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Press and Publicity Articles for The Sirens of Time

Doctor Who finds a new future in a new medium
Interview with Nicholas Briggs

Official Press Release: April 1999

For nearly thirty years, the BBC's top tea-time hero Doctor Who saved the universe from such evils as Daleks, Cybermen and his arch-foe the Master. Then, after twenty-six series, the BBC put him out to graze.

But on Saturday 6th March, 1999, a new era for the ever popular Time Lord began as Doctor Who returned to a British studio for the first time since 1989.

But this new version is not on television - he's moved over to the digital audio realm, appearing regularly on double audio cassettes and CDs.

Recorded over two days at the Crosstown Studios in Fulham, The Sirens of Time marked the first time former Doctors Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy have appeared in a Doctor Who story together.

This brand new four- part audio adventure pits the Doctor's different incarnations against a mysterious enemy that they encounter on different worlds at different times - leading to the Doctors needing to combine forces to tackle a menace that threatens the whole of space and time.

Big Finish Productions have been granted a licence by BBC Worldwide Publishing, the first of its kind, to make these original full-cast drama productions, featuring new music and sound effects alongside traditional favourites such as the familiar TARDIS noises and the universally-recognisable theme tune, composed by Ron Grainer.

UK retail distribution will be handled by S Gold and Sons, details of North American and Australian distribution are still under negotiation.

Avoiding the cliche of producing readings of stories, or adapting existing TV scripts or novels, these bimonthly releases are 100% new and are seen by the BBC as an official continuation of the series. As well as the three actors listed above, BFP are also keen to work with other surviving TV Doctors Tom Baker and Paul McGann.

Writer/director Nicholas Briggs has taken advantage of the flexibility of the audio format to create a story with an epic feel, taking the listener from the harsh swamps of a distant alien planet to the confined drama of a World War I German U-boat, to the futuristic splendour of the Starcruiser Edifice and finally on to the Doctor's home planet, Gallifrey.

The Doctors are joined in The Sirens of Time by Mark Gatiss (writer/star of BBC2's The League of Gentlemen), Sarah Mowat, Michael Wade, Anthony Keetch, John Wadmore and Andrew Fettes most of whom who plays multiple roles, and appear with all three Doctors.

Medium Moose, the Sussex-based independent studio, will be handling a majority of Big Finish's post-production work, and this first play has a projected release date of June 1999.

The second adventure, Phantasmagoria, is due in the studio in May and the third, The Sound of Fear, will be recorded in July. Both will be issued before the end of the year.

Doctor Who is the second audio drama series embarked upon by Big Finish Productions Limited - they also produce the New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield under license from Virgin Publishing Limited, who have published a successful range of science-fiction novels featuring that character since 1992.

The BFP Producers of Doctor Who are Gary Russell and Jason Haigh-Ellery. Executive Producer for BBC Worldwide is Stephen Cole.

LinkCredit: Big Finish Productions 

Nicholas Briggs is the author and director of "The Sirens of Time" and, as you'll soon see, is a major part of the team. The Big Finish Productions staff recently sat down with him to conduct this interview.

How did you first get involved with the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays?

Gary Russell, who I've known for about 15 years now, came round for a cup of tea, as he often does - we live five minutes walk from each other in Southeast London. After I'd made the tea, he told me he had some news for me. A sort of vaguely smug expression passed over his face just before he announced that he and Jason Haigh-Ellery had secured a licence from the BBC to do Doctor Who audio plays. To be frank, I was elated. It's something that we'd wanted to do for SO long. We'd worked together on the amateur Audio Visuals plays and had often reflected, during that time and in the years following, upon how much we'd love to be doing it 'professionally'. The Bernice Summerfield adventures had been the next best thing!

How did you get to write the first script?

Of course, I was immediately keen to know what my involvement would be. Gary said that he'd want me to direct a lot of them and work on the post-production. We chatted about his ideas about how the series would go... using past Doctors and doing good, solid, traditional Who... with perhaps a bit of a twist. He didn't want to re-invent Doctor Who in the way that, say, the Mission Impossible film had re-invented Mission Impossible. We were both keen to do something that, as its starting point, would be recognisable to both us, as fans, and fans in general as 'proper' Doctor Who.

