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Making 'Doctor Who's Lost Season

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Making 'Doctor Who's Lost Season
Tucked away in a quiet side street in London's Ladbroke Grove, Moat Studios is playing host to something rather special - the Big Finish audio recording of Doctor Who's legendary 'lost' season. Before the show was controversially taken off the air for 18 months in 1985, a series of scripts was commissioned for the planned 23rd season - only for them to be scrapped and a new slate of stories revolving around the 'Trial Of A Time Lord' theme used instead. For over two decades, many have wondered what might have been.

Cult Spy was fortunate enough to be present for the second and final day of the recording of Christopher Bidmead's 'The Hollows Of Time' and spent some quality time chatting to the very friendly and talented cast and crew, including The Sixth Doctor himself, Colin Baker, and his companion Peri - Nicola Bryant. Those two particular interviews will be published in full later in 2009 to coincide with the launch of the 'lost' season on audio.

It was a joy to behold the duo bring the time travelling characters to life along with guest stars Susan Sheridan as Simon/Mrs Streeter and Trevor Littledale as the intriguingly titled Foxy. Unusually recorded out of sequence, it's hard to grasp exactly what's going on, although this serves to whet the appetite for the story's release in several months. Do keep your ears peeled for some sparkling interaction between The Doctor and Foxy, plus an epic sentence packed full of 'Bidmeadean' technical jargon that poor Colin Baker has the unenviable task of tackling. It almost makes Raxacoricofallapatorius roll off the tongue in comparison!

Occasionally, in conjunction with director John Ainsworth, Baker and Bryant suggest slight alterations to suit their character. Would The Doctor really let a child walk before him into a time corridor, and would Peri really say 'real cool'? After all, as Bryant later points out, "Colin and I have been having this relationship as Doctor and Peri for so many years with Big Finish - 12 years - as well as all the television times". It's pleasing to see the creative process evolve in the studio through the dedication of all involved, constantly striving to turn out the best story possible.

Going back to the aborted 23rd season poses its own challenges for the pair, with Bryant observing that "it feels like literally travelling back in time to the 80s to recapture the relationship that we had then, so that is strange because we are playing it differently from the way that we would play the current stories that we've been doing."

Don't think for a second that acting in one of these audio adventures is a case of turning up and reading out lines. It's far more physical and draining than many would imagine. For example, when The Doctor is dragged through a rose bush, the corresponding yelps from the Time Lord are accompanied by flailing limbs and a sudden burst of manic energy in the recording booth occupied by Baker. It's a shame that one of those flying arms couldn't have slipped through a time corridor of its own, back to 1986, and slapped a bit of sense into then BBC boss Michael Grade - the man who wrongly cut short Baker's promising Tardis residency.

Fortunately, the great man himself is grateful to have been given the chance to keep his portrayal alive through non-televisual means. "Way back when I started doing the part, I stated 'my ambition is to do it longer than Tom Baker'", he recalled, "which of course was rather rudely truncated. But in terms of stories done, if you include Big Finish - and I do because they're Doctor Who stories - I've done more stories than Tom! It's even been suggested that I might be The Doctor who has done the most stories. I think I've edged Peter and Sylv on Big Finish stories". The fight to be Top Doc looks set to rumble on, especially if the rumours that Sylvester McCoy's abandoned 27th season might be getting the Big Finish treatment.

There's also another motivating factor for all the actors to keep coming back to Big Finish for more adventures - the lunches. If you think Sil loved his marsh minnows, then cast and crew worship Big Finish lunches to a greater extent. Purely for research purposes, Cult Spy tucked into the buffet and must flag up how ridiculously sumptuous it was. [Mental note: Contrive reasons to arrange more studio visits and bring doggy bag. Even claim it's for K-9 if need be.]

Away from those gastronomic delights, the greater importance of creating and maintaining a fun yet productive working environment falls upon director John Ainsworth. Bearing in mind that the actors spend most of the day like battery chickens, encased inside individual recording booths, it's remarkable how devoid of tension and relaxed the whole day has been. "It's top of my priority list," Ainsworth admits after recording has wrapped, "that everyone comes along and has a good time. And that's not at the expense of the script or the end product. I just think if people are happy and enjoying themselves then they will do their best work... there's no point ruling people with a rod of iron or treating people badly."

As it's Doctor Who, it's only fair to jump back in time with Big Finish producer David Richardson, for he masterminded the missing season project after joining Big Finish in late 2007. He explained how it all came to fruition once he proposed the idea: "We had to clear all the rights," he said. "I approached both the Production Office in Cardiff and BBC Audiobooks. The nice thing was that they were both as enthusiastic about the project as we were.

"My next step after that was approaching Colin and Nicola, because obviously if they said no there would have been little point in forging ahead. But thankfully they both loved the idea. In fact, I rang Colin up and he said to me 'I can't believe you suggested that', because he'd just been on the verge of suggesting the idea to me."

