The Companion Chronicles are finishing this month with Second Chances. They provided an opportunity to get inside the characters’ heads which the other ranges don’t – will we see similar types of stories in future?
I think it’s fair to say we will continue to make all kinds of stories for all tastes. The Companion Chronicles ran their course as a monthly release – I didn’t want to get to the stage with them where people said ‘Oh they are just OK’ or ‘They’re not as good as they used to be’. I think it was a very special range, and I wanted to take a breather while we were on top. Doing them on a monthly cycle was a huge challenge – every month we had to come up with an idea we loved and a top-notch script. I think we had a very very high hit rate, but that would not sustain unless we took a break.
I’ve heard people saying, ‘Oh they stopped The Companion Chronicles so they could do The Early Adventures’ but that’s just not the case. The Early Adventures were into production before the decision was made to stop the Chronicles. They really came out of working on the Lost Stories.
When we did Lords of the Red Planet, it really begin to sink in how far we could push the ‘full cast’ approach to narrated stories. The Early Adventures are an evolution of that… the narration is minimal, the Doctor is played by whoever is the male companion and, for the First Doctor ones, Barbara is played by whoever is the female companion. We’ve gone for typical Hartnell tales in the first season – an exciting story with the Voord, an authentic historical, a mysterious outer space tale… and then we’ve done something very special in the last one. An Ordinary Life is a beautiful piece of work – it’s basically about Caribbean immigrants moving into London in the 1950s, and how Steven and Sara are accepted into their community and decide to settle down. It’s very different to anything we’ve ever done, and rather beautiful.
Although we don’t have any edits in yet, I want these to sound like narrated TV soundtracks.
We know some of what the future holds for the 1st and 2nd Doctors, but can you give us any details on the 3rd Doctor plans?
Sadly not yet… But I’m hoping there will be some product out in 2015.
Big Finish has produced hundreds of hours of Doctor Who stories – what do you personally love about the show?
I think, more than anything, I love the fact that after fifty years and thousands of stories it still feels fresh and exciting and so full of life. I love the fact that one day we can be recording a thriller, the next a musical, and the next a horror story and the next a human drama. And I really love the actors – there is this enormous connection between everyone who works on Doctor Who, and such a sense of camaraderie.
I do like the admin side, and I love the creative side. I enjoy scheduling, and that’s what I used to do at the BBC for ten years anyway, so it’s second nature to me and it keeps my brain ticking over. I love playing with ideas in terms of creativity. I love the fact that I can go to the pub with Ken Bentley, sit around talking about invading puppets from Outer Space, and the next day I’m briefing James Goss to write a musical about some creatures called Scorchies (and he didn’t even balk at the prospect!)
Ken and I are currently working together on the Eighth Doctor series to follow Dark Eyes, and I think the concept we have for that is really, really strong. When I emailed Nick about it he just emailed me back and said, ‘I want to hear this now!’
I’m a bit different to most of my colleagues in that my skill set is focused in one or two areas, and I wouldn’t want to work outside that skill set. I don’t want to write, I don’t want to direct… I just think other people would do those things better than me. But I do constantly think up ideas, stories, characters, settings and give them to writers to run with.
Dark Eyes 3 is in post production, and that’s all about the Doctor versus the Master. Matt Fitton wrote it all this time, and my brief to him was just to keep the central focus on those two characters – I just wanted to listen to Paul McGann and Alex Macqueen going head to head. I’m also a huge, huge fan of Nicola Walker. I think she is astonishing. I originally cast her as Liv Chenka in Roboophobia, so the fact we now have her as an ongoing companion is such a thrill for me.
Dark Eyes has been a huge hit for Big Finish, and the first release won the BBC Radio Award, that it’s been quite daunting taking it over. It’s been like leaping onto a speeding train. But I think I’m setting in now, and we are nearly there on storyline for Dark Eyes 4, with scripts for that due to be in by the end of July.
We’re also quite advanced on what comes after Dark Eyes. The first four stories for that are sketched out and with the writers for storylining.
Doing any kind of celebration story after the huge epic that was The Light at the End is a pretty daunting task. I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh they should have done another multi-Doctor story for the 15th anniversary of Doctor Who at Big Finish’, but I think that would have been pointless. I would have spent six months being told it wasn’t as good as The Light at the End!
So Worlds of Doctor Who has an entirely different approach: it’s a big story about a dangerous man that weaves between our different spin-off series taking in Jago and Litefoot, Counter-Measures, The Vault, UNIT and Gallifrey and topped off by an appearance by the Sixth Doctor. The Doctor is not in the earlier episodes, and everyone does not team up (although there will be some nice things carrying over from one episode to the next, and the Doctor does collaborate with Romana, Leela and Yates). It’s special in a different way to The Light at the End – a celebration of all the many kinds of things we’ve done with Doctor Who at Big Finish, without it being a repeat of what we’ve done before. It’s going to be rather lovely.
You’re in the studio regularly, you hear the mixes, you’re involved with all sides of the discs – but do you ever get the chance to sit back and just enjoy the audios in the way the audience does?
I listen back to everything we make before it goes to press. I’ve largely forgotten what happens in the stories by that point anyway, so a lot of it is fresh! But the difference between the raw studio recordings and the amazingly detailed soundscapes is so enormous that it is like a fresh listening experience anyway. The stuff the sound designers do is just magic – it’s an extraordinary craft. They spend so much time and energy on every release and, frankly, often get such little credit for it.
It’s all gut instinct I think. Jason did the approach on Blake’s 7, and it’s a TV series that we both adore. The Avengers came out of a meeting with StudioCanal about another property, and we just got extremely excited by the prospect. Survivors and The Omega Factor again were shows I loved, but also I could see the potential for telling new stories and telling them differently. There are other things under discussion at the minute – they might come off or they might not. I hope they do, because I think they’d be brilliant additions to our growing catalogue.
One thing that strikes me about Big Finish is we are quite ‘old school’ in our entertainment. We’re recreating classic eras of British (sometimes American) TV and even the mood of the company remains me of what it used to be like at Television Centre, when I worked there back in the 1980s. We work hard. We have a laugh. We look out for each other. Jason is the best boss in the world. Nick is just so generous and encouraging and constantly appreciative of the hard work of others (even though he never stops working himself). Ken and I have worked together so long now, and on so many things, we are absolutely and effortlessly in tune. And our new addition, Ian Atkins, has been brilliant, picking up a horrendously busy job and making it look easy (which it is not). So many other people I should mention, but those three are the ones I spend most time with every day, even if it’s just on email.
Argh! Paul how can you do this to me? Oh – I’ve got it actually. Encore of the Scorchies, the first episode of the next season of Jago and Litefoot. I think it is absolutely stunning. Howard Carter’s music and lyrics are the equal of any West End musical, and it manages to be dark and scary while being whimsical and playful. The edit is complete now, and it remains on my phone for me to play again and again. Special mention to Lisa Bowerman in this episode too. You know what I mean when you hear it.
Maybe if I can have another choice that is already out, then possibly The Rocket Men by John Dorney. Or the Philip Hinchcliffe box set. Or An Ordinary Life from The Early Adventures – that one is amazing…