The Red Lines Page

February 2, 2021

Interview: Starburst

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,drwho,interview,Novels,Short fiction,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 6:00 pm

Occasionally I do press interviews. This is the text of one I sent off to Starburst magazine (interviewer Tony Jones) in 2014.

It’s from around the time that Big Finish had released my Blake’s 7 audio play Mirror, but covered lots of stuff about other writing.

Starburst: Peter, thank you for sparing the time to answer a few questions.

Peter: You’re welcome. Thanks for asking them.

Starting back in the 1990s: your first novel was pitched when you heard that the BBC was re-launching the Doctor Who novels and was accepted. What had you done before that? Had you always written but never been published?

I was involved with fan publications in my teens, and put out a Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 fanzine called “Frontier Worlds.” Through that, I made a lot of friends, including people like Craig Hinton, Paul Cornell, Justin Richards, Gary Russell and Andy Lane.

They all subsequently wrote novels for Virgin Publishing. Indeed, as far as Virgin was concerned, Paul pretty much established the credentials and credibility of writers who came from a background in fandom. I suppose Virgin was an appropriate name for such a group of talented but previously-unpublished authors.

As it happened, in the early 90s, I also worked in the same office as Justin and Craig. I was very admiring of how they and had got their Doctor Who novels published by Virgin. Probably quite jealous, too. When Andy and Justin edited a couple of the Decalog short story anthologies, they asked me to pitch ideas. I wrote “Moving On” for them, and then a non-Who story called “C9H13NO3 .”

Kursaal was pitched before you knew that the Eighth Doctor would have a companion called Sam Jones. How hard was it to adapt your pitch and were you happy with the end product?

My original proposal was written for the Eighth Doctor, and used the same approach as the TV Movie in that the Doctor arrived alone and left alone. I knew BBC Books planned to continue Virgin’s approach, which was to publish two novels per month – one Eighth Doctor and one Past Doctor. And I was pitching to them before any of the BBC novels had been announced.

I hoped to write for the Eighth Doctor, though I’d have been happy to have done one of their Past Doctor series instead. To maximise my chance of getting commissioned, I explained that my story would also suit any “Doctor-plus-single-companion” combination.

Mind you, if they’d said “the Doctor’s going to be travelling with three companions and a talking cabbage,” I’d have replied instantly, “You know, I think that would also work brilliantly for my story, and here’s how…”

Anyway, I told them that I could place the story in periods of  the TV series when the Doctor was not accompanied by two or more fellow travelers. I didn’t suggest any feeble excuse that one or more “missing” companion had been unfortunately locked in the TARDIS throughout.

So I suggested:  First Doctor plus Dodo; Second Doctor plus Jamie; Third Doctor plus Jo or Sarah;  Fourth Doctor plus Sarah, Leela, Romana or Adric; Fifth Doctor plus Nyssa or Peri; Sixth Doctor plus Peri or Mel; Seventh Doctor plus Mel or Ace; Eighth Doctor plus any new BBC Books companion.

As well as trying to offer lots of options, I suppose I was showing off a bit to people at BBC Books who I suspected may not have known a lot about Doctor Who. (Little did I know that one of them was Steve Cole. Whatever happened to him, eh?)

I’d therefore already considered how I could adapt my outline to accommodate a completely new companion, and it wasn’t too much of a chore to incorporate Sam Jones. I quite like writing things where I’m asked to incorporate specific things, anyway. It’s a writing challenge.

In your blog, The Red Lines Page [anagram!]…

Yes, there are others. Possibly not suitable to mention in a family magazine!

…the blog has your original query pitch and then various other items such as scene by scene breakdowns, all of which is of interest to any author. Do you put these posts up for posterity, as a monument to your own production process or to help others? Do they reflect the way you still write today?

“Web logs” started to become popular in the late 90s, and I don’t recall there being a lot of them when I started writing. This was the decade before Facebook and Twitter. (Gasps of horror and disbelief from your younger readers. Some of whom probably think Facebook is already a bit old hat.)

Nevertheless, those days weren’t all writing by candlelight on a wax tablet. We had newsgroups in which people like Paul Cornell and Jon Blum and Kate Orman and Steven Moffat would discuss writing. Some people even had their own websites, lovingly hand crafted in HTML. Gary Russell had an interesting site that contained helpful advice and information.

I’d found all that free stuff useful for my writing. And I’m vain enough that I like talking about myself and what I do. So I thought, why not try “paying it forward” and publish stuff about my own experience of writing? If it’s helpful, that’s OK. And if it’s not, well, I enjoyed writing it anyway. Sometimes you write stuff just because it’s fun, and not because you get paid for it. (Who do I invoice for this by the way?)

Anyway, I set up a web site where I published all my original proposals for novels and audios and short stories, plus information about the writing process, and summaries of all the reviews I’d read of my stuff – good, bad, or indifferent, it didn’t matter.  One or two reviewers e-mailed to say they were a bit cross about having rude parts of their reviews quoted, which just made me laugh.

When my web host changed, I decided it was easier to start again on a new blog and move stuff across when I had time. I picked WordPress as the least painful popular free platform. I’ve started to republish some of the web site stuff again at  Though I am a lazy blogger, and I don’t do it as much as I used to. Never mind, there are plenty of bright young things doing new and interesting stuff instead of me.

You’ve written a number of books and several short stories for Doctor Who and other ranges, amongst which is Torchwood. How did that come about?

It turns out that “paying it forward” wasn’t just a help to other people, it was a help to me, too! BBC Books needed to find me when they were launching the Torchwood novels to accompany the new TV series, and they found my contact details (like you did!) on my website. I think I have Gary Russell to thank, too, because he was working on the TV series and had suggested a number of plausible candidates to BBC Books for the new novels.

That whole experience was brilliant. I’ve had the great good fortune that people have asked me to do a number of “firsts” in my writing… the first Eighth Doctor audio book for BBC Audio, the first Tenth Doctor audio story read by David Tennant, the first full-cast Blake’s 7 audio…

It’s a privilege, and also very flattering, to be entrusted with such things. How fantastic was that, then – to be writing the first Torchwood novel, and working with Andy Lane and Dan Abnett before Torchwood had even aired on TV? We were writing them as they were making that first series. The novel has been released as an audio book, skilfully adapted by Joe Lidster and read by John Barrowman. And translated into German by Susanne Döpke. There’s even a Hungarian version.

You’ve also written several audio scripts, not just Doctor Who and Torchwood but also Sarah-Jane and Blake’s 7. How do you find writing for audio compared to novels and short stories?

Audio scripts are a lot shorter, for one thing, so it’s possible to draft them faster, then iterate more frequently and extensively if necessary. With a novel or short story you have an editor providing input, whereas audio continues to be a varied collaborative effort all the way through the process – producer, script editor, director, the performances in the studio, and finally the edit with the sound effects and score.

Novel writing is painting pictures in words for your readers, whereas audio scripts are providing the guidance for a performance. And while characters do talk to each other at times in a novel, an audio script is principally dialogue.

Now those are wild generalisations, of course. You can incorporate interior dialogue and narration into an audio, and you can have conventional dialogue sequences in a novel – especially one that is inspired by a TV series.

But the common element of both is having a compelling story, interesting characters, and staying true to the spirit of the franchise without slavishly copying it.

In 2013 Big Finish released Warship which was the first full cast adventure for the original Blake’s 7 cast. If that weren’t enough of a challenge it also plugged a massive gap in the show’s canon. Did you approach this differently from other stories and was this part of the show’s history you always wanted to tackle?

I’ve loved Blake’s 7 since it was first broadcast – round about the same time that I was also a huge, huge fan of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. I watched Blake’s 7 from the opening episode, and celebrated it in that fanzine I mentioned earlier.

When Big Finish asked me to write Warship, I suppose I was a bit conflicted at first. On the one hand,  like any contemporary fan, I always wanted to know what happened at the end of the second series that meant Blake and Jenna were no longer in the third. On the other hand, some of the magic of any series lies within those gaps that fans like to fill for themselves with personal theories they don’t want contradicted.

And on the third, Andromedan hand, how could I possibly resist the opportunity to write the first full-cast audio for the actors I’d loved in the original series?

Even so, despite my geekish continuity credentials as a longstanding fan, I researched the gap by rewatching the entire series. I did a load of research to remind myself and confirm my thoughts. Plus, it was a great excuse to watch those original stories again. I sheepishly confess that I watched several sequences where I could spout the dialogue in synch with the actors.

In the end, I devised an exciting story in the style of the TV series that fits the continuity. Most listeners seemed to agree. Except for those whose pet theories I contradicted, obviously.

(Yes, I know we didn’t see any Blake’s 7 Andromedans with three hands. And they weren’t named as Andromedans, either.)

Of all the ranges you’ve written for so far do you have a favourite and how do you as a writer view their differences?

That’s like asking parent which child they love best!  (If my children are reading this, then obviously I love you best. Yes, you. Don’t tell the other one.)

I have honestly loved writing all of them – whether Doctor Who audios for Big Finish, or Torchwood novels for the BBC, or Sarah Jane Adventures for AudioGo, or original fiction for Virgin. I seize opportunities I’m offered by people who I enjoy working with, to write about characters I love, for people who enjoy those TV series as much as I do.

Without breaking any confidences can you let us know what you’re working on at the moment or at least give us some clues?

It’s bad luck to discuss stuff that hasn’t actually been commissioned, and it’s bad manners to mention anything that has been commissioned but not announced.

I once made the mistake of telling people that I was writing a Big Finish script for the first series of Tom Baker Doctor Who audios – the opening one (another first!) set on Nerva Station. They kindly invited me to pitch. I did several detailed drafts and revisions, including a four-part version and a two-part alternative. But in the end they weren’t happy enough to commission it.

I’d already pitched things for some of the earlier attempts by BBC Audio and Big Finish to bring Tom Baker stories to audio. This time I really thought it was going to happen, and I felt utterly wretched to miss out. Well, “miss out” is probably a bit misleading – nothing is ever a done deal until the contract is signed, and the recording is complete.

That’s why Big Finish – quite rightly – don’t tend to announce anything until the studio work is complete. I’ve had other things turned down, of course – that’s not unusual for writers, and you need to be resilient. But I’ve never felt as devastated as on that occasion.

So I’m not going to tempt fate, or upset anyone, by saying or hinting anything. Sorry!

Is there a show you’d like to write for but haven’t?

Each new incarnation of the Doctor is like a new show, and so I would relish the chance to write something for the Twelfth Doctor. I’d quite fancy writing a novel about a pre-Jack Torchwood. I enjoyed Firefly and a lot of Fringe, so those would have been fun.

I persevered with the recent revamped version of The Tomorrow People, and thought that had potential before they humanely destroyed it after one series. I liked some of its set-up, but kept thinking that I could write better dialogue. Which is a very different motivation to, say, writing for Blake’s 7, where we all aspire to write dialogue as characteristic and compelling as original TV writers Terry Nation and Chris Boucher.

I feel I’ve got it right if I sit in the recording studio chuckling as Michael Keating (Vila) is performing my dialogue. Yes, I’m afraid I do that.

Beyond writing you have a day-job: how do you juggle your time and do you keep the two worlds separate?

Writing is a hobby I get paid for – and one should always make time for the things one loves. But I can’t compromise my day job, because I really enjoy that, too.

In the past, I’ve made time in a variety of ways. It may involve booking holiday from work. Sometimes it’s writing during early mornings and or evenings or weekends. Other occasions I’ve been able to write when on a plane to a business meeting, or in the hotel.

I treat every writing commission with the seriousness of my regular job, of course – because publishers, distributors, directors, directors and so on all rely on a professional text being delivered on time and to specification.

Hmm… that perhaps makes it sound rather dry and dull. Whereas, of course, it is a fabulous and privileged opportunity to add to the franchises that inspired me to write in the first place.

And, finally, if you had the chance to travel on the Liberator or work at Torchwood which would you choose and why?

