I was able to get Matt West and Alun Harris to answer a few questions about their excellent book Justyce Served which is the story of the creation of the Audio Visuals tapes. The following is the interview interspersed with various pieces from the CD of extras available if you order the book directly from Miwk Publishing (by clicking here). There is even a sampler to download covering The Space Wail and The Mutant Phase so you have no excuse not to have a browse then buy the book!
The following is the interview with my questions in black, Matt’s answers in blue and Alun’s answers in pink. The only editing I have done is to insert various pieces of art-work which is all copyright either Miwk Publishing or as credited. Enjoy!
First of all thanks very much for taking the time to speak to me about your book Justyce Served. What prompted you to write this and why now?
It’s a book I’ve wanted to write since I first heard the plays. Yes, me too. I thought seriously about it around 3 years ago and dug around to see who would talk. I got in touch with Jim Mortimore who was very enthusiastic. Then it made sense to do it with Alun as he loved the plays as much as I did and I knew he could tell me when I was being hyperbolic or off-message. And when we started writing, it was twenty years since the last story had been released, so the time felt right. But it was also the 20 year gap that was our biggest worry. How much would people even remember? Luckily, Jim kept everything from those days and I’m so glad he did. Not only does it illustrate the book, but the notes and scribbles on the backs of scripts really help to understand the often rushed nature of some stories.
I was wondering how you came up with the title; I understand the reference to Justyce but why ‘Served’?
This was me. I’m not sure Alun ever liked it – it may have been the subtitle he didn’t like. Yes, it’s a bit long, isn’t it? In season 4 there’s a character called Justyce who kills people around the Doctor and leaves the message “Justyce Will be Served”. In doing this book, our mission was always to celebrate the plays and people who made them. We wanted a book that did the plays justice. Justyce Served was a hopeful title if anything. If we’d messed up and they all hated it then I supposed the Justyce would’ve been the egg on our faces. I stuck with “Justyce” as a spelling as it helps with Google searches – simple as that! As for the subtitle – it’s cheesy isn’t it? But it works. I think. You think. But it does show the evolution from AV to Big Finish quite clearly for new readers, we hope.
How did you come up with the idea of presenting the material as a set of short clips (which I think works well)? Were you not tempted to take the interview material and summarise it?
Purely accidental. The original intention was to present the book summarised as you suggest. I had an initial chat with Gary in 2011 and had emailed back and forth with Jim. From that I did a sample chapter on Deadfall attempting to summarise the text. It worked OK. But then more and more people said yes to being interviewed and I got to the point where I had about sixteen Word documents full of quotes which I’d sorted into subject matter and cross-referenced with other people’s stories. It suddenly made sense to do it “In their own words” not least because then there’s no risk of us editorialising. That said I did trim a few quotes here and there, and where memories were failing I stepped in and added the forgotten detail. It wouldn’t have worked if everyone involved hadn’t been so generous with their time and so patient. It was a blast.
A lot of people clearly gave you a lot of time and access to a lot of relevant material; how did you decide what to use and what not to use? What approach did you take to compiling the CD Extra disc?
There’s not a lot we didn’t use. I’ll refer to Alun on this one with regards to story reviews. At one point these were done individually and it rather forces you to present stories that maybe you’re not too keen on in a slightly negative light. We didn’t want a negative book and were careful what we said, always focussing on the positives and letting those involved pick the negatives. We even considered writing a review each for some stories just to ensure there was a balance of tone, but then had to remind each other that the book’s not about us: it’s about the stories. That’s why there aren’t specific reviews for each story now. The season overview is there to give people a feel for what each season’s like, rather than us writing reviews which tell people what they were like. We wanted readers, particularly those who hadn’t heard the stories, to feel like they’d heard them. Obviously they haven’t, but at least reading the synopsis of each story tells them what happened without Matt or me saying, “this was a good bit, this was weak.” This way people can come to their own conclusions.
With the CD it was something we’d planned from day one. Originally it was going to be scripts and newly remastered music by Jim. Some of Jim’s remasters are on there but we ran out of time. There was never a plan to include the full plays on the CD, but I did consider the On Tape sections. But then I quoted from them so much in the book and sometimes misquoted them slightly, that it would’ve been redundant.
The only thing that was going to happen and never did was a Photonovel style representation of Scarecrow City, the film they tried to make in 1985. This could still appear in a future book – watch this space!
How did you split the work in creating the book between the two of you? After this experience will you be co-writing any more books?
I think we both felt that the other got the thorny end of the rose. Initially we divided the labour with me doing the interviews and structure and Alun writing up the synopses. To this day I have no idea how he did them not only so well, but so quickly! I’d intended to do half of them myself but Alun established a style that I couldn’t easily copy – see how bad my Scarecrow City synopsis is in the book! There was an awful lot of planning with us emailing ideas back and forth. The actually bulk of the writing happened very quickly. I adored working with Alun – we’d only met in person twice prior to this! If Alun has an ego he doesn’t let it surface as much as I probably do. If a suitable idea crops up I’d love to work with Alun again, but since I publish these as well and Alun has a book he’s offered us, we’ll definitely be working together in that respect. You see, you say all that now! You didn’t say it at the time. No, it was actually a pleasure to write with Matt. I think – well, we both think, don’t we – that we dovetailed nicely. With Matt living so much closer to everyone it made sense for him to do the interviews and that left me to do the stories. I’d email them to Matt a season at a time and then I expected him to suggest lots of changes, which he never did. It was the same with the interviews – he sent everything to me that he’d done, and I read over it, and then we combined the two. It was a far smoother process than I think either of us expected. I’d always wondered how people managed to write anything together, but I can see – for us at least – that there’s a pattern that works. I’d happily write with Matt again – and I’d be particularly happy if Rob Hammond designed everything I ever write in future. He’s made the book look so damned gorgeous that he deserves as much credit as we do.
How vital do you think the Audio Visuals were to the eventual creation of Big Finish and indeed the new TV series? Would they have happened the same way do you think?
Gary says in the book that AV was absolutely influential in their acquisition of the Big Finish license. As you listen to the AVs in sequence you can hear them always learning, always improving. By the time you get to Gary’s final season they’re only using pro actors, they’re recording in proper studios, often at the BBC. But they’re writing, editing, directing, scoring and producing – all these skills are essential for a new business like Big Finish. Why hire five people to a job that one person can do? It’s changed now of course, but, and my knowledge of BF isn’t that strong, looking at those early plays I can see they’re doing it almost exactly the same way they did AV. Now it’s changed, but then it has to. You can’t keep that level of involvement up. Whether they influenced the new series or not isn’t something we ever focussed on properly. One of the articles on the CD is a review of the first few season 4 releases from 1992 by Matt Jones, author of The Satan Pit. It’s clear he’s come to AV fresh and his review is a bit harsh, but fans were listening to the AVs and the fans are writing the show now. Destruction of Gallifrey? Hmmmm … Spoilers! We did ask Gary about this in his interview – at that point I was wondering how closely we could tie things in to the new series – but he told us that to the best of his knowledge neither RTD or Moffat had ever heard a story. The AVs had an impact on the New Adventures, though, and they’ve in turn influenced most things since, so it’s not easy to say they made no difference at all.
A simpler question – what’s your favourite Audio Visual release and why?
We were only talking about this at the weekend. I don’t think I can pin it down to one. Cloud of Fear’s got some very atmospheric scenes to it, and a nice Briggs performance. That’s probably the best in the first season. Season two’s definitely Minuet in Hell, but I also love Blood Circuit and Maenad. There’s a very strong run in season three – the last four stories are each brilliant, but I probably like Enclave Irrelative best. It’s got pretty much everything in it, and it’s really witty. And season four has some particularly strong stories, but I’d probably say Subterfuge. It doesn’t really work as a story on its own – its far too involved and convoluted for that – but it does change everything you thought you knew about the series. That’s your favourite, isn’t it?
No, no it’s not. Me in 1991 would be shocked to hear me in 2012 say this, but I think it’s probably Deadfall. After the events of season 3 it has so much work to do and so many questions to answer. But Gary barely mentions those events. Instead he cracks on with a Doctorless story and a group of female convicts scavenging a crash site. His characterisation is spot on, the casting is fantastic – the atmosphere is horrific. The great party atmosphere on the ship contrasting with the death-filled corridors below Ardethe. There’s just so much to like about it that was lost on me as a nipper when I first heard it. It would be fantastic for BF to explore the further adventures of Lloyd and the others. Then, right at the end, when all seems so awful for Truman, up pops the Doctor. And Justyce.
And now a difficult question – the Audio Visuals are not available any more and it doesn’t seem that they ever will be (except in as much as some of them were later adapted for Big Finish releases). Do you think that they are best left buried in history or should something be done to allow them to be made available (ignoring the various means of obtaining copies that exist on the internet)?
I’d love to see them cleaned up and made available as downloads to benefit a charity or something. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that these are unlicensed plays and that many of those involved in them are so closely linked to the BBC, Doctor Who and the licence for Doctor Who. This was a concern for Nick in the early stages of the book. He was worried it would look bad for them. I can see that. Most people are happy to pass around a copy to a mate of the MP3s. The only time I get really annoyed is when I see bad quality rips for SALE on eBay. Fair enough for a fiver, that covers your minimal costs – but £25 one guy was charging! What’s he done for that money? They definitely shouldn’t be buried, but at the same time the wishes of those who made them are paramount and it’s entirely their call. One thing I do know is that they’re all utterly proud of those plays and certainly aren’t hiding them out of any sort of shame. They are out there, on torrent sites. Some of them are terrible copies. But it’s a way of getting hold of them. Of course, one of the other options is for Big Finish to remake more of them. That’s always a possibility.
And finally what’s the next project for each of you?
I need a break! I’ve got three books in the planning stages but the next one I’m cracking on with is How to Survive a 24hr Film Session with my old chum Mark Frost. I’m going from audiotape to videotape. Which I am too. Probably. Miwk have given me the go-ahead, but my next one’s not completely confirmed yet, so I don’t want to commit myself too much. It’s a logical progression from Audio Visuals, though. I think I can say that. Can I? You just did. Yes, I did.
Thank you both very much for your time, I appreciate it a lot.
Thank you! And thanks for reading. We hope people enjoy it.