When someone handed me a pen; probably sooner! I couldn’t play football, catch, punch, or climb, but by god I wanted to tell good stories. I drew comic strips at home, aping the ‘Beano’ style of 16 frames on a page, and wrote vast sweeping space stories at school; usually about a bunch of people who could travel in time and space in cupboard like objects, fighting robots with grating voices!!!
It’s the cliché, but my influences were quite definitely the Target novelisations. My first was ‘Brain of Morbius’ when I was seven, and I hoovered up the range like a mad thing; reading everything my mum could get me. Terrance Dicks’ style was simple but not patronising, and it greatly appealed to me, as, obviously, it appealed to many others. Then came Douglas Adams, and his crisp, witty style. I love economy in my prose, and I think that comes from them.
I also devoured comics, such as 2000ad, the new ‘Eagle’ and ‘Krazy’ comic. I was a huge fan of Alan Moore, John Wagner, Pat Mills and Alan Grant before I even knew what being a comic strip writer involved.
Dead Ringers -
I am a massive fan of Dead Ringers. Can you tell me how the series evolved from a successful radio programme to a successful television programme?
The series was an instant hit on radio, mainly because Radio Four readers liked the idea that it was written specially for them and their own obsessions, the Archers, ‘Today’, Moneybox, all that. It picked up all the radio awards going, and a TV transfer seemed inevitable. It actually took a while, because ‘Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression’ was on, and there were many discussions about how to differentiate it from that show.
There was actually a recorded TV pilot that was meant to be a sort of ‘Dead Ringers but Not Really’, with impressions and everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. I think it was called ‘Sounderama’ or something. It was utterly awful, anyway. I’m glad they finally decided to throw a full blooded Dead Ringers on BBC2 – and they were glad too, because it got four million viewers from the get-go. It was very successful, but never held in quite as much affection as the radio version, I think, because radio listeners are a jealous breed, and never quite forgive you ‘crossing the floor’ as it were!
We worked very hard on the transfer; starting off by selecting our best radio sketches, and then writing very specifically for the visual medium, writing sketches that we thought would only work on television – and then the BBC doesn’t bother to release DVDs, just audio versions of the TV sketches on CD! Typical BBC.
How did you come to be invited on board the show in series 4?
I think you’re slightly misinformed. I wrote for every single episode of Dead Ringers, radio and TV. In fact my writing partner Tom Jamieson and I were the only ones who had that honour. We were there right from the start, on the radio pilot episode in 1999 as hired writers, writing more and more of the show as the weeks went by.
We started script editing on series two of the radio show and were credited as ‘principle writers’ for the TV show. The producer was very nice about that. He saw we were working our guts out putting the show together, both writing our own stuff, and script editing others, helping with the stunts and finding new writers, and he created a special credit for us. We were very proud of that job title.
What is the biggest difference between writing comedy with a visual element and without one?
There is both more AND less freedom on radio. On radio you can have any character you like enter instantly from anywhere, have them do anatomically impossible things, change gender, get fired from cannons, blow them to pieces and just have fun. On the other side of the coin, with visual humour, you have facial expressions, amusing things going on in the background, so there is a dimension of subtlety you can bring to the work.
We wrote ‘Dr Who’s Christmas’ for TV Ringers, and there was a lovely depressing undercurrent to the jokes, with the washed out colours and the tatty decorations; something which you just couldn’t do on radio.
Given your association with Doctor and Jon Culshaw’s phenomenal Tom Baker impression can I assume that the two of you are responsible for those sketches?
The calls were completely down to Jon. The scripted sketches were largely ours, but the stunts were put together by Jon, helped in part by the producer and director, and we occasionally chipped in ideas.
Jon is a true ‘Who’ fan, and when I saw his schtick on the stage at Broadcasting House in 1999, calling up pizzas and asking for them to be sent to Gallifrey, I knew I was in the presence of a kindred spirit!
Do you have any favourite sketches of the television/radio show?
On radio, I loved writing the Alan Bennett monologues, because they got such a warm response from the audience, as did the ‘Archers’ sketches. One fantastic memory I have is of a Royal Command Performance to celebrate ‘The Archers’ 50th birthday, where an entire ballroom full of The Great And The Good (including Prince Charles) shouted ‘oooh nooo’! (Ruth Archer’s catchphrase).
