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 I suppose Virgin was an appropriate name for such a group of talented but previously-unpublished authors.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.

November 24, 2020

Interview: Incentive to write

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Incentive,writing — Peter A @ 8:08 pm

Here’s an interview I did a while back for Big Finish.

It’s about the Blake’s 7 audio I wrote for them called Incentive (released seven years ago in 2013). It’s still available for purchase via Big Finish.

Q: How did you enjoy picking up from the events of Star One?

I’ve always enjoyed doing “jigsaw puzzle” commissions, where I’m asked to accommodate certain places or events. In some ways, I prefer it to a blank page.

Firstly, there’s the pleasure of playing with the continuity of the original series – expanding it without breaking it. And secondly, it’s a great way of getting a clear “steer” from the person commissioning the piece without being forced into a straitjacket of a pre-determined storyline. It’s my writerly incentive.

Being given a restricted or specific set of characters for the story is another example. In the case of Incentive, these were Avon and Tarrant, plus one new speaking role of my own devising.  There was an additional requirement to address two other characters – Blake and Jenna – without actually featuring them at all.

It came about because I’d written Warship. Producer David Richardson was originally going to include that as a story called “The Galactic War.” [Interview about that here.]

It was to be the first of three stories in the Liberator Chronicles Vol VI box set – the other two being Jenna’s Story and Blake’s Story. David’s first thought was for me to do Blake’s Story, because he knew I’d been on-set during the recording of the Season D finale Blake in 1981. [Reported in these three previous blogs: part 1, part 2, and part 3.]

So the gag was that I’d already been to Gauda Prime.

When the original author couldn’t do “The Galactic War” for some reason, I asked to do it instead of Blake’s Story – because I’d secretly fancied doing that one all along, and had been too timid to ask. When that script expanded to become a separate release, it left a “gap” in Vol VI – and this time, I wasn’t too timid to ask to fill it.

Q: Was it a hard one to do, finding reasons for the crew giving up on looking for Blake and Jenna?

With Blake and Jenna having their journeys completed in Vol VI, the remaining question for the box set had to be: why did the Liberator crew stop looking for them during Season C? Blake gets a few passing references in the first three episodes, and nothing until the end off the season. Poor Jenna gets very little mention, and her name doesn’t pass anyone’s lips after the second episode.

I had written the post-Star One story Warship to describe Blake and Jenna’s departure from Liberator. I decided not even to have them in “flashback” in this new story, because of what else I knew was in the box set.

The other Season C question, with Blake’s absence in particular, is why Avon continues to strike out against the Federation now that he has taken control of Liberator. It surely can’t be because he’s let a couple of newcomers on board at the end of the TV story Powerplay. And so my script offers an explanation for this puzzler, too, in Avon’s closing discussion with Tarrant.

So that provided all the jigsaw pieces for what became Incentive.

Q: What was your highlight of writing this one?

I had to substantially rewrite it after I’d completed the first draft of the script.

Now, rather than get a horrible sinking feeling about it, actually, I was delighted – because the reason was a special request to change the cast.

The script was originally commissioned, and written, as a story for Avon and Vila. There were “reported” sequences for the other absent Season C cast members – Cally, Zen, and Orac, because the restricted cast requirement for Liberator Chronicles meant we weren’t going to have Jan Chappell or Alistair Lock take part in this one; and Tarrant and Dayna were not in it because neither Steven Pacey nor Josette Simon had agreed to take part in the Big Finish series.

Unbeknown to me, though, Big Finish had just secured Steven Pacey’s participation. Producer David Richardson asked me if I’d like to rewrite my script to feature Tarrant instead of Vila.

The dynamic between Avon and each of those characters is very different. And they have their own distinctive dialogue, reactions, and motivations. I reworked the script from the start. It prompted additional elements that, as I wrote the revision, honed and improved it.  

Q: Again, how do you look back on it?

I’m really pleased that the extra work it required also made it a very different style.  By this stage, the many previous Liberator Chronicles had experimented with ways of exploiting new opportunities with the format.

When I look back at my first one, Counterfeit, [see interview here] it seems very much more “writerly” – much more restrained in its narrative ambition, and adhering more closely to the familiar conventions of a “talking book.” From the outset with Incentive, even with Vila as the second lead, I’d wanted to use the interrogation structure to make this more like a full-cast audio (albeit with a small cast).

The rewrite gave me a further opportunity to remove some of the more obvious narration. There are scenes between the three cast members. But you’re also aware that when Avon and Tarrant relate their earlier journey, they’re not talking to an unseen audience of listeners, they are talking to Bracheeni within the action of a scene. What’s more, Bracheeni can interact with them during that narration, whether in dialogue or employing his noisy torture device.

