Okay, this one I’ll admit I’ve been hanging onto for quite sometime, waiting for the perfect opportunity to post. And with it being 7 days till the new series of Doctor Who, now, is perfect.
Next up is the intriguing Matthew J. Elliot, an audio scriptwriter for Big Finish Productions. Today he’s here to discuss Doctor Who, the 6th Doctor, and his compelling audio drama The Lure of The Nomad.
Question 1) What part of the world do you come from?
I’m from the North-West of England. It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from where I live.
Question 2) When did you become a fan of Doctor Who?
I’ve been aware of Who ever since the Pertwee era. I have memories of the original broadcast of The Sea Devils, and of Tom Baker’s first story. The Hinchcliffe era frightened the bejeezus out of me, and eventually scared me away. I returned to the show infrequently, but I didn’t become a regular viewer again until Destiny of the Daleks.
Question 3) Who is your Doctor?
The Sixth. I grew up with the Third and Fourth, spent my teenage years watching the Fifth, but from the very beginning of The Twin Dilemma, the Sixth seemed like the perfect distillation of everything I’d come to expect from the Time Lord. Intelligent, childish, gentle, cranky, egotistical and selfless. He is, to me, the Doctor’s Doctor.
Question 4) Congratulations on the release of The Lure of The Nomad from Big Finish Productions. How did this opportunity come about?
It was by no means an overnight thing. I’d been writing for American radio for about 15 years, and sending CDs of my stuff to Big Finish without any response for about ten. It was when I wrote the book Lost in Time and Space (soon to be republished by Telos!) that I finally got their attention and was asked to submit some possible plotlines for a thirty-minute episode to be included on the You Are the Doctor release. Unfortunately, that e-mail went straight into my junk folder without my ever seeing it! Thank God they wrote again to ask why I hadn’t replied.
Question 5) I’m really interested in the whole behind-the-scene process. Do you approach Big Finish with a story idea, or do they contact you and state they want you to write a story for such-as-such Doctor?
As a relative newbie in the Big Finish world, it’s maybe different for me than for more established writers. I’m lucky to have had several offers in the past few years, although I recently contacted a script editor about an idea that had been kicking around in my head. You have to be aware, however, that the script editors have commissioned work for several years in advance; you can only hope that they’ll file your idea away and come back to it when a gap opens up in the schedule.
Question 6) What inspired you to write this story?
The only thing I was initially told was that a solo Sixth Doctor was required. A lot of inspiration came from watching the most recent Alien movie. It concerned a colony ship, where the crew had, as usual, placed themselves in suspended animation. I began to wonder whether there might not be a more efficient way of cutting the time down, perhaps by having time running at different rates inside and outside the ship.
Question 7) How did you prepare to write for Colin Baker’s Doctor?
I’ve been preparing for years! My Sixth Doctor DVD collection (and, before that, my video collection) has been watched, re-watched and then re-watched to the power of fifty! In this particular instance, though, I had The Two Doctors playing as I wrote, to try and capture the feel of the era. I became intrigued by Dastari’s line about several Androgums being sent back in time and never recovered. I wonder what became of them. There’s a Sweeney Todd tale there, waiting to be told…
Question 8) The plot twist involving the character Mathew Sharpe is one of the best I have heard in a Big Finish audio. Did you build the story around that twist or did that come about as you were writing the story?
Once I was putting my ideas together, I was informed by the script editor that a temporary companion would be required, with the emphasis on “temporary.” By lucky coincidence, I was already thinking along the same lines, drawing inspiration from an episode of Star Trek: TNG, in which the characters all awaken with amnesia and a new character has suddenly cropped up, one whom they all assume is just another crewmember, but who turns out to be an alien interloper. Also, Riker and Ensign Ro totally do it, but that’s unrelated to my story. Mathew Sharpe was originally Daniel Speedwell, but there was a Daniel in something else Big Finish had coming up, so a change of name was necessary. Alan Barnes was very keen that it be a two-syllable biblical name. “Judas” was obviously a little too on the nose, and during our e-mail exchanges, he became very keen on the name “Matthew.” Obviously, I didn’t want people to think I was so egotistical as to name the Doctor’s companion after myself, which is why he’s very insistent that it’s spelled with one “t.”