Both have a pretty high mortality rate, don’t they? I think I’d take a risk on Torchwood, because the adventure tends to come to Cardiff and I could still pop home occasionally on Bank Holidays to see friends and family. Because Weevils obviously like a long weekend as much as anyone.

Peter, thank you again for taking the time to answer a few questions, I really appreciate it.

It has been my pleasure.

December 31, 2017

Blake’s 7 interview from 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Thank you! Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Una!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

July 12, 2014

Hursley FM competition

Filed under: Audios,interview,Technology,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 9:24 pm

We have a winner! I will contact them shortly.

The Red Lines Page

Script for WarshipAfter months of negotiation with my agent, I agreed terms with http://hursleyfm.comfor a podcast interview. Oh, all right then, they e-mailed me at work last Wednesday, and I said yes straight away.

On Friday, I made my way to their studio (spoilers: an office in Hursley D Block) and had a lovely chat with Dr Adrian, Jonny Mac, and Mr Jezzalinko. We discussed technology, my work at IBM, and my various bits of genre writing over the years. And, yes, they really are called that.

Hursley FM microphoneHursley FM is a podcast and community about technology, inspired by the people at the biggest software development laboratory in Europe. By a happy coincidence, it’s somewhere I’ve worked for nearly twenty years.

As you can see from my photo, the studio looks exactly like the podcast illustration.

It’s rare that my various worlds coincide like this. So to acknowledge that, and also encourage people to…

View original post 139 more words

June 1, 2014

Hursley FM competition

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,drwho,interview,Torchwood,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 8:41 pm

Script for WarshipAfter months of negotiation with my agent, I agreed terms with for a podcast interview. Oh, all right then, they e-mailed me at work last Wednesday, and I said yes straight away.

On Friday, I made my way to their studio (spoilers: an office in Hursley D Block) and had a lovely chat with Dr Adrian, Jonny Mac, and Mr Jezzalinko. We discussed technology, my work at IBM, and my various bits of genre writing over the years. And, yes, they really are called that.

Hursley FM microphoneHursley FM is a podcast and community about technology, inspired by the people at the biggest software development laboratory in Europe. By a happy coincidence, it’s somewhere I’ve worked for nearly twenty years.

As you can see from my photo, the studio looks exactly like the podcast illustration.

It’s rare that my various worlds coincide like this. So to acknowledge that, and also encourage people to tune in to the Hursley FM podcasts, here’s a competition. With a modest prize.

The prize is: a copy of the studio script for my audio drama Blake’s 7: Warship, signed by me. And maybe also signed by Dr Adrian, Jonny Mac, and Mr Jezzalinko, too.

The question is: in the podcast, we talk about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, about how Tom Baker is one of my favourite Doctors, and also about the future of technical writing. What word (that I use in the podcast) connects those three things?

How to enter: e-mail me at the contact address on this website. At the end of this month, I’ll pick a winner from all correct entries. Tie-breaker, in the event I decide one’s needed, is that you complete the following sentence: Mr Jezzalinko could be a Doctor Who villain because…”

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 31, 2011

Ein Anderes Leben

Filed under: Another Life,interview,Novels,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 7:10 pm

My first Torchwood novel,  Another Life, was published in German this year. It’s available in hardback and in Kindle format. To accompany its publication, I also did an interview with my translator,  Susanne Döpke.

As part of a special Doctor Who day recently, the interview was published on a German sf portal here. And while  Google Translate will do you a nice translation of that back into English, I thought you may also like to see my original replies to Susanne.  What I like about this interview is that, as a translator, Susanne was interested in some of the mechanics of writing.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself for the introduction part of this interview?

Over the past decade and and half, I have written dozens of things that tie in to TV series – novels, talking books, audio plays, short stories, even a comic strip. They almost invariably relate to Torchwood or Doctor Who. That’s a TV series I have watched and enjoyed since I was a child.

I used to write amateur short stories and magazine articles even when I was still  at school. So these days, it’s like I am being paid for my hobby! I have a list of what I’ve written on my website 

You have been writing a lot of novels based on TV series – what is the difference in writing for established characters as opposed to something completely fictional?

Usually when you write for established characters, you know that they cannot be completely changed by the end of your story. Mostly that’s because the TV series defines who they are, and you’re not supposed to contradict that. You must “return” them to their starting point, because the books are bought by tens of thousands of people whereas the TV series is seen by millions.

As a contrast, Ian Rankin say of his series of novels: “To fully understand and appreciate the growth (and regression) of Rebus (and all the other recurring characters), it is interesting to read the series in the order the books were written.” Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle could have their heroes die when they chose to. But with a TV tie-in, you know your principal cast will survive, and their characters will be the same at the end of your story.

That sounds like a problem for an author, because you really want your heroes and heroines to develop, to be changed by what they experience in your novel. They are the people in the book with whom the reader will identify. If those characters learn nothing, and are unmoved by their experience, the reader will not feel engaged by the story.

One way around that is to create some new characters with whom the reader can identify – but that can’t be at the expense of the regular characters, because those are the reason that the readers bought your book in the first place.

And fortunately, another way around it is that the characters in Torchwood develop, change, even die sometimes on TV. So you can weave some threads in your novel to suggest that the events of your novel contribute to that. There are several actions and events in Another Life like that. Fans of the series recognise it for what it is, and more casual readers just think it’s part of the novel.

How did you get involved with writing novels for Doctor Who and Torchwood?

In 1989, the BBC stopped making Doctor Who for television. Virgin Books began to publish some original Doctor Who novels. Several of my friends wrote for that series, and I also did some short stories for Virgin. When the BBC decided to make a one-off Doctor Who TV Movie in 1996, they also decided to start publishing the books under their own imprint. So I suggested an idea for a novel, and they commissioned it – and after that, they  invited me to write more.

That was a particularly interesting time to write TV tie-in novels. Because the BBC was making no new Doctor Who for television, the people writing the books were able to continue developing the story of Doctor Who without worrying about contradicting the TV series. In that sense, the books were new Doctor Who for the thousands of dedicated fans who wanted fresh stories.

That changed in 2005 when the BBC started making new Doctor Who for TV, and they began to commission a different style of tie-in novel. Then Torchwood was commissioned the following year as an independent programme of its own, using the character of Captain Jack who had first appeared in Doctor Who. So BBC Books had decided from the outset that they would commission tie-in novels to accompany the new series.

I was one of the three authors they commissioned initially, because the publishers and production office thought our previous books were a good track record for the kind of thing they were looking for with these new titles. These new Torchwood books were aimed at an older audience, and were nearly twice as long as their Doctor Who counterparts.

I think BBC Books must have liked  Another Life, because I was the first person they asked to write a second Torchwood novel.

You obviously need to do a lot of research – how did you prepare for writing  Another Life?

I was first approached about writing the novel in April 2006, and it was commissioned the following month. But the first TV series wasn’t broadcast until the end of October 2006. So a lot of my research was to learn about the series concept, the characters, the location, and what was happening in those first 13 episodes without ever having seen the show.

The three novel authors met the script editor, Brian Minchin, who explained all that to us. Brian was terrific – so enthusiastic about the potential of the series, and keen to see the books were properly-researched and well-prepared. The authors also got to see concept artwork for the main set, and some of the props, because that was all still being built at that stage.


You have probably rewatched Torchwood for writing the novel – is that another way of watching?

For Another Life, there were no episodes to watch! I wrote the first draft before I’d seen a single broadcast episode. At a late stage, I did get a chance to view the opening episode at a special screening for the BBC productrion and publicity team. My novel was published just before the conclusion of Torchwood series 1’s original TV transmission.

When I wrote my second novel, Pack Animals, that tied in with the second TV series. Things had changed for the characters by that stage, so I was able to read a lot of the series 2 scripts before I wrote my first draft, and even saw some of the episodes before I submitted the book.

Did you get to go on set and, if so, how was that and who did you talk to?

