Doctor Who fans are spoilt for choice: there are so many special products being produced in 2013 it can be difficult to know which ones are most worth collecting. Even the list of approved products is long - DVDs, books, electronic short stories and much else. We've even had stamps! Amongst all of this are a set of audio adventures produced by Big Finish working with AudioGO in the series known as the Destiny of the Doctor. This is a set of releases, one for each Doctor, starting in January and ending in November (no Twelfth Doctor!). Each story features one actor playing a companion and also a short section where the Eleventh Doctor interferes in his own past. The releases are available to download at the start of each month and a collection of all 11 (with extras) will be available from November as well.
Behind the Scenes
How, though, did the series come about? What made it interesting to write and to create? Starburst Magazine spoke with several of those involved. First was Michael Stevens from AudioGO:
"We were considering ways to celebrate the 50th Anniversary, and hit upon the idea of one story per Doctor per month, with 11 Doctors fitting neatly between January and November. Around the same time, Big Finish and AudioGO were thinking about collaborating, and suddenly this seemed like the best vehicle to collaborate on.
"Once AudioGO commissioned Big Finish to deliver the series, they in turn engaged John Ainsworth to manage the project and produce the 11 titles. John and I have liaised throughout the process. Previously we'd worked together on our standard Eleventh Doctor Audio Original titles, and so we very much followed the same working pattern. Between us we worked out the linking theme of the series, and then John identified writers who could deliver the stories. We discussed the main casting together, but John managed the secondary reader cast himself – and did so brilliantly."
Starburst spoke next to John Ainsworth who confirmed that it was, indeed, a matter of collaboration, though some aspects proved harder than others:
"The series was quite unformed at the stage that I was first involved. I discussed a lot with both Nicholas Briggs at Big Finish and Michael Stevens at AudioGO. Out of these discussions I pitched both the linking theme and the title which were adopted. Coming up with the linking theme was quite tricky because we wanted something that was pleasing but that didn't become too dominant and would allow each story to be enjoyed and understood on its own – including the final story. I think we achieved a good balance in the end.
"I think the two-hander idea came from the Big Finish side of the co-production. It had worked well with the Companion Chronicles and they were keen to use it on Destiny of the Doctor. I think this was a given when the project was handed to me to produce."
Writers and Cast
With the basic concept of 11 titles in place the next challenge was to finalise the writers and the casting. Both AudioGo and Big Finish have access to a range of talent so how hard was it to come down to a list of authors? Having picked the authors, how were they assigned? John Ainsworth continues the story and also discusses how the actors were selected:
"Nicholas Briggs and I got together and compiled a list of authors that we wanted to involve. Some of them we identified as good fits with particular Doctors and eras, others we were happy to have for any of the Doctors, and in some instances were able to give them the choice – although scheduling and availability did play a part in this, particularly for the earlier titles with more pressing deadlines.
"For the actors, the intention was always to approach actors who had played companions. It was a deliberate decision not to ask any of the living Doctor actors as I felt that would give an inconsistent feel to the series. Of course, it was always going to be a possibility that we wouldn't be able to secure an actor who had played a companion in a particular era. For this reason, I made the decision that the stories would be written in the third person rather than first (as the Companion Chronicles are). This meant that we weren't tied to telling the story from the point of view of a specific companion."
We were also interested in how the whole process appeared from the point of view of the various writers. We spoke to Darren Jones who wrote the October release Death's Deal (reviewed in Starburst #394). Darren let us know how it was for him:
"I'd written a couple of Eleventh Doctor audiobooks for AudioGo, working with John Ainsworth. Actually I was waiting for the second one, Sleepers in the Dust, to get final approval, and I was thinking of contacting John to see if he'd like me to pitch any further stories. But then he suddenly contacted me, briefly explained the concept of the Destiny of the Doctor series, and asked if I would like to have a go at writing the Tenth Doctor story. I was thrilled and very happy to say yes! It was a no-brainer. So I went away to work up a few ideas and everybody at AudioGo and Big Finish pointed to Death's Deal as the one to take forward."
With the story coming together, how important was it for Darren to get Catherine Tate back as Donna? He explains:
"I was so pleased that we managed to get Catherine Tate to come back and be Donna again. She was the companion I really wanted to write for. I started writing for AudioGo just before Matt Smith was announced as the Eleventh Doctor, so I missed out on an opportunity to write for David's Doctor. Although, at the time nobody know what the new Doctor or Amy Pond were going to be like, and I was initially briefed to write my outline in the style of the Tenth Doctor and Donna. I never thought I would get the chance to write those characters for real a few years later. That pairing can be both intensely dramatic and hilariously comic – I loved being able to move between the two."
Linking the Stories
As was mentioned above, every story had a short link in which the Eleventh Doctor dipped in to tweak the plot. It fell to Matt Fitton, the writer of the final story The Time Machine to pull all these threads together. Darren Jones explained how the process worked from his point of view:
"It was always part of the brief that the first ten stories would each have the Eleventh Doctor sending a message to his previous selves. At first, the thought was that these could be quite random in nature and not have much bearing on the plot, but that changed. They become more integral and important to the individual stories, which made everything stronger. The nature of the message was up to me. I think Matt was given all the outlines at an early stage so that he could start pulling all the individual elements together for the final story. I kept in touch if and when story elements changed. He has the toughest task of all of us!"
We asked Matt Fitton how the process came together from his point of view:
"As anyone who's heard any of the stories so far will know, each one is a perfect encapsulation of its era, but with one common thread running through them all - a little message from the Eleventh Doctor, like a to-do list with cosmic consequences. In The Time Machine we find out what it's all about... My brief was to provide a satisfying conclusion to the whole arc, yet also make it a story which works on its own terms - as all the others do. I hope that in doing so I've also tapped into what makes the Eleventh Doctor's own era tick.
So we find the Doctor in Oxford, on 23 November 2013, looking for an impossible time machine, and trying to stop an even more impossible invasion. As the Creevix arrive, the Doctor will face his destiny."
New Territory for Big Finish
The final three stories marked the first time Big Finish had created an audio for any doctor more recent than the Eighth. For fans this marks a turning point but is this the opinion of those involved in the creation of the series? For Jonathan Ainsworth there was no distinction:
"My approach to each story and each Doctor was exactly the same. The aim was to produce a story that felt appropriate for each era."
Matt Fitton echoed this sentiment:
"I think each story is trying to encapsulate and evoke its own particular era - and in my mind there's no such thing as Classic Who, it's all the same thing, but there are different styles according to Doctors and producers."
In the near future things are looking uncertain with the news (reported on the Starburst Magazine website) that AudioGO has suspended its business operations while it seeks new investment. While this is clearly not a good thing, especially for those whose jobs are at risk, from the point of view of the Destiny of the Doctor it does allow us to ask the question: what next?
Before the news of AudioGO's problems broke we asked Michael Stevens what he thought of the series as a whole and its future. These were his thoughts at the time:
"I'm delighted with the way they have turned out, and think John and Big Finish have done a terrific job. It has been fascinating to follow each stage of the process, and with each script and each recording new layers have been added to the story. I was very keen that each story should stand on its own two feet, for the benefit of anyone just 'dipping in', and that's exactly what they do. In addition, the performances, production and sound design on each one are first class.
"Sales have been very good across the range, but have picked up momentum as the series has unfolded. I think some people were initially keen to see what an AudioGO/Big Finish collaboration would be like, and many then stayed for the ride, to find out how each Doctor's era has been treated. Other people have been curious about the appearance of later Doctors such as the Ninth, whose audio outings have been thin on the ground. Whereas with our Classic Novels range we find that CDs still outstrip downloads, with Destiny both channels have been healthy."
As to future projects such as a Ninth Doctor series in its own right he had this to say:
"It's something we are giving a lot of thought to. We recognise that there's interest there, and I hope that, one way or another, we'll be able to serve it. Stay tuned!"
One way or another staying tuned is exactly what we will do and fingers crossed the AudioGO situation resolves itself sooner than later.