The Red Lines Page

January 1, 2020

Horizon interview

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Counterfeit,Incentive,Warship,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 1:19 am

B7logoI found this interview I did with the Blake’s 7 fan group Horizon in 2012. I can’t see it online any more, so I thought I’d share it here.

The Horizon folk have kept the flame alive for Blake’s 7 for years, and were enthusiastic supporters of the Big Finish series of  when audios I helped to launch them. They also knew me from when I edited the fanzine Frontier Worlds in the 19080s, and published the Tarial Cell encyclopaedia.

The interview happened in 2012, at which point they had heard  my first  audio Counterfeit for the Liberator Chronicles Volume 1, and knew that my full-cast audio drama Warship was coming along a few months later.

 

When did you first watch B7 and can you tell us about the impact it made on you?

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.46.12.pngI watched from the very first episode in 1978. I was 15, and the first episode was in the BBC’s New Year season. I’d been looking forward to it since seeing it trailed in the Radio Times, back in the days when it only contained listings for BBC programmes.

And as it was on January 2nd, during the holiday season with all the relatives around, I had to sneak off early from our evening meal to watch it.

 

Were you involved in any of the fan clubs in the 1980s? Did you attend fan events?

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.52.33.pngI was a distant participant – mostly because I was living in Scotland in the early 1980s, and most of the fan events happened in or around London. I went to a convention in Queen Elizabeth Hall, and another called the Teal-Vandor Convention in London.

At one of them, Vere Lorrimer talked about some of the forthcoming Season D and, while I loved his enthusiasm, some of the attendees bridled a bit because he kept saying “what’s going to happen, boys and girls, is…”

I recall the auction taking forever to get going – partly because the auctioneer wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the lots, even though they were things like visual effects board from the TV show: “I can’t tell what this is in the middle of all this black paint… who’ll make an offer on this one, then?”  I thought I could encourage bidding on one of the items, and put my hand up to suggest a fiver for something that turned out to be the effects board of XK-72 from “Breakdown.”

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.55.37.pngFortunately for me, that was the only bid. Unfortunately for me, it was the last fiver in my pocket, so I had to walk all the way back to the bus station because I didn’t have the tube fare. Carrying this big effects board. I still have it. (Pictured. No, I’m not selling it!)

We had a fanzine table at the Teal-Vandor convention, where my pals and I sold copies of our magazine Frontier Worlds. It had a splendid cover photo of Anthony Ainley as the new Master in Doctor Who (pictured). Not likely to be a big seller at a B7 convention.

And because the headline was in bigger, bolder print than the “Frontier Worlds” cover logo, people rather assumed that our fanzine was called “A New Body At Last!” Perhaps they thought it was sponsored by a gym.

 

Can you tell us about the publications you were involved with writing and editing in the 1980s?

By the time Blake’s 7 came around, Doctor Who had been running for more than a decade, Tom Baker had been in the show for years, and a well-established fan group had been going since the mid-70s. So my pals and I were linked in to that crowd of people – and the various fanzines they created.

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 00.47.31I got around to putting together a fanzine, Frontier Worlds, with Peter Lovelady (pictured here with me) and Tony Murray. It made sense to us to do one that combined our enthusiasms for B7 and DW. And it was rather less serious than some of the other fanzines at the time.

I bought several of the B7 fanzines that came along – titles like Liberator and Standard by Seven, and fan groups like “Liberator Popular Front” and “Horizon.” Unlike DW fandom, B7 fandom had a much higher proportion of women writers, editors, and publishers. Some of the people I remember from that time are Anne Lewis, Pat Thomas, Diane Gies, Susan Booth and Jean Sheward.

There were B7 “slash” zines too, which were of less interest – though Tony Murray did write a Liberator/Pursuit Ship spoof with a starring role for the docking tube that made me howl with laughter.

B7 publications tended to lean more towards fan fiction than DW fanzines, whose mostly-male readerships seemed to prefer reviews and interviews and background articles. Because we liked the background stuff, too, we started to research and write the Tarial Cell series of encyclopaedia – one for each season of B7. We got fantastic help with that from the indefatigable Judith Cross, who was David Maloney’s production secretary on the show.

