"I thought it was just me who still loved Torchwood. Just me and a few people who had named all their cats Ianto!" Part two of our chat with writer and producer James Goss
James Goss is a writer and producer and lifelong fan of the Doctor Who. He ran the Doctor Who website twenty years ago, commissioned the very first animation of lost Doctor Who episodes with the DVD release of Patrick Troughton's The Invasion and has written several Doctor Who books and a whole host audios for Big Finish and other spin-off material, most notably Torchwood, for which he also serves as producer of the current content on the audio site.
I had the opportunity to chat to James Goss about his work and passion for Doctor Who. In the first part of our interview, we discussed his work producing Time Lord Victorious for BBC Studios. Check out that interview here.
In the concluding part of our chat with James Goss, we turn our focus to the world of Big Finish and his love of Torchwood, his work in developing new stories and characters and where Torchwood might go next at Big Finish.
A warning, this contains discussions around the more adult nature of Torchwood...
How did you get involved with the Torchwood range at Big Finish?
That's a very long conversation. One of my last acts before I left the BBC was doing the fictional Torchwood website. One of the elements of that site actually became an episode in the second series. As a result of that, I was recommended to write a Torchwood book, which Russell T Davies liked. It was Russell who put me forward to write and radio episode of Torchwood and I got to write thirty-four episodes in total. When Big Finish got the audio licence to do the series, they approached me and asked if I wanted to do this. They said we'll be doing six of them, let's see how they go. We're now at the point where we've done fifty!
It's great to see that Torchwood content is starting to get to the same level of engagement as Doctor Who at Big Finish.
Yeah. I'm not putting the Torchwood brand down, but when we launched this, I thought it was just me who still loved Torchwood. Just me and a few people who had named all their cats Ianto! Then all of a sudden, you discover that actually, this is just the most amazing success and people really do love the show. When Big Finish started up with Doctor Who, you wondered how many people out there that are actually going to buy these amazing things; then we discovered there's a massive untapped market out there. And that's been the same thing with Torchwood.
There is this enormous fondness for the show. It's been brilliant for the cast to discover how much they're still loved and it's been great for the fans to see that Torchwood is still alive. You forget that there was a period where Big Finish was all was for Doctor Who and that meant so much to me. The fact that every single month, there was a little slice of Doctor Who, was so brilliant and so beautiful. The fact that I actually get to be the person who brings a little bit of Torchwood love to people every single month is brilliant.
There is such an incredible enthusiasm and delight in Torchwood amongst the fans. Big Finish keeps on finding a way to do more. I've only seen one comment on Twitter where somebody's gone 'there's a bit too much isn't there?' Well, if there's only one person who thinks that, we're probably fine. There will come a point where people go another one? But we haven't reached that stage yet. Torchwood has this massive, massive universe of potential stories.
Russell [T Davies] listens to them; he's involved, which is one of the nicest parts about the whole thing. Russell says, "you actually made this, you've actually expanded the whole thing". There's never actually come a point where you go, what are we gonna do? How can we do this?
Was there a challenge when it came to introducing new characters in series five and six? [Aliens Among Us and God Among Us]
There sort of was, but then again, this sort of wasn't. Russell was deeply involved in this. At one point, there was going to be a comic series done by a different licensee, and they had some ideas of what was going to happen. They wanted Big Finish to fall into line with those ideas. I took it to Russell and he said 'you don't want to do that, do you?' He sent over an email suggesting we could have a character called this and a character called that. And this is what you need to do with that character. And I went, 'Oh, all right. Well, we'll go and do that'.
There were lots of issues that we had to work on. One of the things with Aliens Among Us was that Eve [Myles) was just going off to become the most famous actress in the world. Just when we were finally at the point of thinking, well, this is what we're definitely doing, Eve said she was not gonna to be able to record as much with Big Finish as as she normally could. It was the period where she was doing Keeping Faith and Victoria. So we found a way of writing around Eve.
It was very cleverly done.
Yeah. It was a really good idea by Scott Handcock. One of the saddest things about the reviews of the first episode was when somebody went Eve Myles was particularly good in this.
It's interesting. When I was listening to (and reviewing) the first volume of Aliens Among Us, I couldn't tell it wasn't Eve; it still felt like Gwen was in the series. Alexandra Riley did such a good impression that you never felt the character was absent from Torchwood.
No, it felt very much like actual Gwen, while also not being Gwen.
Is there going to be a series seven of Torchwood?
There are problems with series seven. And they're not exciting problems at all. They're not sort of intellectually really awkward problems, or actor availability difficulty problems.
Some of what you do in science fiction is about sort of guessing the next steps of history. So we planned out an entire year, that was about a pandemic. And so of course, we then went. 'on well, we'll have to plan something else'. Then we has a plan about, believe it or not, political hoaxes in the anti-vaccine movement! So we're sort of on draft four of history now. There came a point where we went, nobody will want to listen to this story. And also, it just seems like old hat. Nobody wants to listen to a story about a pandemic now. So it isn't going to be that.
But there is a plan to do another series?
Yeah. It's very difficult, because this this year has been a recording seesaw. When you've got scripts, you don't necessarily have access [to record]. And when you've got access, you don't necessarily have scripts. It's very, very difficult. This is the year when nobody knows quite what they're doing with their time.
There was a wonderful period over the summer where you had John Barrowman saying I've got lots and lots of time. We were going but we don't have any scripts! Then we managed to get the scripts together and John's agent went so, there are wildfires raging toward John Barrowman's house! And you go 2020, you are kidding me! There's a little bit of you going 'Oh God!' And there's a little bit of you imagining Captain Jack standing outside his house, holding off the flames. It's that thing where, if anything could go wrong, it does go wrong.
2020 is a gift that keeps on giving!
Yeah. There were things like discovering that there was there was one day where we managed to book a studio in Wales. But the actor couldn't get to the studio because of the various different lockdown rules. We had a free actor. We had a free studio, but no way of actually connecting these two. The fact that Torchwood just kept on going somehow, is remarkable.
There was a period where I had incredibly mild COVID. I was incredibly lucky to have really mild version. I was awake about three hours a day. I had to hand over to Scott Hancock because I couldn't handle remote recording. I remember that in our first remote recording session, I fell asleep, because I was just so tired. Which was really embarrassing when you've got Burn Gorman going 'is he still with us?' I was going 'why does he sound like Burn Gorman?!' I learned to sit on a swiss ball during remote recording . Because if you fall asleep on a swiss ball, you fall off the swiss ball; you wake up and you go, oh god, I should probably carry on and be a producer now! It has been absolutely mad.
This year has seen the best of Big Finish. They have been brilliant. Big Finish have found a way of still employing actors in the year in which nobody's employing actors. And if you're an actor and you don't have a home recording studio, they will find a way. They will get equipment to you. They will help you set the equipment up. If they can't do that, they will find a studio that's COVID-secure. It means so much to so many actors. Big Finish are there going, don't worry, we'll find something for you. Big Finish has kept writers employed. Some of the writers we work with, we were so lucky to get. This year, Big Finish has been a shining beacon, there's always been a way to keep things going and it's just been a real pleasure to keep working for them.
It's really interesting, when you listen to the behind the scenes interviews from this year's Big Finish releases . You hear about people recording under the stairs or in cupboard somewhere. It's amazing and you wouldn't know to listen to it.
You know when you listen to the rough cuts! The Big Finish sound designers, people like Joe Meiners and Steve Foxon, they have a difficult job but they manage it incredibly well.
When I interviewed Scott Handcock a couple of years ago, he mentioned that John Barrowman recorded his scenes for Aliens Among Us in a completely separate location to the rest of the cast. You wouldn't know it. It sounded like he was in the same studio as everyone else.
Yeah. Scott is so meticulous as director. His his scripts are marked up so that you can have seventeen different sessions and they will come across absolutely flawlessly. There was a brilliant period where Scott didn't storm out, but he went off to the loo and said, "Well, if you think you can do my job, you carry on directing." Because his script was so meticulously marked up, I could direct an entire scene just using Scott's directions. Scott came back and said "So you can't work without me, can you?" And he realised that I was just basically doing it. Even Kai [Owen] said this is actually going really well! Scott's said "you're just reading my directions, aren't you?" To which, I said yep!
Torchwood is known for pushing boundaries, going to the extreme. What's the most outrageous thing you bought into Torchwood so far?
Um, I think that death in Night of the Fendahl. That was definitely a moment where I read the script and I went, 'Oh, Tim Foley. No.' And then I went, 'Tim Foley. Yes.' A writer like Tim Foley really gets Torchwood. Because you get some people that go 'yeah, it's just about sex, isn't it? Or, you know, someone goes I've got this idea for Torchwood, where Owen has to go around, chopping people's hands off, otherwise they die. And you go, what?! There's a difference between horror and horrid. The brilliant thing about the nature of that death, was that that was actual pure horror. It came from a really clever use of the script about the horrible, horrible things about the male gaze.
During the recording of it, Eve [Myles] said it's really interesting that in a series that has a female actress, playing a protagonist, you always have to have a thoughtful shower. Hercule Poirot never has to have a thoughtful shower! But if you're a female protagonist, you're always there doing that sad noise while thinking things in the shower and you and so that's weird. Eve loved the script because she adores horror. But she also adored the idea, that it was gratuitous revenge. You know that that was the great thing about the violence, it was the outrage.
On a tamer level, I think we've all enjoyed Norton Folgate, who started as a single joke character; the idea of what if Sergeant Andy met a ghost from the 1950s, who was also outrageously camp. Everybody involved said we should do more with this. After a while, you forget that he actually wasn't part of the TV series. That's a breakout success. He's outrageous. You can write lines for him that are almost undeliverable in their naughtiness, but they also completely work. You almost imagine that if, if Joe Orton had been looking after Torchwood in the 1960s, you would have had a character like Norton Folgate in it, and it would have been absolutely brilliant.
There are some great original characters in the Big Finish Torchwood range. I absolutely love Paul Clayton's performance as Mr Colchester. Are you planning more stories with him at some point the future?
Yes! We love all of the new actors, but there's there's a real joy to Paul's deep rumble. This is a man who always arrives at the studio as though he's just had a really disappointing cup of coffee and he brings that energy to his performance. And there's there's a joy to Paul's rumbling. He's a nice counterpoint to Captain Jack. You have these two people who work for the same company and you'd expected them to have something in common. But they just don't!
Final question. As a big fan of both Doctor Who and Torchwood, what is your favourite?
Argh! Why would you ask that question?
I guess that's my answer!
A huge thanks to James Goss for taking the time to chat to The Digital Fix about all things Torchwood at Big Finish.
You can check out al our reviews of the Big Finish Torchwood range here.