Paul Darrow, Tom Chadbon, Cavan Scott and Mark Wright: Image © BIG FINISH
Starburst caught up with writing duo Cavan Scott and Mark Wright to discuss their recent work on Blake’s 7 ‘The Armageddon Storm’ and a wide range of other projects...
Starburst: I’m interested in how you approached ‘The Armageddon Storm’ which was released in February. Did you work out the overall arc then each take an episode to plot or was each episode a shared design?
Cavan Scott: We worked out the plot for all three episodes together. It's how we usually work. Plots come together via many, many Skype conversations and then one of us volunteers to turn the notes from our brainstorms into an outline which is then thrown back and forth, evolving over time. Recently we've started using Google Drive which means we can both be working on the same document at the same time. It's a spooky old thing, seeing words appear on the screen as Mark's tap tapping away 200 miles away.
Mark Wright: Technology has definitely played a part in how we work these days, more than it ever used to. We knock the plots around together over the course of a few days – a mixture of email discussions, scheduled Skype sessions – even the odd text. And from there the plots gradually build up. With ‘The Armageddon Storm’, it helped that it was split up into three distinct parts, but we kept the whole in mind when plotting the individual episodes.
I liked the way that the overall concept was introduced then split into two episodes each focussing on a pair of characters. Was this a constraint of the format (previous Liberator Chronicles have been two-handers) or something you just felt appropriate?
Cavan: A bit of both. We wanted to tell a story that felt a little bigger than the previous Liberator Chronicles. By their very nature, two-handers tend to be smaller, more intimate stories. Our brief from producer David Richardson was to deliver an all-action epic. When we came up with the central concept of the doomsday weapon the idea of splitting the action between the two teams fell into place, giving us the chance to explore a cataclysmic event from two viewpoints.
Mark: It was part of the fun, really, finding ways of using the two-hander format to tell a bigger story. In some places ‘Armageddon Storm’ feels very intimate, but we were very keen to expand our scope a little – which was part of the original brief from David. We have moments where it feels like full cast, as we could have contributions from all cast members in each episode. It really opened things out.
Taking the episodes one by one; I liked the idea of the Armageddon Storm in episode 1 and its effect on the planet’s core. It reminded me of the Death Star even though you used four small spacecraft, and felt like something that would have been used at the time the series was made for TV. What was the concept you had in mind when writing it?
Mark: I’d had this one in the bottom drawer from a project that didn’t happen. It’s always good to keep some of these concepts in hand as you never know when they’ll come in handy. I wanted the Federation to have something they could port from planet to planet. In Countdown, the original TV episode to feature Del Grant, it’s a ground-based threat that the crew are searching for. Here it’s something that can orbit a planet, blast the hell out of it, then move on and do it all over again – further developing the Federation’s methods of warfare and subjugation.
The second episode was my favourite in that it took the story in a direction I hadn’t anticipated and layered the psychic powers into an already interesting story. Can you describe how you came up with this?
Cavan: It all started with Cally; all too often in the series she was left manning the teleport while the boys went off to play. We wanted to throw her into a situation that brought her freedom fighter past to the fore, playing up that spunky character we first met in Time Squad. We also needed a reason why the Federation might be targeting the planet Shorin - again the fact that Cally was involved provided the answer. How would the Federation react if their subjects started to develop powerful psychic powers?
I was surprised at the direction taken in the third episode and the way you closed down the threat of the Armageddon Storm, though it did make for an interesting story. Is there a chance that the Armageddon Storm will appear again?
Cavan: Anything is possible. It's fair to say that Avon's actions at the end of the story have an impact on future stories.
Mark: There’s definitely a set up at the end of episode 3, a situation that’s left hanging a little bit as Avon issues his threat. I think it tends to be forgotten that there is vast wealth aboard the Liberator, that both Blake and Avon could use this to buy soldiers, build weapons. It’s not really their style, and would take away much of the drama that’s inherent in the series, but it’s something that could be explored.
I notice that you also wrote Blake Story which we get to hear in November’s Liberator Chronicles Volume 6. Can you share any details? How closely does it link to Peter Anghelides’ Warship?
Cavan: We can't say too much, other than the fact that it picks up Blake's plight from Warship and leads straight into the events of ‘Blake’. And yes, we find out how Blake got that scar.
Mark: Yes, one to reveal more about closer to release. But it’s exciting to fill in these gaps, to flesh out some of the things that I’ve been wondering about since I was 8 years old! Every week during series C I was hoping that Blake would turn up again, or Jenna, and that we’d find out what had happened to them. And we never did really, so this is just a real thrill to be working with that.
Moving to the world of Doctor Who, you wrote the AudioGo Eleventh Doctor story ‘Nu Humans’ which came out last year. How did it compare to writing for Big Finish and how did you approach the Eleventh Doctor characters?
Cavan: They're slightly different beasts, more akin to talking books as they're in the third person with only one narrator.
As for the Eleventh Doctor characters, well, the Doctor, Amy and Rory were so well defined that before we even started we knew how they should sound. The Eleventh Doctor is fascinating to write for - more often than not he has conversations with himself as much as he does with the people around him.