 

What aspect of B7 interested you most back then? Do you still find it the most interesting aspect now?

I was more impressed by the plots and characters than the special effects, which was just as well, really. The series was darker than Doctor Who, but not quite as serious as Star Trek. Those are all aspects that work well in audio and novels today.

Back then, our pal Jeremy Bentham had been doing lots of work on Marvel’s Doctor Who Magazine, and suggested that Peter and Tony and I should put together a portfolio and then approach Stewart Wales, who was editing their Blake’s 7 Magazine.

1-blaketarrantAs part of that, we got a chance for a “behind the scenes” visit to the set for the finale of season D, “Blake.” We met deputy editor and photographer Ken Armstrong at the studio, and I have to say he wasn’t at all encouraging – though it would hardly be surprising if he wanted to discourage three spotty students who were suggesting stuff that he could be doing himself for the magazine. Besides, after we’d seen the conclusion to “Blake” being recorded in TV Centre, it was fairly clear what prospects there were for Blake’s 7 Magazine anyway.

So I wrote a “set visit” article for Frontier Worlds and accompanied it with a “novelisation” of the scenes that we saw. People seemed to like that, so I wrote up the rest of the novelisation. And when that sold well, we were going to do more – David Tulley did “Shadow,” for example.

But in the end, real life got in the way, and we stopped doing the fanzines after issue 18. We only produced two B7 novelisations, which is a pity because Paul Cornell was doing “Orbit” for us and that never got published – what were we thinking?

And, alas, Tarial Cell never got beyond Season B – I think that when we saw the Tony Attwood Programme Guide we thought we’d missed the boat a bit – though I still think that ours were better researched, more comprehensive, and more accurate. These days, there are online resources like the Sevencyclopedia, of course, but this was back in the days of no internet and minimal access to video recordings. What’s more, I don’t think I have a copy of my “Blake” novelisation any more, which is a bit careless of me.

[This subsequently proved to be untrue, so I made Blake available for free online, along with Shadow.]

 

You’ve sparked an interesting discussion about the correct way to spell names and places in the Blake’s 7 universe. Or should we say Blakes Seven? Is this a particular interest?

I recall there was a bit of grumbling about spelling when the first Big Finish B7 novel was published. And I’ve been involved in the preparation of the subsequent novels, so it’s something I’m always aware of!

 

How do you feel about Horizon forum members naming the “Anghelides Rule” on spelling hierarchy? 

So long as they spell my surname correctly, I am delighted.

[My blog post about that is here.]

 

Have you remained interested and/or involved with B7 in the intervening years?

I lost track of it for a while, because it was not on television. I wasn’t involved at all in the various prequels and new versions and spinoffs.

 

Thirty years on, does it still hold the same interest, or has your focus changed?

If anything, my enthusiasm has been revived. And because I’m approaching it from the production side as well as being a fan, that offers a fresh perspective.

 

When and how did you first hear that Big Finish were going to be recording new B7 audio books starring the original cast?

Right from the outset. I’ve known David Richardson since the time of Frontier Worlds, and been involved with Big Finish audios with their Doctor Who stuff since quite early on.

The B7 Liberator Chronicles have very similar script requirements to their DW Companion Chronicles, so that was one of the reasons they approached me for the opening box set.

 

Did David invite you to join the B7 team, or did you volunteer? Can you tell us how you came to write Counterfeit? And the first full cast venture, Warship?

David approached me directly, and I accepted immediately. He and I both have a huge enthusiasm for the original series, and were involved in fandom years ago. Plus, I’d worked for him on the DW audios, and I knew that his enthusiasm carries over into the production side at Big Finish. It’s really important that you enjoy working with people, too, and that you know they’re good at what they do — which David  certainly is.

 

What brief were you given for the script?

CounterfeitIt was to feature Blake and Avon, in an audio much like the DW Companion Chronicles series, and with Blake as the principal voice. Without being too heavy on the continuity, but just to “locate” it in the original series, it was to be set between “Project Avalon” and “Breakdown.”

I was given some idea about how much time there would be for Paul Darrow in the studio, so that determined how much Avon dialogue there could be. And there were some requirements not to have any other voices in the script – not even short bits with troops speaking, or tannoy announcements.

By the time I came to write my script, the splendid Simon Guerrier had already completed his (the swot). I got a copy of that to get an idea of some of the basics of layout, and some elements of the narrative style.

 

As writing isn’t your full time occupation, how do you find the time to be creative? Both coming up with original ideas for plots and finding the time to write them down.

I’m not someone who is regularly pitching proposals to publishers. Almost invariably the stuff I write because I’ve been I’ve been invited to pitch – which is not a guarantee of the idea being accepted, I should add. It’s also a recipe for not getting fresh commissions, because people remember who they have worked with recently, rather than working their way alphabetically through a Rolodex of writers.

I never accept a commission that I don’t have time for, because it’s a professional engagement that has other people’s livelihoods depending on it – schedules advertised, subscriptions paid for, script editors involved, directors engaged, studios and actors being booked and so on.

At one point, for example, I was very fortunate to be working on three things at the same time, and one of the companies asked me for a fourth… so I asked them which they wanted most, because the other would have to wait. They didn’t call me a slacker, and were very accommodating – and therefore, so was I.

 

How long does it take you to write a full length feature such as Warship?

Warship That very much depends. Sometimes there’s a lot of back-and-forth on the outline, and then there’s the drafting and revisions based on what the producer and script editor and director suggest (not always at the same time, unfortunately).

There can be other unexpected (but desirable) changes depending on particular circumstances. For example, I substantially rewrote one my completed scripts when we swapped one character for another at a late stage. The dialogue and motivations had to be reworked, because of course you can’t just swap characters in and out (no matter what they say about the first few episodes of Season D).

 

How about the novel? Was one medium easier than the other?

The novel has more than four times as many words as the audio script, and it’s not just a matter of putting “he said/she said” all through it. It was the Doctor Who novelisations, especially those by Terrance Dicks, that developed my early enthusiasm for writing tie-in fiction, so the prospect of novelising my own script was irresistible. And I’d done that “Blake” novelisation years ago, so I thought it would be fairly straightforward.

warship bookBut when I got into the writing, it was not straightforward. The Liberator Chronicles are written (largely) from one character’s point of view, because they are narrated. The full-cast audio is an open point of view, because it’s conveyed primarily through dialogue.

A novel can be written from the point of view of one or more characters throughout, or from an “omniscient” point of view with much more authorial voice. Those were the sorts of thing I had to think about.

I’ve written six novels and dozens of audios and short stories, and they all have their appeal as I’m doing them.

 

The two-handed format of the enhanced audio books is very different from the all-cast format of the TV episodes. What particular challenges did it bring?

When we talked about our B7 audios at the GallifreyOne convention in Los Angeles, I expressed mock outrage with fellow panellist Nigel Fairs that he had managed to make some of his scripts three-handers when the rest of us had been limited to two. And then, of course, I got a chance to do a seven-hander!

The audios have evolved a bit since that first box set. They now explore the possibilities of dialogue and interaction between the main characters, rather than leaning so heavily on the narrated sections.

You need to tailor the story to that restricted set of characters, of course. It might seem a bit odd if you ended up having a lot of scenes with a one-sided dialogue phone call between Avon and Dayna. Whereas if you place them both in the same room, but have Avon narrate her responses, that’s an acceptable convention of the Chronicles – though too much of that would also become rather hard work for the listener.

ShrinkerWhen you think about it, there are scenes in the TV series that work brilliantly as interactions between just two characters – think of Avon and Grant in “Countdown,” for example, or Avon and Shrinker in “Rumours of Death” (pictured).

And sometimes the scenes in the show with the whole cast in one scene are a bit of a jumble.  But there’s an expectation from the production team (and the viewers) that all the regular cast will appear in each TV episode, even if they’re just sitting at the teleport desk waiting for someone to call.

