Interview - Cav Scott and Mark Wright Part Two
In Part One we talked to Cav and Mark about their upcoming Companion Chronicle, The Prisoner of Peladon. In this second and concluding part they take a look back over the whole course of their Big Finish writing career. Do be warned, this article contains spoilers for many past Big Finish plays, especially those with the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex, so if you haven't heard them, beware!
RD: You’ve been working for Big Finish for nearly ten years now?
Cav: Yeah, the Benny short story we did was 2000 so next year will be ten years.
Mark: That was our first published piece of work we did, but this year does mark our tenth anniversary of working together.
Cav: I’m getting emotional even thinking about it.
RD: Your first stab at writing Doctor Who was a victim of bad timing though...
Cav: Yeah, we sent Justin Richards (editor at the time of the BBC's Who novels) a storyline for something called The Fires of Darkness which would have been set in Pompeii. If you visit Pompeii today, you can see these really eerie plaster casts of some of the victims of Vesuvius. As the debris from the volcano cooled around the bodies, the hard ash formed a hollow mould of their form. Archaeologists poured plaster into these hollows in the ground making casts of the fallen. The idea struck us that what if one of these casts was the shape of the TARDIS? So we put this story through at exactly the same time as Steve Lyons was sending in The Fires of Vulcan to Big Finish.
Mark: .. which had exactly the same device with the TARDIS.
Cav: But because obviously the Doctor can’t be in Pompeii twice (ahem) our storyline was rejected. However, we weren't going to let that stop us so we decided to pitch something to Gary Russell at Big Finish instead. This was really in the early days, and at the launch party for the first story I said to Gary wouldn't it be great to do Doctor Who meets Blade with a little bit of Buffy thrown in as well. And he said “Okay, you’re about one of twelve people who’ve said that to me this week.” So he got loads of us to pitch individual vampire stories.
Mark: And... ours was turned down. But a few months later, I was round at Gary’s house for a cup of tea and he said “Hmm. I think we should do your vampire thing.” Just like that. So that was a real surprise, but a very pleasant one, and that began the long association with Big Finish.
RD: Writing Project: Twilight was a bit of a baptism of fire, though, wasn't it?
Cav: What happened was originally both of us lived in Bath, but in the middle of planning it Mark had the chance to move to London at the other end of the M4. So we not only had to suddenly figure out how to write with each other and how to write an audio drama which we'd never done before and would have been difficult enough on its own but we added the M4 into the equation. In the days of dial-up modems. So we had to learn how to write long distance, phoning each other up and it was quite a strange way of working.
Mark: Then we handed the first episode into Gary because we wanted some feedback and he thought it was dreadful.
Cav: There’s a famous quote.
Mark: He said, “Seriously guys, I think you can do better than this. This reads like twelve-year-old fan fiction.”
RD: Not really what you want to hear.
Cav: To be fair to Gary though... it was.
Mark: So yeah, he pushed us, but kept with us and the script came together. We owe a great deal to him for giving us that first push, because by that time he’d been doing it for a while and knew exactly what was a good script and what was a bad script.
Cav: And I think what people forget about Gary was that in the early days of Big Finish he did everything. He commissioned the stories, he directed a lot of them, he pushed people and scripts back and forth. He made Big Finish a success as much as any of the other writers and actors because he held it all together. And he did take a chance on us numpties who had never written a script in our lives. He let us write the words “Doctor” and “TARDIS” and actually get it said by proper actors who were in the show. The thing I still remember to this day is me and Mark sitting in the studio hearing Colin saying our lines for the first time.
Mark: That moment where he says “I am known as the Doctor!” he’s saying that because we made him say it. And that’s a big thrill. Cav’s a big Sixth Doctor fan, I am too but Peter Davison’s my favourite Doctor so doing The Church and the Crown was an even bigger thrill for me. You do try and get through that fanboy moment, say “No, I am a professional writer,” but you so think “It’s Peter Davison!”
Cav: When I walked into studio for the first day of Project: Twilight, Colin stood up, came over to me, offered me his hand and said “Hello I’m Colin Baker.” I felt like saying "Yeah, I know who you are. I'm the one who queued up outside the stage door after The Ultimate Adventure to get your autograph". Then it dawns on you; you're there as a writer and you've given him words and a story to perform. Even now, nearly a decade on I stop every now and then and remind myself that these amazing people that we work with were our heroes when we were kids. It's a real privilege."