Yes, I went with the other authors to visit the studios in Cardiff, South Wales. The original plan, I think, was to get to a design briefing meeting in June, and subsequently to talk to producer Richard Stokes, his script team, the art department, and the lead publicist. But it wasn’t possible to arrange something at such short notice. The production team were quite understandably almost completely engrossed in the very complex work of creating 13 episodes of a brand new TV series.

We were driven to the studios by a Brand Executive, Matt Nicholls, who gave us some background on various Cardiff locations. And one of the script editors, the marvellous Gary Russell, showed us around the main studio. We saw the sets for some of the regular cast, including the top-floor Victorian flat  where Gwen and Rhys lived, and the Torchwood dungeons where they locked up the alien Weevil. There was a little set for Ianto’s Torchood reception area, too, with tourist brochures in neat piles and newspapers over the windows.

But most exciting of all, we went on the Hub set. It was enormous, and built on two levels right next door to the Doctor Who TARDIS set. The lower level had the Hub’s basin area, full of water. That led up to a level where all the computer work stations stood beside the cog-wheel entrance. Then there was a walkway to the recessed autopsy area, a hexagonal tank with a barred window to one side. We went through Jack’s office with its curved desk and filing cabinets, and then into a small games area before reaching the glass screen doors of the armoury.

From that, a spiral staircase led up to a small landing where we could see Ianto’s coffee machine, and from there into the conference room that dominated the upper level.

Tha balcony around the main hub area had portholes out towards the Bay, and we were told that they would occasionally show fish swimming outside.

I dutifully made notes of things that interested me, things I saw or heard about that gave some insights into the characters – the contents of a noticeboard, the fruit bowls on a desk, one of Rhys’s magazines with the front cover headline saying “get a six-pack stomach in six weeks”, a full-ashtray in Toshiko’s kitchen  (she was originally going to be a chain-smoker who gave up after episode 7).


You describe the alien ship very meticulously – do you do sketches of locations for writing?

I’m terrible at drawing. I visualise things, and then write down descriptions in words. For the Torchwood main locations, I had the benefit of seeing them for real. When it’s a hospital or an army camp, I can see those for real or find photos of them. For purley invented things like the alien ship, I work out what I think it will look like so that I can organise the “action” of a scene convincingly.

The location Cardiff itself plays a very important role in Another Life that obviously took a lot of effort – why was that so important to you?
Part of the brief about Torchwood was that Cardiff was central to the series. The Hub is positioned in the heart of the Millennium developments that replaced much of what was Tiger Bay, and the area has beautiful new buildings like the Millennium Centre and the Senedd, right next to the redbrick Pierhead Building that was built a century. And of course there’s the Water Tower, which people now tend to call “the Torchwood tower,”  that allegedly reaches down into the Torchwood Hub. (We had already seen the moss-covered base of the tower in the underground studio set, dripping with water.)

Long before the Water Tower became a tourist attraction for Torchwood fans, we three authors all stood on the flagstone in front of it and had our photo taken.

So with all that in mind, I decided that I was going to make Cardiff one of my „characters“ in the novel, and transform it out of all recognition during the story. Like all the other regular characters, of course, it had to be returned to normal by the end of the book!

Are you from Wales, or do you speak Welsh? 

No, I don’t speak any Welsh at all. Prior to this, the only time I had been to Wales was for family holidays.


The novel features rain and rain and rain – is that a normal thing for Cardiff?

It can be! The last time I took my family to Cardiff, it was very rainy indeed. But I’ve also been to Cardiff when the weather has been beautiful – blue skies and warm sun. In fact, that’s exactly how it was when I went there for my set visit. I knew I was writing a story where a storm would drown the city, and yet I was seeing it in bright sunshine!


How did you come up with the storyline for Another Life?

Unlike some other science fiction series, the regular characters in Torchwood don’t always get on together. There’s a rivalry and tension between them at various stages in series 1, that builds to the series climax where Owen confronts Jack. That was one starting point – Owen’s aspirations to take charge, to take the initiative and become like Jack.

The other thing I liked was that throughout series 1 Jack, for his own reasons, has kept everyone but Gwen in the dark about his immortality. So what’s the worst thing that could happen to him? To be possessed by a creature that will not leave him until he dies.