The trick to making it “like the TV series” is to focus on those recognisable “two-hander” elements, while also trying to do something original. There are plenty of different styles in the TV series when you look at episodes like “The Way Back,” “Sarcophagus,”, “Orbit,” “City at the Edge of the World,” “Redemption,” “Powerplay.”

So the Liberator Chronicles can be equally diverse – and exploit the things you can do in audio that you can’t do on TV, as I do with Travis in “Counterfeit.”

 

When you first watched Star One as a young teenager, how did you feel after the end of the episode? What did you then think happened next?

staroneI don’t recall knowing at the time that it would be the final episode for Blake and Jenna, so I was expecting the kind of continuity there had been between “Orac” and “Redemption.” Under the circumstances, I could see why they went for the very clever alternative that they did in “Aftermath.”

As to what I think happened next… you’ll have to listen to Warship to find out!

 

You’ve now had the exciting opportunity to revisit that as a full-cast audio drama for Big Finish. When were you first approached about writing it, and how did you go about it?

After it became clear that the Liberator Chronicles were going to be a success, David Richardson talked to me and two other authors about a three-story explanation of what happened after “Star One.” I was going to do “Blake’s Story,” which was the third in the trilogy, and we bounced some ideas around for that.

But when one of the authors was too busy to do the opening story, I said I’d do that one instead. As the proposal evolved, that turned into a full-cast audio – to be released separately. That in turn left a gap in the original three-story box set, and so I’ve written a replacement script.

 

Was it difficult writing a play for a group cast and trying to ensure that enough attention is given to so many characters?

It comes back to that thing I was saying about the original series – if you have the full cast, you expect to see them all involved. In the TV series, with thirteen stories in each season, you could focus on a subset of characters at the expense of others in some episodes.

That’s true for any long-running series with a large cast. But as this was our first chance to have the whole cast, I didn’t want to do that. The audience would want them all to be involved, and it wouldn’t be much fun for the returning cast if they got sidelined at this earliest opportunity.

The original idea of the script was very similar to the Liberator Chronicles narrated stories. Each character was going to have his or her own section, with dialogue and interaction with the others, and some scenes with them all in as full-dialogue sections. We decided early on that we were going to do as much full-dialogue stuff as possible, and then concluded that I may as well do it entirely as dialogue and effects.

Because each character had a “focus section” right from the outset, that meant I’d already worked out how to give them all something important and interesting to do.

 

Sadly, Peter Tuddenham and David Jackson are no longer with us. Did you ever meet them? As we won’t be hearing from Gan, can you tell us something about how you saw his character?

I never spoke to them in person, though I recall Peter being at a convention I went to. And we interviewed him by correspondence for Frontier Worlds.

In the Liberator Chronicles, we had the “regular cast” perform limited snatches of Zen’s dialogue. I think Michael Keating “does” him best. And then, for “Warship,” we were able to get Alistair Lock as Zen and Orac.

 

Were you present at the recording of Warship? What can you tell us about it?

I was indeed. I’d met Gareth before, at the recording of Counterfeit, and Michael at the “Return to Gauda Prime” event in Oxford. But it was the first time I’d got to meet the others. I can’t really tell you anything else about it without giving away stuff from the audio!

 

We’ve recently heard that you’ve written the first Big Finish production that will feature Tarrant – Incentive, an audio book set in B7 Season Three. How do you see the character of Tarrant?

IncentiveCoverIn “Traitor” (Season D) Avon says that “Tarrant is brave, young, handsome… There are three good reasons for anyone not to like him.” That’s an amusing thumbnail sketch, but it has elements of truth.

His Federation training give him insights into their enemies that the other crew do not have, and he is not afraid to take charge – sometimes impetuously, and sometimes at the expense of others. It’s interesting that Avon trusts him enough, quite early on, to give him control of the Liberator.

 

There have been comments suggesting his character was inconsistent. Is this something you recognise?

Plastic action figures (preferably mint in box) are consistent. Human beings change and develop as circumstances move on, or in different circumstances. The same is true for other characters in Blake’s 7.

That’s what I like about them – they are not ciphers, and you don’t always know how they will react.

 

How do you see the relationship between Avon and Tarrant?

