Big Finish Interview: The Doctor Who Audio Makers

Those fine purveyors of audio drama on their various new series, working with Tom Baker, Blake’s 7 and more

The brand new SFX bookazine, Doctor Who: The Fanzine , features Big Finish ’s Nick Briggs, David Richardson and Jason Haigh-Ellery talking about their Doctor Who audio dramas. In this excerpt, the three talented chaps lift the lid on Who spin-offs, Blake’s 7 audios and the dangers of reading reviews.

What’s the general reaction to the Companion Chronicles and spin-offs as opposed to the full-on Doctor-starring stuff?

DAVID: Being narrated dramas, The Companion Chronicles allows us to explore characters in a way that a full cast play or a TV story couldn’t. We’re actually inside the companion’s head – the story is told from their perspective – and the potential is there for some highly dramatic storytelling. Certainly I think the very best Chronicles have really delved deep into emotional lives, be it Home Truths (with Sara Kingdom), Find And Replace (Jo Grant) or Peri And The Piscon Paradox (Peri Brown).

Jago and Litefoot has been a huge hit for us, and it’s entirely down to those wonderful actors and the characters that Robert Holmes original created in “The Talons Of Weng-Chiang” in 1977.

JASON: Although Jago and Litefoot only did six episodes on TV, it’s a tribute to the actors and Robert Holmes’ writing that the two characters have been remembered with such affection. It almost feels like we’re doing the audio adventures of a television series that never existed!

NICK: Allow me the sin of pride for The Companion Chronicles . They were entirely my idea, during Gary’s time. But we didn’t get them off the ground until I’d become exec. They did really well from the start, and David is doing fantastic work with them.

How comfortable is Paul McGann being one of the Doctors?

JASON: When Chris Eccleston got the part, I think Paul faced what every other Doctor has had to face in the past – having a replacement. I talked it through with Paul and he was happy to continue with the series once I’d reassured him that we were looking to do something special with the series on Radio 7.

Do you ever have to persuade people to take part?

DAVID: We had an occasion recently when we were recording in Tunbridge Wells, and one very high profile actress had agreed to appear but had to pull out because it was too far to travel. Kindly, she said that she’d work for us any time at our other studio in Central London.

JASON: You’d be surprised how many actors accost us and practically demand to be in the series.

NICK: Most recently, it’s been a joy to see Peter, Janet, Sarah and Mark get back together. And, of course, Tom, Louise and Mary have been having a lot of fun.

DAVID: Everyone has to enjoy this process, because if it’s not fun, then it’s not creative, and if it’s not a creative process then it won’t be as good.

DAVID: Generally people like to work for us, and once they’ve done one they usually ask to return for another.

Do you read Amazon reviews?

NICK: We generally keep an eye on reviews. Quite often, though, they don’t reflect sales patterns at all. “Sword Of Orion” is our second biggest seller and it got, arguably, the worst review ever in Doctor Who Magazine . Quite often, people who post reviews on websites are not representative of a broader listenership. They are perhaps just the most passionate or vociferous.

DAVID: I think the thing you have to bear in mind is that a review is just one person’s opinion. One of our recent Lost Stories was absolutely slated in Doctor Who Magazine yet sold very well, received universal praise on forums and was voted by Gallifrey Base as one of the top five of Doctor Who audios ever . That’s the point when you have to question the significance of reviews.

NICK: But inevitably, their reviews might influence potential customers. The problem is, with any artistic endeavour, you can't concentrate solely on anticipating what the audience might think. We do have quite a good feel for what our audience likes, but mostly you must just make what you think is good Doctor Who and hope that people like it. Mostly, they do.

For you guys, what’s the best part of being involved in the Big Finish Doctor Who stories? And do you all have personal high points you’d like to share with our readers?

NICK: Doing a job I love, involved with a programme I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. That’s a real privilege, and I never stop being thankful for that. Especially since taking up the reigns of the company, I’ve enjoyed seeing and hearing how all the Doctors and companions have their very own way of being brilliant, and I’ve had many personal high points with all of them. But I suppose, most recently, it’s been such a thrill to see Tom Baker’s boundless enthusiasm. I was 13 when he became Doctor Who , so his Doctor sits slap-bang in that “sweet spot” of my Doctor Who fanaticism!

DAVID: I’m in my late 40s now and I have to say the four years since I joined have been the happiest in my working life. There have been so many high points – developing Jago and Litefoot , sourcing and realising some fantastic Lost Stories – b ut, I’m with Nick. For now the high point is having Tom Baker back as the Doctor alongside Louise Jameson as Leela, and recreating my favourite thing from when I was 14 years old. I’m so proud of the Fourth Doctor Lost Stories and the ongoing series, both of which arrive in January 2012. I’m still pinching myself that it ever happened.

JASON: I think for me the high point was in 2000, seeing Paul McGann behind a microphone in Bristol playing the Eighth Doctor again. He was the Doctor that never had a chance to show what he could really do – but we gave him that chance and he was magnificent. My hope is that in 100 years time, when media historians look back on Doctor Who , Paul will be appraised not just for the TV movie, but all the work with Big Finish as well. If that happens, the whole of Big Finish will be looking down smiling from heaven.

You’ve recently also acquired the audio licence for Blake’s 7 . How is that progressing?

DAVID: We’re well underway producing enhanced audiobooks with the original Blake’s 7 actors, which will be a mix of narrated reading and dialogue. I’ve got 12 scripts in, and the first one – Solitary starring Michael Keating as Vila – has been recorded. As a Blake’s 7 fan myself, it’s been a chance to lovingly recreate the show on audio – this will be a seamless re-creation of the series you remember. When we were recording, Michael pointed out that we had started production almost 30 years to the day when the TV series wrapped in the studio. That feels rather fitting, doesn’t it? The first release is a box set of three stories out in February, with more box sets and original novels following later in 2012.

Learn more about Big Finish’s forthcoming productions here

READ MUCH MORE FROM THIS INTERVIEW IN SFX’ S DOCTOR WHO: THE FANZINE , ON SALE FROM 23 NOVEMBER!

You can order a copy here