Friday, 1 March 2013

Nicholas Briggs Interview Update

Needless to say it has been a fantastically popular five years for Big Finish with the company growing in profile as it has progressed. What are you particularly proud of since you took on the role of Executive Producer?

Nick: I’m particularly proud of the team we’ve built up. David Richardson is a really great line producer. He makes everything happen, organises everything, makes sure everyone is happy. But there’s so much more to him than that. He’s a great ideas man, both in terms of stories and casting, but also in terms of furthering Big Finish’s reach and range - promotional ideas and marketing strategies. He’s also a genuinely calming human being to be around, which is perhaps his most important talent of all. David recommended Paul Spragg to us. You’d be hard pushed to find a more dedicated and thorough person than the Spraggster. He’s vital to Big Finish. Then there’s Kris Griffin, who came and offered his services to us as a marketing guru. We call him the ‘marketing gnu’, because of an early typo! I could do a whole book about why Kris is so brilliant. He’s helped me and the company so much, especially with the website and with marketing ideas. He is helping to transform us. We’re growing up and moving into the future. Then, of course, there’s Jason, our chairman and my co-exec. It’s his company, and you really couldn’t wish for a better boss. He listens, he understands and he’s bursting with great ideas too, especially on the casting front.

Creatively, I’m really proud of the Fourth Doctor stories, because they are new and the result of a concentrated two years solid of cajoling to get Tom back into the role. But, of course, there’s so much other stuff we do that I’m proud of too. Scripts and ideas for all the Doctors, particularly the recent Dark Eyes. And, of course, there’s Sherlock Holmes... I’m loving it all even more than when we last spoke. Things are just getting better and better.

Since we last spoke the trilogies have been powering on in the main range in full swing. Which do you feel have been particularly successful and why?

Nick: I think the good thing about the trilogies is that we’re able to get them all to work in different ways. The stuff with Ace and Hex with the Seventh Doctor has been amazingly rich and complex. Our script editor, Alan Barnes, has worked so hard on these and all the main Doctor Who range scripts. The development of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa storyline has been great too. These are really Alan’s territory. He’s another member of the team I’m proud to work with. I like the way he’s always coming up with completely different flavours of stories.

Given it is in full swing at the moment can you whet our appetites with any information about the rest of the upcoming 4th Doctor/Romana season? Can you say a few words about working with Mary Tamm?

Nick: My specific involvement was with the four stories I wrote for this. I was busy doing theatre work when the others were recorded, so the legendary Ken Bentley was drafted in to work with Tom. Tom was wary of working with another director to start with, having got used to me. But they worked really well together.
For these stories, David was interested in there being a sort of mini-arc, so I developed the character of Cuthbert, the CEO of interplanetary brand leaders, The Conglomerate. It’s an idea that came from the Audio Visuals audio plays I’d written millions of years ago. It was fantastic to get David Warner into the role, and this was one of the key castings that gave Tom confidence in us. The Sands of Life was actually the second script we recorded with Tom. So odd to think that it’s taken so long for it to be released. Of course, Cuthbert is back at the end of the season this Summer with The Dalek Contract and The Final Phase. I’m listening to sound design for this now and am really pleased with how it’s turning out. K9 and Romana meeting the Daleks! Rather exciting, I think.

As for working with the lovely Mary... She’s one of those people I got on with the moment I met her. That was many years ago, when we did the Myth Makers interview. She was so generous, so blisteringly honest (off camera!) and trusting. We were being outrageously rude to each other within minutes, which is always a good sign. It’s so funny that her appearance and on screen persona suggested a sort of haughty personality, as Mary was so down to earth. It was always a joy to see her - we had so many theatre friends and colleagues in common, so there was always so much to gossip about. She worked really hard on these scripts, really throwing herself into it, determined to finish this series. She knew the scripts really well and I’m flattered to say, said she particularly liked the two, final Dalek stories.

Are we going to be seeing more of Flip in the future?

Nick: Yes, Flip was a huge success. We loved her and Lisa Greenwood is such a delight to just have around the place, frankly. A perky, elegant little lady who makes everyone smile, and she’s brilliant playing the character. But we didn’t know how well she would be received. There’s a tendency for Doctor Who fans to be fairly hostile to more working class characters. Not sure why. Thomas Brewster got a lot of stick from some quarters, even though we loved him and persisted with him. So we were a bit nervous with Flip. But everyone was charmed by her... including Colin. So we’re bringing her back. Scripts are underway.

Will we be hearing any more from my personal favourite, Evelyn?

Nick: Maggie is a dear friend who, as you know, I introduced to Big Finish right back at the first story, Sirens of Time. She’s been with us ages and has done fantastic work. I’m sorry to report that she has been suffering quite a long period of serious illness for some time now. I’ve worked with her for many years in the theatre and we’ve always kept in touch, so I’ve been very aware of her condition and have spoken to her regularly. She had recovered enough to do the most recent Evelyn trilogy, but it did take a lot out of her and she was taken rather poorly during that. Since then, she’s been too ill to work. I’m happy to report that she’s doing well, though, and still enjoying life very much. I spoke to her a few weeks ago and she was in fine spirits, really cheerful. I love Maggie to bits. She’s always a good laugh to work with and she has been extremely generous to me over the years. She was the one who got me the part of Sherlock Holmes in Holmes and the Ripper at the Theatre Royal Nottingham a few years ago... and that’s resulted in my playing Holmes for Big Finish and, most recently, in a national theatre tour.

With regards to the fifth Doctor releases, do you plan to run with the team of Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough for the foreseeable future or are their any new companions waiting in the wings?

Nick: That teaming up has worked so well and the actors love it so much, it would be churlish and cruel to change it just now.

There has been an injection of fresh talent in the range of late with Matt Fitton, Rick Briggs, William Gallagher, Andrew Smith & Catherine Harvey. Are you happy with the mix of old and new writers?

Nick: It’s really difficult to find people who can really do the job. We ran that writers’ opportunity for people to submit a single episode idea a while back. Rick won it. But Matt and Catherine also submitted really good ideas, and Alan was keen to use them. Matt, in particularly has really hit his stride. He has quickly become one of our most trusted writers. He works fast, is bursting with ideas and delivers really stylish stuff with the minimum of script editing work needed. He just has a knack and now stands alongside other favourites of mine, like Jonny Morris, Marc Platt and Eddie Robson. We’re always looking for new writers. There’s no shortage of people who want to and who think they can do it. There’s a massive shortage of people who can actually do it well. Writing Doctor Who is much tougher than you’d think.

There has been a discussion recently on Gallifrey Base with regards to there being a lack of female writers contributing stories. Is there a submissions policy with regards to the various ranges or are all the slots allocated internally? Is there any way that Big Finish could seek out fresh female talent?

Nick: The issue of skewing opportunity to favour unrepresented groups in any creative field is a really difficult one. We have an ongoing discussion about this in Big  Finish circles. We are certainly very keen for there to be more female writers, for example. But we are a small company with tough deadlines, so actually managing to get scripts from anyone in the first place has to be the major concern. That said, I’m very mindful of this issue and the justified strength of feeling from people who feel under-represented, so I am certainly making efforts to change things. I think there’s a very valid argument that like prefers like, so I think there’s some truth in the fact that I may unconsciously be drawn towards people who are like me - white, male, etc. That’s certainly not a conscious choice of mine. So I hope that the more I consider this issue, the more capable I will be of doing something more positive about it. But, as I say, because time is always short and deadlines are always tight, my major concern is just getting the best stuff out there. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I would have to put a brilliant idea or script to one side because the sex or race of the writer didn’t meet certain criteria.

The Big Finish website went into meltdown upon the release of Dark Eyes. What would you say were the main draws with this release?

Nick: First off, the reason the website went into meltdown is that our bandwidth had not been realistically set in the original spec made by the original project manager of the new website. Not necessarily his fault, as he didn’t have access to as much detailed information as would have been ideal. That said, we did increase our bandwidth, but we still underestimated. Download patterns are hard to predict. There’s usually a steady flow of downloading from the site that is relatively undemanding on our servers. We had previously experienced some slowdown caused by slightly high demand in the months preceding Dark Eyes, but to be frank, we were still reeling from the site’s previous problems and I for one didn’t fully understand the bandwidth issue.

Now, Dark Eyes did sell pretty well, but the real issue was that we made a big noise about when it was going to be released, then Tom Spilsbury - against all commercial logic, bless him - gave us the front cover of DWM. Those two factors combined to make sure everyone who had pre-ordered Dark Eyes tried to download it at the same time. That completely locked-up our server. I spent that day frantically working to explain things to our listeners (luckily our forum was on a different server - really lucky!) and get our new, brilliant web support people (Hughes Media) to solve the problem. As bad luck would have it, the person who would normally sort it was on holiday, because we had not warned anyone that there might be an issue. We live and learn, don’t we? But someone else at Hughes was soon on the case, then, randomly, our server company had a random problem - talk about bad timing! So, it ended up taking 12 hours to secure extra bandwidth. Now we’ve got so much bandwidth, there’s more or less never a chance of us ever getting near using it all. I feel safe now. Finally. A big learning curve.

