Tony Fyler talked to Full Circle and Big Finish audio writer Andrew Smith about his work.
Hi Andrew. So what does it feel like to be a teenager and hear back from the BBC that yes, they’d like to make your Doctor Who story?
I remember the moment – well, there were two moments, actually. Chris [Bidmead, Who Script Editor] told me on the phone I lived too far away to pop into the office to discuss my work. So when I walked into his office, and he said he’d like to commission the first episode and see how it went, fireworks went off in my head. Then, when they commissioned the rest of Full Circle, I did some jumping around. The thing is, my age wasn’t a factor, I just knew I wanted to write. Don’t think I’d have felt different if I’d been 21, or 24 or 32. I just wanted to write.
And then you joined the police force…
Well, yes – I’d been a professional writer for about four years and it felt a bit solitary. I’d always had a contract, but I did worry about the long-term security of it. I didn’t have a lot of life experience and I wondered what I had in the storytelling bank. But it was never a negative decision to stop writing, it was a very positive decision to join the police. I’d wanted to do that since I saw the careers education film in school, and it was a very positive thing for me. I always intended to go back to writing when I retired, but as it happened Big Finish approached me in 2009, and I’ve never looked back.
Were you a fan of Big Finish before they approached you then?
Oh yeah – I was a fan from 1999. I was driving up and down motorways, listening to audiobooks, and I went into a service station and there were these full-cast new Doctor Who stories with Peter Davison. I remember Winter for the Adept and… was it Whispers of the Dead? (Either Land of the Dead or Whispers of Terror, probably – Ed). These were on tape, back in the day. I kept listening from then on.
Tell us about The First Sontarans. That’s listed as a Lost Story – how far did it get before it was ‘Lost’?
Eric Saward asked me to write a story with the Marie Celeste, and the Sontarans. I wrote a storyline and a scene breakdown, but that was as far as it went. There was no particular feedback, but then it turned out Robert Holmes was writing The Two Doctors, so there you go.
When Big Finish asked about it, I dug out the work I’d done, and I hadn’t looked at it for 25 years or more. I remembered the cockfight and the cliffhanger from Episode 1, but honestly I couldn’t remember for the life of me why it was called The First Sontarans or why it was set in 1872 – that was the year of the Marie Celeste of course, but in the end, the Orbiter takes the place of the ship. I read the bit where Barclay has a run in with the Rutan and thought ‘Oh, that’s quite good,’ reading it as a reader. I changed one main character from male to female, because that’s one thing I’m really keen to do, to write more strong female parts. In fact that’s one thing I’d change about Full Circle, I’d get more female characters in it – which happily I was able to do with Mistfall.
Talking about Mistfall - you did Full Circle, and then The Invasion of E-Space, and now Mistfall – does E-Space feel like your personal property? Is it a storytelling device that particularly appeals to you, or is it just something people asking you to do?
No, I don’t feel proprietorial about E-Space – it wasn’t my idea in the first place. People ask me that about Adric too, but no, I was just told to write it. I’ve got no particular pull to E-Space, people just keep asking me to do it.
Vengeance of the Stones, the Third Doctor story for the 50th anniversary, was an interesting one dealing with stone circles in Scotland. What inspired the story there?
I really enjoyed writing that one, and I put an awful lot into it. It’s set in an area where I’ve been holidaying since I was a boy, and in fact, I actually wrote some of it inside a couple of the stone circles mentioned in the story. Just me and my iPad, sitting in the circles. The thing about the stone circles is no-one knows what they’re for, so I used that. As with The First Sontarans, I was going to make a lead character female, but Richard Franklin had recently done The Rings of Ikiria, so when I did a Mike Yates story, I made the other lead character male so as not to be doing the same thing.
You’re clocking up an impressive number of Doctors – you’ve written for 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Are you aiming to collect the full set? You kickstarted the Early Adventures stories for Big Finish – any Second Doctor stories in your future?
I would LOVE to write for Second Doctor, he was my Doctor. Yeti in the Underground! The first story I can actually point at and say I remember is The Web of Fear, so I was delighted when that was released. Let’s just say I have a couple of other Doctors coming up.
The Brood of Erys was a particularly creepy story, which could be said to share a few thematic strands with The First Sontarans. Do you consider you have themes in your work, and if so what would they be?
That was the one I was most nervous about, but when I heard it, it was the one I enjoyed most. The idea of an adversary that was completely nasty and horrible but who you have some sympathy for towards the end. I wasn’t sure I could really deliver that. It had to be done really quickly, I remember. I did a scene breakdown and wrote one episode in a day. The Brood of Erys is actually another one that’s based on a story idea from the 80s.
In terms of themes, I have caught myself writing things and thinking ‘Oh, this is like something I’ve written before,’ so then you steer in a different direction. But family’s very important to me, and that comes up in different forms. It’s a very honest, visceral way into stories, because sometimes you write invasion stories and people go ‘So what?’ But if something’s coming for your family, they immediately get the reaction – what would I do? It becomes a personal and a moral dilemma. I tried to bring that into my episode of Survivors.
We were going to ask you about Survivors – it was by far one of the most popular releases from Big Finish in 2014. Did you remember it from the TV, or did you come to it fresh?
Yes, I remembered it from broadcast in the 70s – in fact, I think I’m right in saying I was the only one of the four of us who did see it when it was broadcast. It was just such compelling television because again, it’s that question – what would I do? Would I be a survivor? What would I be able to do? I was so glad to be asked to do it, and it’s one of the things I’m proudest of.
Your episode, Judges, was the tipping point from the initial catastrophe to how society survives and begins to rebuild itself, wasn’t it?
Yes – the other two guys had set up the catastrophe of the disease brilliantly. So in mine I got to play with Greg and Jenny and Abby too. I always think that’s the point where police work and writing intersect – in the interest in people. That whole ‘What Is Theft?’ conversation is one I’ve actually had with non-police officers – people think questions like that are simple, but they’re really not, and especially not in a world like that of Survivors.
Domain of the Voord kicked off the new Early Adventures stories from Big Finish. That must have been a hell of a pitch.
Nono, that was David Richardson’s idea – nothing I’ve written for Big Finish has been my pitch. David is such an ideas man though. He just said it’s going to be longer, with a slightly bigger cast than the Companion Chronicles, it’s going to be William Russell and Carole Ann Ford and we’d like the Voord, please. I just said abso-bloomin’-lutely!
Was it difficult, when writing Mistfall, to come back to scenarios you created so many years ago?
Not really, no – I’d written a couple of bits and pieces that gave me ideas for what more there might be to say, so when the call came, I don’t think it was any more difficult than writing anything else.
So - what should Smith fans look out for from you in the near future?
I’ve got a Liberator Chronicle coming soon – Escape From Destiny, which ties into the on screen episode Mission To Destiny. And I’m writing two episodes of UNIT: Extinction, which I’m really excited about. I’d love to do more prose too. I’ve got something – a lovely thing – coming up in a few months, which is a little quirky.
What about a return to TV?
I’m putting some ideas together, along with some other audio ideas, yes. It’s very early days yet, and I’d have to submit them to the appropriate people of course. But who knows, eh? Might be possible.
Andrew Smith, thank you.
With thanks to Amy for the picture of Andrew Smith.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk