The Red Lines Page

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.

March 9, 2014

I feel like a Newman

Filed under: Audios,drwho,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 2:02 pm

Big Finish has a customer survey running at the moment. It solicits opinions about all sorts of things, including which other spinoff series they could make. Participants get the chance to win a prize worth £250.

I like the idea of Torchwood audios, obviously. As I have prior history with that franchise, I would hope to be early in the queue for writing those – alphabetically speaking. Unless Dan Abnett isn’t busy at the time.

Mind you, it’s an outrage that Big Finish aren’t considering a spinoff series for An Adventure in Space and Time. I demand to hear further thrilling stories featuring Verity and Sydney (pictured here from their recent personal appearance at GallifreyOne). Steve Cole even photographed me discussing things with Sydney by the hotel pool.

Everyone should write in to Big Finish! Pop pop pop over to their website immediately.

February 3, 2014

GallifreyOne 2014

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,drwho,Novels,Sarah Jane Smith,Short fiction,writing — Peter A @ 12:42 am

GallifreyOne 2014I am delighted to have been invited once again to the fantastic GallifreyOne, the world’s largest and longest-running Doctor Who convention. There’s a sparkling array of major guests attending:

  • Doctors Colin Baker and Paul McGann
  • Companions Arthur Darvill, Billie Piper, Katy Manning, Nicola Bryant, Jean Marsh, Matthew Waterhouse, Deborah Watling, Velile Tshabalala and Frazer Hines
  • Writers Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Jane Espenson, Phil Ford and Rob Shearman.
  • Guest stars  Tom Price, Gareth Thomas, Annette Badland, Tracey Childs and Stuart Milligan.
  • Production team members Derek Ritchie, Gary Russell and Dominic Glynn.
  • And loads more – check out the full list on the convention website

Quarter century

This is the silver nemesis anniversary of the convention. It with be my seventh visit to the event, so compared with many regular attendees I’m a bit of a dilettante.

I first went to The Eleventh Hour of GallifreyOne – which feels so long ago that it must predate the Time Lords mastering transmat technology, the universe was half its present size, and the GallifreyOne attendee count was only in the hundreds rather than the thousands who will turn up this year. Back then, the convention took place in a much smaller airport hotel, in Van Nuys. The BBC was unthinkably not making any new episodes of Doctor Who.


Nevertheless, there was still much to discuss about the 27 years of already-broadcast TV stories. It was a rare year that one of the Doctors did not turn up as a headline guest at the convention. But the only new Doctor Who being produced in those days was for the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, the Big Finish audio plays, and the Virgin (subsequently BBC Books) novels.

As a result, guests from the writing and production teams of those tie-in productions were invited to attend the convention. I was very pleased to go along to my first GallifreyOne convention in 2000. There were two Doctors in attendance (Peter Davison and Colin Baker) and along with me the tie-in guests included Justin Richards, Gary Russell, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Steve Cole, Paul Cornell, Dave Stone, Kate Orman, Jonathan Blum, Mike Tucker, Keith Topping, Bill Baggs and Gary Gillatt.

In subsequent years, I was at events at the Van Nuys hotel with David Howe, Stephen James Walker, Clayton Hickman, Lance Parkin, Lisa BowermanNev Fountain, Caroline Symcox, Lloyd Rose, David McIntee, Dale Smith, Paul Ebbs, Mark Wright, Jon de Burgh MillerNigel Fairs, Simon Bucher-Jones, Craig Hinton, Steve Lyons, Dave Owen and Nick Walters.

This first photo (above) from the 2000 event is from Alden Bates’s website, and shows Gary Gillatt, Steve Cole, Terrance Dicks, Gary Russell, Justin Richards, me, Mike Tucker and Paul Cornell.

Edit: Remote linking denied from for that photo, so I’ve replaced it with an alternative from the GallifreyOne website that shows the 2001 convention  (L-R, back:) Craig Hinton, unknown, unknown, Keith Topping, Paul Cornell, Shaun Lyon (Program Director), Nick Walters, Andrew Beech, and me; (L-R, front): Peter Lovelady and Justin Richards.

Past present

From gallifreyone.comThe turn-out at my first GallifreyOne fourteen years ago was just under 750 people. Whereas last year, just over 3,500 attended – and I suspect even more will be there this year. Like Doctor Who, the convention has grown hugely until it’s become something of a global phenomenon – I sometimes think I meet my UK friends at GallifreyOne more often than I do back home. And just like the TV series that it celebrates, the convention has not lost the charm and affection of its origins.

Of course, there’s a big focus on the current TV series. But the event still celebrates the whole fifty years of the series, and much more besides. So it’s especially nice in this celebratory year that some of the convention’s program of events remembers those tie-in productions that provided “new Who” in the years that the TV series was off-air, and when the GallifreyOne convention first welcomed us as guests. And indeed, once again welcomes some of us to be guests.

The second picture (right) from the 2001 event, The Twelfth Regeneration of GallifreyOne, shows Justin Richards, Steve Cole, Dave Owen, Keith Topping and me. This year is the first GallifreyOne for well over a decade that I have attended at the same time as Steve and Keith. I may still have that shirt. (I may even wear it.)

My schedule

I’m involved in a range of panels and signings this year. Here’s what I am signed up for at the moment:


  • 1:30 p.m. Kaffeeklatch. A discussion group, accompanied by Steve Cole. They may be taking a risk with this, because Steve and I aren’t particularly well-known for taking care of Gallifrey.
  • 2:30 p.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Paul Cornell and Keith Topping.