I was thinking, ‘I wrote that sketch! Me!’ They even had t-shirts made!
But I think one sketch I particularly love is a ‘Crimewatch’ sketch, with Nick Ross warning us about the nefarious activities of the ‘Sing Something Simple’ Singers. It was quite personal to me, because my Nan used to listen to those singers on Sunday afternoons when I was little, and those dreary harmonies stay with me to this day. I find listening to the Dead Ringers team as those singers, tackling Shaggy and Eminem in soft harmonies, is a sketch that still makes me cry with laughter.
The ‘Sing Something Simple’ Singers are actually called the Cliff Adams Singers, and in a strange quirk of fate, Cliff Adams died a couple of weeks before the first sketch! There was a lot of huffy outrage at the time, and we were heading to the sad conclusion that we would never do another one, but Cliff Adams’ widow was asked what she thought and, she said she loved them, and Mr Adams would have been chuffed to be on the show. So we did LOADS in the end. We had them squaring up to the Black and White minstrels at one point.
Another series of radio sketches I particularly loved was the ‘No 1 Ladies Detective Agency’. I always thought the books were a triumph of ethnic style over substance, so I had great delight in nailing them to the wall over many weeks. The leaden, laborious style was so suited to comedy, and it was great to have a ‘slow burn’ sketch rather than a fast-paced cartoon style sketch which was usually the Dead Ringers style. It had the audience in stitches.
On television I loved all sorts of sketches. I liked the animation, which broke up the sketches well, such as the ‘Mr Men on the Wrong Side of Town’ one, and the ‘Crazy Frost’ ringtone ad. Loved that one.
On the subject of David Frost, I loved the sketch where he tried to commit suicide by jumping out of the fake window on his ‘Breakfast with Frost’ set, but one I really enjoyed was the Morgan Freeman sketch in the diner, playing Joe Wiseoldcop. Jon’s impression was so brilliant, the guy opposite him was great, and we were particularly pleased with it because it was written in about half an hour, using existing sets and make-up, because Jon had a bit of time after recording another sketch in the day, and it was written to fill an hour’s spare recording.
It came out really well. Delighted with that one.
Death Comes to Time -
You scripted edited the BBCi web cast Death Comes To Time. Did you enjoy that experience or do you prefer to be in the driving seat where writing is concerned?
It was thrilling to be involved in making new ‘official’ Who, but you’re right, it was frustrating just being on the back seat. It was a lot of fun making the pilot episode, because we had time to discuss things and get them right. I felt I made a real difference to the quality of the finished product. But as the production of the rest of the episodes kicked in, and it was much more rushed, I found I could only leave caustic notes on draft scripts and hope the writer paid attention.
Out of those other episodes, I only felt I made a real contribution to the death of the companion Antimony. He was always going to be revealed as a robot, but I suggested that Antimony wasn’t programmed to know he was a robot, because the Doctor was old, and sick of death, and wanted a perfect companion whom he didn’t have to worry about.
I suggested that Antimony only realised his robotic origins on the point of his death, which is just as heartbreaking as the death of a real person. I thought that was a nice touch.
What are your thoughts on the finished product?
I think it’s an impressive piece of work, brilliant in many ways, incredibly different. There’s been nothing like it before or since, and there’s moments which still give me goosebumps.
But I have to say, it falls into the trap when a writer tries to produce something that announces its own portentousness, much like ‘The Dark Dimension’ script. It’s very easy to start with a huge fanfare, and say ‘this is an important story’ but it’s much harder to keep that sense of awe as the story progresses. That’s why I feel it keeps re-starting itself, and loses its way as a story a few times.
Were you approached by Big Finish to write your first play, Omega, or was this something that you pitched to them?
I had pitched a story to them before, but Gary approached me and asked me to pitch for ‘Omega’. I was thrilled about that.
Is it true that your initial proposal had all manner of Doctor Who continuity thrown in?
Not quite. That was my original pitch pre-Omega, which I can barely remember. It had Cybermen, a space bar called ‘Tempus Fugitive’, and shell-shocked mercenary Sontaran, I think.
Do you think Omega has a lot to offer as a villain?
I love him. He has a tragic, misunderstood quality about him which I find appealing. He’s the ultimate outsider, a real ‘fish out of water’ persona, or a real ‘fish out of the universe’ persona if you like. I think Doctor Who fans can relate to that.