Question 9) Have you written for other Doctors before, and if so, who is your favorite to write for?
I’ve written Dead to the World, Maker of Demons and The Silurian Candidate for the Seventh Doctor, Zaltys for the Fifth and Backtrack for the Tenth. Dead to the World, which was essentially my audition piece, was selected out of a number of plotlines as one that would suit the planned story arc in which the TARDIS was searching for Mel without the Doctor’s knowledge.
For Maker of Demons, I was simply presented with the current team of the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Mel, and asked to devise a plot, which turned out to be a more complicated matter than I anticipated. My original idea was some akin to Enemy of the World and The Armageddon Factor, but lacked a hook, and – equally importantly in Who – any monsters. It was script editor Alan Barnes who suggested The Tempest as a possible source of inspiration, and the story changed noticeably as a consequence. Unfortunately, in my interview at the end of the CD, I unintentionally gave listeners the impression that I’d written an unsatisfactory script in its entirety and had to go back to square one. That certainly wasn’t the case – Big Finish wouldn’t allow me to write one word unless the proposal met with their approval. It was the proposal that was reworked, not the script.
For Zaltys (originally entitled The Feast of Beltane, until I had to admit there was no good reason why the planet in the story should be named Beltane), I was again given the lineup – The Fifth Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan – and a notion of the placement within established continuity. I threw a few ideas at Alan, and he suggested that a couple of them could be melded together to make one whole adventure.
The Silurian Candidate was the first story where I had a more detailed recipe – I had to include the Silurians, and the story couldn’t take place in the present day. Straight away, I suggested a post-war Jamaica setting, in which the Doctor would encounter a young Ian Fleming, but this was nixed before I even came up with a story. For one thing, the tropical setting was too similar to the Sixth Doctor audio Bloodtide. In the end, the professional conspiracy theorists I’d used as an element in Maker of Demons provided the answer: what if the world really was run by lizard-people, and those lizard-people happened to be the Silurians?
Favourite to write for? Colin, but there are still a few Doctors out there I haven’t tackled yet.
Question 10) Do you have a favorite story you have written?
Probably The Lure Of The Nomad, because it’s structured like a detective story (which is my natural environment), and all the pieces fit together so well. I wish that Maker of Demons got more love. Perhaps I’m prejudiced because it was my first four-parter, but I feel there’s a lot of good stuff in there. My colleague and occasional co-writer Ian Potter says it feels as though I feared I might never get another chance to write for Who, so I put as much in there as I could, and that’s a fair observation. Is the mention of the Fourth Doctor’s comic strip companion Sharon Davies necessary? Not in the least. Am I glad I included it? Hell, yeah.
Question 11) What is the biggest challenge writing for an audio production versus print?
I’ve written three hundred radio dramas, so maybe for me the question should be the challenges of print versus audio. The real challenge is that what one audio production company wants might be very different from what another requires. It’s necessary not to be too precious, therefore, in order to meet their demands and get your work produced. Any audio production is, by its nature, a collaborative venture. Producers and script editors have their requirements, the BBC is, by necessity, protective of its product, and understandably there are elements that won’t make it into the script.
Question 12) What can we expect from you in the future?
Well, the inevitability of death haunts us all. Before that, I’m adapting a number of classic children’s novels for US radio, as well as writing a serial entitled The Autumn of Terror for the long-running American series The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. As you can probably guess from the title, this story involves Holmes’ investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders, and involves more research than I’ve done at any time for anything.
And, of course, there’s RiffTrax, the online comedy experience created by the makers of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve been writing and performing material for them for the past ten years, most recently with the assistance of fellow Big Finish writer Ian Potter.
Question 13) How can others find out more about you and your work?
Imagination Theater, the Seattle-based company who produce The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (and all the other series for which I’ve written over the last 20 years) has a YouTube channel, where episodes can be heard every week. You can also find my author’s page on Amazon, and purchase – among other things – my two authorised spinoff novels, Big Trouble in Mother Russia and Big Trouble in Merrie Olde England. Both are, of course, continuations of the cult movie, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. No, wait, I mean Big Trouble in Little China. Oh, and you could even visit RiffTrax.com and download everything with my name on it. That would be very generous of you, and a reminder of how nice it is to be wanted.
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