I was also able to remove a couple of less convincing sections of Vila talking to himself while locked up – though I decided as a little in-joke to refer to the fact that he’s (silently) imprisoned in an adjacent cell.

In the TV series, even if the focus was on a subset of the principal cast for an individual episode, they were each contracted to be in all the episodes. All of them would therefore have some lines and action, even if it was only trivial. In my script, I could make a virtue of the other characters’ necessary absence by choosing not to include them in unnecessary “contractual obligation” scenes just so that the whole cast had something to say.

I was a bit sorry to lose Vila – Michael Keating is always excellent in the studio, and fun company in the green room. But how could I resist writing the first new Blake’s 7 audio to star Steven Pacey as Tarrant?

He was also terrific, of course. And the green room was lively – because of the other scripts being recorded at the same time, we had Brian Croucher and Tom Chadbon there, too, plus Adrian Lukis (playing Bracheeni) and Ken Bentley (director).

Steven Pacey and Paul Darrow at the studio recording

November 5, 2020

New book! I Am the Master

Filed under: drwho,Short fiction,writing — Peter A @ 6:20 pm

Today, BBC Books publishes Doctor Who: I Am the Master, a short story collection.

My story “Anger Management” opens the book, which also contains stories by Mark Wright, Jacqueline Rayner, Mike Tucker, Beverly Sanford, and Matthew Sweet. The collection is edited by Steve Cole.

You can even get a sneak preview of my story at this page.

It was a delight to write for… which Master? Read the extract and you’ll see. Then buy the book to see what happens next!

It’s available from the usual online retailers. Or try an independent bookshop via Bookshop.

August 30, 2020

Interview: Counterfeit for Big Finish

Filed under: Audios,Blake's 7,Counterfeit,writing — Peter A @ 3:32 pm

This is an interview I did with Kenny Smith of Big Finish in 2014. The questions were about the first Blake’s 7 audio script I wrote for them, “Counterfeit,” part of their very first Big Finish Liberator Chronicles box set and starring Gareth Thomas as Blake and Paul Darrow as Avon.

You can still order that volume from Big Finish.

I was reminded of this by something I have just been writing but cannot yet announce… so while I am biting my tongue, here’s something from years ago.

 Big Finish: What kind of brief were you given for “Counterfeit”?

Me: This was before Big Finish had a licence for full-cast audios, so I was told it was a “talking book” akin to their Companion Chronicles series for Doctor Who. I’d written one of those previously, Ferril’s Folly read by Mary Tamm as the First Romana, and I therefore had a good idea about how to make the format work with one principal narrator and a second supplementary voice.

The good news on this one was that not only did I have Gareth Thomas as the principal narrator, I could also have Paul Darrow as Avon. Producer David Richardson gave me some guidance on how much time I could expect to have for Paul in the studio – his stuff was recorded in a separate session from Gareth – and so I constructed the script to accommodate that limited availability to the full.

I pondered whether there might be scenes where Gareth would be a third-person narrator at points where Blake wasn’t in the scene, but we decided early on that this these Chronicles were always going to be “as told by the character.” Gareth did a great job – and he was charming company, too. It’s great to meet your heroes when they turn out to be as lovely as he was.

Counterfeit could have been set any time in Season A or B, but I think we concluded that it was going to take place before the TV story Breakdown, which was a feature story for Gan’s character… And that actually prompted some story thoughts.

How did you enjoy setting up the duplicity and no one being what they seemed?

That was making the best from the constraints of the production. You don’t make excuses for that kind of stuff, you make a virtue of it.

For example, David Jackson who originally played Gan died in 2005, and Counterfeit was produced in the days before Big Finish had established the B7 audios sufficiently well in people’s affections to consider recasting any of the principals.

It was therefore apparent to me that there would inevitably be a need, even in a full-cast audio, to accommodate the absence of main characters – without doing dumb stuff like having Gan locked in a cupboard or suffering from laryngitis. In a “spoken book,” that of course is handled by having the principal providing the other characters’ dialogue as reported speech.

My given narrator for Counterfeit was Blake. I thought this very first audio release would be too early to play tricks with making him an unreliable narrator – for example some sort of swap with his clone from the TV story Weapon. I decided instead that the best kind of narrative misdirection was an innocent but genuine misinterpretation on Blake’s part.

Thus arose the idea of concealing from the other characters, and from Blake, and therefore cunningly from the audience as well, that Avon was SPOILER! pretending to be Travis. Plus, Avon doing it without telling Blake was a character moment for them appropriate at that stage in Season A.