I don’t really write proper villains, so I’m glad I got given him instead of ‘Davros’ or ‘Master’.
What do you think about his televised stories?
I love ‘The Three Doctors’. I don’t understand why anyone else wouldn’t. It’s such a fantastic ride. I used to read the Target book over and over, enjoying the journey, the humour, the fantastic, historic confrontations with old Doctors and the ultimate villain, all ending with the gamekeeper going in for his dinner!
‘Arc of Infinity’ is not perfect, but it builds to something which is almost wonderful. An elegiac, tragic end to a God, forced to run around like a wounded animal. That was great. I couldn’t have written ‘Omega’ without ‘Arc of Infinity’, both in terms of themes or plot.
Did you start the process of script writing with the glorious end of part three twist in mind or was that something that evolved naturally from the script?
I wrote an entire synopsis without the twist!
After I’d sent the outline to Gary I had this epiphany (I got this epiphany watching the last part of ‘Arc of Infinity’ when the Doctor first physically meets Omega – you know what I mean!). I rang him and told him not to read the crap I’d just sent him (which he was just printing up), and completely rewrote the synopsis with added twist. Surprisingly, the actual story changed very little.
In many ways the gestation of Omega mirrored its own narrative; there was a fake Omega giving way to a real one, a fake Omega ship appearing before the real one turns up, and finally a fake Doctor being usurped by the real one. I had unwittingly written a ‘fake’ synopsis and now thanks to a flash of inspiration I had been suddenly confronted by the real one.
You had already had plenty of radio work broadcast by the time you came to write for Big Finish but was this different because it was Doctor Who?
Well this was drama. Funny drama with jokes, yes but it had to have weight, to have meat. I think I over-wrote trying to get to that meat, but being part of the ‘villains trilogy’ was a big ‘ask’ for my debut, and even though it’s not perfect, I still have a lot of affection for it.
As I was a radio writer, I wore it as a badge of honour that I would make it a truly ‘sound’ script that would only work as a CD. The fact that felt it succeeded - to my great surprise - beyond my own expectations, encouraged me to tailor all my subsequent work; in books, comic strips, audio, TV, to be very specific to the medium I’m writing for.
The Kingmaker -
The Kingmaker was a massive hit and your second of three Big Finish stories to feature Peter Davison. How do you go about plotting a script with as many twists and turns as this one?
It was achingly slow!
I pitched the idea to Gary about what would happen if the Doctor had to do something really horrible to save the web of time, like, say, killing the Princes in the Tower.
Gary said ‘great, off you go, and do it with Peter, Nicola and Caroline’.
When I tried to get to grips with it, I found it very difficult to work through. It’s all very well pitching the idea, but you couldn’t have a story where the Doctor physically kills children. I teamed the Doctor up with Shakespeare as a de facto companion, and had him revealed to be the killer, but then I realised you can’t have anyone kill children in a Doctor Who story! You just can’t!
I tried all kinds of permutations, various synopses involving elements such as a Gallifreyan suicide squad, the Meddling Monk (to which there was a firm ‘no’ from Gary – thank god), and the Woodville family, before I settled on the correct story outline, and even then, trying to encompass a whole two years of history in one audio was an incredible task. If I tell you that the first scene I ever wrote for ‘Kingmaker’ was a scene that never reached the final script, and featured characters, none of whom appeared on the final CD, you’ll get an idea of how many ways I tried to lever in this huge wodge of history into four episodes.
I hated writing ‘Kingmaker’. It took far too long, for a start. I was busy with Dead Ringers in the week, and I was writing ‘Kingmaker’ at the weekends, when I should have been playing with my baby son.
I was tempted to hand the money back and give up. Omega had been well received, so I felt like was just competing with myself. I’m glad I saw it through in the end.
Nowadays I have a more relaxed perspective about my work. I treat every job as a bit of fun, and write it to the best of my ability, but not worry about besting myself. I didn’t write my ‘Dark Shadows’ CD, thinking about ‘Peri and the Piscon Paradox’, I just tried to write a good horror story.
One of the stories many strengths was how you highlighted the difference in morality between Peri and Erimem – was this something where you could see real fireworks developing?
That’s not quite how I work.