  • 11 a.m.The Ancestor Cell Writing for characters you didn’t create. A panel with Deric Hughes, Christine Boylan, Tony Lee, Barbara Hambly and Jordan Rosenberg. A mix of TV writers, novelists, comics writers, and me.
  • 1 p.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Dominic Glynn, Rob Shearman, Tobe Hadoke and Keith Topping.
  • 3 p.m. Doctor Who – The Wilderness Years. Panel with Steve Cole, Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Gary Russell, Keith Topping and Rob Shearman. Moderator Felicity Kusinitz will try to ensure we are well-behaved and say something interesting about the books and audios that made up the “new Who” between 1990 and 2004. Penalty points for anyone who uses the word “hiatus.”


  • 11 a.m. Autograph alley, with Steve Cole, Richard Dinnick, Phil Ford, Gary Russell and Keith Topping.

All weekend

If you’re going to the convention, do drop by and say hello. I’m happy to talk about the Doctor Who things I’ve done, or Torchwood, Blake’s 7, Sarah Jane Adventures, Bernice Summerfield… audios, novels, short stories, talking books… or anything else.

My previous experience of the wireless connections at the convention hotel is that it was either (a) sporadic when free or (b) ruinously expensive otherwise. I’ll try to tweet occasionally, and maybe post some photos. The convention hashtag is #gally1 if you’re following along.

If you haven’t yet signed up to attend the convention, alas, it sold out long ago. But do try to get tickets for next year’s event. It is such a wonderful, warm, welcoming convention that you will have a fabulous time, no matter who the guests are that year. (PS: they’re always great.)

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:


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


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

April 1, 2013

Filling the gap

Filed under: April Fool,Articles,Audios,Blake's 7,writing — Peter A @ 12:03 am

Singing headache eyepatchI’m delighted to confirm that my audio Blake’s 7: Warship was so successful that Big Finish has invited me to write three new scripts. Like my original one, they will be full-cast audios starring the original characters, and fill in the secret history of the first half of the programme’s history. The series will be called: “Blake’s 7: Filling the Gap.”

  • “They must come to us.” But just how did the Decimas reach their final destination? Find out in The Web Planet, featuring Deep Roy as all the Decimas.
  • What was the aftermath of “Breakdown”? You’ll be amazed by the answer in No Limit, with Alistair Lock playing Gan.
  • And most excitingly of all, what happened that caused such a change in our favourite Space Commander? Discover the truth as Stephen Grief and Brian Croucher star in The Two Travises.

Furthermore, there is perceived to be another, significant gap in audio publishing – a gender gap. So, in the light of recent publicity about the disparity in girl writers, I have graciously convinced Big Finish to publish my scripts under the pseudonym “Stephanie Ledger.”

It’s the right thing to do, even if it’s a shame to lose my surname – because that would continue to suggest there are more foreigners writing for the company, in a publishing house hitherto best known for English surnames like Morris, Richards, Cole, Lyons, Briggs, Russell, Barnes, Morris, Wright, Robson, Briggs, and Morris.

Nevertheless, it’s an exciting time to demonstrate this new commitment to gender diversity. New adventures for our favourite characters. More work for me. And a wider range of women’s names on the merchandise that adorns the shelves of fandom.

The first audio should be available for pre-order later this year, with a proposed publication date of a year from today.

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.

December 13, 2012

Blake’s 7: Incentive

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7 — Peter A @ 3:42 pm

incentiveBig Finish today announced release 6 of The Liberator Chronicles.

This was originally the collection that would have included Warship, which was subsequently spun out into a full-cast audio of its own.

So I wrote a replacement script to be one of the three, and that’s called “Incentive.” Better still, it reintroduces Tarrant to the audios, played by the wonderful Steven Pacey.

I enjoyed today’s studio recording very much. I’ll blog some more about it at some stage.

December 9, 2012

Sarah Jane interview

Filed under: Audios,Mirror Signal Manoeuvre,Sarah Jane Smith,writing — Peter A @ 6:18 pm

Occasionally people ask me to do interviews for book and fanzines. Recently, Kenny Smith was asking about the Sarah Jane Smith audio that I wrote for Big Finish for a forthcoming Big Finish Companion. That reminded me that I’d done an interview for Will Brooks and his Sarah Jane fanzine (to be published in the new year). And that in turn reminded me that I’d done an interview with Ben Cook in 2003 for a previous Big Finish book.

The way these things work is that I answer questions and the authors chop out the boring bits and weave the rest into their publication. So for the sake of nostalgia, here’s the Q&A I did for Ben back in 2003.


Okay, a bit of background information … When and how did you get into DOCTOR WHO?

I must have dipped in an out of the Patrick Troughton episodes, whenever there wasn’t something that a visiting relative insisted on watching instead on ITV (usually the Wrestling on World of Sport with Kent Walton).

The first evidence that I was hooked was in my Junior 1 A5 jotter at school. For my Monday Morning “what I did at the weekend” writing exercise, I would describe what had happened in the previous Saturday’s episode of “The Silurians”. I must have given my school teacher the impression that, while other kids were obviously going swimming or horse riding or visiting their relatives or riding their bikes, I must have been locked up by my parents with nothing else to do.

Subsequent evidence included a model dinosaur (a tough decision—it was either that or a large-format illustration to celebrate Manchester City). The dinosaur was made of old egg boxes and pipe cleaners and glue. To this day, the smell of Cow Gum makes me think of Jon Pertwee, who I remember with much greater affection than Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee. Not least because all I got back from Man City in the end was a badly-photocopied sheet of untidy autographs.

What is it about DOCTOR WHO that appeals to you?

It’s been a constant in my life, particularly my childhood. It was Jon Pertwee at primary school, Tom Baker at secondary school, and later it was Peter Davison at University. By that stage, of course, I’d got involved with fandom, writing articles, producing fanzines, and going to conventions—so it became more than a backdrop to my life, it was my hobby.

What are your strongest memories of DOCTOR WHO on television?

Too many to recall. If it were just a handful, then I’d feel like those people who can recall “the one with the maggots”, or “the one where they broke through the shop window”. And that would never do, eh?

And what are your strongest memories of Sarah Jane Smith on telly?

I was tremendously excited to find, from a close reading of the 1973 Radio Times Doctor Who Special, that there was to be a new companion. I was in secondary school by this stage, and being a naïve youth it was slowly dawning on me that these people were actors, and not just characters on TV. And there was an article (with large colour photo) of the new companion. So I enjoyed seeing her in Lincoln Green for her debut story, and there was a thrill of horror when she was controlled by the spider on her back in “Planet of the Spiders”.

But it was her sparky relationship with the new Doctor that really captured my imagination—how she responded to his taunting in “Ark in Space”, her terror and blindness in “Brain of Morbius”, that extraordinary Andy Pandy outfit in “Hand of Fear”. And then he went and abandoned her in South Croydon, the brute. Life wasn’t the same after that. K9 & Company didn’t even get transmitted in the North West of England.

Also, I want to know a bit about your career outside of DOCTOR WHO. What do you do when you’re not writing DOCTOR WHO adventures?

I’m a line manager in a software development laboratory that is part of the world’s largest multinational IT company. My team is a couple of dozen staff working on human-computer interaction and technical publications. I also have a couple of young sons: they are about the age I was when I first started watching Doctor Who. Their favourite Doctor is Rowan Atkinson.

So, how did you come to write MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE? Tell me the story. Were you asked? Or did you submit a proposal? What happened?

I had been invited along to the first Big Finish meeting where the original DW audios were discussed, but for some reason I couldn’t attend. So through a combination of poor timing and indolence I had not submitted any script ideas to Big Finish, though I’d always said I would like to have a go. So I suppose I’d been looking for an appropriate opportunity.

Unlike some of my DW author colleagues, fiction isn’t a full-time job for me, so it’s a matter of finding or making time to write. And if I’m going to do something professionally, I want to make sure that I won’t let the publisher down because (unlike many conventional hobbies) other people depend on you and there are companies with money at stake if you don’t deliver on time.

Then I was invited along to a convention in the North East of England, Dimensions on Tyne, where Elisabeth Sladen was one of the guests. She said that she was doing this series of Sarah Jane Smith audios for Big Finish, that I’d been recommended to her as someone who might write a good script, and that she’d like to ask me to submit ideas. I said that I was very flattered. Indeed, I was so flattered and taken aback that instead of adopting a suave and nonchalant attitude, and saying “why yes, how kind of you to ask, here are three brilliant suggestions and one of my business cards” I actually said “er… thanks… yes… um… was I alphabetically first on the list…?” Instead of treating me like an obvious loon, she continued to encourage me to contact producer/director Gary Russell.

So I did. I got the series outline from Gary, I submitted a story that fitted in with that, and mine was one of those that Lis and Gary chose.

Were you confident that your story would be taken up by Big Finish? Or did it come as a complete shock? What was your reaction to the script being accepted (shock, delight, horror …)?

I don’t know whether I was confident or not. One of the virtues of submitting a story proposal, rather than producing a whole script, is that it’s not such a big thing to shred if it gets rejected. I don’t know how many other people pitched ideas (though I know of at least one that didn’t make it).

I wrote the proposal in a tremendous rush over one weekend. I’d met Lis and Gary at the convention in November 2001. I also met Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts at the convention, and chatted to them in the green room although, for some reason, we chatted about lots of things except for the Sarah Jane Smith audios. Come to think of it, we didn’t even talk about Doctor Who very much either. Anyway, I didn’t get the series details from Gary until December, and he wanted submissions by the following week. My wife’s parents were visiting that weekend, but I made my apologies, sneaked off to my study, and bashed out a suggestion to meet the submission deadline.

Then I didn’t hear back for about a month, and rather assumed nothing was going to happen. I checked with Gary shortly into the New Year, and to let him know that I was about to go out of the country—to New York on a business trip. And that’s when he e-mailed me back to say that he and Lis had chosen mine as one of the five.

David Bishop, who is much more organised than I am about these things, and had a first draft of his script available before I’d even written a word of mine. He was kind enough to send me that draft, and so not only was I able to see how someone else had interpreted the regulars (Natalie and Josh), I was also able to steal his Microsoft Word template for my script.

However, I was slightly taken aback to discover on reading his script for “Test of Nerve” that he had written a story about a terrorist attack on the London Underground—the suggestion for story three. Now, I thought that I had pitched for that slot (mine was set in Scotland, and involved a fish farm—thrilling stuff, eh?) and so I knew I was going to have to give it quite a different spin. Gary’s guidance as script editor was invaluable. We agreed that I’d keep Sarah out of the UK for much of the story, keep Josh in the UK, and cut down on Nat’s involvement to stay within the time limit for the play.

Oh, and could I submit the script in the next two weeks, please?

On this basis, therefore, was my reaction to the commission one of shock, delight, or horror? It was a combination of all three.

And I’m particularly interested in anything you can tell me about how the SARAH JANE SMITH audios came about in the first place. What was your first involvement with them?

My first involvement was being invited by Lis to suggest ideas for a script. I knew the first two had been commissioned from Terrance and Barry, and that the other three slots were available. I had thought that I’d submitted something for story three, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was writing the “season finale”.

It wasn’t clear at the outset whether Miss Winters was definitely in the series, and so my outline allowed for her role to be taken by another character (with suitable changes to the motivation). In my first draft, it’s Miss Winters who pretends to be a journalist and meets up with Sarah, and so the “reveal” at the end is when the CEO that they’re going to gatecrash in India turns out to be… the person with whom Sarah has spent most of the adventure! In the end, that character became Wendy Jennings instead—a younger character—and Miss Winters makes her surprise appearance at the conclusion of the adventure instead.

What part do you feel you personally played in shaping the direction of the SARAH JANE SMITH audio range?

I think I’d be flattering myself if I suggested I’d shaped the direction very much at all. I suspect that mostly I got things into other people’s scripts because I was the first one to mention them in my script—the name of Sarah’s TV series and her former company, for example. There were some back-references to her pedantry about “less” and “fewer” as well. I proposed that Sarah’s changes of address should be mentioned in earlier scripts. And in the first draft of the script, Harris was a different character, though I noted that Sarah had not met Harris in person during “Test of Nerve” (which I’d read before writing my script) and suggested that he could play the role in my script, too. So I had some ideas how they might save on production costs by cutting down the number of different actors!

Where did the idea for the plot of MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE come from? What was your brief? What were your influences? Did you have to do much research?

I had followed some discussions about fish viruses in Scottish fish farms, and how a mixture of government incompetence and industry indifference had exacerbated the problem. And then I found out about a World War II biowarfare experiment that the UK government had conducted in the Indian Ocean.

I’d also written a previous audio for Paul McGann—his first “return” to Doctor Who after the TV Movie (in a short story that he read on a BBC cassette called “Earth and Beyond”). I’d set that story on the Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean that I had visited with my wife several years previously. I thought there was more I could do with that sort of remote location, somewhere that took Sarah Jane far away from her friends and away from the European technological environment where she’d feel more comfortable—and yet where, ironically, she was more at the mercy of her enemies’ technology while her friends frantically tried to get in touch. My first thought was to send her on holiday to Barbados.

Were you confident that the SARAH JANE SMITH series would be a success?

Yes. The Doctor Who audios were, and are, terrific, and Lis Sladen’s enthusiasm for the project was tremendous. Plus Terrance and Barry were writing two of the scripts! And the other authors were David Bishop (who’d done a Judge Dredd audio for Big Finish) and Rupert Laight (who had written TV scripts). And then me. But by the time they got round to “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”, if my story bombed, listeners would already have been treated to scripts from four experienced drama writers.

How do you find writing for Sarah Jane Smith? What did you want to do with character?

It was terrific. I could “hear” Sarah Jane’s voice in my ear from all those years of watching her on TV, but I could also imagine how her character might have developed over the years. I agreed with Gary and with Lis, who both wanted an edgier, more self-reliant character. I also liked the idea that, in my script, she was going to be emotionally and physically distanced from her remaining friends, so it’s more fun writing for that sort of character—one who is under pressure, and who has to drive the plot.

Did you talk to Elisabeth Sladen at all during or after the writing process?

After the convention, Lis sent me an audio interview that she’d done for MJTV productions, one of their “The Actor Speaks” series. That gave me some insights into how she saw the character might have developed since being unceremoniously dumped in Croydon with a stuffed owl in a cardboard box. And it also provided me with the current sound of Sarah Jane’s “grown-up” voice.

Lis suggested a couple of changes to the submitted script, via Gary, that made Sarah more in control of her first meeting with Wendy on the boat—and we discussed that in a phone call, too. It was all very cordial and constructive. Lis was also kind enough to thank me for writing a lovely script.

What were you aiming to achieve in the relationship between Sarah and Josh?

When I wrote the script, I had a Mancunian in mind for Josh, because that was the original character brief. That informed some of the wording of the dialogue. Once Jeremy had been cast, and the script got in to the studio, there were some adjustments. I liked the idea that he was able to be a cheeky fellow countering Sarah with sarcasm. You have to have a bit of tension, even if it’s just friendly, to make the characters’ dialogue come alive on the page and keep the plot ticking along.

And what about the character of Natalie? What did you make of her?

I wrote her so that there was a kind of mother-teenager tension between her and Sarah, given that their interaction is that slightly distanced and impersonal effect you get on the phone. At the time I did that, I didn’t know that Sadie had been cast as Natalie. And on reflection if I had known perhaps I would have been a bit more cautious about using that mother-daughter thing as being too obvious, or maybe a bit impertinent of me.

As it happens, I’m glad I didn’t know and that I just plunged in! I think their interactions spark very nicely in the finished version. I was sorry that, on the day I was in the studio for the recording, Sadie wasn’t there—all her scenes had been done on a previous day.

We don’t see Nat, and unless she develops a squeaky wheel then you wouldn’t know she was in a wheelchair. There’s a tricky line you don’t want to cross, where mentioning her disability can be a way of defining her, and the character deserves better than that. David Bishop had already done a story where her disability was a plot point, so I just kept people aware of it by having her joke casually and naturally about it to Josh. Similarly, we know why it’s Josh and not Nat who gets on the plane to Bangalore, it doesn’t need spelling out.

Also, could you tell me a bit about what you wanted to do with Miss Winters in MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE? How many times did you have to re-watch ROBOT?!

I originally planned that Miss Winters was Wendy Jennings—actually so close to Sarah that Sarah cannot see her. When Wendy is talking on the train about whether Sarah does follow-up pieces on people she’s written about in the past, that was originally designed be to be Miss Winters secretly taunting her.

Patricia Maynard today looks quite unlike Hilda Winters from “Robot”, not to mention in any case that she was playing a role, and not herself, all those years ago. When she “does” the voice, you can recognise it (and very chilling it was to hear her adopt it again at the microphone, I must say—her natural speaking voice is quite unlike Hilda’s more strident tones). After so many years, then, it was quite plausible that Sarah would not recognise Miss Winters, and that Hilda could use this against her.

Because it wasn’t confirmed that Patricia was available until quite late on, I wrote a first draft script in which she did not appear at all. Wendy was therefore an older woman who linked up with Sarah in the Lakshadweep Islands, and was later revealed to be the CEO of a company that Sarah did an exposé on many years previously. When Patricia came on board, Gary and I rewrote the closing scenes to have Wendy as a younger woman working for Hilda.

I remember “Robot” quite well from its very first transmission. Although I haven’t seen it more than once or twice since 1974, and I’ve read Terrance Dicks’s book a couple of times, I didn’t re-watch the video or re-read the novelisation before writing “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”.

Okay, this is an important one … Could you talk me through the process of writing MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE (as far as you can remember)? What initial ideas were discarded? Which bits did you have trouble writing? How did the story develop from draft to draft? Tell me what was happening inside your head during the writing process.

Some of this is covered in previous answers. So the other bits of the process were like this…

I’d wanted to do something starting with an answerphone message for a while, and had scribbled some ideas in my notebook for this. Originally, I’d thought this would be the start of a short story, but obviously it works really well for an audio. And because Sarah was emotionally and physically distanced from Josh and Nat as the series reached its finale, it fitted in really well. If you leave a message, you don’t get the interaction of a regular conversation, so there’s the possibility of misunderstanding. And even if you’re on the phone talking with someone directly, you don’t get the body language and facial reactions always to get the meaning correct—it’s prone to misunderstanding, and that was good for the purposes of the story.

Another thing that I decided to do was up the stakes for the season finale. I’d imagined the Sarah Jane Smith series as very UK-based, and I liked the idea of getting Sarah away to a more unusual location. I don’t think I knew then that Sarah was travelling abroad with Josh for story four. But once Gary and I agreed that Sarah would spend pretty much the whole of my story out of the UK, I looked around for another venue for my finale. Originally that was set in a Scottish Loch, with the Scalar offices in a castle. But once Gary suggested keeping Sarah’s action almost entirely abroad, it made sense to go for a bigger finale and so I moved it all to the world’s biggest system of dams, the Parambikulam-Aliya project in India, and the Scalar HQ in an old colonial building. That in turn meant I could use the Lakshadweep Islands (off the western coast of India), rather than the Caribbean location I’d first envisaged for Sarah’s holiday.

The more I thought about the distance between Sarah and her friends, the more I realised I could do with phones. It can be a slight cheat, because there’s more likelihood that someone will describe what they can see to the person on the other end of the call. I tried to resist that, assuming that the listeners would be able to work out when lots of things were happening at once. For example, Josh carries on two conversations at once while he’s on the plane; he’s talking into the seatback phone to Nat, and at the same time ordering his posh nosh from the cabin crew; so as well as pushing the story onwards it also is a bit of fun at Nat’s expense, because she’s stuck in an internet café while he’s away enjoying himself. I also quite liked the idea that Nat could “witness” Josh getting beaten up because she was listening to him over the phone—on that occasion she’s helpless to rescue him because she doesn’t know where he is, rather than because she’s stuck in her wheelchair.

Throughout the writing of the script, I tried to keep in mind stuff I’d heard in other audios that did or did not work—to avoid the latter, and emulate the former. I wanted the dialogue to sound snappy, as though motivated by people actually talking with each other rather than at each other. And at the top of each scene I imagined what the background noises were going to be like—how that might affect the way characters spoke, what it told you about the location that therefore didn’t need to be explained in the dialogue. My favourite of these is when the sound of the Coimbatore train fades at the end of one scene into the noise of Nat typing on her keyboard in the next scene.

Because I was on a business trip away from home, I had to write some of the script while travelling or in my hotel during the evening. Some of the airport and plane scenes were written, therefore, while I was in a New York airport, or flying over the Atlantic. The scene set in Brandt’s hotel room was written in my hotel room. I’m not always this Stanislavskian about writing fiction.

I think I also had a deadline for submitting a story to Paul Cornell’s Bernice Summerfield collection A Life of Surprises at about the same time. So it was a busy time for me.

Gary reworked the end of my original submission to introduce Hilda Winters into the conclusion. I had a look at that draft, and did I bit more rewriting on those new lines. Elisabeth Sladen also had some constructive suggestions, including a request to put Sarah more in control of her first conversation with Wendy on the malmi’s boat. There weren’t many changes after that.

In the very early stages of producing my outline, there was another scene after the riverside shoot-out. It was set on the dam (or possibly in the turbine room), a final confrontation with Sarah facing down Miss Winters and Brandt just too late as the barrels of brucella virus go into the reservoir—foaming away before her eyes (which she would describe in her horrified dialogue, of course); and then she got locked in there while Winters and Brandt fled the scene and left her for the authorities to find her. Was it curtains for Sarah? No, because resourceful Josh had got to the barrels first, and substituted industrial-sized containers of Indian-brand Fairy Liquid—and then he and Sarah had to flee the scene before the authorities arrive, because Sarah s implicated in an unsuccessful attempt from which she will have to clear her name.

Looking at the amount of stuff already in the outline, I decided that this finale was going to make the script far too long, and arguably too over-the-top. So it got chopped, and Josh now makes his heroic appearance at the riverside instead.

Any initial working titles?

I didn’t give it a title when I submitted the outline. Gary and I were exchanging e-mail about something called SJS – Title? for a while. Once I had decided, it was always called “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”. I wanted a title that didn’t sound like a typical Doctor Who title, something that might have been an episode of The Bill or Casualty, a “realistic” drama series rather than a “fantasy” drama series.

How much did the script have to be rewritten before recording? Any major changes?

Most of the changes happened between the original outline and the first draft. Apart from the usual script-editing sorts of things, there were not so many changes between my submitting the rehearsal script and it being recorded, with one major exception. That exception was the inclusion of Hilda Winters, something that Gary and I agreed would need to be handled flexibly until Big Finish confirmed that Patricia Maynard was definitely available to play the part.

What did you think of Elisabeth’s performance in MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE?

She was terrific, wasn’t she? Hers was the only character where I knew the “voice” before writing the script. I didn’t know, for example, who would be playing Dr Brandt, so I wasn’t anticipating anything about the actor’s performance. So with Sarah Jane, I had a clear idea of what I thought her performance would be—even though I was writing her as a more central character than in the TV series.

And when it came to the recording, she brought so much more to it. If she thought there was a duff note in the dialogue, she’d suggest an alternative. And by the time she came to record my episode, she’d already established this rapport with the other regulars, and so the whole thing came alive in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

On the day that “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” was recorded, they also did some pick-up scenes from other episodes. So I was there when Lis did the scene by Lavinia’s graveside, from “Comeback”. That was just wonderful, very moving.

What did you think of the rest of the cast that the director assembled? Are they how you’d imagined their respective characters to sound like?

Unlike with the central character, and maybe Miss Winters for the concluding scenes, I had no preconceptions about the other cast members. I don’t know, if they’d told me they were casting Peter Miles in the production, whether it would have helped or not—I mostly know Peter’s Doctor Who performances, especially Nyder, so I might have made assumptions about how he’d play the role, instead of letting him find the character from my script.

I was quite keen to have an Indian character, because non-UK characters (extraterrestrial aliens excepted) were a whole crowd of people that I couldn’t remember Big Finish doing much with. I steered away from Americans, because they had done those before, and with mixed success I’d felt. I confess that I hadn’t known before the recording that Jeremy James and Toby Longworth would be in mine, let alone that they’d done so many different and distinctive characters for Big Finish previously. So at first it was a surprise to find that Toby (definitely not Indian) was playing Chakravarty. But what a great job he did—getting the character to slightly “put on” the Indian accent when he was pretending to be a taxi driver, but without going all Mind Your Language about it. And then, when revealed as a villain later on, doing a more Indian-RP version—I think he was basing it on Art Malik, and very well too.

Wendy was originally written to be rather older than Louise Faulkner played her, because I’d initially planned for that character to be Hilda Winters in disguise. In the revised script, Gary had suggested that she be the daughter of a former SRS villain, Jellicoe from “Robot”, so that changed things slightly. Apart from a section of dialogue in the Coimbatore train, where Wendy talks about how she became a journalist, very little in the dialogue needed to be changed to make her younger.

How did you find working with Gary Russell and Jason Haigh-Ellery?

I didn’t work much with Jason, though I think I first met him years ago when he was a mere stripling, and nursing a pint all evening in a London pub. I’ve met him on other occasions since, but for “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” my work with him was just getting him to sign the contract and then sign the cheque. He does that very well, I must say, and I’d be very happy to work with him again on this basis for increasingly large amounts of money.

Gary I have known for many years. Indeed, we were stripling contemporaries, flogging our fanzine wares at conventions half a lifetime ago. The writing and editing on this audio turned out to be unexpectedly rather hectic, with short deadlines and fast turnarounds. If this had been with someone I didn’t trust as much as Gary, I think I’d have been a lot more worried. With someone who you know personally and professionally, you can be a bit more relaxed even when things are frantic.

Did you attend the actual recording? Did you enjoy yourself? What was the day like? Any behind-the-scenes gossip – however trivial or weird?!

Yes, I went along to the day on which most of mine was recorded. It was great fun. I’d not been the recording of a radio play or an audio before, though I’ve been to quite a few TV productions, so I sort of knew what to expect of the etiquette on the day.

It was a shame not to meet Sadie, but all her scenes had been recorded already. On the other hand, it was the day when all Miss Winters’ scenes were done, so (hurrah!) I did get to meet and talk to Patricia Maynard. We all went out for lunch together, and I had the most wonderful time sitting at one end of the table with Elisabeth Sladen and Patricia Maynard and talking about our families. Although actors get to work with each other on and off over the years, this was the first time that the two of them had met since doing Robot, so they were “catching up”. Robin Bowerman told us about his (then forthcoming) role as Henry Ledbetter in Emmerdale.

After the recording, we all went for a pint, and Toby Longworth taught me a couple of magic tricks that I have subsequently used to amaze and baffle my relatives. One of them is so simple but effective that I taught it to my six-year-old son, Samuel, who now amazes and baffles his grandparents with it. The other involves a cigarette and, as far as I know, Samuel doesn’t know that one yet.

Do you enjoy listening to your work being recorded? Or does it feel strange …?

Oh, great fun. Once the script has been written, you have to let go of it. It’s in the hands of the cast and the director. So I kept quiet unless I was invited to comment. Well, OK, except for a couple of brief moments. One was a continuity thing I spotted, that I politely asked Gary about so that he could decide whether it was worth fixing on the day. (It wasn’t obvious that Winters and Harris were driving away, so I suggested an additional line to make that clearer.) The other was when one of the actors pronounced “CEO” as “see-oh” rather than as an acronym for Chief Executive Officer.

Some of the scenes from my script were recorded on different days, so they’d already done some of “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” before I got to the studio. They’d tried to phone me on my mobile a couple of times, to get some of the Indian pronunciations clarified. I didn’t hear these messages in time, unfortunately, so they decided for themselves. Not that I would have helped much, anyway, because to me they were just names off a map of the Indian subcontinent, or from Air India web pages. There was one speech of Wendy’s that’s full of them: Anamalai, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Udhagamandalam and so on. That needed a couple of takes.

What do you make of how DOCTOR WHO fans have received MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE?

They seem to have enjoyed it, don’t they? I put summaries of reviews on my website, [that was the old site, before this blog] so I’ve seen a few of them. With it being the season finale, there’s maybe a tendency for reviewers to comment on the whole series rather than specifically my story, and some of the comments are about whether there’ll be a series two. I suppose it’s nice that fans seem to want a series two!

And what did YOU think of the final product? What did – and didn’t – you like? And please, be as honest as you can. Gary has promised NOT TO KILL any writers who slag off Big Finish productions. And I believe him!

I really enjoyed it. It was very exciting to get my first audio play through the post! There are some things that worked out differently to the way I’d expected them, but that’s not to say that they matter or that I didn’t like them. The pronunciations of some of the words—Scalar and Chakravarty— weren’t what I had expected, but who cares? There was one typo in the script that was performed and recorded “as written”: the virus turns out to be “fat-replicating” rather than “fast-replicating” as intended. Not that it matters, unless it turns out that we have an unexpectedly-large number of endocrinologists subscribing to the series.

I had imagined the voicemail system to be a real human intonation, but with that stilted intonation you get from separately-recorded voice fragments pieced together—you know, the way that the intonation rises unnaturally at the end of numbers. The “robot voice” they used works just as well, and also saved on casting another voice. At one point I thought that I was going to have to write out all the possible combinations for the voicemail, along with other stuff like tannoy announcements for the airport and railway station, but that wasn’t necessary in the end.

The music soundtrack incorporated Indian themes, which was splendid and the effects—the sea, the restaurant noises, the train, the airport, the car chases—were great. And the fruit bat.

The Big Finish “Writer’s Guidelines” say at one point: “feel free to stretch both the listener’s imagination and BFP’s technical bods”. So at the top of one scene I wrote the direction: “The sea is shussshing up the sandy beach, slight wind in the palm trees. A lone fruit bat utters a fitful cry. (OK, the fruit bat isn’t essential. But I bet your effects guy can do a mean impression.)” Once I found out that David Darlington was doing the effects, I teased him constantly about how impossible this would be. He hunted one down, of course. A sound effect, I mean, not a fruit bat, obviously.

My only disappointment, I suppose, was that the CD booklet was a bit below par compared with the others in the series. They had changed the colour plates to incorporate the photo of Miss Winters, smiling over Sarah’s shoulder on the front cover (the early pre-release publicity version did not have her there, to preserve the big surprise for Test of Nerve). But the registration of one film must be a bit cockeyed, and that makes the text harder to read. The inside CD sleeve didn’t print at all, and there were a handful of typos. But if all I can find to quibble about is the packaging, that must give you some idea of how much I like the actual audio!

And best of all, of course, is hearing the dialogue come alive in the performances of the talented cast. Even better than I imagined it—I’m so pleased with that. Jeremy James as Josh makes me laugh out loud, even though (or possibly because) I wrote the dialogue, and Sadie Miller really sparkles as Natalie when she argues with him and with Sarah. And although it’s invidious to single anyone out of the cast for particular praise, it would be remiss of me not to thank Lis Sladen for her enthusiasm from start to finish.

What is it about storytelling that appeals to you?

Getting a reaction from people. The first reaction is mine: I’m delighted to say that I’m a terrific audience, and quite shamelessly laugh at my own jokes when I’m writing.

The second audience is the editor—whether it’s a novel, or a short story, or an audio script, I want to amuse or divert them enough to take it further. In the best cases, that sparks further thoughts or suggestions or observations from the editor, and that’s even better for the writing. When I co-wrote The Ancestor Cell for the BBC, Stephen Cole was a good audience for me, and I for him.

The final audience is the reader or the listener, and reaction from them comes a lot later—in reviews or in the e-mail that people send me, or occasionally when I attend conventions. It’s always great to hear from them how much they have enjoyed my writing.

An additional audience for audios, which I hadn’t thought too much about before writing “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”, is the cast. Their reaction to the script is a direct component of the final product. Their belief in it, their enthusiasm for the words, their understanding of the story, are vital. And I think any author has to love getting a positive reaction from talented actors.

If you were writing MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE again today, what – if anything – would you change?

I don’t know that I’d change all that much. With more time, maybe I’d have seen if anything could be dropped from earlier on to allow for that additional confrontation scene in the turbine room. There are one or two bits of dialogue and business I might have tidied up to make the logic of the final edit clearer. If things had been different for Patricia Maynard’s availability, I’d perhaps have featured her more in the earlier parts of the script. But on the whole, I think it all worked out rather well.

I’m particularly interested in any deleted or alternative scenes – i.e. scenes that were cut from earlier drafts of the MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE script or scenes that were changed considerably by the final draft. Are you able to send me any? Or point me in the right direction?

I’ve attached a couple of these (below) from the draft before Hilda Winters was introduced into the script. The first is the train scene where Sarah and Wendy discuss Planet Three (while this is going on, you’ll recall, Josh and Nat are talking in hospital about the Scalar company—that scene didn’t change). The second is the “reveal” where Sarah first finds out that Wendy Jennings isn’t who she seems.

And I’ve already mentioned the final scene that I dropped from the outline (above).

The plug! Using as many – or, indeed, as few – words as you like, could you sell MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE to readers of the Big Finish book who haven’t yet bought a copy of the CD? A free advertisement! An opportunity to bump up your royalty cheques! Tell our readers what MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE is about and why everyone should buy a copy …

What’s it about? It’s about a tenner. Go and buy it, you’ll love it. In fact, buy two copies, and give one to a friend.

There will be a bullet-point section in the chapter on SARAH JANE SMITH entitled ‘Thing to listen out for …’ or ‘Stuff you may have missed …’ or ‘Trivia’ or something. So, do you have any random titbits of trivia on MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOEUVRE for me to include? Or how about any in-jokes in the script? Point them out to me! Nothing is too insignificant. No, really! Any bits of info that haven’t been covered by the questions above …

  • “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” has a continuity link to my Sarah-and-K9 story “Moving On” in Decalog 3.
  • I wrote two versions of the “Writer’s Notes” for the CD booklet, and let Gary choose which he preferred.
  • Harris was originally a South African called Willem Dehaan.
  • I made up Bandaru Chakravarty’s name by picking two different names from an Indian government site. In my first-draft outline he was called Dean Stolz! Chakravarty isn’t credited on the CD booklet, he is listed only as one of the two taxi drivers.
  • Wendy Jennings was originally revealed to be Helena Cartwright, the CEO of BioGuard (a company that was mentioned earlier in the series). Think it was BioGuard—I may be getting confused with an underarm deodorant.
  • Displaying my ignorance of London roads, I wrote a scene where Sarah’s taxi takes her from West London to Heathrow via the M25.
  • Sarah’s original alias on her business card was “Jane Bowman, Writer”.
  • My ten-year old son took the Author photo that appears in the CD booklet.
  • Because of the events of The Ancestor Cell (which I wrote for BBC books with Stephen Cole), fans hold me responsible for the destruction of all the available K9s.



