The Red Lines Page

December 31, 2017

Blake’s 7 interview from 2015

Filed under: Blake's 7,Counterfeit,Incentive,Mirror,Warship,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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July 12, 2014

It’s just a machine

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Mirror,writing — Peter A @ 7:45 pm

Orac and crew on the Liberator flight deckInterviewed by Big Finish about the scripts for their Blake’s 7 audios, Paul Darrow commented that sometimes we have Avon describing the computers as “he” rather than “it.” And because that wasn’t typical of the character, he asked for it to be changed. Which is true. A bit.

At the end of my story Mirror, Avon and Blake both refer to Orac as “he.”

Blake: Orac teleported me back to Liberator.

Avon: I know. He teleported me first remember?

I think that  having any character refer to Orac or Zen as “it” rather than “he” is much more emphatic, and therefore “making a point.”  Dialogue drives an audio script. When I’m writing mine, I try to avoid anything that sounds unnatural or awkward or contrived. But I also know that people (including Paul Darrow) think that Avon doesn’t tend to refer to Orac as “he.”

So my preference is to avoid having Avon use either “he” or “it” when referring to Orac, and thus just write around the decision about which to use. Sometimes it’s going to be awkward to have Avon repeatedly referring to Orac as “Orac” in a conversation with another character. And having him call Orac “it” is a bit emphatic, unless Avon’s making a point about the computer. And on those occasions, I don’t shy away from letting Avon say “he” — especially if it is cued by another character saying “he.”  In the example above, “Orac teleported me first, remember?” would sound odd after Blake’s line. And “It teleported me first, remember?” would be an unusual emphasis for the scene.

But is it true to the original TV series? We pride ourselves in the Big Finish writing team that we’re all huge fans of the show, and getting the characters and story continuity right is important to us. I read through all the original scripts of the audio series to review continuity references. So, does Avon really never call Orac “he” on the telly?

Well, here’s a scene from the story that first introduces the computer, the eponymous episode Orac.Orac title caption

Orac: Demonstrate as a command is insufficient.

Gan: What does he mean?

Avon: He means, like Zen, that he requires specific instructions.

Twice in one sentence! What is more, it’s not something that Avon subsequently “grows out of” because here he is doing it again as late as in Games in Season D:Games title caption

Avon: If Orac is going to get any information out of that machine, this is the way he’s going to do it.

Soolin: Who’s winning?

Orac: We’ve both made sacrifices.

Avon: He means that Gambit is.

Orac: A temporary advantage.

Avon: To an inferior computer?

Orac: Which merely disguises my long-term strategy.

Avon: Let’s forget your ego for the moment.

Throughout the TV series, Avon is more likely to engage in banter with Orac than with Zen, or to ponder his/its motivations. He even acknowledges, as we see in that scene from Games, that Orac has an ego. That makes Avon’s very first use of “he” in the episode Orac  even more interesting, because he says it in the phrase “like Zen, he…” which draws a comparison between the two of them, despite using “he” rather than “it.” And yet elsewhere in Season A, specifically in Cygnus Alpha and Duel, Avon is much more emphatic about Zen being an “it”, not a “he.” He states explicitly: “It’s just a machine.”

Conversely, we know characters like Gan and Vila refer to computers as “he” — whether Orac or Zen or Slave. And yet there is this interesting dialogue exchange in Shadow (Season B).Shadow title caption

Hanna: This is silly. It’s just a machine.

Vila: Of course it is. If it wasn’t so expensive I’d kick it to pieces.

Bek: Yes. If it didn’t bite.

Gan: Avon’ll fix it when he gets back.

The context is that they are discussing Orac in front of visitors, Hanna and Bek, who refer to Orac as “it” rather than “he” from the outset. The dialogue flows naturally, and logically, when Vila and Gan use “it.” And it works thematically, too,  distancing Orac from us and the crew in the context of his/its behaviour during the episode.

There we are, then. I think that there should be occasions in the audios when Avon chooses to call Orac “he” rather than “it.” That is the case for my scene in Mirror. And it also fits in consciously with a theme of the audio series. But to find out more about that, you should buy the CDs and listen to them.

Blake's 7: Mirror

April 9, 2014

Reflections on Mirror

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Mirror — Peter A @ 9:22 pm

My Blake’s 7 audio “Mirror” is published today. It’s the latest exciting episode in a full-cast audio series. You can hear a preview clip of it here.

I loved being part of a team of writers putting together this “Season B+” for Big Finish and B7 Media. I hope listeners are starting to spot the threads as each new episode comes out. I’ve particularly enjoyed the advance fan speculation about what’s in each story, based on titles, covers, cast lists, or the “blurbs” for each new instalment. But, just as with the original TV series, you can enjoy them as individual stories.

mirrorAs a bonus, each release also contains interviews with the cast and crew – and the interviews for “Mirror” features almost all of the regular cast. I was interviewed in the studio for this one, but my comments were left on the cutting room floor. At the time, I felt a bit coy or constrained about what to say because I wasn’t quite sure what I could reveal in advance.

There was one particular aspect of… let’s call it “nomenclature” that I did talk about, somewhat haltingly. Fortunately, there’s a Paul Darrow out-take in the interview track that sums it up in a delightful and much more succinct way than I did.

You can order “Mirror” from Big Finish here. I’d love to hear what you think of it. On reflection, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

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.

December 15, 2013

Mirror image

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Mirror — Peter A @ 5:25 pm
Tags: ,

MirrorThose splendid people at Big Finish have been publishing the covers of their forthcoming full-cast audio Blake’s 7 episodes. One of them is mine: Mirror. More news about that in the new year.

In the meantime, here’s what I can say about it:

Synopsis

Orac has tracked Space Major Kade – the man who killed Jenna’s father – to the planet Vere.

Jenna wants her revenge, but that must wait. Blake needs her to pilot the Liberator to Stellidar Four, where he has a small window of opportunity to solve the mystery of a new Federation device.

It’s a daring plan. And it could be the beginning of the end for the Liberator crew.

Written by: Peter Anghelides
Directed by: Ken Bentley

Cast

Gareth Thomas (Blake), Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila ), Jan Chappell (Cally), Sally Knyvette (Jenna ), Brian Croucher (Travis), Alistair Lock (Zen and Orac).

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