The audience are misdirected because that first discussion between “Travis” and Kerroll is in reported speech – which meant I could also have that as an additional scene for Avon (albeit disguised) without having to use any of the limited, valuable time that I knew Paul would be available in studio.

You subsequently get that splendid reveal to both Blake and the audience when “Travis” finally speaks, as an in-scene character, and it’s obviously Avon’s voice. I was also rather pleased with a verbal trick, which works nicely on audio, where Kerroll uncovers the deception. This is the “with his own eyes” comment that draws attention to something Kerroll then remembers about the real Travis, and of course it’s also something Blake’s 7 fans listening would know: Travis only has one eye, whereas Avon isn’t wearing an eyepatch. This is an additional reward for the kind of attentive listening you get with a Big Finish audience.

And once I’d done that, which placed our heroes at Kerroll’s mercy, it was an even more delicious twist to have Jenna pulling a yet more outrageous impersonation to rescue them – made possible again by the reported dialogue convention of this audio format.

There is, on reflection, a slight cheat: the scene where Kerroll first encounters fake-Travis is narrated by Blake, but within Kerroll’s point of view that Blake cannot witness personally. A questionable rationale for this is to decide Blake is relating the story to us after the adventure is over, and that Avon could have explained it to him subsequently – but it’s a bit of a stretch.

There are lots of Terry Nation names in there – was that fun to do?

I write quite detailed proposals, to convince myself that the thing has “legs” from the outset. It may have sections of dialogue, character names, ideas for effects, and so on. And then I pare it down to the required submission length for the proposal – a page, a couple of paragraphs, or whatever.

On the occasions when I haven’t done a “long form” version first, I’ve tended to discover when writing the final script that I’ve put something into my proposal outline that’s the equivalent of “at this point a miracle occurs.” And then I just have to spend time working that out when I’m writing the actual script.

Another reason for using familiar names is that this was a Season A story, and on TV those were all Terry Nation scripts. It’s sort of a running joke that he has a “go-to” list of names in his scripts over the years. I just followed suit! It’s an additional reward for the more devoted of Terry’s fans listening.

Where you happy with it in the end?

Very happy. I got to work for the first time with two of the TV heroes of my youth, and with people I know and like at Big Finish: David Richardson (producer), Justin Richards (script editor), and Lisa Bowerman (director). And it was especially welcome, because it came off the back of a tremendous personal disappointment at Big Finish.

I’d worked on an outline for the first of the Fourth Doctor audios – Tom Baker is another of my TV heroes, very much “my Doctor” from the original series. My story, set on Nerva Beacon, had gone through a variety of increasingly detailed iterations in a proposal for four episodes… then reworked for a two episode structure… reworked again… but finally, after yet another draft, producer Nick Briggs concluded that my story just wasn’t working out. Big Finish were understandably extremely keen to get things perfect for that very first series of their Fourth Doctor audios. So mine ground to a halt, and was never commissioned as a full script.

These things happen – that’s the whole point of doing proposals, after all. Nevertheless, it felt like being on the naughty step, and I was very despondent. It was therefore a tremendous fillip when, shortly afterwards, David asked me to pitch ideas to get in right at the start of this brand-new series of Blake’s 7 audios.

From this auspicious start, I subsequently got a chance to do the full-cast audio of Warship, and its novelisation (I love novelisations), and then another Liberator Chronicle called Incentive, where I experimented with the format even more. And after that, I wrote the Season C full-cast story Mirror. Plus I’ve been able to provide some input to the various Blake’s 7 novels, edited by Xanna Eve Chown. For a longstanding Blake’s 7 fan like me, it’s been an absolute dream come true.

With Cavan Scott subsequently acting as producer, and now John Ainsworth, the Blake’s 7 audio range has now extended in even bolder ways with its cast and content, authors and styles. I hope I’ll get the chance to do more of them in the future.

January 24, 2020

“Blake’s 7: Warship” interview

Warship Here’s an interview I did in August 2014 with with Kenny Smith for Big Finish. It describes some of what I got up to with the writing and recording of my Blake’s 7 audio Warship.

This was their first full-cast audio for that series, rather than the previous style of “narrated booked” in their Liberator Chronicles range.

I subsequently also adapted it as a novel for them.


Q: How did you find taking the outline for a Liberator Chronicle, and turning it into a full-cast play?

PeterABeardA: The original outline was a bit unusual for a Liberator Chronicle. It used the enhanced audiobook format, but with a larger cast. It already had scenes that would be narrated by Blake, Jenna, Avon, Vila and Cally.

When Andrew Mark Sewell (B7 Productions) and David Richardson (Big Finish) suggested it could be a full-cast play, I already had a structure that placed each character at the heart of key scenes of their own.