My original story outline was reviewed by Gary Russell and Executive Producer Russell T Davies, and after I got their feedback and approval I used that as the basis for writing the novel.


The novel features the simulation game “Second Reality” – is that something you yourself are facinated by? There is “Second Life” after all…

I was interested in virtual reality environment like “Second Life” because people have used them for games and social interaction. But I also see that they have potential for things like training or data analysis through physical interaction.

One of the things I learned early on about the fictional world of Torchwood was that they had lots of computing resources, so I thought they would be able to have lots of other realistic interactions in these “virtual presence” environments – and in a way that would make an interesting story.


Reading the novel, I was at first puzzled then fascinated by the first person perspective of the new characters. You have probably been laughing up your sleeve while writing this – can you explain why you did that?

I wanted to start the story in an innovative way that made readers react in the manner that viewers would have reacted when they saw the first episode. And because my alien completely controls its human victims, I thought it was a good way of giving the reader that feeling of being possessed by using the second-person narrative:  “You stare at the weapons, and don’t make eye-contact with the soldiers. Your face is impassive. You’ll give them no more clues.”

It’s also the sort of thing you get in some online games. Obviously, in modern games you have the immediate point-of-view of the character you’re playing on-screen. In older, text-based online games, that’s how the narrative was explained: “You open the door to reveal a candle-lit bridge over a dark chasm. A huge grey-skinned troll confronts you.” So that echoed the “Second Reality” part of my story.


Wasn’t it very hard to keep that up getting to the end of the story in the scene, when dialogue was involved?

Done throughout the book,  second-person narration would have been too alienating, literally. So I reserved it for those scenes where it was the alien point of view. The rest of the novel is in restricted third-person, and mostly the main characters: “Gwen remembered where she’d seen this kid before. He’d been been selling magazines by the covered market.”

That’s the conventional way of handling point-of-view in a modern novel, and to get your reader to identify with your protagonist. So later in the novel, when a sequence featuring one of the regulars is narrated in second-person, that ratchets up the tension – we know what’s happened before to characters in those scenes.

There aren’t many novels that use the second-person throughout. One of the best-known is Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. That’s what I’m alluding to in the opening line of my novel.


What is the special horror about this kind of taking over a person’s body?

It’s the literal loss of self. But it’s not a zombie possession, where the original person is killed immediately. Their memories and experiences are all still there. We know from quite early on that the only thing you’ll be able to do when the alien releases you is this: you’ll be able to understand you’re about to die.


What about the icky starfish creatures?

What about them? It was one way of describing the alien lifecycle, and it gave me a visible monster for a couple of scenes. Plus I like the fact that each time they encounter one, it’s bigger than the last time.

We are learning a little bit about Owen’s background. How do you create a character like Megan?

There were some limits about what history I could invent for Owen. In part, that’s because the BBC prefers the key information to be explained in the TV series. And the other thing was that they had already started to decide what they might reveal about the main characters when they were planning series 2.

I wanted a character who would already have Owen’s trust because of their prior history – otherwise, I’d have spent a lot of the novel with scenes to establish that trust between strangers. In series 1, Owen was more driven by his selfishness, so it was a quick way of exploiting that weakness in his character for the purposes of my story.


Is there a favourite alien that you have in Torchwood?

I like the Weevils. I didn’t want to write a “Weevil” story for my novel, but I did work in a scene that featured one.


Is there a favourite alien device of yours? Is it possible for you to invent one for the sake of your story or do you keep a list of cool things?

I devised the Bekaran scanner for Another Life. It’s nice to have some novelty in the book. I was able to use that device as part of the story, but also to allow some amusing interaction between Owen and Megan. I discussed it with my fellow authors for the first few novels, so they referenced it in theirs as well. But I was very pleased when Joe Lidster subsequently reused the scanner in his script for a Torchwood radio play. I think it’s in one of the audio books, too.

My favourite gadget in the TV series is the metal glove from the very first episode. It looks like an old-fashioned armoured gauntlet, but it immediately defies expectations when they use it to bring someone back from the dead. Like any of the gadgets in the show, however, it’s not what it does that’s most important – it’s the aftermath of its use, and the effects on the characters.


