Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Mutants written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin and directed by Christopher Barry

This story in a nutshell: ‘What you are proposing is an all out rocket attack on a defenceless planet…’

Good Grief: After a trip into the future under Dalek rule, a trip to an alien world at Time Lord’s behest and an adventure beneath the ocean with the Sea Devils, the Doctor is back to his old routine working on the TARDIS in his UNIT laboratory. He looks quite excited to break the cycle and go on another assignment for his people, even if what he says is to the contrary. Couldn’t the Time Lords have given the Doctor a less cumbersome parcel to deliver? All it seems to contain is a small slab of stone with some markings on it which would have fit snugly in a far less congruous briefcase. The Mutants is such a excruciatingly po-faced story that it requires the Doctor to be anything other than straight laced and yet Pertwee wanders the sets with even more gravitas than usual and thus seems to blend into the scenery somewhat. What this adventure desperately needs is Troughton, arsing about with a little physical comedy, taking the piss out of the Marshall and running rings around everybody else. There’s very little contrast between the serious machinations of the Marshall and the pensive methods deployed by the Doctor, what is needed is a much more reactionary protagonist. At the very least Troughton would provide some little entertainment whereas Pertwee feels bizarrely at home in this oppressive environment. He clearly doesn’t think to much of Jaeger after their little discourse on genocide as an unfortunate side effect of his rocket attack as he sets up a piece of equipment to explode in the scientists face and doesn’t spare him a glance as he departs. And people call the sixth Doctor heartless!

Hippy Chick: Jo and the Doctor are so in sync with each other these days that she knows exactly when she needs to distract somebody with talk of home so the Time Lord can take the opportunity to disable them. Manning takes her cue from Pertwee and is also attacking this material with deadly earnestness. Why is nobody having any fun with this story? It looks as interminable for the characters to endure the events of this story as it is for us to watch.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That’s your alternative to independence, genocide?
‘Slag, ash, tinker. The fruits of technology, Jo.’

The Good:

  • Garrick Hagon is by far the most impressive performer in the cast. A young, beautiful actor who tackles a difficult part with real aplomb, injecting a level of drama into the piece that is sorely missing in the direction. Unfortunately he gets off to a poor start in episode one by not giving the Administrator a chance to speak and inform them that they are gaining their independence and thus setting off a chain of events that nearly wipes the Mutts from the face of the planet. However once Hagon is paired off with Manning, Ky calms down considerably and becomes the viewpoint character for the rest of the story. This is why his transformation at the climax is supposed to be such a shock, because something unseemly is happening to what is essentially the hero of the piece.
  • Paul Whitsun-Jones on the other hand turns out to be one of the shows casualties but not from lack of trying. He is actually giving a very good performance (if a little over the top at times) but he needs a much more impressive production to let him shine. Jones as the Marshall is delivering an overtly theatrical performance that winds up somewhere in the stratosphere before the conclusion which would be fine if the setting, pace and score were much more ambitious and monumental. He is just too big for such a contained story and as such he comes across as far too boorish and outrageous. It’s the Colin Baker syndrome, the television is almost too small to contain an actor of that magnitude. Shove him on stage or in a big budget movie of the same story and Whitsun-Jones would prosper. This is the sort of man who ropes in a primitives son to do his dirty work and then murders him, and seconds later tries to explain to his father that it was a necessary act but in a story this insignificantly realised these feel like perfectly reasonable acts. When he is pouring over his vision of a new Solos it should have been an insanely sized globe that he could enthuse over like Nero before the burning of Rome but instead he can be seen staring down at the equivalent of a stress ball on his desk. When he grabs a gun in episode five and starts firing like a madmen it should have been a sub automatic machine gun causing endless destruction, not a dozy BBC prop that goes phut. This could be a really powerful drama with the egocentric Marshall at the heart of it. He even has a great motive for behaving the way he does (which for once has nothing to do with wanting power for its own sake or money such is the way with a lot of Doctor Who villains). If he doesn’t find some way of keeping hold of Solos and proving that they are incapable of independence he (and all ex colonial officials) will be carted off to menial positions, his career effectively over on a doomed world. He’s one of the old school, unwilling to admit that the golden days are over and wants one last stab at power for the Earth Empire on Solos. For someone with an ego this gargantuan, this simply is not an option. Despite being a big fish in a small pond, the story would be even more unbearable if it wasn’t for the Marshall’s pantomime antics and it is hugely entertaining to watch his own hubris consume him in the latter half of the story and ultimately bring him down.  He gets some great lines too – ‘Marshall, you are quite mad!’ ‘Only if I lose!’ Watching him rant his way into a criminal conviction proves quite satisfying after suffering six episodes of his overblown villainy.
  • Much like Colony in Space, The Mutants offers a bleak vision of the future for the planet Earth. The wonderfully Geoffrey Palmer is on hand to deliver the operative line: ‘We can’t afford an Empire any more. Earth is exhausted Marshall, finished. Politically, economically and biologically…’ With the Solonians gaining independence and the general feeling of the best days gone by for the Empire, it isn’t too hard to read a subtext into this story. As much as Terrance Dicks disliked adding a political slant to tales for its own sake, this is one Pertwee adventure that benefits from having something to say about the rise and fall of the British Empire. The parody gives the story some depth that is otherwise missing. Like the rest of the script, there is often a realistic motive behind the action and the Earth Empire came to Solos originally to strip it of its mineral wealth. It’s an unpleasant reason to enslave a species (and cause a mutation in their gene pool), but a pragmatic one. There is more talk of sky cities and humans being factory farmed because of overpopulation.
  • Episode three contains the shows best scenes, the exquisitely lit cave sequences (shot on film so they look a million times more expensive than anything else in the story) that highlight John Friedlander’s marvellous Mutt costumes. Considering this is the sort of thing that Doctor Who is infamous for (the man in a monster suit) these work shockingly well, looking for all the world like genuine insect men with heavy carapaces and terrifying mandibles. The sequences of Jo being menaced in the caves are one of  a handful of moments where this story manages to provoke a reaction other than ambivalence. At times, it is genuinely quite frightening.

The Bad:

