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.

May 7, 2011

The Four Doctors: Interview

Filed under: Audios,drwho,Four Doctors,writing — Peter A @ 5:17 pm

To accompany my subscriber-only audio The Four Doctors, I did an interview for Big Finish’s Vortex magazine. Here’s the full version of my original answers.

What was your brief for writing The Four Doctors?

Big Finish originally suggested a Doctor Who version of A Christmas Carol. The CD was coming out as a festive special for subscribers, so that initially seemed like a good idea. Fortunately, I persuaded them I had a different idea. Not least because it turns out that Steven Moffat is doing that for the Matt Smith 2010 Christmas episode, and if it’s me versus Moffat then there’s no contest – in any respect whatsoever!

I liked the idea of a proper time-travel story for the Daleks. Not the sort of run-around we got with The Chase, or the clever but ultimately straightforward structure in Day of the Daleks.

What are the key selling points of the story (aside from the obvious)?

The presence of more than one Doctor invites you to do something a bit different from their previous meetings in The Three/Five/Two Doctors.  Each Doctor has plenty of action, and it’s the combination of all their decisions that drives the story and its resolution.

The TV series has shown that there’s scope for developing the Daleks, too. So I hope I’ve introduced a few new aspects to them, too.

Lastly, it’s four episodes. They’re slightly shorter than conventional episodes, but really not that much. Or at least, they weren’t when I listened to the initial cut.

How hard did you find it writing for all four Doctors?

I’d written the Eighth Doctor before in three novels and an audio story, so I thought I’d find he’d be easier than he was. Thing is, the novelists were able to augment the TV Movie character through the BBC Books. But we didn’t benefit from the active participation of a lead actor growing into the role.

The authentic voice of the Eighth Doctor is now unambiguously the Big Finish version. And never more so than in the scripts written for him by Alan Barnes. Having Alan as my script editor was an absolute boon. His contribution has been essential. Alan’s made me look really good!

Is there one Doctor you have a special affection for?

Tom Baker was the Doctor of my youth. But in The Four Doctors, I most enjoyed writing for Colin Baker. He’s a lovely chap – I’ve met him a couple of times in the Green Room at conventions. He’s finally been done justice by the Big Finish audios, and I was very pleased to be the latest contributor to that.

Four Doctors, Daleks; have you peaked now? What ambitions remain for you?

Thanks for that thought! Maybe I haven’t peaked just yet. Or more probably, I’m like Sisyphus, and each novel or audio is another boulder. I push the boulder up the hill, knowing it will roll back down and I’ll start all over again on something else.

I’ve done novels and short stories and audio plays and talking books for various Doctors and Sarah Jane and Torchwood. I haven’t given the Eleventh Doctor boulder a push yet. That would be fun.

You’ve also written a lot of Doctor Who books; how different is it writing those to writing an audio?

With novels, you work with the commissioning editor, and you may even do some broader planning with fellow authors. Nevertheless, it remains a solitary activity to produce what is, essentially, the final thing yourself. What you write defines the characters, the setting, the visuals, the sounds, the characterisation…

You know with an audio that the script is essential, but it’s only the start. As you write, you’re thinking about what will work in the story, how the effects might play, what the actors and director and sound engineer and composer can bring to it. The final thing is far more collaborative, the product of a wider variety of contributions and talents and variables.

Which of your Big Finish stories has been your favourite?

“The Tip of the Mind” in Short Trips: Companions. It was a Zoe Heriot short story in the form of an Alan Bennett monologue. Mind you, that was published in 2003. Perhaps I peaked even sooner than you suggested.

What other projects do you have coming up?

My Companion Chronicles story Ferril’s Folly comes out in Spring 2011, starring Mary Tamm as Romana. How is it possible that she and the Doctor discover a hitherto unseen segment of the Key to Time? Buy the CD in May to find out!

I’m open to offers. Got any more boulders to push?

May 2, 2011

The Four Doctors animation

Filed under: Audios,Four Doctors — Peter A @ 5:07 pm

A clever fellow has animated a Dalek sequence from my Big Finish audio The Four Doctors. You can check out others like it at rdjackson87’s YouTube site.

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December 22, 2010

Audio extras

Filed under: Audios,drwho,Four Doctors — Peter A @ 2:21 pm

Subscribers to Big Finish’s Doctor Who range receive a free audio, The Four Doctors.  And from today, they can also download a behind-the-scenes extra. That has interviews with producer/director/dalek Nick Briggs; actors Peter Davison, Ellie Burrow and David Bamber; and the writer, me!

This audio extra nicely explains how things developed during the scripting and production stages, and the benefits of having a splendid script editor like Alan Barnes.

The original brief back at the end of last year was to pitch something inspired by A Christmas Carol, that didn’t have the Doctors meeting up at any stage, and only three guest cast. At one stage, the Doctors even identified which of their companions they were travelling with at the time of the adventure.

You can hear in the download how the script evolved over time, and why the character names were changed. But can you work out who or what was originally called the following:

  • Brugra Vaterlaus
  • Jen Dorsey
  • Brent Katullo
  • Schedler Kannell
  • Jai-Gerbar
  • Howells
  • Tarrack
  • Bullington

Or which of the original four episodes were called:

  • Analysis
  • Disassembly
  • Decompilation
  • Reverse Engineering

Perhaps we should have called it “Decompilation of the Daleks”. Or not.

December 2, 2010

The Two Interviews

Filed under: Audios,drwho,Four Doctors — Peter A @ 2:09 pm

The very splendid Big Finish subscribers’ magazine Vortex has published two interviews in the latest issue (PDF alternative here). They both discuss this month’s audio release of The Four Doctors.

One interview is with me, talking about pushing rocks up a hill. The other is with director Nicholas “The Daleks” Briggs, who reveals members of the guest cast (including an alumnus of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who).

The magazine is free to view online, though subscribers will also receive a printed copy through the mail shortly.

One minor disappointment for me is that the four episodes have now been edited together into a single episode. But I’m only disappointed because I had requested that four different versions of the theme tune be used. I wonder which one they’ll end up with? The story gives equal weight to each of the Doctors, in a way that The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors did not (because they were “of” their incumbent Doctor’s era).

Not long to go now before we all find out!

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