Fifteen years ago, we released Doctor Who: The Sirens of Time, starting a tradition of audio storytelling for the worlds of Doctor Who and beyond. Today we celebrate the 2010 return of two old friends of the Doctor's who get their own series, and there's collections of short stories. Read on for offers, a writer's account of writing for Robert Holmes characters, and someone's take on both writing for and acting with Doctors...
Big Finish's Doctor Who at 15 - Offer 12
Professor George Litefoot and showman Henry Gordon Jago have long been regarded as one of Doctor Who's best double-acts. In 2010 Big Finish gave them their own series and a hugely popular range was born. Today the four-volume first series of Jago & Litefoot can be bought for £20 on CD or £15 on Download, and a pre-order price on October's series 8. There's also Doctor Who - The Companion Chronicles: The Mahogany Murderers (£5 on Download or CD) which first saw Big Finish team the friends up again.
Also released in 2010 was the first of the Doctor Who: Short Trips range, audio productions written as short stories and read by known Doctor Who actors. Today all four of the compilation releases are available for £5 each on Download or CD, or as a £15 bundle. The pre-order for next year's Doctor Who: Short Trips Monthly download titles are also available, either individually or as a subscription.
No hurry... But in 24 hours we launch offer 13.
A Few Words About 2010
"There are parallel universes in which Doctor Who spun off various highly popular TV series such as Jago & Litefoot and The UNIT Files. Unfortunately we live in a universe which has K9 and Company and Torchwood instead. It really shouldn’t have taken 32 years (yes, thirty-two years) for the characters of Jago and Litefoot to finally hit the speakers (that’s a new phrase, by the way, meant to be an audio-equivalent to the existing ‘hit the screens’. I’m not sure it will catch on. ‘Hit the earphones’ perhaps?) It’s amazing that the two actors who bought life to the characters are still alive, still acting and still up for the challenge. It’s perhaps less amazing that there is still an audience who want these adventures to exist. When the late, great writer Robert Holmes created the characters in the 1977 Doctor Who story ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ he did the same thing that Arthur Conan Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes – he gave creative birth to something significantly greater than the sum of its parts. When Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin were cast and inhabited those roles all those years ago like men slipping on comfortable pairs of slippers they did the same thing as Basil Rathbone when he played Sherlock Holmes in the 1939 movie The Hound of the Baskervilles and its thirteen sequels – they gave portrayals that get to the essence of the characters and which cannot ever be bettered.
When David Richardson asked me to revive the characters of Jago and Litefoot for a one-off audio drama in 2009 I honestly didn’t realise that he was looking at it as a stalking horse for a potential series. I assumed it was just one more entry in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles, in which the Doctor’s companions step out from his shadow and get to tell their adventures themselves. Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot were never officially companions of the Doctor, but they have associate character status in the minds of the fans given their larger than life characteristics. The slight difference with Jago and Litefoot appearing in The Companion Chronicles was that there was to be no Doctor – the budget only stretched to two actors, and with two companions… well, you do the math. Jago and Litefoot would have to survive on their own.
My first week was spent agonising about how to actually structure the plot. The creative constraint that always exists with The Companion Chronicles is that with two characters it is almost impossible to have the story actually occurring the way it might on TV. If you try, you either end up with the characters narrating their way through, saying things like “Quickly, you run over to that wall while I stay here. Tell me what you see on the other side”, or you have them swapping witty or emotionally intense lines of dialogue while sitting in one place together. In a plot-driven audio drama for a restricted cast you have to find a reason why one character is telling the other one a story which the other one constantly interrupts, or why both characters are telling a third (silent) character a story and continually breaking into each other’s dialogue, or why the two characters are in different places having different adventures but sharing their experiences (easy with radio or mobile phone, less easy in Victorian England). It’s a dramatic artificiality which you have to disguise as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
My solution, for what it’s worth, was to have Jago and Litefoot meeting up after they have both, separately, had connected adventures. They tell each other their stories, attempting as best they can to put it all in chronological order. It was fun to do, but I realised while I was writing it that I did need someone else to interrupt every now and then, to bring the two of them back to the “real” world. I apologetically asked David Richardson if this was possible, and he made the now historic call to ask director Lisa Bowerman to throw in a couple of lines as a barmaid. Ellie Higson has now become a central character in the ongoing Jago & Litefoot chronicles, and I am more than pleased for her (Lisa, not Ellie).
