David Richardson holds the title of producer for Big Finish’s enormously popular range of Doctor Who audio adventures. He also has creative responsibility over the spin series’ The Companion Chronicles, The Lost Stories and Jago & Litefoot.
Thank you for agreeing to participate, David.
Can you tell us how you came to be involved in Big Finish?
I was working as a magazine editor for a publishing company and Nick Briggs, who I’d known since the 1980s, called me up and offered me the job, completely out of the blue. After I’d got over the shock, I really didn’t have to think about it, and said yes pretty much immediately. It proved to be a life-changing move. The great thing about Big Finish is that Nick and Jason encourage people to develop their skills and work to their strengths. It’s all about what you can do, not what you can’t.
Does your role of producer mean that you oversee the entire companies creative output? Do you ever have to step in correct elements of stories that you are unhappy with?
I’m just in creative control of the spin-offs I work on. The monthly range is the creative baby of Nick and Alan Barnes. Though having said that I did run The Key 2 Time and Klein trilogies for them, as they were tied up on the Eighth Doctor series. And I’ve been in creative control of one of the main range stories for 2012 – but it’s way too early to reveal what that is.Part of the job is looking out for ways in which stories can be made better, in league with the script editor. Or suggesting core ideas or storylines that can be developed.
The Companion Chronicles began as a four part series, was that a conscious decision to test the waters of their popularity?
The Companion Chronicles were Nick’s idea, and I think it was a brilliant concept. I suspect the plan was just to do four a year, but they actually became very popular very quickly.
Given that the last three series have all had twelve instalments can we assume that this series has really taken off?
Actually, series three was planned to be eight stories, but I had too many ideas! So I went back to Nick and Jason and asked for more, and they let me go monthly with them. I still have too many ideas for the Chronicles. But better too many than too few.
Do you have any favourites amongst this series?
Far too many. I love The Suffering because it’s a brilliant script by Jac Raynor and Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves are astonishing in it. When I heard the climactic scene for the first time, it brought me to tears. I love Solitaire, because that was John Dorney proving, in his first Doctor Who script, that he is a force to be reckoned with. I adore Find and Replace because it’s so moving. The Mahogany Murderers, of course, because it was my first encounter with the wonderful Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter, who are the highlight of every single day that I work with them. And my absolute favourites are probably the Sara Kingdom trilogy, because they take old 1960s Doctor Who and move it on…
Jago & Litefoot and Sara Kingdom slightly stretch the limits of the term companion but given these stories are the moist acclaimed can we expect some more peripheral Doctor Who characters to make an appearance in the range?
Actually there are no current plans for peripheral characters. I’m a bit focused on the TV companions at the moment.
You have taken the intriguing step to introduce a new first Doctor companion to the range, Oliver Harper. What can you tell us about his character?
Oliver is a trader at a city bank in the 1960s. From the moment we meet him, we know that he’s not quite what he appears. That’s all I’ll say for now, other than that I’ve heard the finished edits of The Perpetual Bond and I’m really pleased with it.
The Jago & Litefoot series has proven to be an instant hit. Are we right in thinking that The Mahogany Murderers was the best selling Companion Chronicle?
Do you know… I’m not sure about that. It certainly did very well and got extraordinary feedback. The first pressing sold out within three months, which remains a record.
What do you think makes this series so appealing?
I’m not sure that’s for me to say… I can tell you what the ongoing appeal is for me, and that is it gives me the opportunity to continually find new ways to tell stories. Be it the two-hander approach of Solitaire, or – as previously mentioned – the idea of taking an old era and making it new again (as we do with the Oliver Harper stories). I think when I run out of ideas, it’ll be time for me to hand over to somebody else – but I’ve still got plenty of ideas left so I’m not letting go any time soon!
Can you give us a taster of upcoming seasons?
Well we’ve announced the upcoming Tales from the Vault, which guest stars Daphne Ashrbook and Yee Jee Tso as new characters, and features a host of companions. I’m really pleased with that story – it’s Jonny Morris at his witty and inventive best. John Dorney has written a story for Ian Chesterton called The Rocket Men which is lovely – I think it’ll be a favourite for many. We’ve got The Memory Cheats, another story for Zoe which forms the second part of a trilogy that began in Echoes of Grey. And, I can exclusively reveal, we have recorded another ‘full cast style’ Chronicle, but that won’t be out till early 2012!
The Lost Stories were an intriguing glimpse into what we might have watched had the original season 23 been produced. Did you deliberately try and echo the feel of the eighties stories or take the basic plots and turn them into something more modern and punchy?
Well both really. In the cases where stories were fully scripted then I felt it was our duty to make minimal changes. So The Nightmare Fair, Mission to Magnus and The Hollows of Time are pretty much how they would have appeared on TV in the 1980s, with music and sound effects of the era. With Paradise 5 and Point of Entry, for example, which were either partly scripted or just storylined, we had more freedom to develop them. I think I prefer the latter approach, although I think we were exactly right in taking the former approach in specific cases. You’ll find that the upcoming Season 27 stories are pure 1980s Sylvester. They feel like they could have been broadcast the day after Survival.
What was the overall response to the Colin Baker season?
Very positive. So positive, in fact, that we commissioned two more seasons of The Lost Stories off the back of it.
Which stories do you think turned out especially well?
Oooh… Leviathan – a lovely discovery, that wasn’t in the running originally until it turned up out of the blue. All the cast loved it, and so did the audience. Andy Lane did a great job at adapting Paradise 5 from PJ Hammond’s original paperwork. I thought Point of Entry was splendid, wonderfully dark and the cast – especially Matt Addis – was brilliant. And I was very happy with The Song of Megaptera too, which was worth the 30-year wait! I must also mention The First Doctor Box Set, which seemed to hit a chord with everyone. I think everyone involved did brilliant work on that.
Will this series run until you have dramatised all of the unused scripts throughout Doctor Who’s run?
Ha ha – not all of them. But just when I think we’ve done all we can (as I did when we finished working on series two), suddenly new and irresistible discoveries are made. There are some fantastic and really exciting stories in series three – one of which will be revealed in the next DWM.
Have you ever been tempted to write or direct a story yourself?
I’ve been tempted, but then came to my senses and realized I’d be doing it out of sheer vanity. Actually I have directed, but only for the free Short Trips readings we do for subscribers. You know, I look around me and I see people who can do it much better. Why should I write a script when Jonathan Morris or Jac Raynor would do a superior job? Why should I direct when Ken Bentley would deliver a better production than I would? I’m not being self-deprecating, just realistic. I truly believe that being a good producer is about surrounding yourself with people who are much cleverer than you are. Script editors like Jac, Justin Richards (on Jago and Litefoot) or John Dorney (on Lost Stories 3), and directors like Ken or Lisa Bowerman… They turn in polished productions and I look good. Surely it’s the best deal in the world?
What exciting projects are on the horizon for Big Finish?
Well I’ve recently taken on two new lines, neither of which I can talk about yet, but I’m really thrilled to get my hands on them! (As an aside, I’m writing this in the control room of the studio while we are recording Jago and Litefoot series 4, and the scene being played out right now is breaking my heart. Oh corks…)But, you know, it’s all exciting. Thing is, I keep trying to imagine what my 14-year-old self would think if he knew what I was doing now… Young David would probably have thought it was too fantastic to believe.