RD: And even now Project: Twilight still has a really good reputation among fans.
Mark: Yeah I think so, which is really nice. Project: Lazarus not so much. It’s nice that people like what you do though, and even though it’s eight years since it was released you'll still get on the forums people saying “Project: Twilight, that’s really good” and that’s incredible that people are still talking about what you’ve done.
Cav: And it’s rewarding too that it’s become part of the wider Big Finish mythology. We set out to write one play – we were a bit cheeky at the end putting in that cliffhanger, basically so we could try and get some more work, but we had no idea that the Forge and the characters of Cassie and her son Tommy (who eventually became the Seventh Doctor’s companion Hex) would have such an ongoing effect. There’s still a character running around with the Doctor who has a direct link to that one little play, and that’s fantastic.
Mark: And in Project: Lazarus suggesting Evelyn’s heart condition which was taken up in other stories, it’s just nice to become part of the mythos. And at some point in the future that whole thing might be gone back to...
RD: Well you do seem to suggest a third one was on the cards in Project: Lazarus’ booklet, but that was seven years ago...
Mark: Yes... There has been a novel in between (Project: Valhalla) which fills in Cassie and Nimrod’s story between the two plays. I can’t remember, when we wrote that, did we know that Hex was Tommy?
Cav: Yes, we did. We had to give Cassie her surname.
Mark: Oh, that’s right.
Cav: And yeah, it has been a long time... and it may still be a long time before the Forge returns. But the nice thing about it is that it hasn’t gone away. When you get to the end of something like No Man’s Land and it’s the Forge, and in 45 in Mark Michalowski’s story...
RD: And in Cryptobiosis...
Cav: And Zagreus.
Mark: And The Gathering.
RD: Do you feel parental towards Hex?
Cav: In a really weird way - obviously, we’ve never written for him - but every time his past is mentioned. And there’s that wonderful scene where the Seventh Doctor goes to visit Evelyn in Thicker Than Water, that was beautiful for us because again it tied it all back and we also have a real fondness for Maggie, she’s the first companion we ever wrote for.
Mark: Yeah, she’s just brilliant.
RD: And Nimrod is definitely one of Big Finish’s most memorable characters.
Cav: That has a lot to do with Stephen Chance’s voice. The thing about him is he doesn’t look a bit like you would expect someone who plays Nimrod with that voice to look. He’s very quietly spoken.
Mark: The first day of Project: Twilight’s recording he comes in and says (adopts a distinctly un-Nimrod-like tone) “Oh hello, I’m Steven Chance and I’m playing Nimrod” and I was like, “No, you can’t be with a voice like that!” but he then goes into the studio and suddenly he’s like (Nimrod voice) “Doctor!” It’s very hard to render Colin Baker speechless but Stephen managed it. He brought this voice out of nowhere. When we were recording Project: Lazarus he was halfway through this big villains’s speech when he went “Oh Doctor.... (non-Nimrod mode) Oh I totally lost it!” He’s just brilliant and I think a lot of Nimrod’s memorable nature is because of him, he just brings it alive in a way we could never have expected. And now people keep asking “Oh, is Nimrod coming back? Is the Eighth Doctor going up against the Forge?” But we can't answer that just now.
RD: Tut! And in between the two Forge plays was The Church and the Crown.
Cav: Yeah, in some ways we’re more proud of that than the Forge stuff. We loved writing it, we loved working with that cast.
Mark: And it seems to get lost. It’s my favourite of the three as well, I think it’s the thing of the stuff we’ve written of which I’m proudest. It’s like the Richard Lester movies with the little characters and one-liners, and Blind Maurice was a direct crib from those movies, with all those characters going “Alms for a leper, sir?” It’s the one I go back to, when I’m in an egotistical mood and want to hear something I’ve written!
Cav: And it was Mark’s passion.
RD: Originally you were going to write a very different play, Master?
Cav: Yeah. We were set to write that, the commitment was there, we were talking plot, and then Mark hijacked the situation.
Mark: I sent Gary an email one afternoon, “Do you want to do Doctor Who and the Three Musketeers?” and usually he takes ages to reply to emails, but this one came straight back: “Oh yes.” And then I was talking to him, and he said “Nekromanteia, which was going to be the next Erimem story, has been delayed,” and as I’d got to know Caroline (Morris, who plays her) through acting in her first story Eye of the Scorpion, he asked did we want to fill the gap with the musketeer story? And it was Davison, it was musketeers, and it was a chance to do something with Erimem and develop her character.
Cav: I didn’t know anything about this, and I get a phone call from Mark. “Good news! Gary wants us to write another audio!” And I was like “Brilliant! That’s great.” “It’s the musketeer story!” “Brilliant!” “The bad news is we can’t do the Master story.” So I said, “Oh go on then.” The thing is, if I’d said to Mark, “We’re not going to write the musketeers” I don’t think we’d be writing any more. He’d have divorced me.
Mark: But then, when we were still writing it, we went to lunch with Gary because the script was late and he said “Right, we’re not going to talk about anything else you’re going to do for Big Finish until we’ve sorted this out,” and I just said, “Yeah, Gary, can we do a Forge story with two Doctors in it?” The original idea was to do a four-part story with Colin and then follow it up six or twelve months later with a four parter with Sylvester, and at that point we were pitching an Eighth Doctor follow-up, but it was anniversary year so Gary said “Jason (Haigh-Ellery, BF's Managing Director) might stump up the budget for the two Doctors in the one story.” So we just completely blind-sided him by throwing that at him, and he just said “I hate you two, I wasn’t going to do anything else with you two until you’ve finished this one...”
Cav: I don’t think at that point it was even called The Church and the Crown at that point, we were that far behind.
Mark: It was The Swashbucklers at one point, The Fourth Musketeer, The Musketeers, The Unity of France I think Gary suggested at one point. The Swashbucklers was a great title but Doctor Who and the Pirates was due out at the same time and he didn’t want them to be that similar. But yeah, we did those two in a very short space of time, I think it was less than a year before Lazarus came out and then that’s been it. 2003 was our last main range audio.
RD: But you have been doing other stuff for Big Finish in that time.
RD: But sadly not The Tomorrow People which you were due to take over as producers?
Mark: No, for various reasons of business, and through no fault of Big Finish’s or anybody’s really, it was cancelled before we did. It was a real shame. We had six stories planned out, we had some lovely writers on board and it was all really, really exciting.
Cav: And the commissions were about to leave the building.
Mark: Yeah, we just needed the final word from Jason, and then we got the call to say “Sorry guys, it’s not going to happen.” And there are three stories in the can from Nigel Fairs’ last run which have never been released, although not our play War of the Slarvians. It was at the script meeting for that last season where we threw our hat into the ring to produce it as we’d always wanted to do something more than just writing for Big Finish. We talked to Jason about it, and he liked our ideas and that went from there. And yeah, it still galls me. Mark Gatiss was going to be our first guest villain, and we had a twelve story arc all planned out. The season finale was going to bring back an old Tomorrow People villain from the series...
RD: Can you say who?
Mark: I think we can now. The last story was going to be called The Scream of Sogguth which was a sequel to the TV episode The Heart of Sogguth which is ... something to behold. And Paul Magrs came to us with a stunningly good idea for another story...
Cav: Which may still see the light of day. And Joe Lidster’s idea was phenomenal. There was just so much good stuff there. But I’ve always felt more sorry for Nigel, because he had a season half recorded, and it was the end of his masterplan.
Mark: He was so invested in it.
Cav: And it was all going to tie up into a wonderful moment that would round off so many story arcs so we could start anew.
Mark: Though he did give us some really difficult ones to take along with us as well. He was a bugger actually! But yeah it was a real shame. However, from losing The Tomorrow People we got Iris Wildthyme, and we script-edited the Highlander CDs. And we were both going to be involved in the Robin Hood audios as Script Editors, but Cav had commitments so I did those so I did those with the brilliant Sharon Gosling acting as producer, and I made my directorial debut on one of those.
RD: I’ve heard the Robin Hoods, they’re very good.
