As you'll see from the questions and answers, Alan Barnes wrote Storm Warning, the audio Doctor Who story which made me a proper fan again early in the previous decade and the first adventure for my favourite companion Charley Pollard. He's currently one of the writers on the new series of Fourth Doctor Adventures for Big Finish, the final stories for which have been released in this past couple of months.
How did you become a writer?
I graduated in 1991, in the middle of a grim recession. Rather than write out ten job applications a day, which is what the feller running the Job Club insisted I had to do, I spent as much time as I could writing stuff on spec – reviews, features, comic strips, radio series, anything – for as many markets as I could think of – not just the obvious culty, sci-fi stuff, but, y’know, puzzle magazines, corporate magazines, anything. Got absolutely nowhere. Two and a half horrible years later, I was at the monthly fan gathering in the Fitzroy Tavern when the conversation, for some reason, turned to the 1960s TV Century 21 Dalek strips. Gary Russell, who was editing Doctor Who Magazine at the time, said, fairly casually, that he’d always wanted to see a one-page Cybermen strip in a similar vein. I made my excuses, went home, typed up a proposal and a sample script, put it in the post the next morning… and my fate was sealed!
If there’s a lesson in that, it’s do as much practice as you can, waiting for the moment the opportunity presents itself… and pounce on it the second it does. But it was the two and half years’ seemingly pointless practice that meant the proposal was halfway decent.
What was your inspiration for Trail of the White Worm?
Bram Stoker by way of Ken Russell, obviously! But there was a lot about the 1970s in there, too – I’d been reading a book called When the Lights Went Out, a history of the time, and there was a lot in there about the strange right-wing ex-military types who were quite serious about assembling private armies and mounting a coup against the Labour government, so that was where Colonel Spindleton came from. John and Julie, the boy in love with the girl who’s in love with punk, came from the song Jilted John, aka ‘Gordon is a Moron’.
What was the trickiest element to achieve?
It had to lead in directly to another two-parter, so I was juggling two stories that needed to be individually distinct and rewarding, but nonetheless intimately connected. You’ll have to listen to The Oseidon Adventure to find out if I succeeded! But yeah, that was the trickiest bit.
Of everything you've done what have you been most pleased with?
Of the Doctor Who audios, probably The Girl Who Never Was – it was the first script I wrote after becoming script editor for the range, so not only did I have to split up the Eighth Doctor and Charley permanently, it had to be an exemplary script if I wasn’t going to end up telling my peers, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. So I couldn’t afford to indulge any of my bad habits: it had to be bang on length, with snappy dialogue (no over-written speeches), plus constant intercutting between short, tight scenes. I don’t think I’ve ever put together anything quite so tightly plotted. Of everything I’ve done… probably ‘Sherlock Holmes On Screen’.
Apart from an unexpected and nostalgic trip to the old Doctor Who exhibition at Llangollen, the Big Finish audio Storm Warning was the story which made me a fan again. How did you go about find the voice of the Eighth Doctor given his short screen time in the TV movie?
The TV movie dialogue isn’t particularly distinct or expressive, but McGann’s delivery is, so it was about trying to find lines that seemed to fit that slightly ‘breathy’ delivery – then just crossing my fingers and hoping that it actually worked! And also, just to keep the whole thing moving at pace – the TV Movie didn’t really linger on anything, it’s all rush rush rush, bang bang bang, so I played the John Debney soundtrack on repeat while I was writing it, just to feel my way into that zone.
Who’s your favourite Doctor Who writer?
It changes week by week, but today: Robert Holmes. I’ve just been re-reading his Two Doctors novelisation for an upcoming Fact of Fiction (an archive feature in Doctor Who Magazine -- Ed.) and it’s brilliant – really wry and smart, with this mordant, borderline misanthropic undertone. Amazed that it isn’t more remarked upon – it’s up there with the Malcolm Hulkes, in my estimation. Tragic that it was the only one he ever did: oh, for his Talons of Weng-Chiang…!
What stops you from feeling listless?
I’ve got three children, I don’t have enough me-time to start feeling ennui!
Doctor Who: Trail of the White Worm and The Oseidon Adventure by Alan Barnes are out now from Big Finish.