It was good to know I could also feature Zen and Orac, and even better when my begging e-mail about including Servalan met with approval. The suggestion, I mean – not the begging.

Q: Did you feel any pressure, as a result of that?

CounterfeitA: Whatever you write, you always want to create something that readers or listeners or viewers will enjoy. And of course you need the editor or producer to like it enough to commission.

But unlike novels, audios have another audience — you want the cast to enjoy performing it. Actors love working for Big Finish, but if they don’t have a good script then they won’t have fun in the studio. And if they didn’t have fun, they wouldn’t do more episodes.

So I was very conscious that Gareth, Sally, Paul, Michael, Jan and Jacqui had to have something exciting and motivating. I think that was the principal pressure — not disappointing my heroes from a show I’d always loved.

Q: Did much change during the course of writing the play?

A: I’m a huge B7 fan. Nevertheless, I did a ridiculously large amount of research  in preparation (i.e. watching DVDs).

Producer David Richardson and script-editor Justin Richards had some excellent notes. Director Ken Bentley had helpful suggestions about not pedantically specifying how some lines should be delivered, and that I should trust the cast to do their job — exactly the kind of advice that would make actors happier in the studio.

Otherwise, apart from that first big switch into a full-cast play, I think it was mostly tweaks for clarification, or a couple of continuity things with the TV series. And it was originally called “The Galactic War.” I thought “Warship” was thematically stronger, and more like a B7 title.

Q: How proud do you feel now, knowing its success has led to more full-cast B7 plays?

Blake's 7: MirrorA: It was fabulous when they asked me to write another full-cast episode, Mirror. I also adopted a more full-cast “feel” for my next Liberator Chronicles story, Incentive. Doing a whole mini-series hinged on a strong first audio: positive reviews, good sales, and the cast being happy to return.

I was in the studio for the recording, and they really seemed to have a great time. That’s down to how brilliantly Big Finish looks after them in so many ways, of course. My script was just part of their experience.

So I’m proud to take some of the credit for the continued success of the full-cast B7 plays. Galactic credit, obviously.

Q: Where all the cast together for the recordings?

Counterfeit was mostly narrated by Gareth Thomas, and it was always planned that Paul Darrow would record his smaller role in that separately. I was at Gareth’s studio day for that.

With Warship, almost the whole cast were there — except Paul, again, who I think was absent for family reasons. I’m sure they’d have been very happy to record together otherwise.

That meant they had to cunningly photoshop Paul into the cast photo for the booklet and publicity – very skilfully, I thought.


Jacqui Pearce turned up for her bit on Warship, in her own words, “bald as an egg” because she had been having medical treatment. When it came to the photo call, she asked whether she should really be in the photo without any hair. Everyone told her of course she should!

She was bold and cheerful, but we didn’t have her there for long during the day. In any case,  my script only included a short section for her. But what a performance she gave in it!

January 1, 2020

Horizon interview

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

[My blog post about that is here.]


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


What brief were you given for the script?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


How do you see the relationship between Avon and Tarrant?

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 01.08.26.png

December 21, 2019

Gauda Prime finale

Filed under: Blake's 7,writing — Peter A @ 11:11 pm

titlesGauda Prime Day is the anniversary when died-in-the-wool Blake’s 7 fans remember how the heroes of Season D died-on-screen.

I’ve blogged previously about how I and two pals, somewhat remarkably, were invited to the BBC studio recording of the finale episode, “Blake.” And then subsequently I wrote about our less-than-encouraging meeting with the photographer from Blake’s 7 Monthly.

This third blog describes the rest of our visit.

We returned to our viewing room after grabbing a quick snack and a toilet break. I popped into the gents. This was the point at which Michael Keating, in his Vila costume, also decided he needed a break. He stood at the next urinal. Now, you get the impression from his performance in Blake’s 7 that he is a slight figure. When he was not hunkered down to play Vila, and was instead concentrating on not splashing his costume, he seemed surprisingly tall.

I decided it was not the time to mention this to him. Nor did it seem appropriate at that precise moment to ask him for an autograph. And now that I think about it, I don’t think that I have ever mentioned this to him in any of our subsequent conversations in Big Finish audio recordings. Well, you can imagine how that might go: “We’ve met before. You probably won’t remember, it was a long time ago and you had your hands full at the time… er… these Big Finish lunches are terrific, aren’t they?”


Back in the viewing room, the film clips were playing silently over and over again. As well as the sequence where Blake talks with Arlen at the campfire, there were other location shots and model work, too. In one scene, Avon looks up when his hair is ruffled as something large flies overhead. In another clip, Vila, Soolin, and Dayna have a similar experience. We didn’t immediately make the connection that this was the Scorpio crashing – even though we’d seen the wreckage of the flight deck on the studio floor earlier in the day.

Closer examination of the film clips playing on the little monitor in our viewing room showed a map with its contours drawn out electronically, and then (rather more alarmingly) Scorpio taking flight as Xenon base exploded around it. A subsequent film clip revealed Scorpio crashing very impressively into a forest of pine trees, excellent work done by Jim Francis and the visual effects team. We would learn later from dialogue in the studio recording that this forest was Plantation 5.

I should probably mention here that, as far as I recall, we didn’t know that we would be watching the final-ever episode of Season D being recorded – for all we knew in advance, this was just one of the exciting episodes that year. As it was, we three enthusiasts were gradually realising something big was happening.

Another significant clue about events about to unfold should have been the various extras we’d seen in Federation guard uniform outside the studio while we got something to eat. None had yet appeared in the studio. Among the dozen or so of them, hidden behind those masks, were familiar names to Doctor Who fans including Pat Gorman and Dalek operators Mike Mungarvan and Cy Town.


The next series of scenes recorded in the studio were in the Gauda Prime tracking gallery. Paul Darrow’s wife, Janet Lees Price, played Klyn. She received a message from Deva (David Collings) discussing the shooting down of a ship that crashed in Plantation 5. On transmission, this was intercut with the Blake/Deva scene that we didn’t see recorded. Before Janet’s scene, the eagle-eyed production team noticed that she was still wearing her wedding ring, and ensured she removed it before the take.

1-blaketarrantOur first sight of Gareth Thomas on set had been in the brief sequence in the same set, in which he asks Klyn about a distress beacon on the official frequency.

Next in the same set was a longer scene that revealed Tarrant has survived the Scorpio crash – somewhat to Tony Murray’s disappointment (see previous blog). Tarrant’s rescue from the wreckage was borne out by the rips and blood stains on his costume and face.

1-screenpicBlake brings Tarrant into the room, and Blake asks Klyn what she’s looking at on the scanner. This turned out to be the electronic map contours we’d seen on our little monitor earlier in the day. Blake then moves off down a corridor, questioned by Tarrant. The whole sequence was recorded without problems quite quickly, something Vere Lorrimer told us had pleased the production team.

The final scene on the set was now prepared, and we could see Steven Pacey rehearsing his flight from Blake’s “betrayal” that happens in the earlier “short but profitable” scene that we didn’t see recorded. From this point, Tarrant runs into the tracking gallery on a cue from the studio floor assistant. We could see the floor assistant clearly in the reflective back of one set, though this wasn’t apparent when we watched the scene on transmission.

Steven Pacey grappled briefly with Paul Darrow’s wife to incapacitate her, and then fought off a technician who springs out to attack him, only for the technician to be shot by Soolin as she runs into the room followed by Vila, Dayna, and Avon – the latter carrying a whopping gun.

The whole action sequence was rehearsed slowly, then faster, and finally shot – as was the unfortunate Terry Forrestal, playing the technician.

1-pauljanetA short sequence followed in which Janet Lees Price recovers briefly, and barely has time to call security personnel to the main tracking gallery before her husband brings his gun to bear on her and shoots her dead.

There was a short pause for the gun to be reloaded, and then it was the sequence when Blake enters the gallery along with Arlen (Sasha Mitchell). The climax of the story was about to unfold, but the walk-through was deceptively subdued.

Paul Darrow spoke rather than delivered his lines, but it dawned on us what was happening:

AVON: Is it true?

BLAKE: Avon, it’s me, Blake.

AVON: Stand still. Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?

BLAKE: Tarrant doesn’t understand!

AVON: Neither do I, Blake.

BLAKE I set all this up.

AVON: Yes.

Paul Darrow pointed his gun at Gareth Thomas and said: “Bang!”

Gareth lurched towards him. Paul said “bang!” twice more. Gareth reached Paul, grasped his arms and groaned “What the hell’s your name?” before collapsing to the floor.

This provoked much merriment up in the production gallery, who we could hear through our speakers but who could not be heard directly by everyone on the studio floor. “Tell Gareth that’s on tape!” said director Mary Ridge cheerily.

We were a bit more wary. Avon has just shot Blake? Three times! Maybe he’s just stunned. There was no blood. We know how these cliffhangers work out.

And the director seemed quite happy about it all. Earlier in the day, she had amused us when she was dissatisfied with some of the extras who were performing behind Klyn. At that point, she had declared “I’m coming down!” and descended from her director’s gallery to the studio floor via a long metal staircase attached to the studio wall.

Most of the time, the director’s words are relayed to the cast via her representative in the studio, production manager Henry Foster. He and the camera operators can hear what’s being said in the production gallery through their headsets, and Henry is the person who relays the director’s comments to the cast.

Throughout our time at this recording, Mary Ridge was cheerfully efficient. You do sometimes hear stories of other directors who yell thing like “Tell that idiot Gerald he delivered that with all the enthusiasm of a dead halibut, and now we’ll have to do the entire wretched scene again from the start” and the floor manager relaying that to the cast member as “Jonathan says he’d like to try the scene again from the top, Gerald, with a little more energy please.”

Now it was time for the Blake-Avon confrontation to be recorded on tape. The performances came alive, and the tension between them was electric:


AVON: [pained] Is it TRUE?

BLAKE: Avon, it’s me, Blake.

AVON: Stand STILL! Have you betrayed us? Have you… betrayed ME?

BLAKE: [dismissive] Tarrant doesn’t understand!

AVON: Neither do I, Blake.

BLAKE: I set all this up.

AVON: Yes!

BLAKE: Avon, I was waiting for you…

No “bangs” from Paul Darrow this time. His gun sparked into action as he pulled the trigger.

BLAKE: Oh, Avon…

The explosions of blood from Blake’s stomach were as much a shock to us as they seemed to Blake. The effects were activated by Gareth Thomas using device in his hand, squeezed at the appropriate moments.  The surprise on Gareth’s face was probably for real – it turned out that the explosive charges behind the blood bags were strong enough to leave bruises.

It was disconcerting later in the evening to see Gareth emerging from the gents toilet, still covered in gore. Again, this did not seem like a particularly apposite moment to say hello or ask for an autograph. It’s something I also didn’t mention to Gareth when years later I enjoyed talking with him in the more relaxed surroundings of the Big Finish green room, where he was always such entertaining company. Now, alas, I shall not have the opportunity to tell him.

It was time to rehearse-record the final big scene. Gareth Thomas didn’t have to lie down on the floor for this sequence – he got up and sauntered off set, looking remarkably chipper for a character who (we now had to accept) was not going to survive the episode. And as the walk-through of the next scene continued, it became increasingly apparent that none of our heroes would get out alive.

Arlen steps forward to take charge, and shoots down Deva as he rushes in to report the base is under attack. David Collings fell back against the wall so heavily that the set shook visibly – something still visible on transmission.

The Scorpio crew drop their weapons (for some reason – perhaps they felt as they were holstered that they’d just get shot down by her where they stood?) Vila bumbles his way “completely harmless and armless” towards Arlen. When she spots Dayna going to retrieve a gun, Arlen shoots her, and Dayna collapses into Tarrant’s arms.

Vila seizes his moment, and knocks Arlen unconscious. At the end of the scene, Michael Keating checked to see if Sasha Mitchell was all right, because he thought he had accidentally smacked her in the face for real. As scripted, Vila also says sorry to the unconscious Arlen.


One by one they fall: Vila pauses for a look around the room and is shot in the back by an arriving trooper (so that’s where they were!)  Soolin kills the trooper who shot Vila, but is then herself gunned down.

Tarrant, who has somehow left the room, perhaps to check what’s going on outside, races back in again.  hurries over to the motionless Avon, but is cut down by another trooper’s fire.

The irony for Tony, in our group of three dismayed observers in the visitor’s gallery, was that Tarrant died last. Furthermore, it became apparent on transmission that Tarrant is the last character ever to speak a line of dialogue in Blake’s 7 on TV.

Unlike the transmitted version, of course, this was all played out in “real time” and without any slow motion on any of the camera shots, so the whole thing cracked along at quite a pace.

As the rehearsal progressed, Mary Ridge needed the cast to give her and the vision mixer appropriate cues for the action, because the explosive squibs in weapons would not be activated until the actual scene recording. “If they won’t say ‘bang,’” she declared firmly, “I’m not playing.” Henry relayed this to the cast and extras, and they dutifully said “bang” on the next run-through.

On an actual recording, the explosive squibs in the weapons make enough noise to act as an action cue without the actors needing to say “bang” each time. The noise they make is merely a sparking fizz. The noisy gunshot reports, along with other bleeps and alarms and machine noise, were all dubbed onto the soundtrack during the editing stage later by special sound technician Elizabeth Parker.

Unlike Avon’s special gun, which had three charges, each of the other Federation or Scorpio guns have a single charge in them – you’ll see that the sequence is choreographed so that each of them only takes one shot.

Multi-camera video recording in the studio means that many of the shot-by-shot edits are achieved “as live” directly to tape by vision mixer Nigel Finnis, who sat beside the director in the production gallery along with the director’s assistant who calls out the camera numbers for each cut. There is the option later, if there is time, to tighten shots or select from the various continuous takes in the edit, or to combine scenes that were recorded separately in studio or on film but that happen contemporaneously in the narrative.

The awful events played out before us again, this time with the cameras recording to tape.

Troopers stormed in. Guns flashed. Heroes fell. The studio fell silent as the scene concluded, with just the flashing warning lights eerily illuminating the scene of devastation.

“Thank God,” declared Mary Ridge in the gallery, “they’re all dead!”

Sasha Mitchell and David Collings no longer had to lie down, and it was now time for Gareth Thomas to resume his position on the painted studio floor.

The troopers surround Avon. He looks at Blake, and then places his feet either side of the body to stand over it. He looks up, and slowly raises his weapon. The camera shot cuts closer, closer, and closer again. Avon grins.


We weren’t to know until transmission about the different gunshot sound effects that would play over the end credits. Was one of them Avon’s gun? Could he have survived? Our assumption on that studio day was that it wasn’t looking good for him.

On the studio floor, photographers gathered to take publicity stills of the final scene. A few more shots to finish off a day full of them. We watched this via the camera feeds that continued to relay a live feed from the studio floor to our observation room.

If the three of us were each to get back home, we knew we’d have to leave soon. We were conscious that we were guests of Vere Lorrimer and didn’t want to overstay our welcome, but after all we’d seen it was a wrench to tear ourselves away.

BBC studio recording days typically went on until 10 p.m. so there were some other scenes recorded that day that we would not get to see. I think included what would be the final scene of Blake’s 7 ever recorded for TV, as the doomed crew made their way in the flyer to Blake’s base.

1-flyerORAC: When we reach the appropriate coordinates, I can simulate the necessary signals to open the silo and allow this flyer to enter.

DAYNA: Oh, sounds good.

VILA: No it isn’t. Sooner or later we’re going to drop into one of these holes in the ground and never come out.

AVON: Sooner or later, everyone does that, Vila.

Tony hurried off to catch his train. Peter and I grabbed something more substantial to eat in the BBC canteen. We also did one final phone call to the editor of Blake’s 7 Monthly, this time at his home number. He told us he’d definitely send us details of what he wanted us to write for him. To be honest, though, after 38 years waiting I’m now beginning to suspect he’s not going to do that.

Before we left BBC Television Centre, Peter and I sought out Vere Lorrimer to offer him our very sincere thanks for inviting us to the day’s recording. He spoke to us of how the ending would be reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with its famous freeze-frame as the protagonists burst out of hiding to face their fate. Both Vere Lorrimer and Paul Darrow were huge fans of that genre.

Possibly seeing the glazed look in our eyes, he also told us that he hoped the characters were only “badly injured” and that a public outcry would bring the series back.

I’m pleased to say that, in my own way, I was subsequently able to do something about – albeit three decades later – when I wrote a Big Finish script for the first of the Liberator Chronicles audios, and then the first full-cast audio script, Warship.


September 2, 2019

Terrance Dicks, 1935 – 2019

Filed under: drwho,writing — Peter A @ 10:04 pm

To several generations of Doctor Who fans, Terrance Dicks was a huge part of the reason for their enthusiasm. As a story writer, but especially as a script editor, he cemented the popularity of the TV series during the time of Jon Pertwee.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.50.57.pngThen he started writing novelisations from the many eras of the TV series for Target Books — literally dozens of them. For a generation of eager readers like me, before the days of video recording or DVD releases, this was the only way to revisit the TV shows.

He once described his writing style as striving for a Simenon style sparsity, and there is an admirable clarity and conciseness in all his books. One of my pals can quote whole chunks of one Doctor Who novelisation verbatim because he used to read it aloud for speech therapy.

The common language of Doctor Who fans is sprinkled with Terrance’s word choices and choice phrases. It’s not just that he coined “never cruel or cowardly” as a succinct description of the Doctor. If someone describes pockets as “capacious” or refers to a “sprightly yellow roadster” or suggests someone has “bohemian elegance” or just uses the words “wheezing” and “groaning” together in a sentence, that’s usually a clue – a secret sign of your fannish credentials when you’re in polite company.

One of my publishing pals asked Terrance about writing a story featuring the Fifth Doctor. “Which one’s he?” inquired Terrance naughtily. “You remember, Terrance,” my friend replied, “he’s the one with the pleasant open face.”

If you think this sounds a bit childish, then I’d remind you that there’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.51.44.pngTerrance’s book with Malcolm Hulke, The Making of Doctor Who (1972) first intrigued me about how television is produced, and led into my academic work and subsequently the part work magazine In-Vision, to which Terrance graciously contributed.

His novelisations inspired me to write stories of my own, including Doctor Who fiction of course, and I returned to his books for stylistic inspiration when I began.

On the occasions I met him, he was charming and modest company. To my wife, he was the engaging conversationalist who poured her a glass of champagne at the wedding of mutual friends. To me, he was a gracious presence at conventions.

Terrance was a guest at the GallifreyOne convention in California, at the turn of the century when the absence of the show on telly meant that the only new “official” Doctor Who was in the magazine comic strip alongside the Virgin Publishing and BBC Books novels. The convention attendees lauded Terrance, and none more so than a crowd of the novelists who were also guests at the event. We cheered his every appearance, and told him how he’d inspired us to read, write, edit, and publish.

I don’t think Terrance couldn’t quite believe this at first, perhaps understandably wary that the ebullient enthusiasm of we young whippersnappers might not be entirely genuine. By the end of the convention, he realised it was heartfelt, though he was still modestly surprised. I like to think of him being pleasantly open-mouthed about the whole thing.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.51.15.pngA particular memory of one convention was sharing an autograph table with him. Inevitably, Terrance had a lot of things to sign. And never more so than when one convention-goer struggled up to the desk dragging his suitcase full of books. It looked like it might contain every one of the dozens of Target novelisations that Terrance had written.

Terrance politely signed a dozen of them, and then equally politely said to the young man: “Shall I sign the rest a bit later? Only I think it would be nice if I signed some for the other people in the queue.” Once the line had subsided, Terrance brought the young man back, and proceeded to sign the rest of the suitcase’s contents.

I try to remember that on the occasions I am at conventions or signings.

When they heard today that Terrance had died at the age of 84, some fans said something about Doctor Who died for them, too.  Whereas I remember what he meant to me as a child; I acknowledge the effect he had on my career as an adult; and I see his novelisations on my bookshelf as a record of both.

There are fans yet to come who will pick up a novel or watch a TV show, and discover Terrance for the first time.

July 1, 2018

Just In Time

Filed under: Bernice Summerfield,Short fiction,Uncategorized,writing — Peter A @ 11:23 pm

In Time

Big Finish have announced a piece of work I’ve completed for them. I’m one of seven authors in the anthology Bernice Summerfield: In Time, edited by Xanna Eve Chown.

It’s published later this year – just In Time for Christmas, in fact. You’ll find it available for pre-order in printed and eBook formats.


Other lives

The book celebrates two decades of Bernice Summerfield at Big Finish. She was the character who launched their original audio range.

Benny had a life in the Doctor Who New Adventures at Virgin Publishing before that, as well as appearances in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. But it was her arrival in the audios, and especially the lively performance of Lisa Bowerman (pictured on the cover), that paved the way for everything else to follow.

Here’s what the book blurb says:

From a rocky start at military academy to her sudden immersion in an alternative universe – via a variety of jobs and adventures on Dellah, at the Braxiatel Collection, and in the murky world of Legion – Bernice Summerfield is a woman who can be said to have lived more than one life. But one thing’s for certain: wherever she is, Benny can always be counted on to right wrongs, get the job done and, sometimes, even have a good time along the way!

To celebrate 20 years of Benny at Big Finish, each of the brand-new stories in this collection focuses on a different time in Benny’s life. There’s an adventure at St Oscar’s, a mystery at the White Rabbit, and even a surprising glimpse into the far future. Will Benny still be digging for artefacts at 80? You bet she will!


Voice of experience

loifeI’ve written for her before, in  Life During Wartime, still available from Big Finish at a bargain price.

Prior to that I wrote something for A Life of Surprises – no longer available from Big Finish, and selling for a price on Amazon so ridiculous that I refuse to provide a link to it.

Life of Surprises coverUnlike those occasions, however, I’ve had the chance now to meet and work with Lisa Bowerman.

For example, she directed my play story Ferril’s Folly. Big Finish have a sale on for their Companion Chronicles series at the moment, and that’s available at a discount.

So, I had her voice in mind as I was writing. Better still, they’ve also announced an audio book version, also available for digital pre-order.

InTimeAudio.pngI think Lisa will have fun with it, and I’m looking forward to hearing my words receive her Benny diction.

Will I be delighted to see my take on Benny published in the book? You bet I will!

April 3, 2018

Amazon update

Filed under: Blake's 7,drwho,Sarah Jane Smith,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 9:50 pm

I have updated my Amazon author page at

The UK one is the slightly less memorable

Edited to add… hurrah! It looks like there are a variety of international versions:


Edited again: it’s created an Audible page too: I think I need a better photo.

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