy it and find out — the audio is released on May 31st.

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