I knew he knew that I would be interested in writing scripts. He told me that would come eventually, but that he felt the BBC would be keen to use writers that they knew and could trust... Terrance Dicks and all the Doctor Who novel writers. Tried and trusted authors. Perhaps arrogantly, I pointed out that just because they were known to the BBC, it didn't necessarily mean that they'd be well versed in doing good Doctor Who audio. I felt I'd served something of an apprenticeship in that department, doing the Audio Visuals plays over many years. Okay, it had been amateur and we'd all made many mistakes, but both we and our audience had loved what we did and we'd learnt so much... by instinct, trial and error more than anything else.

We started to talk about what the first story should be. We both agreed that it should be special. I said that, to me, the most special thing to do would be a Dalek story; but we both acknowledged that, for financial reasons, it would perhaps not be feasible. The Daleks would be for later! I then said that the next best thing would be a multi-Doctor story. Gary then explained that he and Jason had thought of doing an initial release that featured separate stories starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. I said that, if you'd got them together in a studio to do this, it would be a crime not to get them together in the adventure. It was from there that I started to talk about a four part story with underlying links that would come together, along with the three Doctors, in the fourth episode. I kept stressing that I knew this was just my point of view and that I acknowledged that the decisions were his and Jason's to make.

I have to say that I was very excited. I think I said something rather sad like 'Well, you might as well kill me now, because life isn't going to get any better'. I think he laughed, but sort of identified with the sentiments. We are fans, after all.

Gary went home, then a few minutes later phoned me to ask me to write the first story. I said, 'What about this BBC approved writer business?'. He said that I should forget that, but I wasn't to start writing it until I'd finished the post-production on Birthright, the latest Benny play I was working on at that point. I agreed, put the phone down, then went straight to the computer and started writing the storyline for Sirens of Time. Later, Gary admitted that he'd assumed that's what I do!

How did you decide on the storyline?

Well, there were of course certain preordained elements to the story. Firstly, the three Doctors; secondly, there was no budget for any of the companions. On that point, I immediately decided to make a virtue out of that limitation... but since this interview is appearing on the website before the release of Sirens of Time, I'm sworn to secrecy on what my solution to that problem was. Suffice it to say, you'll discover the truth very shortly after you buy the CD or cassette. I'll say no more, or Gary and Jason will take me to task.

I was well aware that the 'multi-Doctor' story is potentially a bit of a poisoned chalice and a double-edged sword. It's an exciting, big, important thing to do and therefore very easy to make a complete balls-up of it. The very 'special' nature of this kind of story, although making it potentially very exciting, also make the narrative potentially unwieldy.

As you'll know, there've been three stories involving more than one Doctor on television, and although they are well-loved stories, none of them ever feature in any top-ten lists of favourites. I would venture that they creak under the strain of the very thing that makes them special... more than one Doctor. The Two Doctors is arguably the most successful plotwise, because, of course, it only has two Doctors to juggle and is the longest of the three. In my opinion, the killing problem is how to effectively use the Doctors in the plot, without looking as if you're obviously counting up the lines and sharing them equally. In a way, Sirens embraced AND circumnavigated that problem by giving each Doctor their own, separate adventure.

A difficulty for me was that I like small scale Doctor Who stories. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing a story which is about the potential destruction of the universe, but you have to be careful to make the threat tangible. When something is so vast in scale, there's a danger of it not connecting so well with the audience. For example, Horror of Fang Rock is such a cracker of tale because it's just about a few people in a lighthouse fighting for survival. It's very easy for us to think, My God, what would I do if I was trapped in an isolated building with something that wanted to kill me? Not so easy to think, What would I do to save the universe? I'm not saying it's impossible to get it right, make the threat tangible... I'm just saying that it's very difficult. A huge city being hit by a tidal wave may be awe-inspiring, but it doesn't make you wince and writhe in your seat the way you do when someone in a film presses a knife to someone's throat.