That comes out in Incentive, I hope. Ask me after that!

 

Were you at the recording of Incentive? And if so, can you tell us anything about it?

I was indeed. I’d met Paul before, and knew how well he returned to Avon. But it was the first time I’d got to meet Steven – and he is wonderful, too.

Again, I can’t really tell you anything else about it without giving away stuff from the audio!

 

What aspects of other characters would you like to explore, if you were given the chance?

I’m fascinated by how Vila and Tarrant manage to get on after the events of “City at the Edge of the World,” so that would be fun to explore.

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 01.06.49.pngSpeaking of which, I did ponder whether we should find an excuse to get Bayban (pictured) back again. B7 must be one of the few Big Finish series that Colin Baker hasn’t yet been in. I did suggest it to Colin on Twitter: We must find an excuse to get you in a Blake’s 7. Bayban’s dad? “He called me ‘pa’!” Colin’s reaction was: Bayban’s Dad? BAYBAN’S DAD??? Why not younger brother – or even Bayban himself. I never believed he died you know….

But who knows? The copyright situation with Blake’s 7 is notoriously difficult to work out once you get beyond characters created by Terry Nation. I don’t know who “owns” Bayban, whether he’s covered by Chris Boucher being a BBC staffer (and thus belongs to the BBC) or Chris being a freelance authors (and thus belongs to Chris).

When it comes down to it, when you can create brand new characters and use the regular cast created by Terry Nation, you’d need  a compelling narrative reason to resurrect the character.

 

You’ve now written for Avon and Blake in Counterfeit and for Avon and Tarrant in What defines the different dynamics of those pairings?

In Counterfeit they’re still at that stage where Avon is staying with Blake and the others for pragmatic reasons, though you’re aware that it’s not long until “Breakdown.” So there was a chance to play around with those changing aspects.

Incentive is set very early in Season C, so they are still at that “early tension” stage – Avon has made that unexpected choice to give him and Dayna access to Liberator, rather than politely dropping them of somewhere safe, and they’re still hoping that they’ll find their missing crew members… so there’s the unspoken anticipation that they are working their way around what will happen when they do finally locate Blake.

 

Are there any other particular pairings of characters you would like to write for?

There are some pairings I’d like to do… but I also know some of the things that are in forthcoming audios so perhaps I’d best not anticipate those. I am already deeply envious of those other authors.

Of course, I grit my teeth and tell them how wonderful it is, and how they were the perfect choice for the commission. And then I read their script and see that they were indeed perfect for the commission, and obviously I then have to plan to hunt them down and kill them.

 

And finally, we’d like to finish with a silly question that’s been discussed on one of the Horizon forums. If you could take any of the Blake’s 7 characters as a “Plus One” to a bar – who would you take, and why?

I would take Orac, because he’d be indispensable for the pub quiz.

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 01.08.26.png

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.

April 1, 2013

Free sample

Filed under: Blake's 7,Novels,Warship — Peter A @ 1:59 pm

WarshipHave you been tempted by my novelisation of Blake’s 7: Warship, but afraid to commit? Fear no more! You can obtain a free sample from Amazon in the UK and in the US. And also in Japan and Germany and France and Canada and Italy and Spain.

The free sample is sent automatically to your iPhone, PC, Mac or iPad device. And if you don’t have a free reading app, you can download one here.

So, go ahead and try the first two chapters (and part of the third) before you decide to buy. And then go and buy it here from Big Finish, because (a) they’ll get more money and be able to use it to make more great Blake’s 7 stuff and (b) it’s cheaper.

Sadly, neither the the e-book nor the free sample are available from Amazon China. But there is another extraordinary title that caught my attention.

It’s The Essential Writer’s Guide: Spotlight on Peter Anghelides, Including His Analysis of His Best Sellers Such as Kursaal, Frontier Worlds, and More [平装]. To be honest, I’d save your money on that one. Even if it’s only ¥190 I’m sure that’s twenty quid you could spend more wisely elsewhere. And 平装 means “paperback,” so it’s not even that much of a bargain in the first place.

January 4, 2013

Spelling B7

Filed under: Blake's 7,Novels,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 3:33 pm

I’ve been pondering the accuracy of my spelling when writing Warship for Big Finish at the end of last year. Big Finish does make an effort to get spellings correct wherever possible (yes, even though the occasional spelling of Bayban may seem to have been butchered).

Screen reading in Blake's 7Mostly obviously, one can rely on sources for things seen on screen. Literally in some cases — names that appear in Blake’s court records, for example, in “The Way Back.” In some episodes, there are displays on the flight deck that may repay attention with a freeze frame, a magnifying glass, and a mirror. (Or it is Flight Deck?)

clippingAnother kind of “seen on screen” is in the titles. “Blake” in “Blake’s 7” at the start of every episode, for example. Or “Soolin” in the end credits of every episode in Season D. And usually, you can rely on Radio Times credits being written by the production team and therefore correct for planet names or characters.

A third kind of seen on screen is in the subtitles. That’s trickier, because some subtitles could be phonetic, but they are available on officially licensed merchandise, and that may count for something. There are downloadable subtitles on the web, but I’m not always sure of their provenance.

Original scripts? Not everyone has access to the original scripts — and even then, the scripts may be inconsistent (because dialogue is written to be said, not seen, so it hardly matters) even within the same script. I think this may be where the mismatch between “tarial cell” and “tarriel cell” comes from. Since I once wrote a couple of B7 encyclopaedias called Tarial Cell, you can work out my preference.

Project AvalonThere are the novelisations — which would have been based on the scripts, and so one might anticipate the spellings would be correct there, or as correct as the original scripts. Trevor Hoyle’s novelisation of “Orac” in his Project Avalon book uses “Tarial Cell” whereas Tony Attwood’s novel Afterlife adopts “Tarriel Cell.”

There are online transcripts, but those may rely more on phonetic approximations by the transcribers — and sometimes, those may be inconsistent, too.

BBC Picture Publicity used to make photos available to the press with captions stencilled on the back of them. So that’s another “official” source that you might expect to be (usually) accurate.

Programme GuideThe Tony Attwood Programme Guide is another source, and was not only licensed by Terry Nation’s company but also had the support of production team members. That prefers Tarriel Cell, incidentially, including capitalisation. Boo! It also includes “Galactic Monopoly” which I don’t think was ever officially used in the TV series for its appearance in (for example) “Terminal.”

There’s Wikipedia, too — for example, that has a list of Blake’s 7 planet names.

The splendid Sevencyclopedia (ah, do you see what they did there?) has lots of detail, and sometimes offers variant spellings.

There are other books like Blake’s 7: The Inside Story (Nazzaro/Wells) which was co-written by a production member and uses original sources. And there is Liberation: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Blake’s 7 (Stevens/Moore) which is written by dedicated enthusiasts who have also done B7 spinoffs. Don’t be put off by the title, it is well researched.

Some examples…

Orac likes tarial cellsAs I explain, I prefer “tarial cell” to “Tarriel Cell.” But is it lower case (as in solar cell or photovoltaic cell) or capitalised (as in Phillips screwdriver or Allen key) or both capitalised? I’m not aware of anything in the TV series or spinoffs that lend credence to one or the other (e.g. naming it after, say, Ensor’s first wife Jane Tarial who he met at university, or something). And we don’t seem to use “Teleport Bracelet” rather than “teleport bracelet.” So I prefer lower case (as does Sevencyclopedia). But I’ve even seen the variant “Tariel Cell” somewhere too. Tsk!

I think the spelling of Jenna’s last-known destination is “Morphenniel” because that’s what the subtitles say in “Powerplay” and it is also used by Sevencyclopedia and Wikipedia. Nevertheless, the Programme Guide spells it as “Morphaniel” (which I have not seen in other reference sources).

Similarly, I prefer “Sarran” as the planet where we first meet Dayna — that’s what is used in the Programme Guide, the DVD episode subtitles, the Sevencyclopedia, and Wikipedia. But Liberation adopts “Sarren,” and I think The Inside Story does that, too.

I think the best thing is to avoid the most egregious errors, and stay consistent within the BF books.

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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