Interview - Cav Scott and Mark Wright
The writing duo of Cav Scott and Mark Wright are amongst Big Finish's most prolific authors, having penned numerous audios and short stories since their first Doctor Who audio Project: Twilight in 2001. In the first of a two-part interview, the pair were kind enough to sit down with James and talk about their first Companion Chronicle. The Prisoner of Peladon sees David Troughton reprise the role of King Peladon, which he last played in 1972's The Curse of Peladon and has just been released. Be warned, there are some minor spoilers ahead...
RD: First of all, thank you very much for talking to Relative Dimensions, you’re our very first interviewees.
Mark: We’re very honoured.
RD: So, not only is The Prisoner of Peladon your first Companion Chronicle but your first Who audio at all since 2003's Project: Lazarus. What brought you back?
Mark: We asked David Richardson (producer of the CCs) if we could do one and he emailed us back and said “We’ve been working with David Troughton, do you want to do a Peladon sequel?” and really, how can you turn that down? Not only is it Peladon, a fondly remembered part of Doctor Who history, but also getting the chance to have David Troughton, a member of the RSC, a very well respected actor, reading your words -it was really hard to say no to that and say, “No, we want to create our own story with our own characters!” It was a really nice thing to be asked to do.
Cav: And also you’re talking about the Ice Warriors, one of the greats of Doctor Who monsters, and it’s our first chance of doing an old monster. Everything we’ve done before has been our own creation, so to suddenly get the chance to work for one of the biggies was too good an opportunity. And of course, when you’re dealing with Peladon, you’re dealing with all the other myriad of creations, all the aliens that make up the crazy world that is Peladon, including obviously Alpha Centauri, and with that I don’t think we could say no.
RD: I don’t think you could have a Peladon story without Alpha Centauri.
Mark: No, I think it’s in the rules. Alpha Centauri and Ice Warriors...
Cav: ... and a murder, because in Peladon it’s not too long before someone falls over dead in the middle of intrigue and politics. Sometimes people talk about the "Big Finish shopping list" but with a Peladon story the shopping list is already there. The question is, do you do something that is completely original and move it in a different direction, or do you do something which follows a formula that works and people have loved for years, and we’ve tried to do a little bit of both. At the end of the day, we were revisiting a place that we personally love.
Mark: Yeah, we set out from the beginning to do a story which is incredibly traditional, that ticked all those Peladon boxes.
RD: While also filling in the gap between Curse and Monster.
Cav: And again, how could you resist that? As writers it’s a great thing to do to follow up a classic Doctor Who story, and as fans it’s such a thrill to be able to revisit the two and pick up those little elements that go from one to the other. Hopefully, if you’ve never watched them, you won’t be confused, but if you have watched them and know them, you can pick up little things and go “Oh right...”
RD: Like what happens to Grun.
Mark (laughs): Yeah. And having those little references to Jo Grant in there, the Doctor’s almost revisiting places he went to with his ex.
RD: When you’re filling in a gap like that, is there anything you’re not allowed to do?
Mark: The only things in terms of content is that these days graphic things are frowned upon.
Cav: Which was a real difference to when we started out nearly ten years ago. We did stuff before the series came back where we pushed things a little bit further than would be allowed these days. When BF first started out it was largely aimed at the fans who were at a certain kind of age now who had grown up with Doctor Who and now wanted Doctor Who to grow up with them. The chance now is that a kid will walk into Forbidden Planet and pick one of these audios up, and if it was overtly graphic that would be wrong these days.
RD: You can’t have someone exploding into Evelyn's handbag any more (which happened in Project: Twilight).
Mark: No, we certainly wouldn’t get away with something like Project: Twilight in the current climate.
Cav: Or if we did it would be very different.
Mark: So there were a couple of things in the original synopsis for Prisoner we had to change, and even on the studio day we were discussing elements of the cliffhanger, which we can’t give away. But that’s the only thing in terms of the fiction. As long as you’re true to what Brian Hayles originally wrote. We embraced a lot of what he did as well as taking elements from the novel like Alpha Centauri flushing shades of different colours, and as long as follow those things you can forward in your own direction.
Cav: And that’s one thing about The Companion Chronicles. More than the Big Finish main range, they’re love letters to their eras. Yes you want to experiment, yes you want to push in new directions, but ultimately people are really buying into the nostalgia of them, especially when you’re doing something like this. And with having the chance to hear David Troughton as King Peladon again, you don’t want him to be completely out of character. You almost want to feel like this could have been made in the 1970s, but without it just being a complete pastiche.
RD: And in terms of actually writing it, how do you approach a CC that’s different to doing a full cast audio?
Cav: You get the chance to really get into one character’s head. You’re writing what is really a short story from one character’s point of view, you’re not jumping back and forth between the other characters.
Mark: It’s a half way house between that and fully dramatising it, because we have Nick Briggs playing three separate Ice Warriors, so you have some prose but some scenes which are two-handers. When you’re with a full cast, you want to be faster with the dialogue, descriptions come from sound effects, but a lot of the description in Prisoner comes from within the prose. The CCs are slower in pace but more detailed in what’s being said.
Cav: And actually, a lot of traditional radio dramas are largely narrated – there are moments where you step out of the drama and one of the characters narrates – so this is following in that tradition as well. And at the same time as the CCs we’re seeing talking books of the Target novels and a massive explosion of other audio books as a medium in their own right, and these are a great way of taking that, giving it a little bit of a twist in having more than one voice, and keeping it alive.
RD: It’s also a little unusual in that it’s one of the first CCs (along with The Mahogany Murderers) which isn’t actually told by a companion.
Mark: Yeah. People might overlook Prisoner because of that, but I think David Richardson is doing some great things with the range, taking these slight risks by going outside the beaten track of the companions. And it’s David Troughton! I was there on the studio day and just having a great actor in there was fantastic.
Cav: And one of the things the CCs as a range do is they talk about the effects the Doctor has on people. A lot of them are told by the Doctor’s companions looking back on their lives, talking about how the experience of the Doctor has moulded them and what we’re doing with this one, and was also the case with The Mahogany Murderers, is that while these people didn’t travel with the Doctor he came into their lives and had a massive effect on them and it’s given us a chance to look how that’s changed them, how they react to him. One of the things we were trying to do with Prisoner is show how King Peladon isn’t the same man as he was, he’s a stronger ruler now, he’s trying to take his planet and people forward into the universe and that’s largely because of the Doctor.
RD: He is much bolder - at one point he's absolutely furious with the Doctor.
Mark: He talks at the beginning about “Learned people who thought they knew better than the ruler of a primitive planet of backward miners.” He’s still pushing forward to try and be taken seriously. And then the Doctor comes and doesn’t maybe treat him as seriously as he should do. At the end he (Peladon) absolutely goes for him. And there’s a slight sadness that they’ve got to that point. The Doctor has been a smart arse basically, but I think it’s also that he wanted to protect Peladon.
Cav: And it’s that idea again that these people have an on-going life that the Doctor nips in and out of. He’s a traveller, he doesn’t hang around to see what the consequences are. This is something we’ve tried to do with other things we’ve written, we’re always really interested in seeing when the TARDIS leaves what happens to those people. And that’s something we wanted to do here. Because of the Doctor’s influence, Peladon has become a certain man now who has been taught to stand up for what he believes and unfortunately for the Doctor in this case it’s the Time Lord he’s standing up against.
RD: And the Doctor's at a difficult point in this life, having only just lost Jo.
Mark: At one point very early on in the planning stages the Doctor was going to arrive with a companion, but it was going to be someone totally unexpected. Because it’s between The Green Death and The Time Warrior we had this idea that he was travelling with Sergeant Osgood. It could have been quite interesting – the Doctor was basically just going to have grabbed him at UNIT HQ because he’s so desperate for company and somebody to travel with for a little bit. And Osgood was going to absolutely hate it – his whole thing throughout it was going to be “Take me home!” But we couldn’t find a way to make it work and justify Osgood being there dramatically. It would have just swamped the story and taken a lot away from King Peladon. David was very disappointed when we told him we couldn’t fit Osgood in, he said he was really looking forward to it.
RD: You can still see that in this version, the Doctor seems very vulnerable and sad.
Cav: Exactly. It’s taken from that last minute of The Green Death, where he’s alone in Bessie and as he drives off he looks back and sighs. That’s the Doctor we wanted to look at because you don’t see that very often with the Third Doctor. Usually he is all bravado and arrogance and he’s got the Brigadier and is surrounded by people – for a man who didn’t want to be there he’s got a lot of friends. I can imagine a lot of the other Doctors travelling on their own, but I can’t actually imagine the Third Doctor doing so, because he was surrounded by family, he was exiled but he had a home.
Mark: And he kept going back to that home.
Cav: Yeah, when he had a chance to leave he kept going back. It’s only when he becomes the Fourth Doctor that he decided to cut the apron strings and head off back into the universe, so that’s something we very rarely see with the Third Doctor and we thought that was a really interesting thing to explore.
RD: What did you think of David Troughton’s impersonation of Jon?
Mark: I think his Doctor is very subtle. What he’s doing with Peladon and what he does with the Doctor are quite close to each other, but it’s definitely there, and he does get that twinkle the Doctor has, that little smile just quivering at the corner of his mouth, in that knowing way the Doctor had. And I think he gets the mannerisms fantastically, all the “My dear chaps” and that. He said in studio, “I’ve done my Dad (in his audio reading of The Abominable Snowmen) and I’ve done David Tennant (in Ghosts of India) and now I’m doing Jon Pertwee.” He’s going through the Doctors, ticking them off.
RD: And it's directed by Peri herself, Nicola Bryant...
Cav: She had really done her homework, she was pulling us up on stuff. Let’s face it, we’re Doctor Who fans, we’ve watched these programs thousands of times. Nicola hasn’t, but she’d really gone back to them, and she was coming up with ideas that we hadn’t thought of, especially Alpha Centauri flushing different colours. She really wanted to get to the bottom of that, what colours it flushed for what emotion.
Mark: In researching it she’d watched Curse of Peladon, Monster of Peladon, she’s in Bride of Peladon, she listened to the talking book edition of Curse that Jon Pertwee did years ago and she watched The Seeds of Death too. We had this discussion in studio about the nature of the atmosphere on Mars and why Ice Warriors breathe the way they do outside of that atmosphere. Nicola was reeling of facts established in The Seeds of Death, and basically ran rings round the lot of us on the day. It was brilliant!"
Cav: The thing about Nicola is when she throws herself into something she really does. It’s the same when she’s acting as Peri, or she’s doing this kind of work and directing, she takes it so seriously. She knows, because of her history with the program, that us fans will pick up anything so she wants to make sure everything is spot on.
Mark: She was brilliant, it was great to have her directing, and really doing the work justice.
The Prisoner of Peladon is available now and can be ordered directly from Big Finish's website here. For Part Two of this interview, in which the pair look back over the whole course of their writing careers at Big Finish, click here. Many thanks to Mark and Cav for taking the time to do this interview.