Saturday, 5 October 2013

Matt Fitton Interview

What inspired you to become a writer? What did you like to watch/read as you were growing up?

All the usual suspects really. I read through my school and college days: books and plays, but not a great fan of poetry. Austen, Orton, James Bond novels and lots of strange speculative stuff like Robert Anton Wilson - eclectic is probably the best description! As for sci-fi-fantasy stuff, apart from The Hobbit, I didn't get on with Tolkien, but took in Susan Cooper, Mervyn Peake, Ursula le Guin, Frank Herbert & Anne McCaffrey. The Ship Who Sang remains one of my favourite reads. Later on I picked up Asimov, PK Dick, & devoured everything with Douglas Adams' name on it: books, radio, albums and TV. 

As for telly, growing up in the 70s and 80s, sitcom was king. Fawlty Towers, Porridge, Open All Hours. Perfectly drawn characters in perfectly constructed situations. Then there were dramas which stood out such as Edge of Darkness, Brond, Hammer House of Horror & Armchair Thrillers. I love all telly really, from serious drama to soaps and am not ashamed to admit to following EastEnders from day 1. I had many late nights as a student glued to Prisoner Cell Block H (& have Wentworth backing up on my PVR as we speak - hope it doesn't disappoint!)

How did you first come to work for Big Finish?
  It was entirely through the open submission opportunity that came up for the Demons of Red Lodge anthology. Though my story wasn't chosen for that release, Alan Barnes invited me and a few others to redevelop our 5th Doctor pitches for the 6th, and the Recorded Time anthology was born of that.

It was all down to timing on my part. I'd been intending to try my hand at writing after many years away from it, and I'd moved to part-time work to allow myself time for it. However, just as I did that, my wife and I had a little boy, so my plan to go in for every open opportunity I could find was delayed until he went to school! Then Big Finish happened to be one of the first I went for - and I haven't looked back.

Does telling a story in half an hour bring its own challenges? As this was your pitch to Big Finish, what made you chose A Most Excellent Match. Did you realise quickly that this would lead to other things?

Oh yes. To create a world and characters in such a short time is a challenge. So it was a deliberate ploy to use an Austen setting. You know where you are from the very first line. And I wanted to open with a shock: the Doctor proposing to his companion was that. (This was way before The Wedding of River Song, remember.)

I'd no idea that I was being considered for other things until I turned up for the Most Excellent Match recording & David Richardson told me all about his 'Jensen Project' idea. Since then, I haven't stopped! I try to make a point of hitting deadlines, to make the script editor's job run as smoothly as possible, and ensuring what I write flows when spoken aloud - going in to studio to see the process really helps with that.

Countermeasures is an exciting new series from Big Finish. Can you sum up the range for those readers who might not have given it a try yet? We're you pleased with how Artificial Intelligence turned out?

We're on our second series now, with plans now in motion for the third - I think I can say that (So it's time you jumped on board Joe!)

The series follows characters we met in the Seventh Doctor TV story, Remembrance of the Daleks. In the first series Group Captain Ian Gilmore, Rachel Jensen and Allison Williams establish the Counter-Measures taskforce: a scientific group set up by the British government to investigate strange phenomema and repel threats at the edge of human understanding. Joining the characters we met on TV, Hugh Ross plays Sir Toby Kinsella, Counter-Measures' Whitehall chief. A slippery civil servant, he's a brilliant character to write. Think Quatermass crossed with X Files crossed with Doomwatch - set in Britain in the 1960s, with period music and atmosphere. It's audio adventure in monochrome! As well as Remembrance, The Assassination Games by John Dorney (the monthly range November release) will serve as a great re-introduction.

Black and White was a huge task with a shopping list of elements to include. Was that a intimidating brief? How did you find it juggling so many companions? What is your preference, telling a standalone adventure or working with other writers on an arc storyline?

It's dense. But everything is completely explained and makes perfect sense within the construct - honestly! I like to reward repeated listens. If you've bought the thing, I'd hope you listen to it more than once. Some find it harder to follow than others. It helps if you've a working knowledge of the Beowulf story. If you haven't, I'd hope it would encourage you to go and read more. But yes, the main requirements were to have a TARDIS-set first episode to explain where we were and how all these companions came to be here. I'd pitched a Beowulf story set across the two periods in the hero's life described in the original poem: the fight with Grendel, and the battle with the dragon, and used this pretty much as it was for the other 3 parts. So the companions split up nicely into those time zones. Funnily enough I'd initially wondered how I was going to fill a whole episode in the TARDIS, but the thing is, once you put those characters in a room together, they start talking to each other and don't stop. Ace and Lysandra are a great pairing with a certain amount of rivalry to play with, and I found a spark in the Hex and Sally partnership which was worth exploring.

It's great to make a plan with other writers - and always nice to have an excuse to meet up. Stand-alone vs arc? - it's a cop-out answer, but I like to do both. And I think there's room for both across the ranges. Single stories and those that reward long-term listeners. I always liken the ongoing Hex story to the Buffyverse. There's a whole wealth of emotional back-story to pick up if you want to buy into it. But each trilogy can be followed on its own terms. Equally, sometimes you want an adventure you can just pick up and listen to on its own - and there are plenty you can do that with. That's the beauty of Big Finish - you can do both.

Return of the Rocket Men was met with critical acclaim. How did you approach writing for Steven Taylor? Do you find first person narration offers more insight into the characters?

I watched Steven and listened to him. Mother Russia is a great reintroduction of a character for whom relatively little is left on video, and Peter Purves just slips seamlessly back into the role. It was a pleasure to re-listen to all of Steven's appearances. Simon Guerrier's Oliver stories are a pinnacle of what the Companion Chronicles can achieve. It was daunting to be following those, as well as Return being a sequel to an incredibly well-received John Dorney story. No pressure there! I just embraced the sequel status in the end.

In particular I think we found what a Rocket Man story does. It should give an insight to character. A revelation to themselves, and the Companion Chronicle format lets you explore that. For Ian it was about his feelings for Barbara. For Steven it's about knowing when it's time to move on. As for the future, the Rocket Men template is a nice conceit that I - and Dorney - would love to be able to use again.

Tell us something about the conception of The Wrong Doctors? You have a marvellous handle on the sixth Doctor and Mel, did you find their voices quite easy to capture? We're you delighted with the finished result? Can you explain the basic plot (just kidding!)?

Absolutely delighted with the result. Bonnie was just fantastic. I knew it was a big thing to have her back and Alan wanted to do an introduction story. But once you look at her arrival, this lovely spaghetti of timelines is there for the untangling. Or a bit more tangling, if you fancy it.

It gave me the chance to pay tribute to Colin too, all the work he's done with Big Finish and to kick off the anniversary year with a multi-Doctor story. He is just such a brilliant audio actor, I wanted to give him something to get his teeth into. Equally, for Bonnie, having heard how great she is in Fires of Vulcan, Juggernauts and the rest - I want to give actors interesting things to do.

As for the Sixth Doctor-Mel dynamic. It's a little bit like the Tenth Doctor and Donna - they're the best of mates, they trust one another completely, and are not above a bit of gentle ribbing. Mel is in a way the perfect companion for old Sixie, and that's something I wanted to explore in The Wrong Doctors. I've said elsewhere, she has this moral steel at her core, which the Doctor admires. And she sees the same in him.
I was also very pleased because I suggested Tony Gardner to Nick as the villain, and we got him. The plot... it's really very simple. the baddie wants to wipe the Big Finish Sixth Doctor from history!

How did you find working from somebody else's brief in The Seeds of War? It's lovely that Big Finish is seeking to create their own original nasties - what can you tell us about the first appearance of this Eminence?

It gave me the chance to write a type of story I wouldn't have otherwise attempted. It's good to try things outside your comfort zone, and I'll always try and push mysellf to say yes to something new. Anyway, all the plot points and beats were already in place in this Nick Briggs space epic, I just had to flesh it out. In anything I write, I try and make the recognisably human people as real as possible, and I found this hook with the Teveler family at the centre of the story. We were also fortunate that Barnaby Edwards cast such charismatic actors in those roles. You really root for Ray Fearon as Barlow as soon as he appears.

Yes, this is the Eminence's first appearance, although the Doctor has encountered it before. And that's all you need to know, really, its modus operandi. An evil sentient gaseous being which flits about in teleport caskets and can transform human beings into terrifying zombie-like slaves. You don't need to have seen the Ice Warriors to enjoy Seeds of Death or Curse of Peladon. And when we run into the Eminence again - which I'm sure we will... we'll see yet another angle to its story. 