The thing is, I don’t go into a writing project saying ‘I want to do this with Peri and Erimem’ I go in saying ‘here is this story I’m writing. It’s about revising history, and revising the truth. It’s about different moralities, and it’s about assumptions and it’s about lying. How do all of these characters fit into this story, and how do they reflect those themes?’
I did do research into Erimem, because I wanted to get the character right, but I didn’t set out to have Erimem ‘do’ things, anything more than I constructed things for Peri to ‘do’. That kind of nonsense always looks forced.
I have a story, planned, and the characters go through the story, hopefully being true to themselves, and things naturally occur to me as I go.
Peri also reflects the themes of the story. She lies to everyone she meets, and she makes assumptions all the way through, and constructs a perfectly reasonable Doctor Who story out of the clues, only to be told she’s totally wrong. And those are the themes. Everybody lies to one another, and everybody lies to the Doctor. Erimem lies to Peri, and finesses the truth to the Doctor, just in the same way that the play of Richard III finesses the truth to the world.
I originally had that scene in the tower much bigger, I had Erimem chasing Peri through the corridors like that bit in Blakes Seven - ‘Orbit’ where Avon tries to kill Vila, but that didn’t quite work.
Were you responsible for Jon Culshaw’s appearance in this adventure?
Yes, I asked him, and he was delighted to do it. I wrote in the gag for him to do, and was happy to take it out if he was unavailable.
Was it your deft handling of Peri’s character in The Kingmaker that got you hooked on writing more for the character?
Not really. I don’t get hooked on characters. Not Dr Who companions anyway. Due to the nature of ‘Doctor Who’ – which is after all, a thriller/horror adventure story for kids – companions are usually just there to serve the plot, and barely have any life of their own, and I really do include all of the companions, from Susan right through to Amy. Their characters always do cartwheels to serve the story, so there’s rarely any distinctiveness found there, just archetypes, like ‘angry male’, ‘feisty female’, ‘perky earth girl’, or ‘cheeky alien boy’.
Pretty much all of them are empty vessels that you have to fill each time.
I don’t get particularly excited at the prospect of writing for a companion – except K9 maybe, but that’s because I’m a Dr Who fanboy!
This is a laugh-a-minute funny script – what is your inspiration for finding so many funny gags?
I just decided to have fun! The jokes were the easy part. I write jokes for a living. It was the plotting that really set me grinding my teeth.
Most of the best jokes, the ones I’m really proud of, are ones that disguise important bits of information, such as the routine about Clarrie’s nickname revealing that Peri and Erimem are trapped in the past. Listeners are so busy being amused, they’re not realising they’re been fed key elements of the plot! I love doing that. It’s so much more fun than simply trying to bury clues in the narrative.
I think half the battle for me in writing the jokes, was feeling that you’re allowed to do these things. You can have a whole idea in your mind about what Dr Who is supposed to be, and then – well, I listened to Rob’s ‘Holy Terror’ and thought it was brilliant. And from then on I thought, oh, ‘It’s okay, I’m allowed to write really good witty material with substance, and not just glorified space operas.’
Did you start with the answer of what happened to the Princes in the Tower and then work your way to that answer or did you write as you went along and find the conclusion sprang from the writing process?
The conclusion sprang from the very long process of writing the synopsis.
In many ways the ‘shopping list’ of requirements given to me (Fifth Doctor, two companions) helped me to find a way through, just as the ‘shopping list’ for Omega (Fifth Doctor meets Omega, no companions) helped me form the hook for that story, too.
I eventually had that ‘click’ in my head. Two companions equals two princes. Peri and Erimem could pretend to be the Princes in the Tower! Then I didn’t stop there, I pushed the idea one stage further. Why couldn’t the Princes be like the companions too?
Everything fell into place after that, and I realised I’d stumbled on a plausible reason for the isolation and disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, without them being spirited away by aliens, or suchlike.
Did you enjoy throwing in the New Series references?
‘Enjoy’? Well I can’t say I did, and I can’t say I didn’t. It was all part of the fun.
If I listed the jokes I’m proud of, then ‘the northern chap with big ears’ comes pretty low down. It’s just an in-joke. I’m more proud of the jokes that work both for Dr Who fans and non-fans alike, such as the ‘pleasant open-faced Pete’ joke.
Funnily enough, no-one told me that I couldn’t make new series references! So either everyone missed it, or they didn’t think it was important enough to give me a slap on the wrist!
How much research has to be done to conjure up a realistic historical setting?
I’d studied the reign of Richard III for ‘A’ level history, so I had a good start. I also read some other books, ‘A Daughter of Time’, and ‘The Trial of Richard III’.
I worked quite hard to make it authentic, but then I stepped back and gave myself some perspective. I realised I was in danger of killing the script with over-research. For example, I started off trying to be very true to the language, realised it was impossible because they all spoke French anyway, kicked off my shoes and decided to have fun with modern idioms in an historical setting.
If you think about it, it’s no more out of place than cod-Shakespeare dialogue in the time of Richard the Lionheart, or modern English accents at the fall of Troy.
There are some (strange) people who consider season 17 to be the nadir of the shows run because it is injected with too much humour. Do you think that by its very nature as entertainment that Doctor Who should be funny?
I think Dr Who should be entertaining. If that means funny, or exciting, or scary, then so be it. I don’t think it has to be all of those things all the time.
As I said earlier, at the end of the day it’s a serial thriller for children, so it shouldn’t be boring, or too depressing, or mushy, or too self-consciously silly. Avoid those things and you should be fine.
Steven Moffat once said to me that he’d worked out how to do Dr Who from watching ‘City of Death’- he realised that Dr Who should above all be scary, and when it’s not scary it should be funny, and I agree with him, up to a point, but I think there should be room for stories like ‘Inferno’ or ‘Seeds of Doom’, which is brilliant because they’re terrifying and a little bit camp, but they aren’t self-consciously funny. Otherwise you just end up forcing in jokes where they’re not needed and the drama sometimes gets undermined.
Were you pleased with the finished result?
Very happy with it. I had a great cast, and they did beautifully. I think there are a few things here and there I would like to cut now, but overall, very happy with it.
I don’t know if this happens with other writers, but I always end up liking bits of my work, rather than the whole thing. I like bits of ‘Omega’. I like bits of ‘Piscons’. There are sequences in ‘Mervyn Stone’ I really like. If I were to pick a chunk of ‘Kingmaker’ that I enjoy, it’s the sequence from when the Doctor enters the Tavern, right to the point where he’s knocked on the head by Tyrell.
Peri and the Piscon Paradox –
What inspired you to write such a marvellous script for Peri? Do you think she is a character that hasn’t been given the same advantages as some of the latter day companions and wanted to redress the balance?
Not really! If they’d asked for a Dodo story I’d hope I’d make as much effort to make her into a fab character.
It was David Richardson who asked me to write a story for Peri. He wanted a story that started with the fifth doctor and ended with the sixth doctor, that was the brief.
In truth, he probably asked me because I was (and still am) in a relationship with Nicola. I hadn’t written for Big Finish for a while, and didn’t really know why, and Nicola cheekily went up to David and said ‘my boyfriend wants to write for Big Finish’.
She allowed the blood to drain from his face, before adding; ‘but as my boyfriend’s Nev Fountain, I don’t think that’s a problem is it?’ A few days later David e-mailed me with his request, and I think the choice of Peri for me to write for was as much influenced by that incident as any other!
I don’t think I wrote it wanting to redress the neglect of Peri’s character, more to address the neglect of Nicola’s acting abilities. She’s an amazing actress who rarely got a chance to shine in the show, and she can go with anything you throw at her in a script.
Nicola Bryant gives an extraordinary performance. How much input did she have in this script?
Now, having said I wasn’t particularly attached to Peri, I did listen very carefully to Nicola’s ideas, and her enthusiasm and creativity was very infectious. She’s lived with the character for nearly thirty years, so I would have been an idiot not to listen to her.
She wrote a very detailed outline for Peri’s character for JNT back in the day, which explained why she was so attached to the fifth doctor, and why she was so shocked by the arrival of the sixth. She imagined that the fifth doctor reminded her of her dead father. I just transposed that idea to her boyfriend.
She also had a notion that Peri would have been good in an ‘X Files/Torchwood’ style operation, so I was happy to make that wish come true, after a fashion. It’s also no secret that Nicola regrets not having children, so that sadness and regret was blended into the mix.