Changed scenes.

20. Int. Bangalore/Coimbatore train.


SARAH: [CONTINUED.] … I thought I might have missed you.


WENDY: Don’t worry, I hadn’t forgotten you. Here’s your ticket.

SARAH: Thanks.

WENDY: You look worried. I thought you might be more relieved to have got here. Any messages?

SARAH: Nothing new at the office. Now, once we get going, can I have a look at the stuff you’ve got on Scalar’s work? The stuff about Cynaro?

WENDY: Ah. [BEAT] That’s all back at the Planet Three office. In the files. On the server. Damn.

SARAH: [SOFTLY.] Because you can’t get back in to get it. Since you were made redundant.

WENDY: Oh. How long have you known?

SARAH: Long enough, it doesn’t matter. We can still work on this story together. If you want to.

WENDY: I got into journalism quite late, when some of my contemporaries were thinking about early retirement. I spent much of my early career running events, scientific research, and only recently into science journalism.

SARAH: So why leave?

WENDY: Planet Three had to rescue the company share price. They’d bid too high to retain their licence at renewal time, so they laid off the older and more expensive staff. It was such a generous redundancy offer that it seemed stupid to say “no”.

22. Int. Bangalore/Coimbatore train.


SARAH: So, Wendy, what’s the set-up when we reach Scalar?

WENDY: Remember you said Planet Three hadn’t removed your voicemail access?


WENDY: Well look, Sarah. They forgot to reclaim my I.D. and journalist accreditation. So I’ve used it to get an interview with Scalar’s C.E.O.

SARAH: It’s not a very flattering photo of you. Reminds me of someone, but I can’t remember who. An old school friend, maybe.

WENDY: Poor woman, if she looks like that! And less of the “old”, if you don’t mind. I can’t be more than five years older than you.

SARAH: Sorry. Though I haven’t been very kind to my friends back home, recently. Maybe I should call them.

WENDY: Put your mobile away. We’re in the valley now, you won’t get a signal. Talk to them when we reach Coimbatore. If the time difference isn’t too bad.

SARAH: They work odd hours, my friends.

WENDY: Can journalists have close friends, d’you think? Can one get that get that level of trust if they know you’re an investigative journalist?

SARAH: I think so. Yes. [BEAT.] I hope so.

WENDY: What about the people involved in your stories. Do you keep in contact? Ever wonder what happened to them?

SARAH: What, do follow-up pieces on them?

WENDY: That’s not really what I asked, is it Sarah?



33. Int. CEO’s office.



DEHANN: In you go.

SARAH: Wendy! Thank goodness. Look who I’ve brought with me from Lakshadweep. And did I mention my lunatic taxi driver from London? [PAUSE.] Wendy, are you OK?

WENDY: You’ve got that worried look again, Sarah.

SARAH: You’re not all right, are you? What have they done?

CHAKRAVARTY: I’ll get the car ready.

WENDY: Yes, all right Chakravarty. Dehaan, you stay here.

SARAH: Wendy?

WENDY: Sit down, Sarah.

SARAH: I think I need to.

WENDY: I‘m quite all right, as you can see. [PAUSE.] You really don’t remember me, do you?

SARAH: From Planet Three.

WENDY: [IRRITATED.] No, not from Planet Three. Oh, look closer Sarah. Use your supposedly excellent powers of observation and deduction. I may have lost a bit of weight, got a lot older.

SARAH: [PONDERING.] I thought I recognised your I.D. photograph…

WENDY: You must meet so many people, Sarah. Meet and discard them in your journalistic career. You may profess to care about them. But be honest – all you really care about is the story.

SARAH: You used those words in your defence, didn’t you?

WENDY: Ah, illumination at last.

SARAH: Helena Cartwright. Business executive. You used to run Bio-Guard.

WENDY: [SAVAGELY.] Yes, I used to run Bio-Guard. [CALMER.] You ruined my business twenty years ago.

SARAH: I exposed your company’s irresponsible business practices…

WENDY: [OVER HER DIALOGUE.] That was your story.

SARAH: [CONTINUED.] I exposed your practices, I identified your culpability…

WENDY: [CONTINUED. OVER SARAH’S DIALOGUE AGAIN. LOUDER, ANGRY.] Those were your lies and your misrepresentations.

SARAH: [CONT’D. FIRMLY] … and I got compensation for the miserable victims in your workforce and your customers…


SARAH: [CONT’D. FIRMLY] … and you went to prison for a long, long time. Not long enough it seems.

WENDY: [QUIETLY AFTER SARAH HAS FINISHED SPEAKING.] That is enough. Unless it’s time for a follow-up story on me, Sarah?



WENDY: That will be your young colleagues. Calling you to warn you about me. Go on, answer it. But be aware that Mr. Dehaan is trigger-happy.

SARAH: I hope he doesn’t bear you a grudge for the ashtray.

WENDY: I thought Dehaan’s performance was almost as good as mine. Answer it!


August 20, 2012

B7 podcast update

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Warship — Peter A @ 7:48 pm

Big Finish Productions have released a podcast featuring some clips from my full-cast Blake’s 7 audio Warship. Click the link to hear it!

And of course you can pre-order the audio here. And while you’re at it, pre-order the novelisation that I’m doing here.

Still no more news about the other Blake’s 7 thing I’m doing. It was almost done… and then it took an unexpected and even more exciting turn!

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