How did you get involved producing Blake’s 7 for Big Finish?
I was asked, which was very nice. Originally, Mark [Wright] and I got a message from Xanna [Eve Chown] saying, “Do you know Blake’s 7?” We said yes, obviously; we didn’t know that Big Finish had got the licence at that point, although it had been talked about for a long time. They came back and asked if we would write them a book, the first one for 35 years or whatever, and we said, “Of course we will; when do you need it?” thinking they’d say a year. They said, “a month and a half’s time”. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, The Forgotten, particularly as we threw away half of it at one point as we weren’t happy with it. We had a very intensive weekend in a cottage near Alton Towers rewriting it all.
We honestly thought that would be it, our little taste of Blake’s 7. We were producing [the Iris Wildthyme Adventures] at the time, and other bits and bobs. The Forgotten came out, lots of people seemed to enjoy it and it sold very well. David Richardson came to us and said that they liked the fact it was a big epic story, which was very different from what they were doing in The Liberator Chronicles. Could we do an epic for them as a Liberator Chronicle? We said, “yes. If you give us three discs to do an epic, we’ll do an epic.” That became The Armageddon Storm. We thought that was it, but every time they would come back – “can you write Blake’s Story?” OK. “Can you do one of the first Tarrant stories?” It just rolled from there.
I think it was when we were recording the last full cast series that David pulled me aside. Mark was moving away from producing a bit to concentrate on other things; David asked me if I would take it over. I did tell him I’d have to think about it, but the answer would be yes. I had a week before I next saw him and by that time I was in.
My involvement with Blake’s 7 and Big Finish has been a constant surprise, and I’ve loved it. It’s taken up the majority of the last year working on it, and now it’s going to take up a lot more of my time.
You’re now recording the second full cast series; can you give us some background on it? Where are we when the story starts?
It’s set in Series C, so Avon is in charge, nominally – in Avon’s mind, he’s definitely in charge; in Tarrant’s mind, he’s in charge, and I think everybody else just goes along with whoever’s on the flight deck.
We decided after that first full-cast series that we’d move into that second part of the show. It would give us a chance for us to get Tarrant back as well and hopefully Dayna too – that was my aim, and obviously we’ve got one of them! It’s a different dynamic in the second half of Blake’s 7, and we wanted to play with that.
We’d had that thing with The Armageddon Storm of bringing Del Grant in as a character who would remain on the Liberator; that was a shock on the day – we didn’t plan it. It was a rewrite at the last minute during recording: originally in The Armageddon Storm, Del was wandering off with the survivors of the planet. David came into the green room here at Wadhurst where Mark and I were talking – green rooms are the only place we meet up; everything is done on the phone or Skype – and asked if we could rewrite the end. They wanted Del to stay but in a slightly ambiguous way. We wrote at the end that he stayed, but didn’t make it that obvious, and wanted to see if people would pick up on it. Some people did, some didn’t.
So when we came back to the full-cast series, it gave us a chance to play with it a bit and have that different voice. From a technical point of view, when it became obvious that we weren’t getting Dayna, it meant Grant could fulfil a lot of Dayna’s role – he likes weapons, and he has a certain knowledge that sets him apart from the rest of the crew. Plus it means working with Tom Chadbon, who is amazing, and a pleasure to work with. It’s been really interesting to see the relationships between the characters form, which is informing my long plan terms for the Grant saga – it is a saga, and it will have an end, a very definite end. That will have a knock-on effect which I think explains a lot of why Avon is as Avon is in Series D.
The series is The Search for Dayna. In the first episode, Scimitar by Trevor Baxendale, the crew wake up one morning and literally she’s not there. Neither of the computers will say where she is because she’s told them not to, so the loose arc is the search for Dayna. Every story builds into that – they’re searching for clues to where she’s gone. Dayna being a huntress, which was the original basis of the character, is very good at covering her tracks and doesn’t want to be found.