  • Whilst you could hardly call the location work poor in this story (because it is effectively shot for what it is), it is possibly one of the grimmest, bleakest settings that the show has ever managed to find (and that is up against some stiff competition). The opening shot of a barren quarry swathed in mist is possibly the least inviting introduction to a Doctor Who story. With a mutt looking like an extra from Monty Python and Paul Whitsun Jones wobbling through the smoke and bellowing at the top of his voice, it feels as though we have dropped in halfway through a (not particularly good) story.
  • Rick James, man. Here was Christopher Barry looking at the general lack of ethnic casting in Doctor Who (unless they were looking for victims to be dispatched early in Troughton stories) and deciding to do something about it. He has a character that survives all six episodes (despite declaring ‘We’ll be done for!’ ad nauseum) and so this is his opportunity to prove that a black actor has just as much right to a slice of the pie as any other. Oh dear. Couldn’t he have picked anybody else for the part? Cotton is written as a cockney and I am fairly certain that there must have been plenty of black cockney actors at the time so why did he shoehorn a man with a heavy Jamaican accent into the role who has clearly come from the Jackie Lane/Matthew Waterhouse school of Cardboard Acting Inc. He has little presence, looks decidedly uncomfortable when asked to emote (which unfortunately is in every other scene) and lacks any chemistry with (the much superior) Christopher Coll. As a result of this failed experiment we don’t see another ethnic actor in the show for quite some time… There’s a drinking game to be enjoyed (and let’s be honest the best way to appreciate The Mutants is under the influence) where you throw back a shot every time Cotton shrieks ‘Stubbsy!’ or ‘Mate!’ You can down the rest of the bottle when his best friend dies in his arms and Cotton manages ‘Stubbsy…mate!’ all in one go. Had James been able to bring some magnetism to this role we might have been able to buy into Stubbs and Cotton’s friendship (clearly an emotional lynchpin of the story in the script) and the formers death could have been a real tear-jerker. Instead you may find yourself laughing as the camera lingers on an uncomfortable James who looks panic stricken as though uncertain if he has another line or not. His best line (altogether now…): ‘We’ll all be done for!’ Although ‘great innit?’ has its place in infamy too.
  • I take issue with the sets for this story too which are far too claustrophobic and bland, the designer failing to inject any kind of pleasing aesthetic into them. When you have some pretty grim looking location work to endure it would be nice to enjoy a little visual splendour in the studio sets but this story has generally repugnant look about it. Whilst you could argue that this is one of the more convincing space stations because it has an air of functionality and practicality to it, it still doesn’t make an already drab story any more pleasing to stomach. The sets look artificial too for the most part and this is one story that suffers an extreme bout of Wobbly Flats Syndrome (a much talked about but rarely seen affliction). Some of the sets are actually very large but you would never be able to tell because of how tightly they are shot, made to feel cramped and uncomfortable. The environmental chamber is the one exception, a solid looking room, designed to the hilt with impressive looking equipment. Check out the hastily thrown together ‘village’ set that Varan returns to and how the story awkwardly skips from location to studio work in a heartbeat. It is part of the general laxity of The Mutants’ realisation. Model work of this period veers to the extreme one way or the other (Colony in Space = abysmal, Frontier in Space = exquisite) and The Mutants’ Skybase verges on the former, promoting ping pong ball chic.
  • This is one story that would have benefited from a more melodious, melodramatic and musical Dudley Simpson score. After the experimental wailings of Malcolm Clarke in The Sea Devils it was perhaps time to get back to something more traditional. Instead Tristram Cary provides a series of cacophonous electronic beeps that fail to cohere into anything symphonic, lacks the ability to make the emotional moments resonate and prevents the injection of any pace or excitement in the piece. It is one of those stories with a germ of a good idea but it feels like all of the production staff are coming at the story in different directions.
  • It is rare to find a story with so many miscast parts. Paul Whitsun-Jones I have already discussed (and whilst competent, he does belong in a much grander space opera of Star Wars proportions) but there are many other character parts which could have been salvaged had a more astute director been responsible for the casting. George Pravda seems much more at home amongst the cloisters of Gallifrey in The Deadly Assassin but looks completely lost as the scientist Jaegar, involved in many tedious scenes of ego bashing and experimentation with Pertwee’s Doctor. James Mellor’s Varan barely impacts but then it is the sort of role that is easy to deride so the fact that he manages to underplay it to any extent is a near miracle (although when he realises he is turning into a Mutt he reacts to his disfigured hand with all the subtlety of a character reaching the dramatic climax of one of Shakespeare’s tragedies). John Hollis was a much respected radio actor but it feels like he has wandered into the wrong set in The Mutants, sounding utterly bewildered as the scientist Sonderguard.
  • It seems when it comes to watching the evolution of a planet that Doctor Who is either in a hurry (such as in The Doctor’s Daughter where it occurs in about 30 seconds) or really likes to take its time (such as this adventures six interminable episodes). This is the more thorough, intelligent approach but without an emotional hook (which The Doctor’s Daughter pushes too hard) it is hard to invest your time in the process. When the Doctor and Sonderguard try and make sense of the carvings and explore the cathedrals of this ancient civilisation it is hard to invest any personal interest in this dead society because it is so far removed from anything that we recognise. The eccentric effect of Jaeger’s environment changing missiles is…that it all looks exactly the same. All that build up for nothing? By the time that Sonderguard is trying to engage in conversation with the Mutants the story had completely lost the plot, it’s the sort of nonsense that non-fans seek to take the piss out of the show. It’s the antithesis of drama, lacking any emotional resonance or sense of realism. Perhaps Terror of the Vervoids took its inspiration from The Mutants, offering a similar climax where characters experience extreme climate change and metamorphosis to bring the story to a close. I would say that the genocide of the hissy Vervoids is ten times more effective than Ky transforming into a poster child for gay rights and floating about the corridors of the Skybase though. In a story that has already tested the patience by pushing us to the fringes of mortification, this is the deal breaker. As Ky floats into the room and defeats the Marshall, I was struck by the similarities to the conclusion of Last of the Time Lords and baffled as to why Russell T Davies would take inspiration from such a humiliating source.
  • The end of episode four should be the most exciting set piece that Doctor Who has ever seen – rockets firing at a helpless planet, a shoot up in a corridor and walls blasting into open space and threatening to toss the Doctor’s companion into the vacuum. But it proves to be the ultimate case of ambition over capability. This is what Michael Grade should have chosen as his example of why Doctor Who was overly ambitious to the point of embarrassment when he appeared on Room 101. Pathetic sparks fly as guns fire, a poorly choreographed fight, plywood sets breaking apart as it has clearly been designed to, butt clenchingly awful CSO depicting a man floating in space and a camera tilting as actors pretend to be sucked towards the break in the hull. Just diabolical. This is what Letts and Dicks sought to achieve as an alternative to the stylish looking Earthbound adventures?

The Shallow Bit: It is fortunate that the writers pair up Jo and Ky, the two prettiest things on offer, and offer some respite from the oppressive plainness of the rest of the story. Pertwee looks very dashing in crimson velvet.

Result:Stubbsy! Mate!’ There is something terribly jarring about The Mutants from its first episode which features grim location work, claustrophobic sets, Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning wandering around the future as though they are popping out for the milk, hippy natives with big knives, OTT villainy in the form of Paul Whitsun-Jones, overdone politics and Geoffrey Palmer that feels as though it has been tossed together on the hoof without much care. Unfortunately it is then followed up by five more episodes with exactly the same kind of antipathy. Every now and again every element of a story comes together perfectly and stories like Genesis of the Daleks and Caves of Androzani are created for posterity. To keep the universe in balance there are also times when everything that can possibly go wrong does so and the end result looks a lot like The Mutants. Bizarre casting choices, an ugly aesthetic, distracting music, an overlong and all too businesslike script and a story that fails to allow the Doctor and his assistant impress, this is one such story. I like to think that every single Doctor Who story is lauded by somebody, that each adventure has somebody out there who considers it their favourite. Saying that I find it hard to believe that anybody can have their critical faculties so eccentrically attuned that The Mutants is their idea of the perfection. Whilst the idea of a metamorphosis occurring in a species every five hundred years with a radical climate change is intriguing, season eighteen’s Full Circle plays about with the same ideas with much more aplomb and provides a great deal more distraction too. For all it’s intelligent ideas and allusions it is for the most part hideously realised and there is so little that the audience can connect with on an emotional level that it is tempting to just switch off (figuratively and literally). Whatever Christopher Barry brought to the screen in The Daemons seems to have deserted him here and the general feeling is that his heart isn’t in the project. Ultimately it feels like The Mutants spends so long making its point that it forgets to entertain and feels like the most misguided attempt at playing at adult drama in the Pertwee era. Unlike stories like Colony in Space and The Monster of Peladon I don’t think reducing the episode count would remove any of its problems because most of them are concerned with its execution. Excellent monster costumes aside, this is infamously vapid: 3/10

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Terror of the Vervoids written by Pip and Jane Baker and directed by Chris Clough

This story in a nutshell: Murder on the Hyperion III...

Softer Six: As charming as Colin Baker would have liked to have played the part for many years to come, his performance in this adventure is about as good as it gets, buoyed up by a Pip’n’Jane script that places him centre stage which is exactly where he likes to be. I would happily spend more time with this representation of the sixth Doctor (in fact I have in the prolific number of Big Finish adventures he has now starred in) because he is extremely at ease with his surroundings and has developed beyond that irascible nasty that he embodied when he began this incarnation into somebody who is much more fun to beyond. Just like the McCoy era, as soon as they are getting somewhere interesting and agreeable with the Doctor he is given the chop. He shows appropriate remorse over the death of Peri, some time passing between the trial scenes at the end of Mindwarp and the beginning of Terror and he is still having difficulty getting his head around the idea that she is gone (until the great pink heart incident of The Ultimate Foe). He’s such a cheeky thing in this story, pretending to be working out when Mel’s back is turned and pulling flowers out of his jacket to charm Janet. It is suggested in the BBC Novel Instruments of Darkness (Gary Russell once again attempting to plug every gap in continuity) that the previous instance the Doctor met up with ‘Tonker’ Travers was with Evelyn by his side and the two of them developed feelings for one another to the point where he even proposed to her. This would make sense of his bad attitude when they are reunited, bringing back raw feelings. Travers might give him a tough time but he knows the Doctor will cut through this mystery in no time if he keeps him on board. He’s subject to whims (so he’s told). He’s met his match in Honor Blackman’s Professor Laskey, a woman who thinks he is a complete fool (well look how he’s dressed!) and wont let him get a word in edgeways (I secretly wish they could have travelled together for a bit). There is something about the sixth Doctor’s era that likes introducing us to characters that we have never seen before but the Doctor has a history with (Azmael, his previous trip to Karfel, Travers, Hallet). What a public menace, setting off the fire alarm and tripping into theatrics about lives in danger in the passenger lounge! The Doctor deserves the Valeyard’s disgust for suggesting that he showed a decent amount of restraint during his nemesis’ evidence. There’s a lovely moment during Rudge’s hijack when all the pretence strips away and the Doctor and Travers discuss the problem at hand with real gravity. That’s where you see the real relationship between these two characters. The Bakers might have their faults as writers but they know how to make the Doctor look good and the sequence where he has apparently walked into a trap of his making (being held at gunpoint at the mercy of the killer) but has actually thought the whole thing through is worthy of Troughton. I’m pleased that the Doctor can see things from the point of view of the Vervoids, his ability to rationalise their slaughter of the crew highlights his alien perspective. How he comforts Mel after the mass murder they have committed is rather lovely and reminds me of a similar moment in Fires of Pompeii between the Doctor and Donna.

Energetic Exercise Freak: Whilst Ian Levine might have spontaneously combusted when he heard the news of Bonnie Langford’s casting (but I gather he does this on a weekly basis and has all the kings horses and all the kings men put him back together again), I found her to be something of a breath of fresh air. It’s not that I didn’t like Tegan (okay that’s a lie, I really didn’t like Tegan) or Peri (who showed great promise and often managed to surprise me despite scripts that would often sideline or patronise the very good Nicola Bryant) but it is lovely to finally enjoy a companion who seems to want to be with the Doctor and enjoy his company. The enforced tension between the TARDIS crew has gone on for too long now and it is time to benefit from a more relaxed, amiable chemistry. Mind you introducing Melanie in a fit of exercise pique might not have been the best approach, confirming Bonnie’s detractors worse fears. Mel is up for solving the mystery of who sent the mayday call and eggs the Doctor into action – it really is great to see somebody who is so willingly engaged with the story instead of trying to jump back to the TARDIS every five minutes. She can be seen bouncing around the corridors (it’s the dancer in her) of the Hyperion III and poking her nose in where it isn’t wanted. She might not have much of a character to grasp hold of but Bonnie is doing exactly what is required of her, to show a relaxed relationship with the Doctor after much travelling together. Mel’s reaction to the Vervoid compost heap is very real, she bursts into tears at the sight of bodies piled randomly on top of each other and seeks comfort from the Doctor.

