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

December 31, 2017

Blake’s 7 interview from 2015

Filed under: Blake's 7,Counterfeit,Incentive,interview,Mirror,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 4:05 pm

ScorpioAttackThis week I’ve done an interview with Big Finish about some of my Blake’s 7 writing. It will be published as part of their Big Finish Companion series of books.

It reminded me that in February 2015, I did a similar interview with Jonathan Helm for his Blake’s 7 fanzine, published later that year.

Originally, Jonathan had asked me to contribute a 500-word review, but I thought it was more fun to do something longer about the Big Finish stories I’d worked on.

And now, nearly two years later, I thought it would be interesting to publish it here on my own blog.


Q: Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for my Blake’s 7 fanzine. I really appreciate your help.

Frontier Worlds #15A: You’re welcome, Jonathan. Blake’s 7 fanzines like Liberator and Standard by Seven were the first chance I had to share my enthusiasm for the series with fellow fans when the series was originally on TV.

Later on, I set up a fanzine called Frontier Worlds with two of my pals, and that had interviews with people involved in making the series. So it’s flattering (and a bit of a surprise) to find myself having the chance to do the same thing 30 years later.

Q: I also wanted to thank you for your input into the Big Finish range. I’ve really enjoyed your work for the series. Listening to Warship was like scratching a 32 year itch. I also have fond memories of the Frontier Worlds fanzine from long, long ago!

A: Thank you! Me too.

Q: Warship was the first full-cast release from Big Finish. How did you get this prestigious gig?

A: I’d written scripts for the Big Finish Doctor Who ranges previously – full cast, Companion Chronicles, and a multi-Doctor story. So I suppose they thought I had the right kind of experience for doing a Blake’s 7 audio.

CounterfeitProducer David Richardson knew what a big fan I am of the TV series. He commissioned a Liberator Chronicles story from me called Counterfeit [pictured]. And when that turned out well, he approached me about the “mid-season gap.”

The original idea was to have three Liberator Chronicles that explained what happened after the TV story Star One. That was going to be a box set called “The Galactic War.” I was going to write the concluding story: “What happened to Blake?” Steve Lyons was doing “What happened to Jenna?” And another writer was to do the opening story, “The Galactic War.”

There were sort of two reasons that David asked me to do the Blake episode. He thought I’d do a good job on it. Plus it was a sort of in-joke because I had, with my Frontier Worlds co-editors, been on-set at BBC Television Centre as a guest of the producer for the recording of the finale episode Blake, and so I allegedly knew how Blake had reached Gauda Prime!

Things worked out a bit differently with that box set, and I took on the “Galactic War” story instead. The original author had been keen to do it, but couldn’t fit it into a busy schedule.

Una_McCormackWhich was a shame for them, but turned out rather well for me. The three of us had met up at one of the Big Finish Days to discuss initial ideas – me, Steve and the other person. I remember meeting another author that day, Una McCormack [pictured]. She’s written Blake’s 7 audios subsequently, but at the time these ones were not announced. I had to bite my lip about what I and the other two authors were plotting.

Sorry, Una!

Q: Warship was originally to have been a Liberator Chronicles. How did the story evolve from there?

NigelFairs-240x300.jpegA: I’d persuaded David Richardson to let me write the “Galactic War” story instead of “Blake’s Story.” From quite early on, it was agreed that I could include all the main cast – which was unusual for the Companion Chronicles. I had written them with a single cast member. And at a GallifreyOne convention panel in Los Angeles, I had feigned outrage at Nigel Fairs [pictured here, from his website] when he was explaining how he’d included as many as three of them in one of his scripts. Imagine what a treat it was for me when Big Finish asked me to use five!

I wrote an outline for a Liberator Chronicle, with distinct sections narrated by Blake, Jenna, Avon, Vila and Cally. Andrew Mark Sewell of B7 Media very sagely pointed out that, if they were all narrating a section, then we may as well make it a full-cast audio. As it was no longer a Liberator Chronicles story, they decided to make it a separate audio release, with a second disk of material and a special CD booklet.

An additional bonus was that the original Galactic War trilogy for what became Liberator Chronicles 6 was now missing a story, and was able to offer them a replacement for that in a story called Incentive.

Q: What are the differences in writing a full-cast play compared to writing for the Liberator Chronicles?

A: The Liberator Chronicles focus on a particular subset of the cast, because obviously only one or two characters are speaking their own lines. Or three if you’re Nigel Fairs, obviously.

CountdownThe stories are still in the spirit of the TV series, but concentrate on specific moments in a story. The TV series sometimes hones in on a particular character or two – for example, Avon and Del Grant in Countdown [pictured] – but there’s always stuff happening with the rest of the main characters elsewhere in the same episode. TV stories gallop along with the dialogue and visuals, whereas a narrated book may cover less story in more words as your characters describe events or locations or people.

With Companion Chronicles or Liberator Chronicles, you’re also exploiting the specific conventions of a narrated book. You can confine the point of view very narrowly, and pull off some tricks in an audio that you couldn’t on TV – for example, the way I smuggled Travis into my episode Counterfeit.

You can go even further that that, as James Goss does brilliantly with Three in a single conversation between Servalan and Cullen. That sort of thing never happened in the TV series.

It rarely happens in any popular drama series – EastEnders occasionally has a two-hander, but in 5,000 episodes has done it for fewer than two dozen half-hour shows.

LCVol6In a TV full-cast episode, you need to give your main cast members something to do – even if, notoriously, it’s merely sitting by the teleport. But with the audios, you want everyone to be happy: the cast members in the studio should have something interesting to perform, and listeners deserve an exciting and interesting plot that meaningfully involves their favourite characters.

The latest set of B7 full-cast audios have rather brilliantly exploited the absence of Dayna as a plot point, rather than making some feeble excuse about why she’s there but not audible. Contrast that, for example, with my story Incentive [box set pictured], which gets away with having action involving Cally, Vila and Dayna “off-mic” by concentrating on the key scenes that involve Tarrant and Avon.

I was especially pleased with Incentive, because I used the presence of a third character, Bracheeni, in a way that made a Liberator Chronicles more like a full-cast audio.

warship bookQ: Warship was the first full cast audio play in the Blake’s 7 range. Was this intended to be a one-off?

A: When I wrote it, we hoped it would do well. Big Finish were trying it out to see if it would succeed, because it meant getting a lot of principal cast members together and that makes it harder have lots of other guest cast.

They also wanted to see if it sold well, because it’s obviously more expensive to have that large cast. It was important that the actors enjoyed their experience in studio – for it to be a fun environment with good colleagues and an interesting script, with something substantial for each of them to perform.

And it had to be a critical success, too, in order to encourage future sales of similar full-cast audios in the range. The e-Book of Warship [pictured]was another way of generating interest for the episode – and fulfilled an ambition of mine to write a novelization.

We always hoped it would be more than a one-off, but couldn’t guarantee it. I’m obviously very happy that it worked out so splendidly.

Q: Was it tricky trying to juggle so many main characters and giving them all something to do in Warship?

Warship A: I always want to give each character something significant to do in a story. On that occasion, I knew it might be our only chance to do a full-cast audio. I didn’t want to miss the chance to write for each of them. And it was important for this first audio to make each of the actors feel fully involved, too.

My draft of it as a Liberator Chronicles story already had narrated sequences for each main character. I even thought I might get away with a short section narrated by Orac at one point. I reasoned that, if Alistair was going to play Zen then I should ask Big Finish if they’d let him do Orac, too.

And when they said yes to that, I asked if I could include Servalan – because I knew that Jacqueline Pearce had agreed to do some of the other Liberator Chronicles. Working out her availability, they agreed I could include a short sequence for her, too. If I’d know they’d already made contact with Brian Croucher, maybe I’d have pushed my luck and asked to include a cameo flashback involving Travis!

Alistair Lock had already played Zen in a 2010 B7 Media story called Escape Velocity, because Peter Tuddenham had died three years previously. Alistair was also closely involved with Big Finish as a sound engineer and musician. So B7Media were happy to let him reprise the role in my story.

BLAKEZENUp until that point, if we’d needed Zen to say anything in a Liberator Chronicles story, the principal cast member had to do the lines. In the studio for Counterfeit, Alistair and I spent some time trying to explain the correct intonation of “Confirmed” to Gareth Thomas [pictured, getting pronunciation advice from Orac].

So, by the time we’d agreed to make Warship a full-cast audio, I’d already worked out key things that involved each of the main cast — Blake and Cally’s investigation of Megiddo, Vila delousing the hull, Jenna’s brave flight into the alien fleet, Avon confronting Blake on the observation deck, Servalan’s attempt to capture the crippled Liberator, and so on.

And of course, once I knew I had the entire cast, I also looked for opportunities where they could all interact in the same scene – inevitably, given the storyline, that was on the flight deck.

Q: You’re a big fan of the series. Is this a help or a hindrance when writing for Big Finish?

A: It’s a bit of both. Personally, I need to feel an enthusiasm for a series, and some sympathy and interest for its characters, before I agree to write for it. That’s what made it easy to say “yes” when Big Finish invited me to get involved.

I remember the TV series with great affection, and enjoyed having yet another excuse to rewatch the DVDs. Is suppose a risk when you’re writing about something you know really well is to feel constrained by what’s gone before. Whereas you need to bring something new and interesting to it, just as the writers of the original TV series did each week.

You want to innovate and extend the franchise without disrespecting or ignoring what made you fall in love with it in the first place.

Q: How do you feel the TV series handled the departure of Blake and Jenna?

incentiveIt made the best of the situation at the time. I imagine [the BBC] wish they’d called the series something other than “Blake’s 7” at the outset, though. The original idea was to make Season C more about the hunt to find Jenna and Blake, but that changed once they got into the scripting.

On the other hand, it did give me a good excuse to write Incentive [starring Steven Pacey and Paul Darrow, pictured in studio] as a way of exploring why that had happened. Crayoning outside the lines.

I wish they’d mentioned Jenna a bit more. Right up until the finale, I don’t think she even gets as a namecheck in 23 episodes.

Q: Was it tough to handle tie all the dangling threads together while still telling a compelling main story/were you given a detailed story brief?

A:  The brief was quite succinct: explain what happened between the end of Star One and the beginning of Aftermath, an exciting and compelling explanation of the previously unseen Galactic War.

Actually, it was commissioned as “The Galactic War” until I convinced them that “Warship” was a better title. I thought my alternative identified a central “character” in the series, sounded more like a Blake’s 7 episode, and located a key location in the episode

Script for WarshipQ:  How important is it to get the continuity right?

A: It’s that thing about being a fan again – I want it to be Blake’s 7, after all. Big Finish is run by professional actors, writers, directors, producers, script editors, sound engineers and so on who are fans. We love the stuff we work on. That’s as true for “Blake’s 7” as anything. For the past couple of years, I’ve also doing continuity reviews of the novels.

You have to resist the temptation, though, to be constrained by the TV series. I’ve learned to recognise in myself a fannish desire to “join the dots.” But dot-to-dot is not very creative, nor does it produce especially interesting pictures. You have to sketch freehand, and sometimes crayon outside the lines.

Some fans grumbled about how Simon Guerrier [pictured] wrote into one of his Liberator Chronicles scripts that the Liberator had an observation deck — because that had never appeared before. I thought, “So what?” It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t actually contradict the TV series.

SimonGIt’s not like we ever exhaustively explored the ship on screen. And there were places mentioned maybe once on telly for a plot point, and rarely or never heard of again – the hold we see in Time Squad, or the room full of jewels we hear about in Cygnus Alpha.

So, why not introduce a gymnasium, or a laboratory, or an observation deck? Besides, it gave me an excuse to extend and develop the observation deck in Warship as the ideal location for a key scene between Avon and Blake. Thanks, Simon!

When I write something, I need to decide what’s relevant to the story and what makes it work. I was particularly conscious of continuity in Warship. To take just one example – how long did the war last?

CallyStarOneThe continuity about that is contradictory in the TV series, anyway. The war gets mentioned as late on as Animals. I can think of several ways of accounting for how so many of Justin’s pupils were killed during the war – and whether Justin’s Federation scientific warfare team was already in place before the war broke out. There are brief mentions of the war in Children of Auron and Moloch that don’t give much clue about its duration. But Volcano is set on a planet right in the middle of the war zone, and where some of its greatest battles took place. That implies a more extensive conflict.

But the evidence of our eyes in is that the war starts in the final episode of Season B and concludes in the opening episode of Season C. CallyAftermathWe also see that Avon, Vila and Cally are still wearing exactly the same clothes [see Cally’s in the example pictures here] as they escape from the Liberator in Aftermath that they wore on the flight deck at the conclusion of Star One – which shows that there’s not a substantial gap between the two episodes.

And as it happens, that’s also appropriate for the structure of a full-cast audio episode in the spirit of the original series that connects the two TV stories. Though I also included some sections within the pacing of my episode that allow a bit of wiggle room for fans to make up their own minds a bit.

And I have a whole blog post on whether Orac is “he” or “it.” Don’t get me started. http://is.gd/wmWO3W

B7Series1Q: Did you re-watch the episodes as research?

A: I don’t need any excuse to rewatch Blake’s 7! But yes, I did do a lot research – and not just the two episodes either side of my story.

Q: Were you happy with the critical reception for Warship?

A: I was delighted. One of my favourite reviews was someone rating it nine out of ten because they wanted to have a score available if subsequent full-cast audios were even better than this one. (Had they never seen This is Spinal Tap? Go up to 11.)

Q: You went on to write Mirror for the ‘Series B+’ range. Was it tricky fitting your story into the wider ongoing storyline?

A: Script editor Justin Richards outlined broadly what the episodes needed to cover, and what key aspects of the overall story had to be in each. Otherwise, it was up to the writers to fit things together. I had the chance to read all the other scripts, and comment on broader Blake’s 7 continuity in them. That gave me a good opportunity to ensure my script tied in neatly with them, and offered links from mine into theirs.

Blake's 7: MirrorThe brief for my story suggested a title that I thought gave the game away too much, and I proposed Mirror [pictured] as a more Blake’s 7 title — plus something I could exploit as an ambiguity. When I read one of the earlier scripts, it had some reference to a mirror or mirrors that I thought would pre-empt the twist in my story, so I haggled with Big Finish to play that down or remove it (without compromising the other script, obviously).

I was keen to include some continuity with the broader Big Finish audio series, which had the additional benefit of giving Jenna motivation for her actions in Mirror by involving the character Space Major Kade. You don’t have to know who he is, but it’s a little bonus for fans of the other audios.

I also included a tribute to the original series director and producer Vere Lorrimer. In studio for Warship, Michael Keating had joked that we ought to have a planet called Vere, and I thought “why not?” It raised a few affectionate smiles in the studio for Mirror.

Q: Do you prefer writing for the Blake led crew or the Series C line-up?

A: I like it all. The dynamics are different in each, and it’s great fun to write stuff that plays to the strengths and enthusiasms of the different actors.

I must confess, though, that it was a particular treat to write that first full-cast audio, and then get a chance to write the first script that Steven Pacey recorded for Big Finish.

Q: Are there particular characters you enjoy writing for?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have written for so many of them. Vila is great fun. Perhaps that’s because I sit at the back of the director’s booth on recording days and laugh as Michael Keating reads out my jokes in the dialogue.

Maybe it’s odd, but I also enjoy writing dialogue scenes involving Orac. He’s particularly good value in scenes involving Avon, of course. And I even managed to write a dialogue exchange between him and Zen in Mirror. Or should that be “it”?

Q: Would you like to write for the range again?

CavanScottA: Definitely. I think there’s plenty more to do in the Big Finish Blake’s 7 universe. New producer Cav Scott [pictured] is another big fan of the series. I’ve talked to him potential stories and ways that Big Finish Blake’s 7 can expand. I’d love to explore them further.

Q: Thanks again for your help.

A: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for asking.

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