Despite all this, I knew that a story that gets three incarnations of the Doctors together had to involve something pretty catastrophic on a time-space, universal scale. You can't just have different Doctors bumping into each other easily. That's the only real problem with The Two Doctors. In The Three Doctors and Five Doctors, big, important things are done to break the laws of time to get them together. So, I knew that I had to do this kind of big, important thing to get them together. I tried to counter-act the grand scale of this by making the minute-by-minute unfolding of the story very small scale and personal to the Doctors. I wanted them all in immediate, threatening peril in their individual episodes.

If there's a theme or lesson that runs through the story of Sirens, it's that from small events come big ripples which eventually become crashing tidal or temporal waves which have devastating consequences. So you've got the equivalent of your knife pressing to the throat - immediate, tangible tension - followed by the tidal wave hitting the city - awe-inspiring. That was the theory anyway. I also wanted to make these consequences of these 'tidal waves', in some cases at least, the less obvious ones. A rule of thumb in my life is that nothing every turns out quite the way you expect it.

Relating to this, there was a case in point with the first episode, featuring Sylvester McCoy. Jason Haigh-Ellery WAS and IS convinced that this episode should have unfolded a little differently. He wanted the cause and effect of what the Doctor sets in motion to be clearer. I wanted it to be more obscure, because life's like that. Yes, the dominoes fall when you flick one over, but which dominoes and in which direction? Listen to Sirens and see what you think.

Often the most important thing in a Doctor Who story is the monster, the enemy the Doctor has to defeat. Can you tell us anything about the Doctors' biggest enemy in Sirens of Time?

Again, I don't want to give too much away -- indeed, the producers have, quite rightly, got a gun to my head on this issue -- but I'm very keen on the idea of the natural processes of the universe not having any moral (good or bad) motivation. You know, the sun rises in the morning, not because it's good, but because that's how things work... gravity, rotation of the Earth etc. It is the intelligences which have evolved on planets which attribute right, wrong, good or bad to something. If you've got a Geography exam tomorrow and you haven't revised, the rising of the sun suddenly becomes a very bad thing. What I am trying to say, perhaps in a rather long-winded way, is that I wanted the ultimate threat the Doctors have to deal with in Sirens not to be someone metaphorically twiddling a moustache and cackling on about universal domination. I wanted it to be a threat which was just doing what it's evolved to do. I have to confess that there's a bit of metaphorical moustache twiddling from some parties... but I'll leave it to you to discover the significance of that.

I like stuff like The Day of the Triffids. The Triffids aren't baddies, they just do what they do... with horrific consequences for Mankind.

How did you decide on what would happen to the individual Doctors in their individual episodes? Were they just story ideas which were allocated a Doctor later?

No. This is where my instinct as a fan came in handy. We all have a feeling for the sorts of stories each Doctor did, don't we? I know it's irrational, emotional, possibly inaccurate and probably a lot to do with the production teams rather than anything else... but I certainly FEEL it. I mean, The Space Museum just isn't a Tom Baker story, is it? When you hear about stories which were commissioned by the Doctor Who production team but never made it to the screen, don't you often find yourself thinking, That doesn't really sound like a it would have been right?

That said, I'll totally contradict myself and admit that I'm not sure how typical Sirens Part 1 is of a Sylvester McCoy story. It hasn't got Ace for a start, and of all the companions, she was the most pivotal in story terms. She didn't just fulfil a minor plot function like many of the companions, she was sometimes at the heart of the story. No, Sirens Part 1 came from an idea I'd thought of sending Virgin when they first started doing The New Adventures. I'd written quite a lot of it before I discovered that those books were going in a direction that didn't suit me. I'm not saying they weren't good, just that I wouldn't have been any good at writing them. In any event, I think that Sylvester's Doctor is ideally suited to scenario where he stumbles on a situation which isn't all it seems to be. Once again, I'll say no more.

The stories for Peter and Colin were very much tailored to what I instinctively felt would suit them. Peter's character always worked best when he was faced with impossible choices, or was in a desperate, no-win situation. He's really good at that 'pushed into extreme action' situation. I'm sure you've guessed I'm sort of thinking of Caves of Androzani here. That episode three ending, when he risks crashing the spaceship in order to get back to Peri, is, in my view, one of the best ever episode climaxes. So, I put the Fifth Doctor in a situation where he is totally at a disadvantage and without power. It's the way he fights back which shows his strength and essential 'Doctorness'. It gives the story a 'gritty' quality, so I found that the modern historical setting was ideal for this.

