Doctor Who: David Richardson interview

David Richardson talks about his work with Big Finish, and the Lost Season of Doctor Who...

The Big Finish team at work

If you’ve enjoyed one of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventures in recent years, then David Richardson has had a hand in it somewhere. As the head honcho of Big Finish, he’s overseeing some of the most interesting Who-related material currently being produced. And he’s spared us some time to talk about the Lost Season of Doctor Who that Big Finish has been working on. Just for reference, we should point out that this interview was conducted a while back.

How did the idea of doing the Lost Season come about? What inspired it?

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It’s kind of two things. I joined Big Finish back in late 2007 and it was something I really wanted to do. I put the idea to Jason Haigh-Ellery quite early on and it wasn’t really a original idea, as other people over the years had suggested it and Jason was receptive to the idea but by the same token we’re also very busy on other lines of Doctor Who. So we would actually logistically manage to do it.

Something I think that swung the balance was that we were doing the Doctor Who stage plays and they were the first non-original Doctor Who product we’d done. In other words we were taking something that had been written years before and adapting it and turning it into an audio production. There was a lot of buzz around the stage plays, they proved to be very successful so I think that inspired Jason. Every month we have production meetings and, because we’re always too busy during the day we tend to meet up at night. We were at a restaurant in Soho and we were just starting the starter and Jason said to me ‘Oh The Lost Stories, let’s do it!’ And then the real work began…

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[Laughs]

What stories did you think you would be doing when you first saw it? I mean obviously, you’ve got your three stories that were novelised, I presume you probably thought you were going with. Is it the Wally K Daly one, The Ultimate Evil?

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Yeah.

Presumably you would have thought that would be one of them.

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I began by sitting down and thinking of what stories we could do, and we actually ended up quite a few more that we’d originally thought there might be. The two definites were The Nightmare Fair, and Mission to Magnus. I tracked down Jacky Williams (Graham Williams’ wife) and put the idea to her. I sent her a copy of Kingdom of Silver (a Sylvester McCoy story we’d done on audio) and she was really enthusiastic about it. Actually she was very, very kind and just gave us the rights to go ahead and make it.

With Mission to Magnus, it was very easy to get Philip Martin on board. He’d worked for Big Finish before – he wrote The Creed of the Kromon, and so I just literally found his number in our phone book and rang him up and he was up for it. They were the first starting points.

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Who did you get to do the Nightmare Fair adaptation?

John Ainsworth. He’s a director at Big Finish, and he’s also script edited and produced, and he was really keen to do it.

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I have to say I think he did do a fantastic job, not only did he take the original draft rehearsal script, he also looked at Graham Williams’ novel adaptation and he took some scenes from the novel. There were some really lovely scenes in the novel, which weren’t in the version of the script we had. Jacky Williams did come with her two sons to the recording and she sent the most lovely email afterwards just saying how much she’d really appreciated the script and how we’d stayed true to what Graham had always intended. So that was really touching.

You mention Wally K. Daly and The Ultimate Evil. It was definitely one we hoped to do, but we just weren’t able to agree terms with it sadly, so we had to drop our plans to do that.

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Obviously there’s been a bit of a discussion amongst fans about the lack of Yellow Fever and how to cure it.

Yes.

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You’ve stated there’s only one sort of extant episode in any way shape or form…

Yes I mean all of it, all that exists is the synopsis for the first episode. It would have been a three part story, so you’re talking about a rough synopsis for approximately a third of something, which would have meant that we’d have had to have sketched in the other two thirds of it. Seeing as there is no script whatsoever and Robert Holmes was no longer alive to advise how we should proceed with it, it just felt wrong to me. It felt as though if we were to put this product out as Yellow Fever and How to Cure It, in a way we’d be cheating people. It wouldn’t be what it was purporting to be. It wouldn’t have been the original product.

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So although I think it’s been unpopular with some fans that we’ve decided not to do it, I just hope they understand our reasoning which was that we didn’t want to put something out there which wasn’t what it would have been. We would have fooled people and that’s wrong.

The other one that was always as mooted as part of the lost series was The Hollows of Time and you’re actually doing that one aren’t you?

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We are. Yes, we’ve recorded it now.

Right, how did that go?

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It went very well. Chris Bidmead adapted it himself. Like Philip Martin he’d worked for Big Finish before, so I just had to track him down and ring him up. He had the script I think on old computer tape, so he had to retrieve it. We did have to do a few tweaks to Hollows of Time. Chris added a flashback structure into it. I’m not going to say too much about it, but as always is the case with these things, when you actually start to adjust something and revisit it sometimes it turns out better. And I think actually both Chris and I was quite inspired by the angle that this new flashback structure added to the story. So it is, yes it’s a bit different to all the other ones in the season.

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Yes. You’ve got Paradise 5 by PJ Hammond. How did that come about because it wasn’t originally part of The Lost Season as such was it?