The plot of my script, which was called ‘The Mahogany Murderers’, was based on an idea I’d had a few years before when I was pitching a script for the (never made) third season of Charlie Higson’s Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) reboot. I’d met Charlie while working on two tie-in books for the series (a novel and a “making-of” book) and he’d suggested that I try working up a plot (well, okay, I asked him and he said yes). The one I came up with revolved around some ghosts who escape Limbo and get back to the human world, and end up possessing finely sculpted wooden bodies so that they can interact with people and objects. Both Charlie and the series’ producer liked the idea, but the series was cancelled before I could start work on a script. Because I hate wasting ideas (they’re so hard to come by) I realised that I could modify it reasonably easily for ‘The Mahogany Murderers’.
Other decisions that were made during the writing process included naming the villain (Doctor Tulp) for the 1632 Rembrandt painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and leaving Tulp alive at the end as a rather pathetic signal to David that I wanted to come back and write a sequel. Which of course I did, in ‘The Similarity Engine’ which rounded off season one of the continuing chronicles of Jago & Litefoot.
On a more personal note, I remember that script for ‘The Mahogany Murderers’ was pretty much the first thing I wrote in my new house when I moved to Poole in Dorset. After nine years living in Aldershot and working mainly on journalism and tie-in work, within a few months of moving I was working on two dream projects – Jago & Litefoot and the Young Adult Young Sherlock Holmes series. Yes, you could claim that they are still tie-in projects, but they marked a significant upgrade in my personal happiness with what I was writing, and in my income as well. I’ve never looked back, but I will always go back to Jago and Litefoot if asked. It’s such fun."
Andy Lane, Big Finish writer, creator and author of The Young Sherlock Holmes series
“2010 was the year it all started for me. Okay, technically it's not. If you want to be specific, the first Doctor Who scripts I wrote for Big Finish (Echoes of Grey and Solitaire) were written in 2009, so if you're being pedantic it started then. Well, as long as you don't count my Sapphire and Steel audio, Remember Me, which I wrote at the tail end of 2007. And I suppose you could argue that my connection with Big Finish really began in 2004, when I made my first acting appearance, in Faith Stealer ('wh'ups be praised'). But that's all using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law. It began in 2010. That's when Big Finish stopped being something I mainly experienced as a listener and occasional contributor, and when it actually became part of my life.
It's almost entirely down to Solitaire, I'd say. It started the year for me, recording in January, and was my first official Doctor Who release five months later in June, only a little over four years ago which seems an amazingly short amount of time, looking back. I'd got very lucky with a great brief, a brief that suited me down to the ground - I have over fifty board games, embarrassing as it is to admit - and had found the writing an utterly painless process. The script had gone down well with everyone, and by virtue of Alan Barnes checking over Charley, and Nicholas Briggs directing, it got me noticed by the wider team. I got back to my digs in Oxford, where I was performing in a production of Beauty and the Beast, to find an email asking me to write up Special Features, a one-part idea I'd sent in speculatively exactly one year and a day earlier. And from there, it just snowballed. Before long, David Richardson had asked me to script edit the third series of the Lost Stories, I'd some Jago and Litefoot commissions under my belt, and more Companion Chronicles to write (even if one took three years to get to). Acting wise I got brought in a lot too. I'd been offered Alexander the Great in Farewell Great Macedon whilst playing the monstrous Achromatics in Echoes, and so got to share audio time with two of the original TARDIS team, a huge privilege indeed (this also recorded in January that year, so it was a double beginning). This led to other appearances - Henry Noone in A Death in the Family, for example, Jansen Hart in Doing Time - and all manner of other appearances in the years since.
And then - they pretty much all came out at once, well... spread out over six months. I don't know how I managed to avoid being annoyingly ubiquitous (particularly with three, hopefully rather different, acting performances in as many months). But I seemed to. People are still very kind and not bored of me yet.
Since then... it's just kept going. Being able to spend my days making up stories for my favourite series would have seemed a crazy dream only a few years ago. But reality has proved quite the match for fantasy. In particular, I'm struck by how many things I've got to do that would have seemed inconceivable quite recently, even if I'd guessed I'd work for the company. Anyone at all writing scripts for Janet Fielding, Tom Baker and Matthew Waterhouse was a fantastical notion not that long past, let alone me getting the chance to do it. Being present at that enormous, awe-inspiring 50th anniversary convention will long stick in the memory. And I got to be the first actor to record a scene with Tom and Louise Jameson in over thirty years when Energy of the Daleks was recorded.
However, the big thing I'll take from the company is the people. Before Big Finish I largely worked as an actor, and you have a transient life. You work intensely with one group of people for a few months, then you vanish from each other's lives, rarely to see each other again, and certainly not as a whole. Big Finish gave me a work family, and a lot of friends for life. I'll always be grateful for that.
Happy birthday boss!”
John Dorney, Big Finish writer, actor, script-editor
The Big Finish podcasters are joined by Vortex editor Kenny Smith for more forum fun...