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Second Episode Syndrome

5 Jul

Eddie RobsonEddie Robson has written for sketch shows including That Mitchell And Webb Sound, Small Scenes and Look Away Now, and several episodes of Doctor Who for Radio 4 Extra. He has also written comics, short stories and books including Film Noir and The Art Of Sean Phillips.

There’s an old cliché about pop music that says you get ten years to write your first album and ten months to write your second, or something like that. That’s how I felt about Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully, my sitcom about a small Buckinghamshire village being invaded by aliens.

I first pitched the show in February 2010, at a meeting with my producer Ed Morrish in the café at the BBC’s Henry Wood House. (By the time we recorded the first series, the BBC Radio Comedy department had moved offices twice.) I hadn’t had a sitcom commissioned before. I had a document outlining the concept and the characters and the series. Ed zoned in on a particular scene and asked me to write it. In this scene, the main character, Katrina, is getting a lift away from the village where her parents live – she’s been staying with them for the weekend. Driving the car is her ex-boyfriend, Mike. The car has barely got going when it stops for no apparent reason. Then, a local toff wanders over and reveals he’s actually an alien warlord, the village is now under his control, and nobody will be allowed in or out.

Scene 1 - Page 1 Scene 1 - Page 2 Scene 1 - Page 3 Scene 1 - Page 4 Scene 1 - Page 5
(Click the images to see the pages of the script).

Ed wanted to see this particular scene to get a sense of the tone. You won’t find the scene anywhere in the episodes we recorded. I went on to write a script, which was what we call a ‘premise’ episode – an episode which shows the events which created the situation of this particular sitcom. It opened on a village which had not yet been invaded by aliens, and which Katrina was visiting for the weekend. When Katrina tried to leave, we had the scene in Mike’s car. And it ended with Katrina deciding to form a resistance movement against the alien menace. Then, I was asked to write an episode which was more of a normal one, to show how the series would work on a weekly basis.

Finally, I got a script commission, for which they wanted a whole new script. We’d decided by now that we didn’t need a premise episode. Also, there were too many characters – originally, Mike was going to be a regular, but he went. This rendered both the scripts I had redundant. But those two scripts laid much groundwork for the third, which I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote, with notes from Ed, our script editor Arthur Mathews, and our execs. Then it got commissioned as a pilot, and I gave it a few more passes just to make sure. From first pitch to broadcast, I spent almost two and a half years working on that opening episode, what it would be, and what it needed to do.

Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully Then the series got commissioned, and I had six months to write another four episodes.

But the good thing about sitcoms is that you’re not starting from scratch with every episode. Each one you write uses up ideas and jokes, but it gives you a deeper knowledge of the characters and, hopefully, suggests more ideas and jokes. You reach a point where just putting two characters together in a particular room starts to generate something funny. The show practically writes itself! No, that’s a lie, I had to write it and it was quite hard work actually. But I think the series is definitely better than the pilot. And despite the lengthy journey, and losing poor old Mike along the way, it’s very much the show I wanted to write when I started out.

Buy our Welcome to our Village, Please Invade Carefully.

About ‘Undone’

24 Jun

Ben Moor wrote the sci-fi series Undone, which is available to download from AudioGO.

Ben MoorWriters love one thing more than anything in the world. More than the first coffee of the morning (which I have next to me here by the way, and I really like it a lot, mmm coffee), more than finishing a draft and hitting ‘send’, more than receiving a nice payment for royalties in Sweden or Belize, more than reading a mediocre review of a friend’s work; more than any of those things, what they love the most is being asked the question “where do you get your ideas from?”

Undone was sort of my answer to that question.

I’ve always loved sci-fi books about parallel universes and alternate histories – the concept that the world could be a little different somehow is what drives all cool imaginative work. And there’s something very exciting about coming to a new place and making your own discoveries. I didn’t grow up in London, so, like for most of us provincials, a trip to the big city as a kid was like a visit to a new world. But when you choose to make it your home and you have to deal with the odd and extraordinary, the new sounds and possibilities it offers, and the people, and the ideas, well you have to accept it and adapt. Unless your ideas can shape it the way you want it.

Edna Turner arrives to work on a listings magazine, goes out to see bands, art shows and is generally interested in all London offers. At first she doesn’t feel like a superheroine, she hasn’t been chosen for anything, she’s not got a zaggy scar on her forehead. But over the course of three series she discovers how the strangeness of the big city is determined by the ideas of its people. That just to one side of London – the other side of one of those gaps we’re always being told to mind – is its weirder sister, Undone. And her job is to make sure the weirdness is kept in check, too much means bad things.

Her adventures only get more complex though when she asks the question – if the bizarre city of Undone exists in that direction, what’s in the other direction? And that’s when things start to get really weird.

I don’t want to give away too much of the overall plot of the three series of Undone, as I’d hope part of the fun of it is keeping up with Edna’s journey and trying to work out what’s really going on. All the actors did brilliant jobs with their oddly shaped characters, and Colin Anderson and his crew made it sound amazing. There’s also some superneat music in the background.

But as a writer, what I loved most was messing around in the stories. It was fantastic to play with the idea that the adventures of our 20s, when we’re just making our way in this brilliant life, are all about discovering the potential within us and our world. And it gave me the answer to my favourite question.

“Weird ideas come from a version of me in a weirder parallel London,” I now say to people. It’s a strange answer, but strange is good.

Buy ‘Undone’ from AudioGO.

The Thing about Hitchhiker’s is…

24 May

Towel DayI miss Douglas Adams. As I sit here alone in my dressing gown, the kettle boiling, my eyes on the stars pondering the downright futility of it all, I wonder what he’s doing now. Probably nothing as he was an atheist and has been dead a number of years, but perhaps bits of him are doing things, floating around getting into other people’s cups of tea and generally being a nuisance and I miss him.

He wrote about life the universe and everything and it was a very short sentence indeed and consisted of two simple numbers but mostly, Douglas Adams was a genius. Every now and then someone comes along who makes you see the truth in things, someone who turns the universe on its head so that you can see it for all it is. The universal truth that Douglas showed us all was that everything including the fact that we are here at all, was something absurd, but also absurdly wonderful and funny and beautiful and it’s still relevant today.

This May 25th will mark the 12th anniversary of Towel Day, a day when fans all over the globe unite in their love of Douglas. But why is it that after all this time that Hitchhiker’s continues to be singled out as a work unparalleled in its genre and as something that remains timeless and fixed in the hearts of so many old and new fans?

With the first novel written in 1979, the success of the Hitchhiker’s Guide has remained popular and has been subject to a number of homages over the years; Paranoid Android – a song by Radiohead, Babelfish – Yahoo’s translation engine, and Trillian the instant messenger client are but a few.  Another indication of Hitchhiker’s ability to touch the masses is the fact that its fandom isn’t limited to the standard gaggle of sci-fi fans. The audio series for example has seen the likes of celebrities such as Joanna Lumley, Rula Lenska, David Jason, and Christian Slater as well as the late great astronomer Patrick Moore and wonderful late Richard Griffiths. The group’s diversity is only enhanced by the film cast, which included Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. Comedian Bill Bailey and musician Mos Def are also confirmed fans.

But what is it that unites these individuals and makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy continue to stand up as a piece of much loved sci-fi treasure? It’s a question that doesn’t require 7.5 million years to answer.

In an age where a great deal of science fiction was mainly about earth being at the heart of the universe, of fighting alien forces and romancing green skinned lizard women, Hitchhiker’s stepped forward as a breath of fresh air offering a whole new perspective. Firstly it’s because it’s not merely ‘science fiction’ but more than that, it’s a roaringly funny, intelligent and tender hearted approach to taking a long hard look at our place in the universe and observing the sheer wonder and ludicrousness of it all.

It remains to this day, beautifully rich in comedic detail and eternally thought provoking. Douglas’ satirical view of human life was a true gift and his unique sense of humour still has an unsettling ability to convey just how bloody strange it all is (including the fact that we are here at all).  Through Adams’ work we find ourselves in a universe wildly beyond our imagination, we also find a lot of familiarity in instances of crass advertising and of day to day dilemmas such as the never ending search for a decent cup of tea. Hitchhiker’s takes incredible leaps in common sense and flights of fancy (two of my favourite modes of transportation), whilst remaining fundamentally English in its humour and this has allowed it to stand the test of time well.  Adams’ distinctly human and philosophical approach to ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ has maintained the universal attractiveness of Hitchhiker’s and ensured its relevance today and for the next generations of carbon based life forms, well at least until we are all bulldozed to make way for an interstellar bypass.

I for one will be carrying my towel with pride and re-listening to the classic radio productions as a mark of celebration and thanks on the 25th; after all,  Hitchhikers taught me everything I know about ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ and perhaps most importantly the value of a decent cup of tea.

So long Douglas, and thanks for all the books.

Steph Hall

Doctor Who Audiobooks in May

10 May

Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon (Classic Novel) Did you see the Ice Warriors in the recent Cold War TV episode of Doctor Who? 39 years after their previous last screen appearance they were back, as huge and menacing as ever. If this left you intrigued about their previous encounters with the Doctor, AudioGO can help! Not only do we have two versions (a narrated TV soundtrack and an unabridged novelisation) of their very first story – 1967’s The Ice Warriors – but this month sees the publication of Classic Novel The Curse of Peladon, in which the native Martians (for that’s what Ice Warriors are) greet the Doctor in a surprisingly non-combative manner. The story is written by Ice Warriors creator Brian Hayles and read by David Troughton, who played King Peladon in the original TV serial and who is by now a seasoned Doctor Who audiobook reader. It’s a thrilling tale of how the undeveloped society of Peladon is thrown into turmoil as it prepares to join the Galactic Federation, and how the Federation’s colourful alien delegates are picked off one by one by an unknown force. Posing as the representatives from Earth, the Third Doctor and Jo find themselves up to their necks in trouble… If Peladon is your destination of choice this month, you might also like our narrated TV soundtracks of The Curse of Peladon and its sequel serial The Monster of Peladon.

We move on two regenerations to the Fifth Doctor for this month’s Destiny of the Doctor release, Smoke and Mirrors by Steve Lyons. Following on from the previous four instalments, this is once again a standalone adventure for the Doctor, albeit one with links to the rest of the series. It’s performed by Janet Fielding – who played the terrifically popular companion Tegan in the 1980s – and Tim Beckmann, and is set against the colourful background of a fairground in 1920s England. The Fifth Doctor (as played by Peter Davison on TV) and his companions Tegan, Adric and Nyssa, meet the famous escapologist Houdini and are drawn into the mystery of a fortune teller with supernatural skills. But lurking in the shadows is a sinister and all-too-familiar presence… Listeners familiar with the Fifth Doctor’s era will enjoy this recreation of the era when the TARDIS was occupied by three young companions of differing temperament, and a Doctor who was the youngest ever model yet! If you’d like to familiarise yourself with that period in Doctor Who, you can do so with several of our Classic Novels titles, including Castrovalva, The Visitation, Black Orchid and Earthshock.

Doctor Who: Smoke and Mirrors (Destiny of the Doctor 5) If Doctor Who ever had a sister programme in the 1970s and 1980s (long before Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures) it was Blake’s 7. Devised by the man who created the Daleks (Terry Nation), script edited by the man who created Leela and the Robots of Death (Chris Boucher), and written and directed by a whole host of experienced Doctor Who hands, it had the look and feel of a grittier, harder sci-fi relative. Still adored to this day by a legion of fans, Blake’s 7 ran for four series on BBC1, from 1977 to 1981. During that time the intrepid Roj Blake and his band of fellow rebels tirelessly battled the Federation (shades of The Curse of Peladon, above!) and fought to defend planets and people from the despotic rule of Supreme Commander Servalan.

Trevor Hoyle wrote four Blake’s 7 novelisations, and we have just added the third, Project Avalon, to our collection of unabridged audio readings. It’s read by Jacqueline Pearce – Servalan incarnate – and Paul Darrow, whose Avon became the leader of the rebels in the latter two series. Together with sound design from Simon Power (who also stirs it up beautifully on The Curse of Peladon) their readings do terrific justice to Trevor Hoyle’s exciting retelling of the TV episodes Seek-Locate-Destroy, Duel, Project Avalon, Deliverance and Orac. There’s some wonderful dialogue and a breathtaking array of scenarios, from a deadly battle for survival in a forest to a sub-zero mercy mission in a landscape of snow and ice. The crew of the Liberator also meet their newest recruit, in the form of the portable computer Orac! This unabridged reading joins our previous two Blake’s 7 titles, The Way Back (read by Gareth Thomas) and Cygnus Alpha (read by Paul Darrow).

Before I teleport to another planet surface, there’s just time for me to hint at next month’s Doctor Who releases, which include a double bill of adventures for the Third Doctor, the double return of some particular famous exterminators, and an encounter with Christopher Columbus! Try not to wish May away in the meantime…

Happy listening!

Michael Stevens

Commissioning Editor, Doctor Who

What is everyone saying about Doctor Who: Babblesphere?

19 Apr

Doctor Who: BabblesphereBabblesphere, the fourth in the Destiny of the Doctor audio series came out at the start of April. This adventure, performed by Lalla Ward and Roger Parrot and features the 4th Doctor, as played by Tom Baker in the original TV series.

Reviews of the Destiny of the Doctor series have been positive in general, and on our Facebook page, Stephen wrote “Vengeance of the Stones is my favourite so far due to fully immersive story, delivery and sound production, but Babblesphere is a strong addition to the series.”

The Sci-Fi Bulletin gave it an 8/10, saying “Filled with nice little touches, this is a fun story with just a hint of acid”, although Eye of Horus said “At times, DOCTOR WHO: DESTINY OF THE DOCTOR – BABBLESPHERE is perfunctory and uninspired, but, at times, given the allegoric subject, is insightful and a social warning (“Communication Change” as opposed to “Climate Change”).”

Tim from Mass Movement Magazine, states that Babblesphere “has upped the ante in a series that’s worth its weight in gold.”

What do you think of Doctor Who: Babblesphere? Is it as good as the other titles in the series?