Now, the real thing you want to know about, I suspect, is the story itself... I think the main draws were that it was a new beginning. It took notice of and was a result of the Eighth Doctor’s past, but it was a jumping on point. It had the Daleks in it. Always a good selling point. And the Eighth Doctor had a new costume and a new companion. The costume was a good, visual thing which got us the cover of DWM. All this wouldn’t have been enough if the story hadn’t delivered. I put my heart and soul into it. It was very much written in the way Dalek Empire was. It was 99% all me. I set out, perhaps in a slightly megalomaniacal way, to do Doctor Who the Nick Briggs way. I imagined this was my chance to write a whole series for TV. That was my mind set. So it is very definitely a particular flavour. It’s my take on Doctor Who. Alan Barnes gave me some input, of course, but he largely sort of stood back, like I was revving up a big, scary bike, drowning out everyone’s voice and choking people with the fumes. Yeah, Dark Eyes was me riding Judge Dredd’s bike. Bike cannon! Whoomph! Then the final, vital ingredients were the performing and the production on it. Paul and Ruth seemed to take their cues from the energy in the script. I’ve actually never seen Paul quite so energised. He really threw himself into it, because, I guess, the script really demanded it. After about 0.01 second’s hesitation, Ruth picked up on this energy and thought, Right, here we go! And the two of them just... flew! And it’s 80% them. All the other characters take up a tiny amount of the narrative. It’s Doctor Who almost entirely from the point of view of the Doctor and Molly. We had great performances from all the other actors too. Then Andy Hardwick’s love of what he was doing with the sound design and music just shone through. I think everyone did brilliantly on the story. And to top it all, and this was vital in getting the coverage that really ignited people’s enthusiasm, Alex Mallinson did the most amazing cover and sleeve designs. That man is a powerhouse of pure energetic genius!

 Can you give us any teasers about future Dark Eyes releases? You touched upon it in the bonus interviews…are you still tempted to bring back the dream team of the 8th Doctor and Lucie Miller?

Nick: I’m always tempted to bring back Lucie Miller. But it’s a temptation I’m still pretty steadfast about resisting. Sheridan and Paul were brilliant together. Brilliant. I’m so proud of what they did. But she’s dead. Lucie is dead. I think it’s important to bring some emotional realism into our fantasy worlds. It grounds them and makes them all the more engaging. I think if you kill someone you love in a story, they should remain dead, unless you find an even more dramatic and valid way of bringing them back. Currently, I’m sort of in mourning for Lucie and can’t even conceive of bringing her back.

As for Dark Eyes... We are working on Dark Eyes 2, 3 and 4. They will be released, respectively, in November 2013, March 2014 and November 2014. That’s the plan. It may change. But the reason for it being called Dark Eyes... well, it’s probably not the reason you’re thinking of. The plan is for Molly to come back... But Ruth is a very busy actress. We’ll see if we can nab her, shall we, eh? She certainly wants to come back. And there are other characters set to return... perhaps not the ones you might be expecting. There, teased enough? I’ve exhausted my teasing stick.

UNIT Dominion was one of the standout successes of last year. A dramatic storyline, an impressive cast and some standout moments for Klein and the central villain who shall not be named just in case readers haven’t heard it yet. Will we be seeing any more of this set up? You must have been thrilled with the reaction. What do you think is the appeal of Klein?

Nick: Klein will be back and the character you talk about but dare not mention, will also be back. I think Klein works because she is a fascinating character, full of contradictions. But mostly, she works because Tracey Childs plays her so brilliantly and charms us all in the studio. She charms herself into work by being just so bloody good at what she does. A truly lovely human being.

Will we be seeing any more anthology releases in the main range?

Nick: Yes. There’s one every year. Haven’t you noticed?

What can you tell us about the recently announced Early Years range?

Nick: It’ll be more in the style of the Lost Stories First and Second Doctor releases... except with more direct drama. But we’re doing stories that will feel like they’ve come from the eras of the First and Second Doctor. I’ve heard some of them in studio so far, and they sound brilliant.

Can you explain the reasoning behind bringing the critically acclaimed companion chronicles range to an end? Is there simply a dearth of stories that can be told in first person with the same characters?

Nick: No, there’s not a dearth of any stories. We’ve noticed that our customers are starting to pick and choose, which affects the commercial viability of the range. There’s so much Doctor Who stuff on offer, there’s always a danger of ranges feeding off each other, as it were, in terms of sales. So people desert one range to try another one, simply because they can’t afford to buy them all. This was happening to the Companion Chronicles. So we’re stopping them to give people a chance to catch up. By the time they stop, there will have been 80 of them. There are about 16 to go yet. BUT, we will certainly revisit them, with specials and perhaps even box sets. So we’re not really stopping them, just changing the pattern in which they are released.

I’m soon to embark on the Sherlock Holmes range with Big Finish. For anybody who might not have explored this range so far could you give a brief description of Big Finish’s take on this literary classic?

Nick: Our idea is to be as traditional and faithful as possible. The first two are adaptations of brilliant stage plays starring Roger Llewellyn. He plays an older Holmes, reliving all his adventures in The Last Act. Roger is incredible. He plays EVERYONE in both plays to incredible effect. In The Death and Life, there’s a battle between Conan Doyle and Holmes, as the author tries to find a way to kill off the character. That’s followed by Holmes and the Ripper, written by the brilliant Brian Clemens (of Avengers fame!), with me as Holmes. Then, in the second series, I continue playing Holmes, and we aim to do extremely faithful adaptations. Richard Dinnick did the most faithful adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles that there’s ever been, for example. Or, if it’s a new, original script, we aim to make it entirely in the Conan Doyle style. We did a special last year about the Titanic and this year we’re doing a box set for series three, called The Ordeals of Sherlock Holmes. Really looking forward to that.

And finally…The Light at the End. Has it been recorded? Are you happy with the results?

Nick: Yes, it’s all been recorded, thanks to the scheduling might of David Richardson. I am very pleased with it indeed. Fingers crossed.

Can you tell us anything about this mammoth 50th anniversary release?

Nick: Not really. It’s got the first eighth Doctors in it. And the Master. And Charley Pollard. And Peri and Leela and, and, and... ooh, lots of exciting things. It’s a real celebration of classic Doctor Who!


Paul said...

Nice interview with the lovely Nick there, Joe. As I've said to you several times before, get your finger out and listen to the Holmes stories - they're bloody marvellous :)

Anonymous said...

Working class? I think a lot of people don't like Brewster 'cause he's pretty selfish. Like an Adam Mitchell, but repeatedly doing asinine things rather than just the one.

kory said...

^^This. Plus continuing to use a selfish character in Brewster for The Three Companions and the Jan-March 2011 6th Doctor audios didn't help matters.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about Maggie Stables. I love Evelyn! However, I'm happy that Flip will be back. As for Thomas Brewster, I couldn't care less that he was working class. The character was a bore. I hope he never returns, but I would love more Frobisher, Klein, and so many more.

Anonymous said...

Big Finish are never going to improve with mediocre writers like Briggs and Barnes in charge.

Joe Ford said...

I would argue against that statement strongly. And since you haven't offered any kind of evidence to back up your remark it's more like schoolboy shoving than a worthy critique of their work. I guess that's why you chose to remain 'anonymous.'

Anonymous said...

For the person who says Big Finish's are rubbish, you are so wrong. Since 1999, Big Finish have put out at least one new audio story a month, and in recent years have released over 25 stories a year consistently.
This has been from full cast audios to enhanced audio books, with actors from the 1963-1996 stories.
Lost stories have been made with the actors who would have played them in the day, with gems like Leviathan, Point Of Entry, Farewell Great Macedon, The Elite, The Children Of Seth, The Guardians of Prophecy and The First Sontarans.
The Companion Chronicles, which get into the head of the companions, have been very successful, like the Sara Kingdom trilogy, the Jago and Litefoot pilot and Peri and the Piscon Paradox.
The Eighth Doctor has been given a new lease of life, with Charley and Lucie Miller. His box set, Dark Eyes, crashed the Big Finish website through big demand and the stories Lucie Miller and To The Death are seen as required listening. They put that range on sale twice!
If you thought that AudioGo did a bad job with Tom Baker, Big Finish went way better. Wrath of The Iceni is considered the ultimate Leela story, and the two part finale has the Master returning. This years series is also the last work of Mary Tamm, and the first two stories are fantastic!

Obviously, I am a huge fan of Big Finish. You can experience the genesis of the cybermen, the inspiration behind the TV story Dalek, a time travelling nazi from a universe where they won World War Two and the complex arc of Hex.

If I had to live in a world where the only regular new Doctor Who merchandise was a monthly magazine, and six original novels each year, I would want to go to this one, and spend my car trips listening to Big Finish material.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated post - your Atom feed appears to have stopped working. It hasn't updated past 10 Jan 2013. I only became aware of the problem after following a link to this post. Just thought you'd like to know!

Joe Ford said...

Cheers Andrew, I've tried to fix the issue but I'm not sure if it has worked :-9