Who is your favourite character on Torchwood?

I like them all, but I especially liked Owen. Not because he’s a particularly likeable person, however – in many ways, he’s quite unpleasant. But he’s a flawed hero, and that made him very interesting character to write for.


What would you like this character to experience? Do you have anything in mind you’d like to share?

It’s tricky to do anything for him now that he’s no longer in the series. I was able to find some interesting and different things for him to do in my second Torchwood novel, Pack Animals, that took into account the changes he experienced in series 2.


If you could place one of the Doctor Who aliens in a Torchwood novel – what is your pick?

They have already done it in a couple of Doctor Who stories. Daleks and Cybermen invaded Torchwood London in the episode “Doomsday.”  The Daleks also attack Torchwood Cardiff in “The Stolen Earth.” (That second one also has German Daleks! Although they say “Exterminieren,” and I‘m not sure that’s quite correct.)


Any ideas for possible crossovers of Doctor Who and Torchwood?

They have quite different audiences, I think. Torchwood is aimed much more clearly at an adult audience – particularly since the bleak but wonderful series 3 aired. Whereas Doctor Who is a programme designed for the whole family.


Hearing that there’s going to be a new season of Torchwood with new characters – what is the first thing that comes to the author’s mind?

Haha! The first thing that came to my mind was: “I wonder if they’re going to commission some tie-in novels?” If they do, I’ll let you know.

July 31, 2011

Interview: Ferril’s Folly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 7, 2011

The Four Doctors: Interview

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

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

What was your brief for writing The Four Doctors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there one Doctor you have a special affection for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which of your Big Finish stories has been your favourite?

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

What other projects do you have coming up?

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

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

December 2, 2010

The Two Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

Not long to go now before we all find out!

May 3, 2009

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

This audio was first published by Big Finish Productions in November 2002. Production code: SJ05Sarah Jane Smith: Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

These blog posts provide information about the commissioning, writing, and recording of my first audio play. They therefore contain a number of spoilers if you haven’t heard the play yet. In particular, you can get a big clue by looking at the revised cover in the interviews post; that cover, unlike the one on this page, features the villain!

Elsewhere, you can read my original proposal and my scenes breakdown before I wrote the final script.

As to how the audio came about… I was invited to visit Newcastle in November 2001, to be part of a BBC Books Writers panel discussion at the “Dimensions on Tyne” convention. While I was there, I met Elisabeth Sladen—who was a guest at the convention. I was very flattered when she told me that she knew about my previous Doctor Who writing, and that she would like me to consider submitting an idea for Big Finish Productions’ forthcoming Sarah Jane Smith audio series.

Well, how could I refuse? Sarah Jane is my favourite Doctor Who companion, and to be asked by the actress who starred in the role… So I took the opportunity to discuss the series with Big Finish Producer Gary Russell (who was also at the convention).

Shortly after the convention, Elisabeth Sladen sent me a copy of an interview she had recently given, in which she discussed how she thought Sarah Jane Smith would have changed over the years, what her attitudes would be today, the sort of person she might have become. (You can hear this interview for yourself by ordering MJTV’s audio CD The Actor Speaks Volume II.)

In December, Gary sent me the series outline for consideration. Based on this, I wrote a proposal for a 60-minute script, and sent it off over Christmas. By the end of January 2002, Big Finish and Elisabeth Sladen had decided which were the five scripts they wanted to do—and mine was chosen as the final of the five adventures. The others are written by Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, David Bishop, and Rupert Laight.

The audio was recorded on 26 February 2002, and I was able to go to the studio session in London and meet the cast:

Sarah Jane Smith Elisabeth Sladen
Josh Jeremy James
Natalie Sadie Miller
Harris Robin Bowerman
Wendy Jennings Louise Falkner
Brandt Peter Miles
Taxi drivers Toby Longworth

Mark Donovan

Directed by Gary Russell
Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery

Gary Russell

Executive producer for BBC Jacqueline Rayner

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