Fantastical Dialogue: This story is packed to the gills full of Pip and Jane gems. I don’t know if I would call them sparkling but they are certainly memorable!
‘If I seem to lack gratitude young woman it is because on the previous occasions the Doctor’s path crossed mine I found myself involved in a web of mayhem and intruige!’ – a line so stilted it almost threatens to trip Malcolm Tierney up.
‘My dear Melanie if you wish to pursue this completely arbitrary course, pray, hurry along to the Hydroponics Centre and leave me to my static and solitary peregrinations’ – try saying that drunk.
‘Now I’ll go first. We don’t want you breaking your neck, at least not until…’ – what was Edwards going to say at the end of that sentence?
‘I don’t think you’ll find enjoyment’s on the agenda!’ – you have to be careful with lines like that…they are the bread and butter of reviewers.
‘The crimes we’re committing in the name of science will make us infamous!’ – go on, say that out loud. I promise it will make you smile.
‘Never mind the Just-so stories - that guard looks trigger happy to me!’
‘Are we to be subjected to more chicanery, Sagacity?’
‘Had even a leaf survived and fall on fertile soil, a Vervoid would have grown…’ – it’s hardly Chaucer, is it?

The Good:

  • Isn’t it wonderful how the Doctor informs us that this is going to be both a base under siege and Earth in danger tale before getting on with telling his story? It’s almost a warning to those who haven’t been enamoured with the series so far – don’t worry folks this one is going to be as traditional as it gets! Even more brilliant is the input of the Valeyard and the Inquisitor, commenting on the murder mystery plot as though they are husband and wife watching a Sunday evening Marple with their slippers on.
  • Despite some primitive direction, I rather like the introduction to the suspects on the Hyperion III with the Doctor’s deliriously enjoyable melodramatic voiceover. Bizarrely everybody seems to be hanging around the lounge at the same time (seriously take a look, practically the entire cast is there sipping drinks, trying to look nonchalant and overhearing everybody’s conversations) but that just gives me a good chance to check them all out. My money was on Janet the stewardess from the start. She’s just too nice. What stands out immediately is the extreme 80sness of the lounge and a cast of charismatic actors who are about to chew on Pip’n’Jane’s florid dialogue and have a great time doing so.
  • Let’s take a look at our suspects… You have the stalwart Tonker Travers, batty scientist Professor Lasky, her assistant on the verge of a breakdown Bruchner, lily white Stewardess Janet, a tired old fart of a security officer Mr Rudge, the rather charming lackey Edwards (although he is disposed of quite early on), the blank faced Mogarians who revealing nothing beneath their sinister visors, icy cool Doland, sweet old git Mr Kimber, the gun toting guard that doesn’t even get a name…and of course the Doctor and Mel looking as though they have come dressed for a kids birthday party! I have to confess I am something of a Christie buff and whilst Robots of Death does follow her conventions to a degree, this is the story that I feel most captures her style by offering a range of personalities, masses of plot complications and an impressive wrap up that ties up all the loose threads at the climax. The not-so subtle addition of Murder on the Orient Express leads you to believe that everybody is going to be responsible (I would add a spoiler warning but if you haven’t read the book yet then serves you right) and at one point in the story suspicion is thrown on all the cast like all good Christies (even the Doctor, seen brandishing an axe in the communications room).
  • Honor Blackman is playing it straight but given her lines she cannot help but slide into high camp at times (‘If you’ve finished with my tracksuit!’), Malcolm Tierney offers a convincing Travers and even smaller parts such as Edwards and Janet are well cast and believably portrayed. By all accounts the rehearsals were riotous and you can tell the actors are having a great time bringing this larger than life story to the screen.
  • On the whole the sets are very impressive in this story, shot with care and lit well. Setting the entire story on a space liner is a great excuse to excise location filming and gives the murder mystery a terrific claustrophobic atmosphere. Nobody can escape and everybody is at the mercy of the killer. The split level hold set is especially impressive and gives the director lots of interesting places to shoot and waste disposal is dramatically lit and provides a great place to toss the odd Vervoid in later episodes. Clough even goes to the lengths of adding a star field effect to the gymnasium set (this is clearly a retro 80s liner).
  • This isn’t simply a case of the cliffhangers being praised because they are dramatic zooms up Colin Baker’s nose, the climax of episodes one and two are genuinely fantastic Doctor Who moments. Explosions, electrocution, monsters bursting out of seed pods and screams seaguing seamlessly into the theme music create one of the finest set pieces of the year. As good as that is I think I prefer the climax to episode two, the Doctor pulling back the rubber sheeting to reveal Ruth, half Vervoid with pulsing veins bulging from her face. It is out of left field it genuinely shocks. Bruchner aiming the Hyperion III into the eye of the black hole of Tartarus probably looked much better on paper than it transfers to on screen but it is still not a time wasting cliffhanger but a moment of genuine peril that is built into the story. Weirdly the special effects seem to suggest that the ship is seconds from disappearing down the plughole in space but when it is diverted off course at the last minute it apparently had plenty of time to tear free of the terrifying triangles.
  • Whatever way you look at it the Vervoid tossing their victims on a compost heap is pretty chilling. I’m not sure if Eric Saward had anything to do with script editing this story or not but if so it would prove fitting as one last massacre before he left. How the designers thought they could get away with something as risqué as the Vervoid masks is beyond me but Doctor Who long triumphed sexually themed monsters and has not discriminated against them for their absurd appearance, If Alpha Centuri has a place on the show then so do the Vervoids although imagining a union between the two is enough to make your eyes water (add Erato to the mix and we’re heading into disturbing territory). However I do like how the actors are playing against their ludicrous appearance; offering a twitchy, awkward moment as they surround people in the cramped corridors of the liner. It’s almost enough to make you forget about how they look as they stab their victims in the neck with their poisonous stings. Although it might have been more sinister if they had remained mute rather than spouting the Bakers’ regurgitated thesaurus dialogue with a Liverpudlian lilt.
  • Episode four is a genuinely great half an hour of Doctor Who with so much going on it is better to just go with the flow rather than digest it all as it is playing out. There’s Rudge’s pathetic hijack, the communications system has been wrecked so nobody can call for outside help, the Mogarians ruthlessly slaughtered, Ruth Baxter meeting her end tied down and screaming, the Doctor feeling the need to carry a gun (‘exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures…’) and drawing the killer out into the open, the mass murder of the crew as the Vervoids attack en masse, Doland reveals his plan to turn the Vervoids into a slave labour force, the guest cast is whittled down one by one, Mel stumbles on the garbage heap of humans and of course the Doctor’s brilliant solution to the problem, to enforce the Vervoid life cycle by using the vienesium (dropped into the script several times) in the hold. Packed with memorable moments, blessed with a good pace and crossing every t and dotting every I, this is a very satisfying ending to a well told tale. Even if the Valeyard is making up his charges as he goes along, the final cliffhanging sting in the tale where the Doctor is charged with genocide really packs a punch. I still wanted that final scene outside the TARDIS to turn out to be a final twist though, with the Doctor suddenly revealing Janet’s involvement in the whole affair and revealing her to be the mastermind behind the whole caper. That would have been awesome.

The Bad:

  • If Dominic Glynn (an otherwise excellent musician) was aiming for a more mysterious and spooky version of the theme tune then we can sum up his efforts as an epic fail. If I’m honest it is my least favourite of all the theme tunes (oddly as time has gone on I have developed a massive crush on Keff McCulloch’s spangly McCoy version), proving unmemorable and lack the punch of the sixties and seventies versions.
  • Let’s try and get our heads around the idea of the Doctor offering evidence of his own personal future. Not only will he have to go through this entire adventure again pretending he hasn’t already seen every plot twist play out (and where is the fun of taking part in an Agatha Christie in space when you already know who the killer is?) but surely if the Doctor is on trial for his life (which seemed to be the suggestion in The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp) then this proves that he manages to scrape a pass? Otherwise this fixed point in his future would never happen and the whole of time and space would be sucked down the toilet bowl and wind up in some alternate dimension where Trial of a Time Lord never took place (oi you at the back, stop cheering). The whole premise seems fundamentally flawed to me. Or perhaps I have thought about it too much.
  • Malcolm Clarke’s music is so inconsistent I simply don’t know what to make of him as a composer. He’s lauded for his experimental work on The Sea Devils but I find it sounds more like an army of cats being tortured and yet criticised for his synthesised madness in Attack of the Cybermen and yet parts of that story are highly atmospheric (only parts mind, I still haven’t quite forgiven him for the Steptoe and Son riff). If you take a look at the stories he is responsible for scoring it is such a bizarre mixture – Earthshock (the march of the Cybermen is a classic theme but otherwise he gets as many fart sounds out of the synthesiser as possible), Enlightenment (atmospheric, lyrical and gorgeous), Ressurection of the Daleks (pacy and gripping), The Twin Dilemma (more fart noises, b-movie style) and finally Terror of the Vervoids. Parts of the score for this story are hideously melodramatic (listen out for the moment when Lasky and cohorts march towards the Hydroponics centre) and yet others are creepy and set exactly the right tone (the POV shots of the Vervoids coming out of the pods).
  • It’s true that the Trial scenes are intrusive at this point, at least so far as there aren’t many of them so it is easy to get lured into the story and consequently it jars when we are suddenly, unexpectedly reminded that this is part of the Doctor’s evidence. Saying that I love the idea that Matrix has been tampered with by the Valeyard, using the Doctor’s evidence against him and the performances of Baker and Jayston have definitely stepped up a notch since Mindwarp and they provide some dramatic moments (‘Every instinct of which I am capable would have made me prevent her!’ ‘Yet you did not!’). The Valeyard is clearly rubbish at trying to point the finger at the Doctor, faking a bizarre moment when it appears that he has wrecked the communications equipment which would make sense if the rest of the story played out with the Doctor turning out to be the killer. Since it doesn’t (and the Valeyard clearly has the tools to ensure that it does) it’s just a random moment of guilt thrown in that has no connection with the rest of the story. Perhaps he was hoping this would be overlooked when the Doctor is seen to be committing genocide which, to be fair, it is. Then again the Doctor’s grasp of law is obviously pretty tenuous since he displays as his evidence a story where he is seen deliberately flouting the wishes of those in authority and being something of a maverick…where his commitment to the problem is only sought eight minutes before the climax of the story! Don’t let him stand as defence consul for me, please!
  • ‘It’s designed to be hijack proof!’ says the Commodore just after the command deck has been hijacked.

The Shallow Bit: I’m glad Mel has chained the Doctor to the exerciser. He’s clearly been scoffing down the rum babas lately. She should have at him with a pair of scissors too, that mop of his is mutated out of all proportion. With Mel on board, its perm palooza in the TARDIS.

Result: A ridiculously enjoyable Agatha Christie pastiche which errs on the side of the theatrical (it would probably transfer quite well to the stage with all the dialogue re-written to iron out the melodrama) but still manages to provide some decent chills and atmosphere when needs must. Pip and Jane Baker might not be the most sophisticated writers on Doctor Who (to put it gently) but this is probably their best script (actually it is probably best to say their best plot as the dialogue is frequently hideous), a story that joyfully indulges in complications to throw suspicion on every member of the guest cast but has been very well thought through so everybody is revealed to have a secret that has to be unearthed. The Bakers write very well for Colin’s Doctor and place him right in the heart of the action and let him shine and Mel’s debut, whilst characterised as fizzing like a glass of sarsaparilla, is strong in the sense that she shares a warm chemistry with the Doctor (a relief after so many discordant relationships in the TARDIS) and she infectiously tackles the mystery at hand. Terror of the Vervoids has an artificiality to it that comes with most studio bound Doctor Who adventures but it is packed full of treasures that make it bubble along very nicely; the multitude of suspects, some great cliffhangers, the rudest looking monsters since Erato the Typhonian Ambassador, some glorious set pieces (Mel nearly meeting her end in the pulverisor) and how everything goes to hell in a hand basket in the last episode as everybody is revealed to be guilty of something and the Vervoids attack en masse. Even the way the nasties are dispatched is satisfyingly handled, and injected with a little pathos. The Trial season is so often pointed at as the nadir of the classic series but I think that is a popular opinion of ignorance rather than a considered view and these episodes. Whilst not showcasing Doctor Who at its all time best, are nevertheless massively entertaining. Yes the dialogue is frequently abstruse enough to trip up the impressive guest cast and the design is a victim of the era it was made in but this is four episodes of Doctor Who packed with all the things that attracted me to the show in the first place; a great Doctor, a fun companion, twists, turns, imagination, excitement, icky monsters and even some embarrassing bits tossed in for good measure. I’m a big fan, rude shaped monsters and all: 8/10

Thursday, 27 June 2013

John Dorney Interview Extra

You have been responsible for script editing the third series of Lost Stories. Can you take us through what you go through with these unique stories before they are ready to be recorded?

I'm not sure I can. As you say, they're unique. Each and every single one presents a different problem, a different set of challenges.

The Elite, Hexagora, Guardians of Prophecy, The First Sontarans and the Rosemariners (plus all of the fourth series stories and the Lost Stories boxset) all started with written storylines. These have varied from about two and a half pages for the Elite to around twenty for Lords of the Red Planet. Children of Seth was lots of script extracts and storyline extracts in a rather complex jumble. Power Play (under the title of Meltdown) was, I believe half scripted. And Luxor was obviously a full script.

The next stage of the process is deciding on writers. If the original author is still with us and interested in doing the script, they do it. Otherwise we try and find someone we'll feel is a good match for the material and will have a certain affinity for that writer's style. Usually this is a gut thing, you can pretty much see who's right instantly. Marc Platt and Christopher Bailey seemed obvious, for example, and both me and David Richardson immediately went for Jonny Morris for Valley of Death. I knew Simon Guerrier would do an amazing job of The Mega, and thought the feminine ethos and magical realism of Queen of Time would be a perfect fit for Catherine Harvey. Sometimes you're up against busy  schedules, and sometimes there are a couple of people who'd do different but equally interesting passes on the material, so it's not always as cut and dried as that, but it's usually an easy process.

The next stage is much the same as with any regular release. The writer works up a storyline from the original breakdown, fixing the bits they don't feel work, and it goes to the BBC, then they script it. Each different writer will go about this a different way. I'm quite savage with the storylines I've got, pulling them apart, putting them back together in slightly different ways. Some other writers are more reverential. A lot of the time the writers rework their own original ideas. Donald Tosh's storyline was an interesting one - he'd reworked his original idea for a DWM article years before, which wasn't precisely similar to the one he sent us... but anything in one that didn't quite work, worked beautifully in the other and vice versa so we combined the two.

Sometimes there's been criticism that we don't necessarily stick to the precise letter of the original synopses. (I would emphasise that they're really not altered all that much, when this point comes up I think people over-estimate) Now, I can see why people might think that, but no writer I've ever met has ever written precisely what's in their original synopsis. You find problems and solutions as you actually write up the scripts. Had these been written back in the day, none of them would have exactly matched the storylines, so I think it's more authentic to do the same level of development as any good script editor would have done at the time. All of them are recognisably the same story, which I think is important (obvious exception - stories like The Destroyers or Macedon or Luxor where full scripts exist we leave the same, as they've gone through the development process already - most editorial decisions went to Nigel for the latter).

Do you try and make them as authentic as possible or is there the temptation to shift them towards the sort of storytelling Big Finish is doing nowadays?

Authenticity is key, but at the same time I don't want the emptiness of pastiche. My rule of thumb is that everything in the scripts must be something that could plausibly have appeared on screen if it had been made at the time. So this meant that with Foe from the Future, say, I spent ages trying to find the funniest looking and sounding car to name check in one sequence (well, second funniest as someone had already used Ford Prefect)... but one that would have been around at the time. I tried to avoid using any continuity that would have appeared afterwards (I'm sure someone referenced Sontarans in one of the stories predating Time Warrior at some point and I nixxed that), whilst at the same time trying to avoid anything that contradicts later episodes  - which meant loaning Cathie Harvey the Lance Parkin History so that none of the dates she used clashed with future events.

Sometimes this is easier than you think - having Tegan meet a Dalek didn't contradict Resurrection in any way, as no one at any point in that story bothers to ask what that metal creature is. Yes, maybe Tegan would say 'oh, no, not the Daleks again' and she doesn't... but that's no odder than her failure to say 'what the blazes is that?'

Now every now and then somebody will stop by and say 'oh, now I don't think this bit of dialogue is very period, they're trying to ape the new series' - I'm thinking in particular here of moments like the Doctor saying 'Hurt them and you'll be punished' in the Elite, or some people saying the fourth Doctor comes across a bit eleventh Doctor in Foe... if people feel that, they feel that, but it's wrong to suggest that it's a conscious intent to ape the new series, or even our own newer stuff. What feels authentic in the moment when you're writing  is very much a personal thing. Obviously, we're writing these scripts in the twenty first century, and you can't do that in a vacuum, you're a product of your time, but these lines go in because they feel right and true to the character. For every person who doesn't buy it as period, somebody else will come along and say 'no, that's totally period'.

Certainly with the Elite I wanted to make it feel absolutely like the eighties, so I watched as many Davison stories as possible. I dropped in as many Sawardisms as I could - random references to the previous story in the opening TARDIS scene. Pointless continuity reference (to, I was delighted, one of our other Lost Stories, the Rosemariners). Stemp gets killed off for no good reason when the plot's run out of things for her to do. And ending with somebody killing themselves in an act of self-sacrifice. And the sound effects and music really sell that period feel. Really love it!

Do you more often have a germ of an idea or a treatment or a full script to start with?

Almost always a full treatment. Luxor is the only exception, I think, maybe Power Play. Sometimes there isn't really enough for four episodes (I needed to flesh out The Elite quite a bit). Sometimes you have too much - two full storylines for Lords of the Red Planet, where I ultimately cherry picked the best bits of both. And sometimes frustratingly incomplete - a missing final episode for Foe from the Future.

Is it literally a case of splitting the material between the companions who are still with us or did you make certain decisions creatively to focus on the companions that you did?

It's largely a question of looking at who could have plausibly been in them at the time - usually a wide range given a lot of development time - and then making choices depending on who would be good for the material. Nyssa and Tegan for the Elite was an obvious opportunity - one who would be eligible and one who wouldn't. The Rosemariners storyline featured Victoria, but had it been made it would have featured Zoe, so we had a choice there and we went with the one we felt would help the story.

Can you tell of any stories that you were completely unaware of or ones that surprised you because they werent made?

I obviously knew about Luxor, which I think is a terrific script. Any where there was a DWM article (Rosemariners, Hexagora, Guardians of Prophecy) I knew. The others were largely unknown - it was never an area I'd gone into. Meltdown as it was doesn't get mentioned often, and there wasn't much detail about the Elite. Reading the original storyline of The First Sontarans was fab, loved that (though given the Two Doctors, it not getting made isn't a major surprise!). The huge swathe of Hayles storylines that we could cherry pick. The big excitement came from Seth - travelling down to Brighton with Marc and David to meet childhood hero and adult idol Chris Bailey to talk through these fabulous ideas.

In every case, I can sort of see why they didn't happen, but it's usually about clashing elements (First Sontarans with Two Doctors) or budget, or busy writers (Foe). It's never about quality of ideas - in every case this was a huge loss to us (hence 'Lost Stories') as the actual ideas were terrific.

Of the finished results do you have any favourites?

I think Jonny's done a brilliant job of Guardians of Prophecy. It feels so authentic and fun. I'm particularly proud of that because when David was looking for titles I suggested it. I'd got a bit obsessed with how fandom had seemed to forget it - it was the first missing storyline I'd become aware of after seeing Jonny Byrne talk about it at a Local Group meeting in the eighties or nineties. I think it was the first to get a synopsis in DWM. Though when I got the gig, it wasn't mentioned on any of the missing story websites. So I suggested it - and it was the quickest deal on any of them. Emailed David about it on Monday morning, sent photocopies through of the DWM article at lunch time, deal had been struck by the afternoon.

The First Sontarans is fabulous. Andrew hadn't done a full cast audio before, so there were quite a few notes on the first draft, but he learnt quickly and produced something amazing. I remember swinging by the studio for one day - getting the mad cross section of historical action and space-ship battles in the same day really emphasise the story's scope.

And, obviously, I love the Elite! I'm terribly proud of that, my first full length Who audio. (SPOILER PHOBES, LOOK AWAY NOW) The end of episode three twist was mine and I literally jumped around the house in excitement when I was allowed to do it. The thinking was that the Dalek was in the original storyline for a few lines at the end before getting killed quickly, and end of story. David had initially suggested introducing it at the end of part three, then suggest end of part two... which made me think 'hold on... what if I still only  have it in there for an episode?' Gave it a presence in episode two too to sweeten the deal, but by then it was the whole thematic point of the story - that we've forgotten what makes the Daleks scary - not the voice, not the armour, not the 'exterminate' but what they represent.

That was the twist I was keen to protect. I didn't really mind if people spot it's a Dalek. Some people think the cover gives it away, some people think the voice does. Others miss it completely. But a lot of people knew the storyline already so that wasn't really an issue. I begged not to publicise the Dalek, but that was so that people didn't buy it expecting a 'Dalek story'. And whilst it is a Dalek story, I suppose, it's a story about the Daleks and what they are... they're not really in it. If you've bought it for Dalek action and you get one Dalek that never leaves its room, never says exterminate, never kills anyone and is dead within one episode, you'll piss people off. If the Dalek is a bonus, then it's a nice surprise. So yep, love that one.

Can you tell us anything about the upcoming tales?

The first three are all Brian Hayles storylines. Richard Bignell provided us with a large selection of them - about a dozen I think, all published in his excellent fanzine Nothing at the End of the Lane, or in Red Planet's case, the Prison in Space script book - essential purchases. The final one is a Bill Strutton Pertwee tale called the Mega.

Not much to say other than I love them all, I think it's a really strong final season. Cathie's take on Queen of Time is beautiful and witty, much like Cathie herself. Matt's done a fab recreation of the period with The Dark Planet to the degree Maureen O'Brien couldn't believe she never made it for TV! One thing I'd learnt from writing Foe from the Future and watching six parters on TV is that they work best when you make them big and epic, and that's a very definite Hartnell trait. Huge journey's that justify the story length. Matt really ran with that and it has a similar feel to Macedon and Luxor. Simon's Mega is a great romp to finish the range, an infectiously joyous action movie as you'd expect from the Pertwee years, with just a hint of TV comic about it. Hugely enjoyable.

I've written Lords of the Red Planet. It's kind of a 'genesis of the Ice Warriors' but with a twist. And it is, again, an epic with a phenomenal cast. Michael Troughton as a benevolent scientist, Abigail Shaw as our villain, and Charlie Hayes as an egotistical princess (you couldn't be in the guest cast without a famous parent!). Nick's on Ice Warrior duties again and is wonderful doing some unusual variations on a theme. I think it'll be a lot of fun.

The Justice of Jalxar was highly anticipated because of the reunion between the fourth Doctor and Jago & Litefoot. Is it daunting to write something that fans have been waiting to experience for several decades?

With one exception I'll get to later, I never find any one story more pressure, more daunting than any other. I want every story to be brilliant (even if I don't necessarily achieve that) so they're all daunting in a way. With this particular script, maybe I'd have had pause if I'd stopped to think about it... but I didn't particularly want to waste time being daunted when I should just be getting on and writing the thing. By the time we got there I'd already written eight episodes for Tom and two hours or drama for Chris and Trevor, and they'd already had an adventure with Colin, so it didn't really feel like a big thing, I suppose. Certainly, I don't think a two parter can compete with the grandeur or Talons, to work they've got to be small stories, so I wanted a fun little romp that would allow room for the character interplay that would make the story memorable and was what we all wanted.

What was your goal when approaching this tale?

Same as with any script, I suppose, to write the best story I could. Something that didn't demean the memory of Talons but worked as a story in its own right and could work if you hadn't seen Talons, hadn't heard any of the Jago and Litefoot stories and so on. It's why it's set ten years after the regular audios, incidentally - I wanted to write a script where the dialogue could work had it been transmitted in the seventies, but also worked in a post Professor Dark world. I'm slightly amazed that people miss Litefoot querying the Doctor's appearance. It's definitely there, but it's deliberately brief because who wants to waste time doing continuity admin when there's a story to tell?

Who did you find it easier to write for Louise Jameson or Mary Tamm since they play such different characters?

Louise I was very used to, I'd been writing for her for over a year what with Jago and Litefoot - I realised, incidentally, that I've written more material for Louise as Leela than anyone else, TV series included. Nick's catching up rapidly, though!

Mary was therefore more of a challenge, but she seemed to click from the very first go.

I think I'm fortunate in that capturing the voices seems to come quite naturally to me. I think growing up watching these stories helps, the voices are in my head already if that doesn't sound too crazy. Sometimes these will need tweaks - I added a bit more psychoanalysis for Romana in draft two because David felt no-one had done that enough and it was a key factor - but by and large, as long as I can imagine the actor saying it, then it feels right.

What strengths does Romana bring to the series?

She's very good at puncturing the Doctor's pomposity. I also think they work well as a team - I've mentioned before that I love the Jamie/Zoe dynamic where they patronise each other, and there's something similar with the Doctor and Romana, they both think they're a bit better than the other and they need to keep them out of trouble. Leela's always learning, and whilst she can often see through the Doctor's bluster, Romana's the one where there's always a shifting power structure.

The cover is excellent do you have a favourite of all your releases?

Ooh. Now that's a question. Anything Alex does is wonderful, of course - I've a framed poster of Solitaire and my parents have framed copies of the Macedon covers I'm on. I suspect The Burning Prince is my favourite of his covers for my stuff, though these things are always apt to change. I'm excited to see what he comes up with for The Assassination Games, which I suspect will be one of his as he's resident on Counter-Measures. There's a lot of scope for that one, I think.

Love the Demons of the Red Lodge cover, though I'm only a quarter of that, and I adore Adrian Salmon's Dead Man's Switch cover (I bought the original illustration off him - that's getting framed too!). And I've only just seen Anthony Lamb's beautiful cover for The King of Sontar, full of drive and energy.

So most of them, I think is the answer!

Youre companion chronicle The Rocket Men was met with almost universal acclaim. Did you approach this as a story that finally had Ian say those out loud that some of us have been longing to hear for a long time?

I always try to look for an emotional hook, if I can, something to lead me into the story. I think character journeys are the most important element of story telling. I saw a play the other day which I found a little unsatisfying because whilst the plot ended somewhere different from where it started, all of the characters were effectively the same people. They'd not grown or changed in any way. That's what you need to make it stop being just a plot and become a story.

Having said that, the actual hook was the very last thing I thought of - though the moment I did, it unlocked the rest of it. I'd already decided I wanted to do rocket-men in the old fashioned republic serial style. And I knew from that that the cliffhanger had to be someone being thrown into mid-air to fall... For a long time, that was Ian, as it was his story. It was only later, when I thought 'what if it was Barbara', and the line 'I'll never let you fall again' came to mind that the whole thing clicked.
Was that your decision to bring their relationship out into the open?

It was. I emailed David to ask if we could do it, and we got the word back that the Sarah Jane adventures had confirmed their marriage, so I was fine to run with it.

How difficult was it to writer a script with the dramatic device of finishing and ending each scene with the same phrase?

Not particularly hard, from what I recall. I knew what the scenes were going to be, and then it was just a matter of tweaking the lines at one side of the break to reflect the other. Most of the time, this barely needed any work at all. I can't quite remember why I did that. Given that I'd set myself all manner of rods for my own back (present and past tense sections; the present sections being 'live' with only spoken dialogue by the actors we had, none for those we didn't... and reversing that in the past sections; having to hold back information for an entire episode) it seems baffling that I threw in another complication. I suspect it probably happened by accident in the early stages and I thought 'oh, why not!'

Do you have a favourite moment in this story?

The ends of the episodes, and the reveal in two. Howard Carter is one of my favourite sound designers and he's particularly fabulous at episode endings and he does it with both here - he does it with the end of parts five and six of Foe from the Future too - the build at the end of part one in particular is wonderful. I'd never been quite sure when I was writing if the cliffhanger was Barbara getting pushed out of the airlock or Ian's leap. It's baffling to me now that I ever considered the former. I think I wasn't sure if it made the twist obvious - scripting twists is one of the big difficulties of writing I think. You can never put yourself in the position of the audience. With the rest of the material you can always have a reasonable feel for where they'll emote, where they'll laugh... but not where they'll be surprised as you always know what's coming and can never be in a position of ignorance. You'll never know how much you can reveal without blowing the gaff. So when people bought into that cliffhanger and then bought into the rug pull, then I was delighted. It was a trick which could only work in a Companion Chronicle, and whilst I'd usually be wary of those as it can feel a shade tricksy, I'm very fond of that.

I've never quite understood when fans have said they don't understand why the story is told non-chronologically. Hell, one's even said that the device is dropped for the last five minutes of the story and the final scenes are told in a linear manner, which is demonstrably untrue, the final scene takes place at a point about four fifths in to the narrative. But the emotional impact of both those moment is entirely dependent on them not being in their chronological position. In episode one because you'd know what's really going on, and two because the most important dramatic highpoint of the story would be neutered by being followed with five minutes of story admin.

You must have been thrilled when you heard the finished result, especially William Russells passionate performance.

Of course. He's easily one of the best actors the series has ever employed and his voice is a thing of beauty. It's a privilege to have him speak your words, but frankly I'm thrilled when I hear him do anything, he's that good. He makes me forget I wrote it and I get caught up!

The Fourth Wall is one of my absolute favourites from the main range in the past couple of years. What can you tell me about the conception of this story?

Very little, actually, as I think I wrote up the initial proposal about a decade ago!  The idea came, I think, from being intrigued by the magical realism of the Woody Allen film 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', a film I've still never watched all the way through, oddly. I initially came up with the idea when Big Finish did an open submission window about 2003, and it was rejected! And with good reason - whilst a lot of the eventual plot was there, it wasn't really right yet, there were structural flaws. I think, given that I'd quite a good writers cv at the time, I'd rather arrogantly assumed they'd take it on anyway and give me development time. One of the major ones I remember was that after the half-way point, when the villain broke out, the story never really grew. It just became 'run away from the monsters'. The fix on that was the quest for multiple Lord Krarns. I needed to raise the stakes.

Anyway I decided to follow the oft-repeated writer advice of never throw away a good idea. I reworked it for the Tomorrow People, submitted it to Nigel, he invited me to pitch stuff for Sapphire and Steel, and eventually I got onto the Who stuff. After about six or seven years! When Alan was looking for Flip ideas, I ended up submitting two ideas we'd already discussed... then threw in the Fourth Wall notion almost on a whim as I still liked it. And that was the one that fired Alan and Nick up.

However, there were ideas in the other two stories they liked as well - the Porcians in one and the fake out companion death in the other - and asked if I could squeeze those bits into mine as well. I thought writing Flip out would be tricky, but it went surprisingly well. I figured out how to revive her in about ten minutes of swimming (my usual thinking time!), and tweaked the plot slightly. Originally, Doctor Shepherd died at the end of part two, but in the new version she fulfilled Flip's role from the original draft.  This meant I had to lose a slight subplot of a faint romance developing between Flip and Laser - there just wasn't enough time to build the bond.

The Porcians were tricky. I was also a little concerned that including them in an already quite high-concept and crazy storyline might knock it too far into wacky (I think you can usually get away with about one 'funny' thing in a story before it starts to totter), so it was something I had to tread carefully with... and I know that for some people it's all a little too demented, but I think the story eventually worked better with them and they did illustrate the story's point and theme rather effectively. Oddly, they came even further back in the process, the initial idea turned up in an incomplete fanzine storyline for an old Local Group mag we called 'The Hourly Press', twenty years. The final cliffhanger was of their first appearance and I never got to explain who they were. The oddest thing is that they seem so much more relevant now in our age of talent and reality shows than they were then!

Was it daunting being promoted to the main range?

I think I just thought 'about time'! No, that's a joke - I think I'd written enough at that time, and had high-profile stuff like new Tom Baker audios coming up, that it was just another job. They're not really all that different. It's one of the reasons I tend to prefer talking about it as 'the monthly' rather than 'main' range, it's not more important just because it was the first series we released. They're all important, I don't see it as a promotion.

How did you find it writing for Sixie and was there a great deal of collaboration regarding Flip considering this was her first trilogy of adventures?

Sixie surprised me - Colin's so witty and loquacious that I didn't really notice his Doctor isn't much of a joker. The sixth Doctor's gags are deliberately big and bad puns, that sort of thing, and a lot of the humour comes from the outside with him (like the 'quarry' gag in part one - the laugh is in the pause rather than in what he says), and sometimes it's laughing at him and his pomposity. I think I really noticed this as I'd just come off writing the fourth Doctor, where you practically can't shut him up for jokes, where the problem is keeping him serious.

Flip was a joy to write. Me, Jonny and William all emailed back and forth and swapped drafts to get a sense of her. Jonny gave us a few clear ideas about where he was coming from with her - mainly the notion that she's brave and selfless to the point of being foolhardy, like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff and only noticing half-way across. But the character was fairly clear from Lisa's performance in Crimes anyway, both her and the character were small but perfectly formed, so it didn't feel a massive hassle writing her.

Are the (delightful) Porcians going to get another airing?

We talked about it at the recording and it's a possibility. I'd quite like to bring them back at some point, certainly, but it would have to be the right story. They're a little tricky to write as actual antagonists, you see. But I've ideas of what I could do with them, a few gags already written and a title in mind. We'll see. You can't tell - I'd never have guessed the Rocket Men were going to become recurring villains, but that happened!

Can you discuss a little more the intriguing idea about the responsibility of writers towards their characters that you explored in this adventure?

I remember being quite struck by a Lawrence Miles comment in an interview where he said he didn't kill people off willy-nilly because he didn't want to be killed at the random caprice of some heavenly script-writer. That was developed when I saw the film Sudden Death - a surprisingly not terrible Jean Claude Van Damme film, with a slightly unpleasant attitude to death. I tried to understand why I felt that I could take the death in Die Hard, but this film made me struggle. I'm still not entirely sure, but there's a sense with the former that it takes care to show the impact and effect of every murder. When a good character dies, it has consequences, people are shocked and horrified (if there are no witnesses other than us an audience, it's done with brutality so we don't get kicks from it).  And they have reasons to be there - they serve to illustrate a point. There are a couple I can remember in SD where people are killed in a mean-spirited manner, but it sort of felt like it was supposed to look cool. I thought the makers were slightly siding with the killer, gleefully murdering innocents.

You're writing action/adventure drama, so people are going to die, but ideally, if you've written your story well enough, the audience should feel pain when the characters die. You should feel pain as you write them dying. And the characters in the stories should know this is a horrible thing. These should be real people, not cannon fodder.

Of course - I'm a total hypocrite. I'm one of the most gleeful mass killers in Big Finish - off the top of my head The Elite, The Foe from the Future, the Fourth Wall, the Burning Prince, Echoes of Grey... yep, all massacres. But I try to keep them horrible and shocking. Because that's what murder is.

The Wrath of the Iceni was one of the most vivid adventures of the first season of 4DAs. How much about Boudica did you already know about and how much research did this story entail?

I knew the rough outline of her story, the bare bones. Childhood memories of Tony Robinson narrating her history. But really, very little - which was odd as at the time of writing it I was living not too far from her original home and a model Iceni village.

So once I'd got the intial idea, I needed to work it up into a storyline and that meant a two pronged approach. I initially read a children's book summarising her history to get a broad overview so I'd be able to figure out the storyline (a trick I learned when doing a-levels - they're thoroughly researched, and give you all the detail you need as quickly as possible) - then when writing the script I ploughed through an excellent academic text book to get it in more broad depth.

The main thing I realised when reading, the main thing I discovered, was that I thought she was utterly horrible. It's important to bear in mind that the only sources we have for her are Roman texts, sometimes written with a particular political point of view to impart, so they're not necessarily unbiased... but they're not terribly flattering to the Romans either (they're where we get the raped daughters from, after all) and they're the only source we have so we can't just imagine a bowdlerised version and guess she was nicer. The more I read up on her the more shocked I was that this icon of England and feminism was an awful example of both. Yes, she was mistreated, very badly, but she was a willing collaborator until it went bad for her, and then gleefully massacred women, children, the aged and the infirm. Not someone to be celebrated in my view, which is why she is the closest the story has to a villain.

Was it a mission statement to bring together two strong female characters (Leela and Boudica) and contrast their approaches to war?

Not exactly. The concept just happened. As I've said before, the brief was 'romans in Britain' and I woke up that night, though 'Leela meets Boudica', then thought - 'yeah, that's it' and went to sleep again.

From that point on, the arc of the story is relatively clear. Leela meets Boudica, becomes enamoured with her, decides to go... then changes her mind and rejoins the Doctor. It was just a question of finding the reason for that, and my increasing dislike of the real historical figure supplied me with that reason.

If I made a mistake in the scripting, I think it was giving the Doctor lines about how he isn't able to change history, because I think people then start viewing it as being a 'companion learns they can't change history' story a la The Aztecs and see the rest of that story through that filter when it isn't that at all, leaving them feeling a bit 'it's been done'. I've seen that turn up a few times, and I think that's a total misunderstanding of the piece. She certainly doesn't learn that, and it barely turns up as a notion in episode two, but the idea's already been planted. The important arc of the story is Leela is swayed by Boudica... but then what she learns is that not all fights are just. She leaves Boudica because she learns she's not noble or wise or good... not because of notions of 'history', which is an esoteric point borne out of convenience for the show rather than being based on logic. The story is about how our idols often have feet of clay, and how acts that seem noble initially can be anything but - not anything like 'you can't change history'. To convey this properly, the Doctor's chief objection should probably have been 'don't listen to her, she's not very nice'... but that would have rather given away where it was going and is harder for Leela to ignore (she wouldn't know why not, given the context, any more than I do!). And in the context it's probably something the Doctor would say... so actually, maybe it isn't a mistake as such, it's the right choice with unfortunate consequences!

The only conscious choice was to push for strong female characters - the first draft was called 'The Women of the Iceni' to emphasise this, but that wasn't seventies Who enough. This was largely in response to the appalling treatment of female characters in the period. It's worth mentioning that we've a story coming up soon, not by me, where the entire guest cast are female - not sure that's ever happened before.

How demanding was it trying to capture Leelas voice on audio?

Pretty easy, much as with Romana. I think I struggled a bit in the initial drafts of Swan Song, needed to make her less technological. But once you've got the tone, it's a doddle. I'm so used to her now, I don't really have to think about her lines any more.

The Burning Prince is practically told in real time, buzzing with energy and excitement. Was it difficult to try and keep that sort of momentum and impetus going throughout an hour and half tale?

Yeah, it is quite pacey, isn't it? I was very tempted to change the title when I was writing it to one word - 'Run'. I doubt I'd have been allowed that though! I think I had to persuade Alan to let me go over the word count because I was certain the whole thing was going to have to be played at such a breathless lick that the scripts would have to be a little longer than usual to come in on time.

Was it difficult to write? Not really, you just try to keep that energy whilst you're writing. The big action sequences I tended to write quite breathlessly, driving the writing through, doing  the scripting in one go, trying to reflect the actual material. The quieter moments - and there are surprisingly plenty for all the talk of its speed - I took at a more relaxed pace.

Is it easier to write the first part of a trilogy of tales (setting up) or to wrap everything up?

When Alan and I talked through the ideas for the trilogy, it wasn't set in stone which one I was going to write. It tends to get talked of as the 'Drashani Trilogy' but that's misleading as they're barely mentioned in the Shadow Heart. The brief was a trilogy about the birth and development of a villain. When I finally nailed down what I though the character could be, story one was so detailed that it was obviously going to be mine. It also gave a reasonable framework for story two... but I didn't have a massive idea of how to finish it off.  So I think the finale is tougher. Had I written story two as well, I suspect I'd have got more of a sense of where it could go for a third script, but in the original discussion I think the furthest I'd got was vaguely along the lines of 'A History of Violence'.

I'd did slightly regret not being able to do more than the first, if I'm honest. There's a couple of ideas I'd had that I thought would have been interesting that don't really turn up - I always felt the key dramatic arc was Kylo spending thirty odd years on his own on an alien planet, hungering for revenge, living for revenge... and when he finally leaves to enact his vengeance, he can't actually get it as the woman who hurt him has been dead all that while (and the Empire is ruled by someone who looks exactly the same) and that his vengeance therefore becomes wild and unfocused. The moment he finds out Aliona is dead must be devastating... but we never see it. It's already happened by the time we meet him again, which I think is a missed opportunity. And, frankly, I wouldn't have included the post-credits scene for The Burning Prince, which rather took the wind out of The Acheron Pulse's twist to me. But with anything you create in a shared universe, sometimes you have to let it go!

Was it easy to find companion replacements in this story and is it refreshing to write for the Doctor unencumbered with companions?

I didn't really think in terms of companion replacements. I'm not sure they're vital to telling Doctor Who stories, I'd argue that none of the Kylo trilogy really have companion replacements as such. If your story features a character who's a natural fit for that sort of role (like Nicola Walker's fab Liv Chenka in Robophobia) then go with that, but there's a certain freedom you gain without having companions, a different type of storytelling you can go for.

As an example, when I was writing this I was aware I'd made life difficult for Ken because there's a long, half-hour action sequence from the middle of episode one to the middle of episode two - and for the most part, because of the way the story is structured, the entire cast are all present throughout. And there were seven actors, which is one more actor than we have booths for in the studio. So Alan Barnes suggested a way of splitting the cast up, Kylo getting sent off in an escape shuttle with his own few cast members, the rest in the crashing ship, the way we'd do it with a companion. I was kind of against this as I thought you can tell a different type of story with only the Doctor, more focused, and we should try and embrace that (also it did rather mean that the Doctor wouldn't really get much of a chance to actually meet Kylo, which would neuter the rest of the trilogy in my eyes). So Ken just had to suffer.

Having said all that, Shira in the story is clearly a decoy based on the idea of the substitute companion. I'm quite proud of that feint, and the first episode in particular. Really chuffed that it was released on its own as a freebie because I love the build of the second half.

This trilogy received something of a mixed response with much of the praise being focused on your tale is there something about space opera tales that turns people off?

Well, I don't think it's been 100% love for The Burning Prince, and I think The Shadow Heart doesn't come out too badly with fans! Jonny's a brilliant, brilliant writer and he utterly nailed that, a really tough brief and he pulls it off whilst throwing in some wonderful structural innovation. I think Rick had a tough gig with Acheron Pulse - he had to do the most trad one, and that's tough.

I do think that Doctor Who fans don't always like sci-fi. I'm not totally sure that I do! I think Doctor Who is often mistaken for sci-fi, when it's more a science fantasy thing. And I'd say the more hard edged stuff this story represents isn't a natural fit for me. Nick can do this sort of stuff brilliantly in his sleep, whereas I... I think my style is more 'scientific romance'. Not in the sense of it literally including romance, but that it's a little more fanciful and playful and light. Despite my blood-thirsty tendency to massacre everyone.

And yep, space opera in particular can be a turn off. All those silly sounding place names and bizarre back stories its hard to give a toss about (who would ever think you could buy a space-faring hero called Skywalker, and a maverick called Solo? I always thought it was odd that Star Wars fans complained about the prequel titles sounding naff... all the Star Wars titles are the same style, the only difference is you didn't grow up getting used to the old ones). Jonny once said he had a chip shop test for stories - how did they affect him going down the road to buy a bag of chips? You need to connect to the stories somehow - it's why so many Doctor Who stories (Pirate Planet in particular) link them to Earth in some, often rather arbitrary, way. To make the audience care.

Therefore in an otherworldy story, you're already against it, so you have to find humanity in the aliens. They don't have to look or be human for me to connect with them if I understand them, if I can empathise with them. And I suspect that's another problem with the trilogy, some people don't really 'get' Kylo. If you have an unpleasant character in a villain role, people are willing to buy that, but I think the fact he doesn't really fulfil that sort of function in the Burning Prince wrong-foots people. Within the context of this single story, he fills a role that in any other script would be taken by a likeable, sympathetic figure. They think they're supposed to like him, or feel sympathy for him (which they're not, really) and seem to resent the fact that they don't. I've never really bought the Marvel comics notion that someone can turn from totally good to totally evil over-night a la Doctor Octopus, etc, I think they have to have the potential for being bad before that, so he's spoilt, petulant, quick tempered and a murderer even before he's an actual full-blown villain.  He doesn't deserve what he gets, because no-one does, but disliking him for being deliberately dislikeable seems perverse. I'm happy that he's not a cliche.

Tom Baker couldnt have asked for a better kick start to his Big Finish career than The Foe from the Future, after listening to that critically acclaimed tale people were chomping at the bit for more.

I think it's probably my favourite script. It does everything I want it to do, and the production pretty much backs everything up. I tried to break up my initial listen into episodes - then just gave in and did the last four in one go... then started again straight away. Hopefully this doesn't sound too arrogant - I love some of my stories, hate others - but I'm really happy with that one.

Was this a collaboration between Robert Banks Stewart and yourself or were you given the bare bones of the story and tasked with fleshing it out with character and incident?

Robert felt I should have a free hand to do what I wanted with it, so it was largely a question of me working up his 1976 synopsis. I did get a random email from him one day where he was lovely about it, quite out of the blue, which was obviously rather special!

The synopsis is one of the few that is, word for word, in the public domain as it was published in the back of the Adrian Rigelsford Hinchcliffe years book. It gets increasingly less detailed as it goes along and there's no sixth episode.

Episode one was about three pages of relatively detailed storyline, even scene breakdown. I stuck to that fairly precisely (bar for including a TARDIS library scene at the top as I thought there needed to be a slow entrance for the Doctor and Leela). The major additions were Butler and Charlotte from the village, largely to give other characters people to talk to in scenes that would otherwise have been completely silent. In a few cases - like teleporting the Doctor in episode three - Charlotte got Leela's part of the storyline, but by and large I developed her separately as she didn't exist (her main sub-plot was conceived largely to provide the pun punchline at the story's end). Butler was part of a conscious decision to ape Robert Banks Stewart stories from the TV show, that Chase/Scorby set up.

Episode two and three I tried to finesse a bit, collating a few capture/escapes into one to avoid it being too much of a runaround. And trying to smooth over the two/three location change a bit.

I felt when reading it that you can slightly feel Robert running out of steam the further he goes on. Each episode gets shorter and less detailed. By the time we get to episode five, it's a single page that basically amounts to 'the Doctor builds a gun... it doesn't work'. I was gratified when Robert was interviewed in DWM that he said pretty much the same thing. He recognised himself in the first three episodes, less in four and five, so I think my instincts to punch up the second half were right. I've said before that I view the story as starting almost entirely with Robert (episode one), and ending entirely with me (episode six) and that the rest work on a sliding scale between the two. By the time you get to episode four, there's rough similarities between my script and the storyline, but nothing like the direct correlation of episode one. I tried to keep things like the cliffhangers broadly the same (the exception being episode five's cliffhanger, where I added about five extra elements of peril, because really, a story should be ramping up - if the cliffhanger at the end of a fifth episode isn't the biggest thing ever, it should be!). And the major characters all die at the same place in the narrative and in a broadly similar way.

Having said that, I did deliberately up the gruesome sadism a bit, to capture that Seeds of Death feeling, which is why so many people die horribly, and the villains all get rather hoist on their own petards.

How do you begin pacing a six part Doctor Who story without resorting to padding?

I think the old thing about a two parter followed by a four parter works, although I think Foe is more 2:3:1, which is closer to classical structure.  I did try and finesse the episodes across this a bit though, so it's less obviously chunks of discrete plot, threads crossing over across the broad structural chunks.

Otherwise, I think it comes back to what I said regarding the Lost Stories - scale. You have to make the story big enough to justify the length. That's true every time. I thought when I was casting around for ideas for what eventually became 'Special Features' that the key to a one-parter is an idea that you couldn't write any longer. It can't just be a condensed two parter (unless you're a Steven Hall level genius). It has to be a small idea you explore fully. And it works all that way every time. The type of villain I have in a two parter, and what they're up to (the slightly amateurish villainy of Stone et al in Jalxar, for example) is smaller than in a four parter (warring families in The Burning Prince) and that in turn is smaller than in a six parter (entire species and universes). For a six parter you're writing an epic - so there need to be enough threads and characters and scale to justify it. Certainly, I loved having that amount of time. I was able to build arcs into the story for everyone, give every character their own journey, set things up five episodes in advance in some cases. And take my time letting the characters grow. I think the length is one of the reasons I like it so much.

Swan Song and Beautiful Things were both highlights of their respective seasons of Jago & Litefoot. Is it as much fun writing for these two characters as it appears?

Very much so. Everything about them is fun. Writing them is effectively just dropping them in a situation and seeing what they do, you practically watch it happen on the page. You've the best seats in the house. They're just so distinct and well performed and beautifully put together. One of these days I'll write for them again, I hope!

Was Swan Song an attempt to do something completely different with the range and set the majority of the tale in the modern day?

Perhaps, but it was Justin's idea so you'd have to ask him. I loved the set up though, and again that script's something of a favourite. I'm aware it's had something of a mixed response from the fans because they don't feel it fits the series as they view it, but I'm really proud of it and think if you release your inhibitions and view in independently and objectively, it's not a bad piece of work.

With Beautiful Things, how easily did you find the worlds of Jago & Litefoot and Oscar Wilde colliding?

Well, I'd had it set up for me already by Matthew Sweet and Andy Lane, so I knew where I was going, but it was no great hardship. He fits that world fairly perfectly! So witty and loquacious, he might have been invented for the series. I was quite lucky in that one as the plot came relatively quickly. I always wanted to deal with his art, his sexuality, his tragedy and his love of beauty. Again, I'm deeply proud of this piece, I think it stands as a fitting tribute to a great man.

What do you think is the reason for the continuing success and excitement surrounding this range?

Great actors playing characters. It really is as simple as that. I like some stories more than others, that's bound to happen... but what I'm addicted to and what keeps me coming back  are Trevor and Christopher.

Of your stories of late what has been your most rewarding experience?

Well, of the ones I can talk about, probably The Assassination Games. Having the monthly range release for the 50th Anniversary month was a lot of pressure (that's the one I mentioned earlier) and I always wanted to have a story that lived up to that. Alan had given me quite a shopping list and it took quite some time before I had a story that worked for me, but when I did I really really loved it. There's a James Bond influence there, both the films and the books - such a quintessential sixties figure, but too big a style of story to fit into the hour long tales of regular Counter-Measures storylines - suddenly I had the space to do it justice. Bond fans will probably notice the quite obvious specific influence on the story, but I've thrown in a few twists of my own that no-one's done before. And for anyone who thought the plot of The Burning Prince was too simple, this one is for you. You'll have to properly pay attention, it's enormously complicated - something I feel is sort of required if you're going for a McCoy story.

I think it's a lot of fun. In particular I love the villains and I may want to try and bring them back at some point too as I think they have the potential and the originality to make that work. One of the actors told us of his increasing delight as he read the script - 'Oh, I'm a bad guy... Oh, I'm a really bad guy... Oh, I'm an 'X' bad guy planning 'Y'...'  It was lovely to write for the C-M team. It took me until series two before I got to run with them, and I discovered they're all terrific to write, very similar to Jago and Litefoot in that it almost happens without you thinking. And another joyous aspect was setting it between seasons twenty five and six. No-one ever uses that gap and I wanted to see what it gives you - an angst free Ace is probably the big one. She's just having a ball saving the world and constantly saying 'Gordon Bennet' and other fun expostulations. So that one - I adore it.

That's probably more a question of it being the latest one I've done, of course, reasonably fresh in my head. So I should probably mention the next two Tom Baker scripts I've got - the King of Sontar and the Crooked Man. One of the nicest things people have said about me on the forums was that you'd never be able to tell my scripts were by the same person, because they're largely different in style, and these two really emphasise that, I think. Sontar is an action script, Crooked Man is more elegiac and fairy tale - a scientific romance, not science-fiction (something I think is probably characteristic of most of my work), with a fair sense of humour.

I'm entertained by the fact people on Facebook and Twitter have thought we might not be aware of the Leela/Sontaran meeting in Invasion of Time. We're fans, of course we do! It was a minor level head-scratcher, I'll admit. I didn't want Leela to go all amnesiac, that's too obvious and easy - she remembers absolutely every part of the adventure, and yep, she meets more than one Sontaran. Fortunately the story concept worked in my favour, and a careful viewing of Invasion of Time helped me out too. I'll warn you in advance, though - it isn't spelt out and you'll need to pay close attention to both stories in the balance to get it, but I'll happily go into detail after the release for anyone who misses it!

Crooked Man... not sure what I can say about this one. Creepy goings on in an English seaside town, that about sums it up.With a few twists and turns. Rather unusually, it's a story where the Doctor and Leela don't really split up. There's a couple of pages where one might have raced off ahead of the other, but by and large they hang out together, which was fun to write.

What can you tell us of the future with Big Finish and other projects?

For Big Finish - more of the same. Lots of writing, some acting, some script editing. I've a small part in the 50th anniversary release The Light at the End, a little thank you for helping it to become reality and get made! I got to read in for most of the different Doctors at different times, which was fun. I think people will really enjoy it.

I've been adapting the missing episodes of The Avengers into audio. By and large, I've barely touched them as we wanted to keep them as close as possible to how they would have been transmitted. This has meant switching off my editors hat and avoiding solving plot holes, tying up loose ends if they weren't solved or tied up fifty years ago! I'm really looking forward to this one - the casting for Steed and Keel should have been impossible, but the choices are so spot on I bought into the project immediately. They'll be terrific.

Lots of exciting scripts for all manner of ranges I can't mention. The letter i becomes problematic for somebody both new and old. An old enemy meets a new creation. The dark finale for a new range. Other things to adapt, an old friend in new forms.

Outside Big Finish, I'm working with the company's own Steven Hall on a transmedia project for the National Theatre. And I'm due to record the second series of the BBC Radio 4 sitcom I appear in, My First Planet, later this year. The first series is repeating as I type. Beyond that... who knows? Exciting times.