I’m not a huge fan of forcing a character in a certain direction, simply from details learned from the actor’s life. The idea of making Mike Yates gay, for example, leaves me cold. The actor was either employed to play a love interest for Jo, or he wasn’t. I wouldn’t make a particular Doctor Who into a randy bugger if I happened to find out the actor was a ladies’ man, so I don’t see the point, really.
There is a line between fiction and reality, and it’s good to stick to it most of the time.
But to completely contradict myself for a moment, everything about Peri’s life was so sketchy, I had to fill in some of the blanks to make her a character, and you might as well challenge the actor, throw in something in that resonates, to give her something to chew on when she’s giving a performance.
How do you go about writing two versions of the same character?
I didn’t think of older Peri as the same character as young Peri. Because she had ‘wiped the slate clean’ of her life in those intervening thirty years, and so much had happened to her, I didn’t feel any obligation to ‘match’ up the characters, at least, not at first.
I wrote a hard-assed, brittle character, divorced from anything we knew as Peri, and then, as her past is revealed, and more of this Peri’s psyche is revealed, I slowly moved the character in the direction of what we know as ‘our’ Peri.
That approach was reflected in Nicola’s performance. If you notice, as older Peri gets further into the adventure with the sixth doctor, she is sounding more and more like younger Peri.
During the course of the story there is a fascinating parallel made between Peri’s lover Davy turning into a monster and the fifth Doctor turning into the sixth. Was that a deliberate comment on the more acerbic sixth Doctor?
Well it was a deliberate comment, part of the theme of all the Peri’s lives mirroring each other, and one which was pretty much the last thing I put in.
I actually have a two-speed brain. I get so in the ‘zone’ with the writing, there’s a part of my brain which creates patterns and memes without me being conscious of it. Just like Omega, with the repeated meme of ‘fake, then real’, I only realised that I was doing it until well into the writing process.
The reference to the ‘cute blonde guy’ and the ‘unstable violent guy’ was something I actually added after day one in the studio, and slipped on a piece of paper to Nicola on the final day of recording.
It was the last thing written, and quite literally the final piece that slotted everything together. It was there all the time, hanging in the air, but I hadn’t vocalised that idea out loud. It was quite a shock to realise I’d spent a month writing to one specific point, and I hadn’t even consciously worked it out for myself!
Tell us about writing one of the few multi Doctor stories for Big Finish – is there a great deal of humour in comparing one to the other?
Well humour is always found in exaggeration, and that’s why most multi-doctor stories are quite funny; there’s this tendency to exaggerate their quirks to differentiate them, hence Troughton’s overt buffoonery in the Three and Five Doctors.
Of course the fifth doctor was never quite as reasonable and wet as he was painted, or the sixth doctor quite as much of a blundering fool, but it’s fun to ring the changes and have them butt heads, albeit unwittingly…!
Was the purpose of this story to give Peri a definitive ending? How did you reach the multiversal conclusion?
No, it wasn’t the point of the story at all. The solution of the Peris was very much an afterthought, because it required some sense of resolution. It was actually demanded of me, after my synopsis omitted any proper explanation!
I made it up very quickly on the hoof, and when I do that kind of thing, I always dip into the real world, which gives it a touch of authenticity. I wanted the Time Lord chaos and muddle to reflect the chaos and muddle on the production at the time.
Like The Kingmaker this must have been a nightmare to plot. How many revisions did this go through before you were happy with the result?
It wasn’t that hard, to be honest, all the ideas snapped together nicely. The idea of ‘fish heaven’, Peri’s story, the Doctor confronting himself as his own villain, all these elements came together easily, much much more easily than ‘The Kingmaker’.
The only time I floundered (pun intended) was during that episode two/four act when all doctors and companions are together, prior to the pier scene. I originally had them all captured on the Piscon ship, and that didn’t work, but then the idea of the time-cuffs combination came to me in a flash. So I decided to have the sixth doctor get captured by the fifth.
Was it tricky to write a story where you listen to one interpretation of the story and then go through the events again in an entirely different light?
No, as I said, it came very easily, I’m embarrassed to say. There are only a few minor cheats. One is the time elapse for the fifth doctor and Peri after older Peri explains about the Piscons and their need to re-incarnate. Young Peri and the fifth doctor loiter in the store for a good few hours, allowing the sixth Doctor and older Peri to run around, have a drink on the pier, find Buretta, and have Peri’s Camaro get disintegrated by the Piscons.