There are different motivations at work: Paul [Darrow] keeps saying, “Would Avon really care if she disappeared?” That’s the problem with Avon, he can be a reluctant hero. We think that Dayna going missing, for Avon, is a bit of a worry because if someone gets hold of her, could they use her to bring him down? For Tarrant and Cally, they’re very much concerned about Dayna. It’s given us some interesting character moments as well.
Any other cameos from past characters?
From within Big Finish’s Blake’s 7 stories? Yes, but not from the TV show.
What was the guiding parameter for you?
I wanted to do slightly different stories this season. A lot of the Big Finish Blake’s 7 back catalogue has been very Federation-based, and rightly so, but I wanted to start bringing in some of those other kinds of stories you get in Blake’s 7 – so we’ve got Jac Rayner producing a more fantasy-led story, a Tanith Lee type story; we’ve got a ghost story from Iain McLaughlin; we’ve got some very traditional Blake’s 7 romps from Trevor and Justin but there was a real idea that we’d try to do things that weren’t just the Federation. The Federation is there in these stories but it’s not the major player in this – it’s this thing of not making the universe too small in Blake’s 7. We’re trying to open it up; at this point in the series, the Federation was starting to be a background thing as well. And with Jac[queline Pearce] over in South Africa, not having Servalan opens the doors to do different things. I’d love to do more with her, and we’re trying to find ways of doing it.
That was the idea when I talked to Justin about the series initially and we brainstormed the ideas together for the storylines. We want each one to be different to the rest, which the arc allows – we’ve got a detective story, a ghost story, a political intrigue story, an out and out fantasy story and some good old-fashioned space opera as well.
Is there a danger with Blake’s 7 stories that everything keeps coming back to the crew, and the whole universe is somehow connected to the Liberator?
Absolutely! You try to keep it to a minimum. If you want to tell stories, you want to have a personal interest in them. Bringing Grant in means we can open it up a bit and especially in the latest Liberator Chronicles, Volume 9, Grant knows people the Liberator can’t get to.
By this point in the show, everyone in the galaxy seems to know who the Liberator is, naturally, so you don’t have to have so much of a link in, and because of the way we’re telling stories in this series Avon is putting feelers out to all his contacts.
That’s another reason not to have more returning characters; we want them to meet new people along the way. There are going to be returning characters in upcoming stories, but not in this series.
Would you consider using characters who were still around during Series C but not on the show – so maybe a Blake story where he features but the crew don’t realise it’s him?
Potentially. I quite like the way that he and Jenna vanish, though, because that’s what life is like. People drop in and out of people’s lives. There are gaps in Jenna and Blake’s stories to which we might return and drop in a story.
From the very boring logistics point of view, it’s getting everyone together because everyone’s very busy. Days like today where we have the full cast in the same building at the same time are rare; it’s a question of juggling everyone’s diary.
From a creative point of view, it is that thing of not making it too fan-wanky. It’s so easy to say “we’ll do this, then throw Bayban into it, and then get them in…” and it turns into something like Peter David’s Star Trek novel Imzadi II, where everyone from everyone is in it. I can totally see how it happens and it’s really tempting.
There haven’t been many time travel type stories in Blake’s 7…
And I don’t think there will be. I don’t know if it really works in Blake’s 7. I only have a few things on my “don’t do” list for Blake’s 7, and one of them is time travel, as well because I don’t want it to be Doctor Who by another name. When other series have introduced time travel to the plot, the ability has become too addictive.
Are there other things you’d like to do?
Travis – is there an explanation for him having a new face and a new personality? These are things that fans have been filling in the gaps for years… but I don’t want to fill in every gap.
Because the fans are so involved with Blake’s 7, and some of them have been there since 1981, if we started explaining everything that happened, it would limit everything they could do. Obviously they can do what they want in their own fan fiction, but we want to do stuff that will hopefully open up new avenues.
I’d love to think there’s some fan fiction out there with our version of the President from the last full-cast series or with Del Grant as a member of the crew. I like leaving these gaps for fans to play…
Click here to order Scimitar from Big Finish; interviews with the cast of the second series (including some as yet unannounced guest stars) will be appearing throughout the run