Mark: Yeah, they’re six CDs I’m incredibly proud of, I think the stories are good and I worked with some fantastic actors on it. Making your directorial debut by telling Richard Armitage what to do, I was terrified, but he was brilliant and he said “I wish we’d done these kind of stories on TV.” But because the series is gone we won’t be doing any more - with it cancelled there’s just no merit in doing them – but hopefully in the absence of Robin Hood on TV people will come along and buy them.
RD: And then there’s Iris.
Mark: Yes. Jason said to us “I want to do more Iris Wildthyme, the first season went down well enough for me to want to do more, are you interested?” And we’d always liked the books, and we’d been talking to Paul (Magrs, Iris’ creator) a little bit for The Tomorrow People so it just seemed quite a natural thing to go onto and carry that relationship on with him. And we’ve got into a very rich creative relationship with Paul, he’s been incredibly supportive.
RD: So he was actively involved in the series?
Mark: He was, yeah. He wrote the second one of the five we’ve done so far and we give him final say, so if he doesn’t like something in a script we won’t do it. And working with Katy (Manning, who plays Iris) and David Benson who plays Panda is just a delight, they’ve become very close since we’ve doing them, and we brought Gary back to direct them. Because he gave us that first break it seemed fair, and they were one of the first things he’s directed for BF since he left, so there was a really nice family feel to them.
RD: And the stories themselves are all pastiches of Doctor Who
Cav: The thing about Iris is the character wasn’t originally from Doctor Who at all but Paul’s independent novels, and while she exists alongside the Doctor you never really know what her history is and it changes depending on what she’s talking about. And she’s already appeared alongside the Doctor in the main range (in Excelis Dawns and The Wormery, so we wanted to let her have her own adventures and not tie her into the Doctor’s world so much, but at the same time she gives you a great chance to poke a very affectionate finger at Doctor Who, and point out some of its foibles, some of the things we love about it, while also developing into her own multiverse and moving the character along. One of the conversations we had with Paul was considering whether we were going to continue doing what had been done in the first couple of audios, or whether we could do something different and this idea was just thrown out there. We were doing four CDs, there were four eras you could easily fit them into, and they each have their own feeling and own atmosphere and it was a good chance to celebrate them as well as do something new.
RD: Is The Claws of Santa (the upcoming Christmas special) also a pastiche?
Mark: No, less so
Cav: All we’ll say is that we did the four decades, and it might be slightly coincidental that the fifth release is a Christmas special, and there might be some things that you could pick on as being a pastiche of a series that might exist, but not as overtly as the first four. It’s bridging the gap for anything that Iris might do in the future and sets up the fact that she is her own woman.
Mark: It’s big on the tinsel. We really went to town on making it Christmassy. It’s what Russell T Davis says about the Doctor Who Christmas Specials, they have to be Christmassy. Not like the Only Fools and Horses special when they go to Amsterdam and you're asking "Where’s the Christmas?" You want to turn the tinsel up to ten and Iris is a character who’s perfect for Christmas because she likes a drink. We’ve also had to resolve the cliffhanger from the end of Season Two where Iris is looking for Panda. Panda is lost in time and space –
Cav: For people who don’t know, Panda is her companion who happens to be a sentient soft toy, because this is Iris’s world and it’s all a bit mad, and he was lost at the end of the second series in time and space. So we have an Iris at the beginning who is very blue at Christmas.
Mark: I think if we do more we’ll move the character further away from Doctor Who and there’ll be no more pastiche, though. We’re also doing the box set which is a first for BF, we were kind of the “box set experiment.” We came out with the four CDs but really it was how well the box set did that we wanted to see. And it’s done decent business, and it just looks lovely. Anthony Dry who does our packaging is a genius – some of the success of what we’ve done with that second season is down to Anthony in that he gave it such a spankingly nice look. I’ve been at conventions where people have picked up the box and gone “That looks nice,” and bought it. It’s been good on all fronts doing it.
RD: And when will you know when you have a third season?
A long loaded pause, and laughter.
Mark: That’s another thing we can't divulge...
Cav: We’ll have to see how things go. So children out there, if you love your Auntie Iris, go and buy the Christmas Special, and you never know who might be coming back in a big red bus.
RD: Of all your audios, what’s the nicest reaction you’ve ever had from someone about them?
Cav: Um... we have had people who have been nice about us, haven’t we, Mark?
Mark: Someone said about the Irises that he was in hospital the week he got them and they really bucked him up. He said “I was lying there in the hospital bed with my walkman and earphones giggling and laughing, even though I didn’t want to because I’d just had an operation and was hurting.” It’s nice to hear you’ve cheered somebody up with something you’ve put out there.
Cav: And do you remember Mark, after we did Twilight and were doing Lazarus people were writing to us and drawing pictures of Nimrod. I loved that! What I love about Doctor Who fans and the entire industry which has grown up around the show, and the reason that the series is now being written by fans, is that we are an incredibly creative bunch and we’ll always have a go. We go out there, we draw, we write, there’s fanzines, that’s a brilliant part of Doctor Who. We started getting drawings, there was one which was a cross between Peter Cushing and a Cyberman, and it was just all these wonderful things. And it’s amazing, this little thing we’ve written, people are getting a pen and paper out and drawing your characters and sending them to us, and that’s amazing. And seeing fan fiction with Nimrod in it, stuff like that, it’s great getting people to be creative.
RD: And what about any complaints or mad reactions?
Cav: We moved Gallifrey! In Project: Twilight there’s this joke that the Doctor makes, when someone says to him “You must think Gallifrey’s at the centre of the universe?” and he says “Well actually it is.” And I can’t remember where it is, but there’s a reference somewhere that says Gallifrey’s distance from the galactic centre and we got a very long email about that, saying “Actually, I think you’ll find...” that was very angry.
Mark: And some people didn’t like the Doctor chowing down on Peking Duck, because of that line at the end of The Two Doctors which I’ve never taken seriously. It was just a throwaway bit of bonhomie from Robert Holmes.
Cav: And a lot of the mad stuff was even before it came out. Before Project: Twilight was released there was all this nonsense about what was going to be in it – Omega was going to be in it and revealed to be a vampire, and we were going to kill Evelyn, or she was going to become a vampire. Everyone was going to become a vampire, the TARDIS was going to be a vampire, and there was this entire thing about it being about the Vampire War with the Time Lords. And there’s us, sitting there writing our first script going “Oh my lord!” But whoever it was who wrote to us to complain we moved Gallifrey: We’re really sorry. We thought we were making a joke.
RD: You still feel guilty about it after all these years.
Cav: I don’t sleep at night...
Mark: ... and you wake up screaming don’t you?
RD: Looking to the future, are there are Doctors or old companions you haven’t done yet that you think “We really fancy having a go at writing for them?”
Cav: What’s the new companion called?
Cav: I’d quite like to write for Amy. Steven, you reading this?
Mark: I’d love to do a Hartnell Companion Chronicle with Ian, because he’s one of the originals, or Vicki because Maureen O’Brien just has a lovely reading manner.
Cav: For me, you’d have to find a way of doing it for obvious reasons, but Harry Sullivan would be great. He’s so much part of my early love of Doctor Who and I just really love the character. He’s woefully under-used in a lot of the past Doctor stuff.
Mark: Maybe a Sarah Jane Companion Chronicle featuring him. And a McGann, actually.
RD: With the Forge?
Cav: We’ll have to see.
Mark: Yeah, I’d love to have a crack at him. But we’ve got so many other little bits and pieces ticking along that we’re happy.
RD: With The Claws of Santa and also...?
Cav: There’s not a lot else we can really talk about at the moment.
Mark: But there are other things coming up to be announced, most definitely. But we also have things away from the Doctor Who world that we want to work on, both as a partnership and separately. We’ve got an idea for a children’s book series that we’ve been talking about for years. We’re at a point where we really want to start doing that kind of stuff, seeing if we can push it out there to agents, that isn’t promised to anybody, isn’t commissioned or has a deadline, that we can use as a calling card. We’re always talking about ideas. Beyond that, we’ve got a couple of exciting projects bubbling along which will be announced in due course.
RD: Excellent, we’ll look forward to them. Mark, Cav, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you so much for talking to us.
Mark: Thank you!
Huge thanks to Mark and Cav for taking the time to do this interview. All the titles above can be bought at Big Finish's website.