Its one of the few companion chronicles to feature a Doctor in them. Do you think Colin Baker’s involvement was vital to this story’s success?
I found it completely essential. I asked for the sixth doctor, and to David Richardson and Nick Briggs’s credit, they saw the fun in the idea and gave him to me! He was brilliant and completely joined in with the spirit of the piece.
I think not having Colin doing his own lines would have changed the nature of the piece entirely.
How would you describe the Mervyn Stone Mysteries?
They are comedy-murder-mystery thrillers, centred round my amateur sleuth Mervyn Stone. Mervyn is an overweight, over-the-hill, ex-script editor of an old Sci-fi TV show.
His show, ‘Vixens from the Void’, ran on the BBC in the eighties and nineties, and then it got killed in ’92. Judging by the audience figures by the end, there were precious few witnesses.
As it died, so too did Mervyn’s career. He doesn’t write professionally any more, only if you count the words ‘Best Wishes Mervyn Stone’ on DVD covers.
Mervyn ekes out this twilight world of dead cult television, going to conventions, attending DVD commentaries, signing things at shabby comic shops. The one point of excitement in his life is that murders tend to happen wherever he goes, and Mervyn, with his script editor’s knack of detecting plot holes, has an unerring ability to discover whodunit.
The first book, ‘Geek Tragedy’ is set in a sci-fi convention, where the convention’s organiser, Simon Josh, is found gassed inside his own prop monster.
The second, ‘DVD Extras Include: Murder’ is an impossible murder set during the recording of a DVD commentary of one of the old ‘Vixens from the Void’ episodes. A man is poisoned while inside the studio and no-one can work out how it happened.
The third, ‘Cursed Among Sequels’ is set during the revival of the ‘Vixens from the Void’ for a whole new market. Mervyn is dragged to Cornwall as a ‘script consultant’ and discovers that someone on the new production team is trying to kill him - which seems pretty understandable as all he’s doing is just getting in the way.
Are the books entirely standalone adventures that can be picked up independently or is there a running that means they have to read in order?
They can be read as standalone adventures, but I would recommend that they are read in order. I don’t believe in this ‘Murder Mystery’ cliche that everyone gets collective amnesia after each case and the past is never brought up again.
The identity of the murderer in book one is freely discussed in book two, and each novel carries with it a sense of progression in Mervyn’s life; not that his life moves a lot, but the impact of each case carries through to the next one.
The ingredients of comedy, murder mystery and adventure seem to be a winning one. How has writing prose compared to writing for audio and television?
It takes longer, but it is much more satisfying. You can construct your own scene with painstaking detail, without relying on the varying interpretations from actors, set designers, props people, etc.
It’s a very personal process. I compare it to painting in oils. I think writing scripts is like painting with chalks; quicker but less controllable.
I enjoy prose immensely. And I’m glad the last two audios I’ve done for Big Finish, ‘Piscon and ‘Eternal Actress’ had a prose component to them.
What has the reaction been to the series?
Very very positive. Not a single bad review, four stars from ‘The Sun’ (beating Lee Child!’ Glowing coverage from all quarters. I’m extremely happy, yet now daunted by people pushing me to write more! I’m having to compete against myself again!
Will we be seeing any more Mervyn Stone Mysteries?
There you go! Nag nag nag!
Seriously, I’m well on the way to finishing a Mervyn Stone audio, called ‘I Dismember the Eighties’, which is probably going to be the next thing you’ll hear from Mervyn, barring accidents.
I’ve also started two more books, ‘Ten Little Figures’ and ‘Signing for the Death’, which I’m working on at my own pace. I don’t see either of them coming out this year.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Well, apart from the Dark Shadows ‘Eternal Actress’ which has just come out, and the Mervyn Stone things mentioned above, I’ve been asked to write a Dr Who project for next year, and perhaps a Benny, and perhaps another Companion Chronicle.
Outside of Big Finish, I’m writing a thriller about ghosts, a sitcom pilot for a major independent TV company, and a sketch show for children’s BBC. Oh, and my work for ‘Private Eye’ thunders on every other week..
I’m also hoping to get back onto my stage play, which is lying unfinished in my computer in much the same state as Mervyn Stone’s own novel!
Nev Fountain thank you very much for your time.
You can find Nev's audio/novels available to buy from the following links -
Peri & the Piscon Paradox
The Eternal Actress