I recently attended the Cult Publishers Expo at which I met Matt Fitton who has written several of my favourite recent Big Finish stories.
Matt, you appeared in the Big Finish scene in 2010 with A Most Excellent Match on the Recorded Time release. How did that come about?
I entered the 2009 open submission opportunity – where pitches were invited for a 5th Doctor/Nyssa single-parter. My idea was that the travellers were trapped in a ‘Jane Austen’ simulation, with the opening scene being the Doctor proposing to his companion in order to save her from Mr. Darcy – I thought that might grab the attention!
A few weeks later, Rick Briggs was announced as the winner with the Entropy Composition appearing in the Demons of Red Lodge release, and I thought no more about it. Until I had an email out of the blue in early 2010 from Alan Barnes inviting me to redevelop my idea for Sixie and Peri.
You then worked on Counter: Measures; what was it like having the freedom to go help shape a new spin-off?
It was actually at the recording of A Most Excellent Match that David Richardson asked me if I’d be interested in writing for something then called ‘the Jensen Project’. A series bible was issued and I worked with David and script editor John Dorney to get what became Artificial Intelligence into shape. My brief was to do something ‘out there’ – I watched lots of Prisoner and early Avengers to get the Sixties feel. It was hugely exciting to be in on it from the get-go, as we worked out what we wanted the series to be. ‘Audio in black and white’ was the tenet – and I liked digging into that very terse, very British drama of the era.
It was great to have fully-formed characters to work with in the form of Gilmore, Rachel and Allison – and I used the back-story in Ben Aaronovitch’s novel to create ‘Julian’. But it was also marvellous fun ‘discovering’ Sir Toby, his motives, his methods.
Speaking of Black and White we’ve recently had your full-length story of that name. Was that harder to do? How constrained were you in fitting in with the story arc? What is it like having two TARDISes and four companions to write for?
Black and White had its origins in a one line pitch I sent to Alan, which was basically ‘Doctor Who does Beowulf.’ I’d always envisaged telling the story across the two different time-frames of the Beowulf story – the fight with Grendel, and his final battle with the dragon. When the whole arc came up, with the two TARDISes, four companions and the ultimate enemy of Gods and Monsters, it all just seemed to fit really well!
The only constraint I had was the structure – essentially the first episode being a four-hander in the TARDIS to explain where we were, with the Beowulf story to follow in the next three. But because it’s all about stories and structure, and how much we can adapt them for our own ends, I was happy to have a play.
The actual nature of the Black TARDIS – a clone for the Doctor running ‘black ops’ – Alan gave to me, but beyond that I was free to do what I wanted. There was also the constraint of Sylvester’s availability, but I think his Doctor often works well behind the scenes, pulling the strings. I came up with the idea of the ‘baby TARDIS’ and the bedtime stories, which also sat well with the other themes. As I say in the CD inlay – it’s a story about stories…
Actually, I relished the opportunity. I love the idea of the Rocket Men – so simple, and so Sixties, and really wanted to go to town with an out-and-out villain of a leader.
I embraced the sequel nature – with some cheeky nods to the original – and a different take on the non-linear storytelling of Dorney’s play.
The other thing I wanted to do was give it an emotional core. In the same way that the original Rocket Men is about Ian realising something about himself – I wanted to do the same for Steven. So the setting, the positioning of the story is very deliberate.
Oh, and I wanted it to be a Western too.
The Dark Planet was an interesting challenge. Writing in the Lost Story style – with narration and dialogue, over six episodes. But the thing I loved most was giving new lines to Hartnell’s Doctor. I’d just watched a run of First Doctor stories with my little boy, who loved them – especially The Web Planet. People often forget how funny Hartnell can be. Adapting someone else’s storyline was also a new challenge for me. With Bryan Hayles, the synopsis and episodes have been printed in the ‘Nothing At the End of the Lane’ magazine, and I tried to stick with the spirit of that. Imagining how such an ambitious story might have been realised back then. The Web Planet again was uppermost in my mind…
Working with Nick Briggs was also a fun process – he’d basically written a per episode synopsis for Seeds and asked me to write the full script from that. There were a few tweaks and suggestions as I developed it, and I think (and hope!) he’s happy with the result.
Seeds of War will sandwich William Gallagher’s scary Spaceport Fear (I heard some of the monsters being recorded for that!) with my first Sixie and Mel – The Wrong Doctors. I wanted to give Bonnie something special to do as it’s been a long time since we last heard from her. And Alan wanted a ‘Mel meeting the Doctor’ story – so that’s what I’ve done. To say any more would be spoilerific… Very, very pleased with how the recording went – and I love the trailer.
Back to Counter: Measures – are you involved in the next boxset? If so any teasers?
I think I’m allowed to say, yes. I’ve written one of Series 2. And we’ve recorded it already. The only teaser I can give you is… David and Ken have assembled an incredible guest cast for this series. Any more than that and Sir Toby will serve a D-Notice on me.
You seem to have established yourself across much of the Big Finish ranges, is there anything else you would like to work on that we haven’t covered?
Ooh… everything! I’m just catching up with Jago & Litefoot and Blake’s 7 and would love to have a go at those. Dark Shadows too – I like the idea of stand-alone horror anthology stories.
But my first love is Who. I’d like to tick some more Doctors off my list. The Fourth was my Doctor growing up, so to do a Tom story would be a dream come true. Equally, I loved the new lease of life when Paul McGann joined Big Finish. So an Eighth Doctor story would be equally exciting. And I haven’t done one for Peter yet… so yes, lots of ambitions.
As I said, it was fun being in at the start for Counter-Measures, so I’d also love to help develop something else completely new one day.
And finally, before I wrap, if you could travel as a companion to any Doctor so far, who would it be? And why? Which monster would you like to meet and why?
Hartnell. So I could go to the pub with Ian.
I’d like to meet the Master – just so I could ask him: ‘What do you actually want??’
Thanks Tony – lots of fun doing this – any time!