Seventh heaven: BBC7 and Doctor Who

An interview with producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell of Big Finish, makers of audio dramas revolving around cult sci-fi shows such as Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel and the Tomorrow People. Written for The Stage, September 2005, this version (which originally appeared on The Stage website, from where it is still available) is an extended version of the one which appeared in print the same week.

While one can hardly have failed to notice the return to Saturday nights of TV series Doctor Who, what few may realise is that – TV programmes aside – the Doctor has been far from inactive. Since 1999 audio drama production company Big Finish has been selling full-scale dramas starring several of the original series Doctors, from Peter Davison onwards, to legions of fans.

“We tried to recapture the essence of Doctor Who 1981–1989, because those were our three Doctors,” says the dramas’ co-producer, Gary Russell. “What makes Doctor Who work on audio is that it’s a programme that’s always pushed the imagination, but within that it still had the confines of BBC television budgets, which let’s face it in the Eighties were ridiculously tight. You had a BBC that generally flooded everything with light – the idea of mood and atmosphere wasn’t a prerequisite for any drama, let alone Doctor Who. On audio, you have the ability to tell the good stories – and I’ve always thought the series has those – but without the same constraint. So many people say, ‘On audio you can have ten thousand Daleks swarming over the hill,’ but it’s not about that. If anything, on audio it’s about two people in a dark room being scared. There’s no visual stimulus at all, so everything has got to come out in the story and the acting. That’s far more challenging and far more exciting.”

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