It wasn’t actually. Gary Russell who is Script Editor of Doctor Who at Cardiff approves all Big Finish stuff, and Gary was one of our first points of contact about The Lost Season, and he approved the idea and has been approving storylines and scripts. He suggested that I contacted PJ Hammond to see if he was up for doing Paradise 5 and I have to say that Peter was just one of the nicest people we could ever hope to contact.

He absolutely embraced the idea. He was so enthusiastic. He didn’t have time adapt it himself, so I tried to think of a writer within the Big Finish atable who I’ve used who we liked a lot and who would be a good fit with Peter’s style of writing. So I approached Andy Lane and he took it on board. We had a storyline from PJ Hammond and also a script for Episode One. However., that story was originally written for The Trial of a Time Lord season and it had the court room scenes, it had the trial framing device which just wouldn’t have worked. They had to go.

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So in cutting that out it meant that Andy had to fill in the gaps really. He had to expand the story a bit. He basically took PJ Hammond’s synopsis and embellished it with some new bits of his own and we sent that to PJ Hammond to get his reaction and see what he wanted changed. Peter was absolutely so enthusiastic – he just thought what Andy had done was brilliant. I now have all four episodes delivered as scripts and I’m really excited about that story. It’s been one of the thrills of doing it actually. For these stories that were never made, just taking them and seeing them gain life for the first time and just realising how good they are. When you see the scripts and they go into the studio it’s actually quite exhilarating.

Is it as much of a chore from now changing the companion to Peri? I believe it was originally for Mel.

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It was originally for Mel. There are a number of reasons for changing it to Peri. I think the main one was one of the main things I wanted to do with The Lost Season was to make it a season. I wanted these eight stories just to feel as though they were part of a cohesive whole. So, we did change it to Peri and, I think when people hear it they’ll understand why. I think they will understand that they will be presented with these eight stories with a brand new season of 1980s Doctor Who.

Point of Entry by Barbara Clegg?

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That is the only one that had no script written in any form. Barbara had written quite a thorough synopsis, which was brought to my attention by Keith Barnfather at Reel time Pictures. He was just working on an interview documentary with Barbara and she’d apparently discussed it so Keith contacted me and said ‘you know you should do this in your Lost Season’. So I read the synopsis and it just intrigued me. I loved Enlightenment on television. I just thought it was a really unique piece of Doctor Who, and I thought that this also had a lot of potential in it.

Barbara wasn’t really in the position to write the script herself, so again it was a case of finding someone from our stable of writers who I thought would be a good fit. I went for Marc Platt, because I just love working with Marc Platt. He is a genius. He has the craziest ideas, but he turns in the most superb scripts. I just thought putting him and Barbara together side-by-side would work perfectly. So as with PJ Hammond and Andy Lane it’s a case of Mark doing the work but Barbara will be advising and the final product will be also very much a part of what she had intended.

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And that leaves us with The Song of Megaptera.

Pat Mills wrote a Paul McGann story called The Scapegoat and he came into the studio for the recording of that. So I took him aside and just mentioned the fact that we were doing these Lost Stories and would he be interested in doing The Song of Megaptera, and you know pretty much the same reaction I got from every other writer, “I’d love to, this has stuck in my loft for years…”

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The Song of Megaptera of all the Lost Stories probably had the most complicated history. In that it was first written for, let me get this right, first written for Tom Baker, then written again for Peter Davison, Tegan & Turlough. Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa, and then it was revised to written to be the Sixth Doctor and Peri.

It was originally going to be a Turlough introductory story was it?

Yes. It was the Sixth Doctor and Peri version that obviously I decided to go for. I’ve read comments online, people saying that we’ve changed the Doctor and companion mix in this story. We haven’t, we’ve just gone with the last version Pat was working on. He basically said that version was the best. He felt that the previous versions had got bogged down in having too many Companions, and it that really helped the piece having it focused on two main heroes.

Mission to Magnus?

I can imagine that most people will probably know the plot for Mission to Magnus, they’ll have read the Target novelisation and we haven’t really made any major departures from that. That was Phillip’s script for television and he’s just adapted it for audio. That presented several challenges in that it has a lot of characters. The population Planet Magnus, there’s the visitors from the sister planet, there’s Ice Warriors, there’s Sil, but we managed to make it work within the budget.

I believe Colin was very enthusiastic about The Lost Stories wasn’t he?

Well actually when I rang Colin he said ‘You know I can’t believe you said this. The other day when we were in the studio I was just about to say to you, why don’t we do my missing season on audios’ and then I got whisked off into the booth and I forgot to mention it to him.

So it was just literally two minds thinking alike at the same time. Nicola likewise really wanted to do it and thankfully Nabil Shaban wanted to come back as Sil. All I can say is thank heavens they all did.

Watching Nabil come back and actually recreating Sil on audio has been one of the thrills of doing these. He told me on the day he was a little concerned that when he’d done it for television he’d had the costume to work with and the makeup and that’s what created the character. This time around all he would have was his voice. But the voice creates everything in this performance. I mean you listen to him and he is Sil in that character right in your mind. I’ve got almost the finished version of Mission the Magnus now; we’ve got a couple of minor tweaks to make. But it’s nearly there. And it’s a fantastic romp. It’s a huge big spectacle. Lots of excitement, lots of chasing, lots of fights, and you know, I think anyone who wants a piece of 1980s Doctor Who, well this is as good as you’re going to get.