Mark: It was the same for ‘Night of the Whisper’, our contribution to the Destiny of the Doctor series from AudioGO. We were lucky enough to be asked which Doctor we wanted to write for, and immediately we went for the Ninth. Aside from that one season on TV, there are so few tie-in stories for this era. Six novels are about it, so it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I loved Eccleston in the role, and the character of the Ninth Doctor was so joyous to write for. Grumpy and stoic one minute, daft and silly the next. We’re really proud to be involved with Destiny of the Doctor.
Other than Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who, you’re involved with a number of other Big Finish projects, Iris Wildthyme for instance…
Cavan: Yes, we’ve just finished recording series four of Iris Wildthyme actually. For those who don’t know, Iris is a slightly batty old lady who rattles around the universe righting wrongs and wronging rights with her best friend, a 10-inch sentient stuffed Panda. Iris is played by the force of nature who is Katy Manning (best known to Doctor Who fans as Jo Grant, the Third Doctor’s companion) and the stories are crazy, surreal adventures with a generous lashing of humour but also, I think, with real heart.
We’re especially excited as this latest series features a whole host of Doctor Who alumni, from Bernard Holley, who played Axos in ‘The Claws of Axos’ and Simon Fisher-Becker, the blue-skinned Dorium from the 2011 season. And then there’s Sophie Aldred, Ace herself, playing an alien cow queen from the future. Trust me, her performance has to be heard to be believed.
Mark, I was fascinated by the Vienna panel at Big Finish Day 3 and get the sense that this might turn into a major success for Big Finish; I got the impression that you were all excited as well, would that be an accurate observation?
Mark: Definitely accurate! I was excited to be asked to produce Vienna as it’s completely different to anything else I’ve done for Big Finish. It’s great to be working with Chase Masterson, who is so enthusiastic, and is taking the series very seriously indeed, really pushing Vienna at conventions. We did a pilot script to see if the audience would take to the character in her own adventures after appearing in Jonny Morris’ Doctor Who audio ‘The Shadow Heart’. The response to the pilot was great, so now we’re doing a three-part series, of which I’ve written the opening episode. Again, something completely different. Nev Fountain has written part two, and Jonny will be handling part three. It’s very in your face, big concept sci-fi, and will be out in February next year.
Can I also give a shout out for Graceless, which I also produce for Big Finish? We’ve just recorded series three, which is going to be the last series of adventures for tracer twins Abby and Zara. We felt that the story had come to its natural end, and it’s nice to be able to give something a rounded, definite ending. Writer Simon Guerrier has come up with three great stories for the final boxset, with episode three returning us to a setting from series two.
I’ll miss working on Graceless with Simon, director Lisa Bowerman, and Ciara Janson and Laura – who play Abby and Zara. We’re talking about other projects together, so we’ll see what happens. It’s been an enjoyable couple of years, and it’s nice to hear the episodes going out on 4Extra every now and then. Series Three is out in June.
Cavan, you seem (from your blog) to be regularly visiting schools and involved in the world of Skylanders. For those of us more familiar with your Big Finish work can you give us an insight into Skylanders?
Cavan: Skylanders is an award-winning games franchise published by Activision. The basic idea is that you collect action figures of the main Skylander characters and place them on a 'portal of power' accessory. As if by magic, your figure comes to life in the game you're playing via your PlayStation, X-Box or Wii, fighting an evil little twerp by the name of Kaos. The first game - Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure came out in 2011 and swiftly became the best selling children's game of the year.
Puffin approached me to write a chapter book for 8-10 year olds based on the characters back in 2011 and I had no idea how successful the game or the book - The Machine of Doom - would be. I have now written a further five chapter books, a quiz book, a game guide for the sequel Skylanders Giants, an A-Z guide and two annuals - and there's more to come.
The great thing about Skylanders is that I'm repeatedly being told by parents and teachers that the books are exciting children who hardly ever pick up a book. You can't ask for more than that.
Assuming you can both find time to keep writing together, can we expect any more in the Project series? Surely there are more tales of The Forge to be told?
Cavan: Well, we keep saying that we're done with The Forge, but The Forge doesn't seem to be done with us. At the moment there are no plans, but who knows what the future will bring. Or whether, if The Forge returns, it will even be linked to Doctor Who.
Mark: Just when we think we’re out, it pulls us back in again. I think at the back of our minds, there’s always a will to develop The Forge into other directions, flesh out the set up. But that’s for the future. The Forge will probably creep up on us and cosh us over the head when we least expect it.
And finally – if you could meet any of the Liberator crew, Iris Wildthyme or members of The Forge who would it be and why?
Cavan: I wouldn't want to meet Nimrod. The survival rate isn't great. The same goes for the Liberator crew for that matter. I think it has to be Iris. She lives life to the full, that one. And besides, she wears such spectacular hats!
Mark: I’d like to have a glass of adrenaline and soma with Vila – he’s probably the shrewdest member of the crew. And who could resist jumping on the bus with Iris and Panda for some adventures. And gin.