Irrationally, I always find myself associating Colin's Doctor with harder, more technologically-based sf. I immediately put him on a spaceship; but instead of being the victim, he acts as more of a prime mover. You can move the plot far more quickly with the Sixth Doctor, because he strides in where others fear to tread. I think the other Doctors would get there eventually, but it would just take them a little longer, and perhaps they'd go by a different route.

Which was your favourite Doctor to write for?

No favourites. I'm not going down that road! First of all, it really was great to write for the different Doctors. Gary and I disagree a little on this, but I have always agreed with the Terrance Dicks viewpoint that all the Doctors are essentially the same bloke, but with different window-dressing. However, what I discovered in writing Sirens is that you should never underestimate the importance of window-dressing. Into that category fall speech patterns, motivation and dialogue. The Doctors may all have fulfilled the same kind of plot functions down the years, but the way in which they do it is radically different.

Simplifying wildly, Sylvester's Doctor is more oblique and introverted... he's more likely not to say exactly what he's thinking, but just pose a question.

Peter's Doctor is given to understatement and there's often this sort of all-pervading 'long suffering' feel to his approach and what he says. I also found that he strives to be tolerant, to allow for the fact that the people he meets are limited by not having the wider perspective he has... but that striving is a little overpolite, which means that we notice it.

Colin's Doctor is largely insensitive to the characters around him. That's not to say that he's cruel or unkind, it's just that he's more concerned with the problem presenting itself to him and how he's going to solve it. He's a bit like Sherlock Holmes in that respect (who've I've just played in The Speckled Band on stage, so I'm interested in all that). Holmes never solved mysteries because he was concerned for the victims, he solved them because they were 'pretty puzzles' which taxed his intellect. I think there's a lot of this in the Sixth Doctor. This makes him more active and dynamic than the others. He gets on with what he feels is necessary.

By the time the three are together in Part 4, I had great fun with this. I suggested to the three actors that they should, as much as possible, concentrate on the fact that they were the same mind, having an 'argument' within itself. They had fun with that, and we added in a few lines during the recording.

Which brings me to the next question rather neatly... Is it a good thing for a writer to direct his own work? What were your experiences of directing Sirens of Time?

There are good and bad things about directing your own work. On the negative side, you might miss a hole in your own plot... but I had the input of Gary Russell, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Steve Cole and Jac Rayner to stop that happening. When you know you're directing, you also tend to write with that in mind. Gary hauled me up on this. He felt I didn't explain myself adequately in the script. Quite often, my response to a script-edit point from one of the team was, "Oh, don't worry, I know how to do that. I'll sort it out with the acting." I think he found this a bit frustrating. I don't blame him.

I'll give you two minor examples of that. Sylvester has a line something like, 'I believe you have some field-glasses in my jacket you're wearing'. Steve Cole, whose background is literary, immediately leapt on this as a confusing, badly written line. But people do speak in a confusing and badly written way! Besides, I could hear Sylv saying this. It's just the sort of thing he loves... a line which appears to be one thing, then transmutes into something else by the end of it. I didn't have to mention it in the studio, he just naturally did it. Made perfect sense to him. On the printed page, it doesn't work. Spoken, it does. There was another line, of Colin's this time, in which he asks for something to be given to him in the full flow of the sentence about something else. It made the sentence very long and difficult to read, but again (sorry if I sound a bit smug), I knew Colin is excellent at that 'sudden change of direction' acting. It's great for actors to switch focus, then switch back again. I dug my heels in about both these lines and neither of them caused the slightest problem in the studio. It's writers and producers who query that kind of line, not actors. Actors are far more likely to want to break a line up and make it less well written in the literary sense.

So that's a disadvantage. You annoy your script editors by claiming divine knowledge about actors. The positive side is that you know the story inside out... which you should do, even if you haven't written it! But the advantage is that you don't have to consciously study the script, because you did your studying when you wrote and rewrote and rewrote it. Also, you can change a line, or let actors change a line without the fear of some writer giving you ear-ache later. Jac Rayner confessed to me that she listens to her Bernice plays with a copy of the script in her hand. She knows everything I change in her scripts, so I have to have a damn good explanation ready!

And your general experiences of directing Sirens of Time?

I was quite tense. There's fun in there, of course there is, that's why I want to do it. But there's also hell in there too. That's because mine was the final responsibility... I had to get it done on time. Scheduling is the worst part of directing... working out how much time it will take something to be done is the dramatic equivalent of fortune-telling. Not an exact science and largely based on wishful thinking.

By the end of the first day, we were ahead of schedule. Peter, particularly, whizzed through his stuff for Part 2, so I was able to record all the scenes for Part 4 which only involved his Doctor. But on the second day, the schedule came crashing down for a couple of hours. If I hadn't got ahead on the first day, I would have been screwed for time. And the reason? The three Doctors factor.

Those three are so naughty when they get together. Generally, when you're directing, everyone looks to you to run the show. You tell them when you're rehearsing, you say 'cue' when you're recording, you ask for retakes etc. I'm not saying I do it to be important. In many ways, that constant feeling that everyone's looking to you to make things happen is a pressure I find unpleasant. It's exhausting. Everyone else is working in fits and starts, you're working the whole time, even in the coffee breaks (which I insist on having). If you just stop talking or thinking, it won't take long for everything to grind to a halt. What now, Nick?

However, for about half an hour, when the Doctors first got together, all that changed. I became irrelevant. I was fighting to be heard, because they were just burbling with excitement. Listening back to some of the stuff they were saying (caught at the beginning and ends of takes), it was very entertaining, but at the time I was worrying about the schedule and getting the damn thing finished before we were kicked out of the studio. At the time, I didn't find it all that funny or entertaining and I think that Colin, who's the Doctor I know the best, detected a slight 'sense of humour failure' in me.

The normal process of recording is to rehearse once, give notes, then go for a take... then retake or pick-up certain bits if necessary. For the first time in that session, I made them rehearse a very long scene twice. They got to the end of their first scene together, and, to be blunt, they'd been larking about. Of course, they're real professionals and I knew they would be fine on the take, but I felt two things. One: I had to be sure of knowing what I'd be getting on the take. Two: there was the need for a gentle flexing of directorial muscles... very gentle. I said, 'Well, I think we'll go through that again, because I haven't got a clue what it's going to sound like.' There was a bit of muted, less than delighted reaction from them. The hilarity dipped a bit. When we got to the end of the second rehearsal of the scene, Colin rather pointedly peered through the glass at me and said, 'Was that serious enough for you, Nicholas?'. He gave me a bit of a knowing smile.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't want to crush their enthusiasm, and I don't think I did, because I knew that it was that sense of fun that would produce the 'chemistry' between them. Later, after a scene rehearsal in which Colin and Sylvester had added in a few lines, I said, 'Yes, I like all that chatter you did at that point.' They laughed and said, 'But we were just messing about!' I replied, 'But I do feel a certain amount of messing about is called for, don't you?' (I might tell you that the actual word used wasn't 'messing'!)

They were great, but their combined greatness was, for a short time at least, a little difficult for me to contain. It was, however, quite a privilege, I felt, to see them sparring off each other. I think the funniest thing for me was in their final scene. Sylv was having difficulty pronouncing one of my outrageous made-up sci-fi jargon words (as indeed everyone did). The more he tried to say it, the funnier he found it and the funnier the other two found it. 'No, no, just let me get it right!' he pleaded. I think I said, rather dryly, something like, 'Don't you worry, I will'. Colin quipped, 'You just don't want this to end, do you Sylv? You want us to stay here all night with you!'. Amongst the ensuing laughter, Peter asked, 'I suppose you ARE the Seventh Doctor, aren't you? You're not some kind of impostor?'

What were the Doctors like to work with individually?

Well, as I've said, I know Colin better than the others. We've had contact outside the sphere of the Who-related world, so we know each other reasonably well. That makes working with him very easy. I think we have quite a mutual respect going already. Generally, as an actor, I've always found him very meticulous about the plot. He takes the responsibility of storytelling very seriously and will talk a lot about how the facts fit together in a story. He often effectively locates plot weaknesses and suggests solutions. He works with his intellect, then fires the emotional guns on the actual take. He's a great leading man and was instantly his Doctor again. I love his sense of humour, and he always massages my ego a bit. What a charmer. Ha, ha. First thing he said was, 'I have to say, with some reluctance, that it's a very well written piece.'

I've worked with Sylvester a couple of times before. I've directed him before, so I knew his approach to the work. Sylvester's very intense when he acts. He channels vast amounts of energy at the work and often exhausts himself. Broader questions of plot he's more likely to talk to you about before the recording. In the studio he's very focused on the script. His great love is not to do the obvious. He always wants to find a different angle on a situation. I had to watch out for that, because on audio, sometimes you have to do the obvious thing to 'paint the picture' for the audience. On film or tv you can have a character react nonchalantly to something terrifying, for example, because the terrifying thing is there on camera and the contrast is immediately struck. On audio, sometimes (I stress sometimes), the characters define the nature of the action by their emotional reaction to it. For example, if they don't sound terrified by something, we don't believe it's terrifying, because we can't see it. I sometimes had to ask him to be a bit more obvious and 'paint the picture'. I know he found this a little disappointing at times. The key thing about him as a performer, though, is the inspirational nature of what he does. He'll never give you the same performance twice, so if you're not sure you liked what he did in a scene, you ask him to do it again and he'll do it differently without having to be asked to change it. He re-invents the performance each time, rather than reproducing it exactly. When you latch onto that fact, it's very exciting.

I've never directed Peter before, so I was a little nervous of him. Again, he's very focused on the script. Whenever you're not directing him or talking to him, you hear this constant muttering. He's going through the lines again and again. He uses every moment of time to work. He'll have a laugh, but he never lets it run away with him. He's there to work and, by God, does he work. He's also very conscientious about the character of the Doctor. Very keen to make it authentic to his original performance on television. He's also conscientious about what's effective on audio. He actually suggested that I might need 30 seconds or so of him in agony for a particular sequence, which I could sprinkle liberally throughout the scene in post-production. He put me to shame. He was dead right. I was so grateful to him for that. He's also keen to underplay everything. It's very difficult for you to get him to overemphasise something. There was one scene when I made him retake a speech several times, each time begging him to go bigger with it. He was resisting, he just didn't think it was right. In the end, the combination of me pushing one way and him holding back a bit got just the right balance. I'm very much looking forward to working with him again on Mark Gatiss's Phantasmagoria.

You mentioned the script-editing earlier? What was the process? How much rewriting was there?

The process was that I wrote the storyline. Gary, Jason and Steve read it and gave me input. Gary is very particular about names. For example, I'd called the Time Lord character, who crops up throughout, Alberman. He didn't like it. I'm not particular about names, so I had no problem changing it. We came up with Vansell together, which Gary felt was much more Time Lordish. The first story was initially set on a barren island, which I'd called Spurtak. Gary and Steve thought it sounded a bit rude. I agreed and decided to go with my favourite technique of not giving planets a name at all - I mean, you're not likely to find a sign telling you the moment you land. I later changed it to a jungle-based story, because, with the second episode being set on a submarine, I felt there was too much water sloshing about! I wanted each episode to sound very different.

The second episode originally concerned the Titanic, which is one of my personal passions. I'd been dying to do a Titanic story for Doctor Who since the days of Audio Visuals. Steve felt that my story didn't work, and he challenged the idea of the Titanic altogether. He said, 'Perhaps there is a Titanic story to be done, but perhaps this isn't it.' He was right. The Titanic is such a... well, titanic story in itself, it's difficult to harness it into the Doctor Who format. Maybe I'll think of a way some day. I changed it to another significant maritime event which hasn't attracted so much coverage of late.

Then I started work on the scripts. Because time was short, I submitted each part for script-editing as I went along. The reaction to Part 1 was generally that I should include more explanation. They all felt it was too weird for its own good. This was an unusual thing for me. I've worked a lot with other people whose instincts are always to strip out all my exposition, so I've got used to pre-empting that, making story detail implicit rather than explicit. But Gary, in particular, wanted it all up front and very clear. I was happy to oblige. Quite a new experience for me. Jason suggested some cracking line changes.

I did a lot of research for Part 2. It was originally set on the Irish coast, but I felt that, with the small cast I had to work with (no more than six characters) I couldn't make my intended story work... and in any case, the potential story of the U20's exploits in this setting came dangerously close to challenging historical accuracy. I'd focused on an unconfirmed incident, and I couldn't define a clear enough role for the Doctor. When I finally presented the first draft of the 'sub at sea' story, Gary loved it, but Steve felt it was too uneventful. He also had trouble with the German characters. The Germans in WW1 weren't Nazis and I was being very historically accurate about what happened to the U20. He asked for more dramatic things to happen to the submarine... I had to explain that more dramatic things didn't happen. Gary also wanted the captain to be older, but I told him that Schwieger was a real person and that it is a matter of record that he was only 30 years old. History to the rescue of a writer reluctant to make changes. In many ways, this is my favourite episode because it's so claustrophobic and simple.

Part 3 was the real problem. Gary saw it first. I wasn't entirely happy with it, but time was short and I was already running late on delivery time. I'd made my mind up to go with the story as written if Gary had no misgivings. I soon realised that he had as many worries about it as me. This time there was too much incident and not enough coherent plot. I started again from scratch, telling the same basic story, but not getting bogged down in peripheral detail. I cut a couple of characters and about three main plot ideas, one of which involved the Doctor being injected with a security drug which induced nausea every time he got too close to and too far away from his captor. A neat idea, I thought, but it played havoc with the progression of the plot. I also had a sequence about time distortion which took the Sixth Doctor forward to the Seventh, the back to the Fifth. A bit of indulgence which didn't really sit comfortably in the story.

The final episode fell back to the problem of there not being enough clear explanation. I warned that extra dialogue would take it well over its running time. Gary, quite rightly, felt the most important thing was that every loose end was tied up. He was particularly keen on having a 'final' scene with the Time Lord characters. It was clear that the episode was going to be too long. Consequently, for financial reasons, there are two versions of it, the long one on the CD and the shorter one on cassette. With cassettes, you pay per inch of tape, with a CD, you have 72 minutes to play with whatever you pay. Costs were running high. The shorter version still makes sense and is much tighter. The longer version has a few nice extra flourishes. Not essential, but they enhance what's already there.

You mentioned being behind schedule on the script? Did your post-production work run to schedule?

No. I underestimated the workload, basing my estimate on work I'd done on the Bernice plays. However, because of the epic nature of Sirens and the different settings for each part, it was actually like doing four different plays. Each environment you create demands a whole set of basic set-up effects: background noises, doors, different textures of footsteps, different acoustics etc. These were all entirely different for each story. Footsteps in a jungle just won't do aboard a U-boat, will they?!!

It was fun. I love doing it so much... but it was exhausting. It wasn't helped by the fact that it clashed with my doing Sherlock Holmes on stage. I'd calculated that my Doctor Who work would be finished by then. Wrong! I was getting up at 7am, editing Doctor Who, going to the theatre in the evening, getting home at 11.30pm, then working until I dropped. That went on for about two weeks solid.

You did the music as well, didn't you?

The same thing applied. Although my 'music' (modesty compels me to use the inverted commas, because I'm not a trained musician) is bound to have a distinct overall feel to it, I was keen to make it significantly different for each episode.

In Part 1, I was keen to use jungle-suggesting percussion, and small, moody sounds, since it was a small, atmospheric situation. So I used a lot of clarinets and oboes. I reflected the technological aspects, the Drudgers and the control room stuff, with broader electronic textures.

In Part 2, I was determined to banish all electronic sounds to give the period feel. There are a lot of horns, and I couldn't wait to do that wonderful, swirling harp sound traditionally used in war films for submarines. I added a military feel with lots of echoing snare drums. I wanted to create a feeling of impending doom... the inevitability of history. It's a subliminal thing, because the nature of the historical event isn't really spelt out in the story. I just wanted that feeling to be there. I constructed a sea-going type of melody suggested by the score of The Cruel Sea (that marvellous film), but then tried to add some slightly morbid elements to it. Synthesised stuff did creep in, though, when the time distortion and Time Lords turned up.

By the time Part 3 (and I did work in sequence) came along, I was gagging to let rip with the all the big synthesiser sounds I was valiantly resisting in Part 2. The Kurzweil K2000 keyboard I was using as my main sound source has some of the most amazing big synth sounds! I ploughed into them almost straight away with the opening cue which features a temporal explosion. I also had fun with a cheeky, slightly wistful electronic glassy sound for moments which were quintessentially Sixth Doctor. I composed a short melody for that, and it crops up again near the end of Part 4. Again, I had fun giving a sense of forboding to seemingly innocent events. The first scene in the control room of the starcruiser Edifice is purely functional in terms of dialogue... 'Here we are, activate the motors' etc. I knew when I wrote the scene that I wanted to overlay it with music which says to the audience, 'You just know something terrible is about to go down, folks!'. I cheated a bit with the music on the computer display telling the Doctor all about the Kurgon Wonder. I hadn't initially thought of having the computer play music under its narration, but I'd just done some very electronic music for Keith Barnfather's Mindgame Trilogy.... so I took the cue I composed for the Sontaran's moment of glory, distorted it horribly and, hey presto, it was ideal as background burble.

I brought all the woodwind section back in for the Doctor bits of Part 4, and also some harpsichord which I'd used for the TARDIS materialisation scene in Part 2. Oh, and of course the organ undertones which I'd been tinkering with throughout the previous Time Lord scenes. I'm a traditionalist. Dudley Simpson cemented that link between Time Lords and organ pipes back in 1969... and who am I to argue? The main new addition for this part was the Velyshaan theme, which I wanted to have an ancient quality to it. I eventually opted for low, chanting choral sounds. I used a more obviously synth version of this for Lyena's big 'Lords of Time' speech. Nice acting there, I thought.

The biggest challenge in doing incidental music is to know when to leave it out. For example, there's a big explanatory section in Part 4. I toyed with all sorts of ideas, but I found I was being distracted by the dialogue. I kept listening to it, getting caught up in it. It suddenly struck me that this was precisely what the audience would hopefully be doing too - so I let the scene speak for itself. You don't need to be told anything that the scene is not already telling you. That, I think, is the golden rule. Music is there to tell you extra stuff. Sometimes it can reinforce a particular emotion, which is especially relevant to Doctor Who, which is slightly (I stress slightly) heightened in style, but music is generally at its most effective when it can add an extra dimension. If you get it wrong it can just sound like audio wallpaper... and there's nothing worse than paying attention to wallpaper when you should be listening to what someone is saying to you.

Can you sum up the whole experience of being involved The Sirens of Time and the whole audio Doctor Who series?

Thrilling. It's wish-fulfilment really. But I also kind of wanted to shout from the roof-tops, 'At last!' I've been messing around with Doctor Who-like stuff for ages, particularly the Auton videos; and although those in particular have taken on a life of their own (I'm working on the next one at the moment), it's nice to get to the point and do Doctor Who for real. This isn't a spin-off, this isn't something 'in the style of' or 'inspired by'. No messin' about: this IS Doctor Who. It was great to actually type the words TARDIS and Time Lord and not worry if any writs were going to be issued.

It was such hard work - the schedule for writing, recording and post-production was so unbelievably tight - but it was also an utter delight. That eased the difficulties of the late nights and pressures.

Actually, I've just had the best news while I've been typing the answers here. Gary's just called to tell me the BBC have listened to Sirens and have approved it for release. Sorry to sound like a football player... but I'm over the moon. This is a day I'm going to remember... Wednesday 26th May 1999. Doctor Who is back. It's official. Gary and I will be having another cup of tea.

LinkCredit: Big Finish Productions