Had you hoped to be able to get Michael Gough for Nightmare Fair or was it just a bit too far fetched an idea?

I think Michael Gough retired quite a while back, and I didn’t think it was fair really to drag him out of retirement to play this role again. We had to respect that.

It was more a case of finding a really good actor to play the role rather than just getting the same actor who played it 45 years ago. Yes, so I think we’d always realised that we were going to be recasting. The trick was to find somebody who had the right combination of charisma, threat, magic. All of the elements that made Michael Gough’s performance so special.

John Ainsworth and I had lots of conversations and email chats about who we’d like, and there were quite a few names. One day I was sitting at home in my office with all my Doctor Who DVDs lined up and I was just trying to think, in the classic series, who did I really love? Who was just absolutely magnetic? And my eye just fell on the spine of The Robots of Death and I just thought, David Bailie, and I just rang up John and said ‘David Bailie! It’s got to be David Bailie!’ and he said ‘yes let’s try it’.

And it was a simple as that. I managed to track him down and rang him up. I put it to him and sent him the script and you know, he loved the idea. He came in, but we didn’t show him the existing episode of Celestial Toymaker on DVD. I have these strong feelings that if an actor is coming in to play a role that’s been played by somebody else, you don’t show the original to them. You give them verbally a hint of what you’d like to see in them but you let them create it themselves, and I think he’s everything everyone wants the Celestial Toymaker to be. I mean, he has a voice that drips with malevolence and charm and he’s perfect.

That’s one of the things about doing them for audio I guess isn’t it, the voice might change slightly, certainly with the character of Celestial Toymaker, why shouldn’t his voice change a little anyway? Who’d know if he looks the part if it’s in a studio?

Again it’s like with Sil. You listen to David Bailie’s voice and you see a Mandarin costume. It’s extraordinary. Again I’ve got the effects edits of some scenes for The Nightmare Fare now, so it just puts that character in your mind and that’s all that matters.

It’s like with Colin, 20 years on the voice, it’s still exactly the same. The diction when it comes down your speakers…

I’ve got to say, The Lost Stories for me have been a really personal thing. I was around back in the 1980s as a Doctor Who fan and I just remembered when Doctor Who was taken off the air for 18 months I was gutted. If I’d known then that all these years later I’d be making Doctor Who audios, I’d never have believed it! It’s just been wonderful to work so closely with Colin and Nicola on these because they have just been total enthusiasm. They care so much about it.

You’ll see them in sound booths always looking at the scripts and thinking it through and really work at it. That’s why they’re so good. They absolutely understand what the end product’s going to be, they understand the process and as a producer you can’t hope for more out of your cast. We just have fun as well. It’s that mixture of absolute professionalism and just fun.

So the idea of The Lost Stories; does that go beyond this Lost Season is it something you’re keen to continue to do?

Just see how it goes, I mean there are other scripts. All I can say is if people want to see more then please do buy these releases, because the money that comes from these CDs being sold will be used to fund other productions. So it’s down to the people buying them.

So any rumours of a Season 27 depends on the sales of these sorts of things does it?

Yeah, at this stage I haven’t thought of what anything else could be or whether we will do them or whatever. I mean I don’t know what exists of Season 27. I’ve certainly seen it in print people suggesting we should do it. I don’t know whether there are scripts of storylines or whatever so everything’s just totally up in the air.

When you joined Big Finish as a producer what sort of aims did you have for what you wanted to do with the series? Did you just want to carry on doing the stories as they were? Obviously you wanted to do the Lost Season didn’t you?

Yeah, I mean the monthly Doctor Who range is all under the creative control of Nick Briggs with Alan Barnes as Script Editor so my contribution to that is mainly in terms of logistical support. I basically run the Big Finish Schedule, so in terms of what gets made then when the scripts are written, when postproduction is done when stuff is released is all on my computer. I plan the whole thing in conjunction with talking to Jason. That is my main job really; just to make sure everything gets made and gets made on time. 

On top of that I’m doing Companion Chronicles on The Lost Stories.

What did I want to do when I came in? The first thing I wanted to lay my hands on was The Companion Chronicles, but I wasn’t hired to do that initially, I was hired to do the job and then Jason sort of said ‘oh you know, let’s do another series of The Companion Chronicles’ and I think they were originally talking about doing a third series of something like six stories, but the more I started to do them, the more I sat down and started think about writers and storylines, and actors who were willing to return as characters. I just said to Jason ‘Yeah it would be great to do these monthly’.

As somebody who loved The Companion Chronicles, that’s really what I would have loved to see. There’s a new one every month, it would have been so exciting, and you know, he thought about it and said ‘yeah let’s give it a try’. Thankfully, people bought them, we’re continuing monthly, so it’s been really exciting.

David Richardson, thank you very much.