Why the wait, given that Big Finish has been around for so many years? "Well, I suppose maybe for a while - this is just my opinion - Big Finish wanted to establish itself as a creative force with original ideas. I think we're well past that now. People know us for our products and the quality of them, so we were in a position to then go back and do other things. Last year we did three of the Doctor Who stage plays as audio productions and I think the success of those was a good indicator of how we could go ahead and do these 'lost' stories."

"They are a mixture of stories that were supposed to be in the original Season 23, and others that were planned or pre-planned for Colin Baker's era, but for one reason or another didn't make it," Richardson continued. "We haven't been able to make all of the Season 23 stories - sadly we weren't able to agree terms with Wally K. Daly on 'The Ultimate Evil', so that isn't in the lineup. I know a lot of people wanted us to make 'Yellow Fever (And How To Cure It)', but all that existed was just an outline for the first episode... I think had we gone ahead and made it, it would have been something entirely different to what Robert Holmes had envisaged, so to me there was no point in doing it. I know that's going to be unpopular but I stand by it."

Well, here's the list of the eight stories that should prove to be very popular indeed, along with comments from Richardson:

'The Nightmare Fair' by Graham Williams

"We cast a different actor as The Celestial Toymaker. I know fans were wondering whether we could get Michael Gough to reprise the role, but he's now 96 and enjoying a very deserved retirement. So we got David Baillie, who played Dask in the Doctor Who story 'The Robots Of Death'. We were trying to think of an actor who had authority and calm, presence and charisma... and he ticked all the boxes."

'Mission To Magnus' - Philip Martin

"We've got Nabil Shaban back playing Sil and Nick Briggs is doing the Ice Warrior voices. We've stayed true to the original story... although we're giving it a great cinematic sound and lots of great special effects."

'Leviathan' by Brian Finch

"It wasn't originally in the lineup, and then I got an email from [Finch's son] Paul which was forwarded through Doctor Who Magazine, basically saying that his father had written a full Doctor Who script back in the '80s which had never reached the production stage. He sent me some scans of the recording script and I thought it was definitely worth doing - it's best described as a medieval adventure with a twist."

'The Hollows Of Time' by Christopher Bidmead

"One of the challenges is that it's a very visual script. There are big effects set pieces which were planned for television, which have taken a lot of hard work to get them to work in audio. One was that Chris has approached this is by adding a flashback structure with The Doctor and Peri looking back on the adventure. It also featured the Tractators, who featured in 'Frontios'."

TBA by TBA

"The fifth story - we can't release the title yet because we're waiting for a delivery date for the script."

'Point Of Entry' by Barbara Clegg

"This only existed as a storyline by Barbara Clegg, who submitted it back to the Production Office in the '80s and it was never developed any further. The reason we decided to go ahead and do it was because Barbara had done the wonderful 'Enlightenment' and also it was such a strong story that if we found the right writer to work with her to turn it into an audio script I thought we'd have a winner. So I got Marc Platt, who wrote the TV story 'Ghost Light', and he is underway writing it now."

'Paradise 5' by PJ Hammond

"It was Gary Russell who suggested I approach PJ, and he was really happy with us to proceed with this. He sadly didn't have time to do the full adaptation to audio himself, so Andy Lane, who is one of my favourite writers, came on board and he has - with PJ - worked on both the storyline and adapting the existing scripts. I'm really excited about what I'm seeing so far."

'The Space Whale' by Pat Mills

"It went through three different drafts - it was written for Tom Baker, written again for Peter Davison and then written again - and this is the version we're using - for Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. The final one was Pat's preferred version. He felt the story works best with just a Doctor and one companion. Pat is underway, right now, getting the script ready for delivery."

While there will be no Harold Saxonesque story arc during the season, will there be any continuity between the adventures as opposed to them being disparate stories?

"Yes, good question actually", replied Richardson, as Cult Spy lapped up the compliment and delusionally eyed up Jeremy Paxman's job. "We've tried to stay as close to the original intent as possible, but having said that once I'd got all the scripts or storylines sitting side by side, I had it in my mind that this was a season of Doctor Who. Maybe we can call it Season 22B - it sits very nicely between the end of 'Revelation Of The Daleks' and the 'Trial Of A Time Lord' season. Yes there are a few minor links added between them. It seemed if something happened in one script that had a bit of resonance, through pure fluke, to something that happened in a previous script you might as well marry them together. So there are little mentions that are quite satisfying."

That's pretty much all we can reveal right now, but stay tuned for our in-depth interviews with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant later on in the year. The final words go to David Richardson, who neatly summarises the whole 'Missing Season' endeavour:

"It has been extraordinary how everybody involved in the 'lost' stories has passionately wanted to do it. I've had the same response from every single one of the writers - that these scripts had sat around for years and they're thrilled that at last they are going to be heard and experienced by Doctor Who fans as they should have been."

Doctor Who: The Lost Stories can be pre-ordered now by visiting www.bigfinish.com/Doctor-Who:-The-Lost-Stories

> Are you looking forward to hearing the originally planned Season 23? Share your views

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