What was it about Garundel that excited you to bring him back? Both The Wrong Doctors and Starlight Robbery share a lifter tone than some of your other stories. Do you think Doctor Who lends itself naturally to comedy? Klein and Will - an enjoyable combination to write for?

I love Garundel. He's based on my childhood memories of Templeton the rat in the Charlotte's Web animation - taking an amoral, self-serving character to the absolute extreme. Paul Lynde played Templeton, and having also been the voice behind the Hooded Claw, a lot of that crept in too - and Stuart Milligan has absolutely run with it brilliantly. Garundel can be snarky and say all the things no-one else dares. His character is so much larger than life, that it distracts you from how utterly nasty and self-serving he is. You'll see a pay-off in Starlight part four where thing get a lot darker.

Doctor Who lends itself to everything! But comedy should be wit rather than slapstick. Never poke fun at the monsters. Or if you do, have them come back at you with lots of death to serve you right.
Klein is an absolute dream to write - although we have to remember this is our universe's Klein. It's like, if the Doctor told Liz Shaw about the evil version of her on an alternate Earth, she wouldn't suddenly switch character. The thing that's constant is her pragmatism, believing she has to do what's necessary to get the job done. There's no good Klein and bad Klein as such - she is the result of her environment and upbringing. Giving her an assistant was great - especially one who's a bit of a 'male Jo Grant'. Will is an eager puppy, desperate to please, quite brilliant scientifically, but lacking the practical skills. They're a fun double act and Tracy and Christian really enjoyed playing it.

Can you tell us something enticing about the recently released Dark Planet? Do you have to fundamentally change your style to tell a Lost Story?

It has Maureen O'Brien and William Russell - together at last! Two of the very finest Big Finish actors, so I was keen to give them strong stuff to play with. The Lost Story is a different style again, different from full cast and different from Companion Chronicle. A certain amount of narration is necessary, and the great thing is you know you have these fantastic storytellers to help you. I started with lots of narration, and cut it back on each draft. It was an interesting exercise in preparation for the Early Adventures, as in those we are aiming to minimise narration and have the scenes work as full cast wherever possible.

What is your personal favourite Doctor Who story?

I'm going to be very boring and say City of Death. It just works on every level - a very clever conceit with the multiple Mona Lisas, Tom and Lalla at the top of their game, some superlative guest villains, and then John Cleese turns up. The only thing that could improve it is more K9!

What can you tell us about future projects?

November will see the end of AudioGo's Destiny of the Doctor series with The Time Machine. I had huge fun with that. Tying together all the threads from the other ten stories. Most of which were still being written! And then to go into studio to see Jenna channelling Matt's Doctor - that was a real treat.

Having started the anniversary year with two Sixth Doctors meeting, I end with quite a significant story for the Seventh Doctor too. Afterlife comes out in December as a coda to the Hex story: I'm very proud of it, I hope it's emotional, but shall say no more...

Then into next year, Luna Romana is the finale to the Companion Chronicle anniversary trilogy with a quite different type of villain - Terry Molloy's Stoyn. And two (or is that three!) Romanas. It was so sad to lose Mary Tamm last year, and this story was written and rewritten very much with her in mind.

What else...? Dark Eyes 2 has now been recorded and there will be very exciting news on that imminently - including who exactly will be returning...

The Early Adventures I mentioned above. I have the final story in the first series, called An Ordinary Life with Steven annd Sara stranded in 1950s London, and again, I hope we're trying to do something a little bit different with the era and companions.

Away from Doctor Who, in June comes our version of the Terry Nation series Survivors. The hugely influential 1970s drama terrified a generation as it showed a global pandemic wiping out most of the world's population. We take the opportunity to tell the story again from the beginning, with our own characters, running in parallel to the original TV series, but with some of those familiar faces dropping in along the way. David Richardson is a creative powerhouse, and it's been fantastic to develop the series with him and director Ken Bentley. I wrote the first one and am script editing the series: I'm very lucky to be working with writers of the calibre of Jonny Morris, Andrew Smith and John Dorney. Some of these have been recorded already and it's sounding very good.

Of course there are yet more projects which I can't talk about just yet. But keep an eye on the Big Finish site for announcements.

Answering questions is fun - thank you for listening!

No comments: