For Schools: Hamlet screened the BFI.

On the Sceenplay's blog, John Wyver reports on the BFI screening of For Schools: Hamlet, the 1961 ITV series starring Barry Foster in the title role:
"Jennifer Daniel is a posh Ophelia who fails to convince in the ‘mad’ scene. As Gertrude Patricia Jessel, who had been a regular at the Stratford Memorial Theatre since 1944, has a rather remarkable neck, but she falls short in the ‘closet’ scene. The best of other players is probably Sydney Tafler as Claudius, another criminal role to add to the actor’s tally in British noir films of the previous decade."
This was thought lost for many years until a copy was found in the Library of Congress and returned to the BFI. For all John's reservations, let's hope an accessible edition (streaming perhaps since a home release seems unlikely) is made available soon.

Alan Barnes’s The Oseidon Adventure

Audio In this month’s Doctor Who Magazine, Jonathan Morris utilises the structure of Michael Apted’s Up series to snapshot the franchise at various points in its history and describes how at 14up!, in 1977, the show had increased its reliance on its prime asset, Tom Baker, because Saturday night on BBC One in that year wasn’t about the programmes but the personalities, “Basil. Tom. Brucie. Ronnie. The other Ronnie.” One of the many successes of this Big Finish series has been its ability to identify the extent to which Tom's magnetism dominated his stories and treat it a gift rather than try to produce stories that work in spite of him.

Alan Barnes’s The Oseidon Adventure is at the apotheosis of that approach, a story in which one of the pillars of Tom’s performance, his boggle eyed, breathless sarcasm, bulldozes out and becomes the driving force of a plot that challenges the listener to take a step back and wonder if they can really believe anything they’re hearing. If by the end of the first episode you’re not, like me, doing your best impression of Gwen Cooper in Torchwood’s Miracle Day, throwing your hands in the air and saying “So... why the hell... you know... blerp... Bollocks.” you’ve missed the point and you’re clearly not enjoying it as much as I did.

At the close of the previous adventure we were awaiting the arrival of some mystery alien ally of the Master which the cover of this adventure reveals to be the Kraals, the staticly stony faced antagonists from Terry Nation’s The Android Invasion which should give some clue as to the direction of the story. As the inlay synopsis explains “Chief Scientist Tyngworg has not just one plan, but a back-up plan, and a back-up back-up plan worked out...” Except what’s interesting about the play is what’s not in that synopsis and the parts of that synopsis which are just flat out wrong, and gloriously so.

In the accompanying interviews, Louise Jamson admits to reading parts of the script several times before she fully understood what was going on, not helped by having to record everything out of sequence. I can understand her perplexity such is the complexity of Barnes’s script which for much of its run time takes great pleasure in bewildering the listener, utilising its non-visual medium to trick us as to what’s happening to whom and how. It would be tempting to label The Oseidon Adventure as farce were it not for the element of bursting expectation inherent in that genre. The writer doesn’t let his audience off the hook that easily.

Which isn’t to say the play’s entirely a romp. As with Trail of the White Worm, Barnes is careful to set his work in a fully realised, if not entirely realistic 1970s, creating a certain distance from its television counterparts by including very specific pop culture references and making his antagonist as much as anything else the right wing Daily Mail reading sensibilities most right or rather left thinking people despise, typified by Michael Cochrane’s Colonel Spindleton, with the plastic recreation of Devesham from the original adventure symbolic of the synthetic Britishness which represents the Conservative ideal.

It almost goes without saying Tom and Louise are as excellent as ever both having tremendous fun chasing after the story as it motors away from them and as expected Geoffrey Beavers enjoys a much more expanded role as the Master, his guttural growl a perfect extrapolation of his on-screen horrific make-up. But the undoubted comic triumph are Dan Starkey and John Banks as the Kraals, which as the cd extras reveal realised early on that the best approach is to essentially to have Sontarans doing Zippy impression. The result is slightly more nuanced than that, and even if this isn’t some one hit monster with a new-found series potential, they’re certainly funny enough to carry this hour.

Doctor Who: The Oseidon Adventure by Alan Barnes is out now from Big Finish.

"inclusion on someone else’s blogroll was very flattering"

About Fellow journeypeople, prepare to wallow in soggy nostalgia. Katy Lindemann's posted her blogging history, though to an extent its our collective history. If the screenshot of early Blogger doesn't make your heart leap, try:
"In the absence of comments or permalinks, the way we responded to someone else’s blog post was to write our own blog post, and link to said person’s blog. And as ever, inclusion on someone else’s blogroll was very flattering. We didn’t have Klout or PeerIndex or Technorati, but we did track popularity using the Beebo Metalog. Slightly obsessively in fact. Updated by hand, and with love, this was the ultimate weblogging popularity contest of the time."
Katy's first steps, from May 2000 are here.

Glancing over this, I've lately considered the currency of these three posts posted at Geocities in a basic attempt at a blog in late 2000. Should I really be counting that as my blog birth? Feeling Listless began in July 2001 and that's the date I've usually used when considering birthdays, but Katy's blog has gone through numerous titles and venues and she seems to be more interested in the longevity of the activity rather than the "publication".

But the six month gap of indecision seems to make all the difference.  After commenting on Christmas television for reasons I can't quite remember I decided to spend most of my time on Metafilter until I tried again six months later and the generally unbroken run up to now.  I was offline for a few months in 2002 due to a computer outage, but there's a difference I think, between enforced silence and not being bothered.

My conscience says July 2001, so July 2001 it is.  The one thing I can't remember is when this blog became part of the UK blogging community, if it ever has at all.  When like Katy's blog it was listed at the UKBlogs updater?  When Darren first linked to me? (which happened far earlier than I originally thought).  When I met my first other blogger?  (incidentally since you've read that linked post, Fani's just had a baby which shows how time flies).

Such things are probably for other people to judge.  Sometimes I feel like I missed being a genuine part of the community back then, isolated in my north-western hinterland, sometimes I oddly feel like I was more connected, when none of my closer friends even knew what weblog was.  But I'm in danger of going over old ground so perhaps it's time to stop.  This blog post, I mean.  Not altogether.  Like that's ever going to happen.

Shakespeare on Spotify: Rare Marlowe Players production of Hamlet with Patrick Wymark.

An amazing rarity has cropped up on Spotify. Based on the various parts of editions I've collected, my understanding has always been that the production of Hamlet included in the Argo imprint was this recording of the Old Vic Company production with Derek Jacobi. That hasn't always sat well with me though, especially since the others were recorded with the Marlowe Society in conjunction with the British Council and it seemed strange that such an arrangement wouldn't also include the greatest play, especially since they also polished off King Lear.

Now the mystery's been solved:

If you're looking at this post in RSS you might have to open the post in order to see the Spotify embed.

A quick search in Gramophone's archives confirms that this is the original Argo release of Hamlet (review one, review two).  Hamlet was indeed recorded with The Marlowe Players in the 60s, along with the rest of the canon at that time and released on vinyl.  Later when they were rereleased on cassette, Decca Records who controlled the Argo imprint decided to supersede this earlier recording with the Jacobi and that's what's turned up in ever edition since.

As you'd imagine I'm quite excited and you can expect a review soon.


always enter a scene at the last possible moment

Film One of the intriguing elements of Steve McQueen's Shame is the emptiness, what's not being said. That's aided by the slightly odd structure in which nothing of Michael Fassbender's emotional life is really explained. In this short interview with I-D, co-screenwriter Abi Morgan explains why and also how she went about creating the many scenes of minimal dialogue:
"You learn how to set a scene. You set out a scene like a piece of poetry. I love the way a scene looks on the page. I love the relationship between dialogue and stage direction. I think very hard about when I’m going to puncture dialogue and stage direction because I know it’s physically going to break a reader. I enjoy the rhythm of a script and how you make that rhythm happen through the way you lay it out. Also, the thing about working with a director who is also a co-writer with you, is that you really trust that the director is going to know how to carry the message of the film because you share the message. We actually cut the first 60 pages of the screenplay so the film is actually just the last 40 pages."
In his Adventure in the Screentrade, one of William Goldman's key tips is to always enter a scene at the last possible moment, his example being a school class, so that audience has to spend a few seconds becoming acclimatised which makes them extra concentrated in what's happening and so more involved in the action.  I've also noticed that can be true of entire screenplays.

I tried an experiment recently with Robert Zemeckis's Castaway, a film I'd not seen since original release. After a recording a tv broadcast I chopped away the opening and closing sections (carefully making sure I didn't see very much of it) and then waited a week or so and sat and watched just the middle section with Tom Hanks's character shipwrecked on the island just to see if I'd miss everything else.

What I found was that I didn't really need to know any of the backstory which was presumably in the "prologue" and in fact when such things as the packages washing up on the beach, I could construct all kinds of reasons that might be there.  When he looks at what must be his wife/girlfriend/sister in the locket, all we really need to know is that she's emotionally important.  Shawn of even a name, he becomes even more of an everyperson.

The effect was to turn what was a pretty straight down the line Hollywood movie into an art film, with exposition thin on the ground leaving the audience to do much more of the work.  Removing the section in which Hanks must return home also loses the emotional catharsis, which is also often a trope of avant-guardists.  The last shot is of the tanker rolling alongside his exhausted body across a raft.  What more do we need to see?

fans of photos of libraries

Books For fans of photos of libraries. Photographer Pete Carr visits the Liverpool Athaneum and produced some gorgeous images of the stacks.

The venue is usually included in the Heritage Open Days so do keep an eye out.  It's well worth a visit.  As you can see.

"It will probably never be consummated"

Film "Five things When Harry Met Sally says about relationships" is an entertaining BBC Magazine article in which an actual relationship counsellor is asked to pass judgement on fictional characters:
"Relationship expert Judy James says the male/female friendship is probably rarer than we imagine.

"A lot of men and women are clearly friends, but often one of them will be harbouring some form of attraction for the other.

"It will probably never be consummated, as they would not want to jeopardise the friendship, but I'd say in about 50% of male/female friendships one of them secretly fancies the other.

"You see friends of the opposite sex often admitting that when they reconnect years later on Facebook or Friends Reunited," she says."
Well, I say fictional characters. That sounds fairly accurate to me too. Ahem.

 Actually this quote from Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody's Young Adult is even more appropriate: "Guys like me are born loving women like you."

often very wise

Film I've interviewed Stellan Skarsgård. Sort of. Last week The Guardian (yes, I am still talking to them) ran a Q&A with the actor on the occasion of the release of his latest film and inevitably there was something I've always wanted to ask him:

And all his answers are like that, erudite, funny and often very wise.

The City of the Dead.

Books Somehow the rapidity with which I’m reading these Eighth Doctor novels has slowed to one a month which is about the rate at which they were published. This was not the plan. The plan was to sprint right through to The Gallifrey Chronicles before the new television so that I could move on to all other things in the reading pile, but amid The Oxford Paragraphs and Shakespeare review copies and everything else the rate has slowed. It perhaps doesn’t help that some of these Who books take so long to read in and of themselves. These 287 pages have equalled about eight days, so small is the font, so baroque the narrative. If this had been printed “supermarket” style, with larger font and thicker pages I’m sure it would have been twice the length. Or perhaps it’s simply that I’m so used to spinning through locations on a Kindle, I’m out of practice with pages.

I know, I know, shuffle along old man. None of this has anything to do with the actual book, so perhaps you’re right, let’s move things on. The City of the Dead opens as seems to formula for the EDAs with the adventure already in motion. The Doctor and his friends are in New Orleans aiding Rust, a local detective with his murder enquiry, though as ever they’re more interested in the charm which was stolen from the curiosity shop formerly owned by the corpse. Everyone in the vicinity is hiding something and it’s up to our heroes to unravel the mystery. What a mystery it is, unspooling with the breathless velocity of a left-handed hummingbird and to such a degree its sometimes difficult to track exactly where the story has taken us. Which is my way of admitting I wasn’t always able to follow the plot. I know, I know, shuffle along old man.

Lloyd Rose is the pen name of Sarah Tonyn,* who the “about the author” section informs us “lives in a treacle well with her two sisters Nora Penefrin and Doe Pamine” and that, sweetly knows "she will never write anything as good as The Curse of the Fatal Death, she leads a life of quiet dispair”. Random facts: she was once a critic for The Washington Post. Here she is reviewing Branagh’s film version of Hamlet. She also wrote an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets. Even in the wilderness years, Doctor Who was a magnet for unusual and disparate talents. To what extent does her nationality affect the book? Well, it’s a rare occasion when US characters in the Whoniverse actually sound like they’re really from the US rather than some movie version filtered through British ears. It’s also a rare occasion in that period when some Doctor Who’s written by a woman, a discussion for another time.

But of all the recent novels, or at least the novels I’ve read recently, this is one of the strongest character-wise. All of the city’s inhabitants from homicide cops to local mystics to barkeeps are pitched above the usual tentacle fodder to become compelling characters with the potential capacity to exist outside of this novel, never truly simple functionaries of the plot. The best example is Swan, an artist’s muse, a shawl wearing broken flower of a woman of the kind I’ve met in the real life who you’re honour bound to fall in love with even though they’ll never notice you in a million years and on the rare occasions that they do they’ll ruin your life, manic pixie dream girls all. In one excellent scene Fitz finally notices her but knows in his bones that even thinking about anything in relation to anything related to her would be very bad, leaving Anji to pick up the pieces.

Because the novel’s other relatively unique quality is Rose’s understanding of the regulars. Despite his amnesia, the Eighth Doctor’s not been this in-character for quite some time, infuriating his various captors with his chipperness in the face of their utter callousness as his consciousness is buffeted along through a series of nightmares which underpin his curiosity. Anji and Fitz are rather bystanders to all this, but like some of the best of Who, we’re just happy to be around their screwball double act, a flirty electricity which is right out of It Happened One Night as she berates him for his chain smoking just as he’s consoling her over a potential love affair. Firing on every cylinder, Rose even allows Anji a dramatic moment of self-realisation as to what her role actually is as companion. It’s worth quoting in full:

“But what if the Doctor’s not there? What if something’s happened to him?” Anji banged the car door with her fist, not hard but loudly, “I mean isn’t this what he has companions for? So that we can be somewhere else when he gets in trouble and come and rescue him? We’re bloody well letting our side down, aren’t we?”

The atmosphere of New Orleans feels dead on too, if you’ll pardon the expression. Written, published and set four years before Katrina, there is nevertheless a sense of doom pervading the city emanating from the levees. As Fitz notices half way through, for a place which is supposed to be the city of Jazz, there are few places in which the music can be heard. It rains constantly too as though the city’s being warned of menaces to come. Some of that also has to do with the magic that pervades the air. This is very much a voodoo interpretation of the city in which nearly all the locals have their hand in some kind of magic and no one’s décor is complete without a few skulls and if this wikipedia page is anything to go by, all of that’s extremely accurate too. Rose’s book fits neatly into the genre which brought us the spookier elements of Live and Let Die and would later background The Skeleton Key.

Actually perhaps most interesting element of the book is the treatment of magic which, almost like the Buffyverse, is a standard part of their existence in this era or area. Spells are attempted with some expectation they may succeed and frequently they do and ghosts are talked about as a fact of life, and not because of some potential intradimensional Cybermen. I’ve seen reviewers which suggest that this breaks the standard rational universe approach to the series and from a certain point of view it does seem to ignore Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. But the Doctor rarely refers to “magic” without some form of inverted commas, the hint being that whatever forces are being harnessed are not terran in origin (at one point he remembers Artron Energy) and whatever devils or demons may be appearing, they’re probably friends of Abaddon or the Daemon.

Also worth mentioning is the novel’s franchise awareness. Throughout, the Doctor’s amnesia almost paralyses him, bits of knowledge spilling out but so much else hidden from him and that’s accentuated by his nightmares, filled with contextless images from his past. Except I’m rather in the same position because as the Tardis Index File explains, they’re all from various points in the entire run of the Virgin New Adventures most of which I haven’t read, but which Rose was apparently a huge fan of which led to her requesting this commission. That’s interesting because from early on, BBC Books were quite clear that the two series were unconnected but just five years later it’s allusions agogo and about as exciting as when Charley Pollard was mentioned in the IDW comics or Arkadian turned up in a Doctor Who Adventures strip. More of that please.

Updated 3/7/2012 No it isn't.  It's a joke.  It even says so on her wikipedia page, thanks Mark Clapham.  I'd been reading it out loud with a different pronunciation.

Why does The Guardian have such a condescending attitude to televised theatre?

TV  As predicted last night broadcast of Richard II, the first part of The Hollow Crown sequence on BBC Two was magnificent, certainly the best production I’ve seen of the play and demonstrating that everything is in the text, if we have difficultly following it, it’s because the interpretation isn’t communicating it to us properly. So much for that. For I have a question, one which always bubbles up on the rare occasions theatre and probably more specifically Shakespeare is produced for television and I’m directing it at the paper I read because frankly I’m embarrassed.

Why does The Guardian have such a condescending attitude to televised theatre?

Perhaps condescending isn’t the right word, but we’ll stick with it for now. I’m a big fan of the review section in the main paper. Michael Billington, Lyn Gardner and the rest writing about theatre productions I’ll never see, but capturing the atmosphere of the work with such intelligence that while it can never be a substitute, I do at least have a sense of what I’m missing and more importantly because they have such a deep experience, they’re able to notice innovation and how it fits within theatrical history. Billington is able to authoritatively state that a new production is the best he’s ever seen.

But my heart sinks whenever a new production like last night’s Richard II appears on television because I know we’ll never find out what he or any of the other theatre critics thought of it, at least not in long form and not bringing with them the experience of seeing all of the previous actors who’ve played the role. My heart sinks because since it was on television it’s going to be written about in G2 on the television pages and will be treated with the same flippancy of some new crime drama, sitcom or documentary series, which is also unfair, but we’ll talk about that in a minute.

Let’s pick on some people now. The Guardian’s review of Richard II is by Tim Dowling. To be fair to Tim, he does what he’s been asked to do, write about the play in the context of the television review section, so he’s flippant, takes the piss a bit and describes the context within which he watched the programme from his preview dvds. Unfortunately for him, or rather unfortunately for Tim, at time of writing he also spends the whole thing calling the lead actor Ben Wishart and misappropriates the St. Sebastian parallels in the production with Christ, but that’s by-the-by, the point is this isn’t a slot which is designed for much in the way of analysis.

Earlier in the week, The Guardian did publish a Mark Lawson piece by way of a preview but that’s more of a comparison with the complete BBC Shakespeare from the 70s and although it notes a few modern tricks it’s a not a review in the strictest sense. The paper does this a lot, writing pieces around a television series, they even asked both directors to write about these productions,  but there’s still that thudding sense when the thing’s been broadcast and in the television pages we’re presented with what amounts to a jokey synopsis.  Incidentally, neither piece is tagged with theatre or stage so don't appear on those pages on the website even though they're clearly of tangential interest.

There were similar games afoot last week in Sam Wollaston's review the RSC’s Julius Caesar which is more about his experience of attempting to watch Shakespeare than a comprehensive, contextual review of the production. There is some analysis of staging in there and it’s not an entirely offensive approach; because theatre is so rarely produced for television there will be some people viewing it in much the same way. But again, the rest of us viewers who’re quite happy with Shakespeare’s work are ignored.

Which is a shame because these are productions seen by audiences well in excess of the work which usually appears in the theatre pages and plenty of us will have watched last night within context of other theatre, and as the opening paragraph of this post suggests, comparing it to the other work we’ve seen. And the reason to do so isn’t that different now. Because these things hang around on iPlayers and PVRs for at least a week after broadcast, like real world theatre goers, a positive review could lead us to seek it out within its short availability, rather like a theatrical run.

So what can The Guardian do about this?

Simply put, treat television like a venue. This is BBC Two or BBC Four, like the Old Vic, putting on a production of Richard II or Julius Caesar. Deal with it in that context and publish the review in the theatre pages. Which isn’t to say it shouldn’t be dealt with also in the television pages and in that style, but for those of us who want something written with a different flavour do that too. This is not about creating demarcation wars. Theatre appears so rarely on television anyway that doesn’t seem too likely, I’d hope.

You could argue of course at least in relation to Julius Caesar that it has been reviewed in the theatre pages.  Except it hasn't.  The Observer reviewed it here, but I notice now it's not been done in The Guardian's theatre pages.  But even if it had, The Guardian's not averse to re-reviewing work when it shifts venues.  I think they covered a recent RSC production of Romeo & Juliet three times as it shifted about and compared the ways in which that shifting context and cast changes effected the production.

You might also ask why this is important, especially if we're essentially reading a review of something which we've all already seen.  It's because most of us are amateurs who've seen, as I've said, a fraction of the productions that Billington, Gardner et al have.  How does this measure up to Spacey's approach, or Jacobi, or even Rylance?  Although Whishaw seemed perfectly amazing to me, I would like to know if his was a convincing portrayal of the text which teases out all of the nuances.

And not just theatre. Why do comedy reviewers so rarely cover comedy on television unless they’re moonlighting on the television column? Why didn’t Fiona Maddocks review the recent Puccini triptych on BBC Four (presumably because she reviewed it on its original appearance at the Royal Opera House but there was little reminder of that when it turned up for a mass audience, no television tagging). There is more of a crossover with popular music, Alexis Petridis covered the Jubilee Concert, but I’d love to know what Kitty Empire thinks of Later with Jools Holland, the only regular live popular music show on the BBC now.

Why is most of television treated with the jokey synopsis approach anyway? Actually, that’s not quite fair, Lucy Mangan’s column the other day covering Line of Duty, Imagine: Theatre of War and Gordon Behind Bars is an excellent piece of writing and does that thing which the best Billington pieces “do”, placing the work within a context so perhaps I’m just pissed that theatre and especially Shakespeare’s been given such short shrift in these other two narrow examples. But it's often the same at The Observer too.  Surely something’s gone wrong when Macbeth’s wedged between Dirk Gentley and The X-Factor? Am I a snob for thinking that?

I am aware that all of this ignores radio drama which as Miranda Sawyer admitted today in The Observer gets short shrift from her, which left the recent three Sunday night Shapespeare adaptations adrift and opens up interesting questions about film.  But Simon Pulver's piece about Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus is just the kind of clever, curious overview which theatre is denied on the television pages.  They're not perfect, Peter Bradshaw dedicates a paragraph to Julie Taymor's The Tempest, but the tone's fine.  Perhaps that's part of it.  The tone. 

In short, this is a plea for my favourite newspaper to offer more expert analysis of the one arts venue we all have access to. Tom Sutcliffe was previous The Indie’s arts editor and now he’s bringing his depth of knowledge to their television reviews (although his misunderstanding of the chronology of production of Caesar gets him into trouble) and Sarah Compton, the Telegraph’s Arts Editor in Chief reviews Richard II and provides just the sort of thing I’m looking for from The Guardian (even if the comments beneath remind me of why I rarely visit their website).

This was rather more text than I expected to write then when I started and presumably the point was made many paragraphs ago and I know that as the penultimate paragraph suggests other websites are available.  But I'm the sort of person who tends to be fiercely loyal to brands, especially media brands, and I don't want to have to read a paper whose world view I otherwise fundamentally disagree with.  I just wish I didn't disagree with The Guardian, a paper which has done so much to shape my world view in so many other respects, on this relatively minor issue.

09/07/2012  Week Two of The Hollow Crown and once again The Guardian's covering it in the television section, which of course it would, in four paragraph after a jokey, if analytical synopsis of Wallander, one of which is really about the Preface with Jeremy Irons.

15/07/2012  As if to help prove my point, the paper's posted this old review of Cymbeline from the BBC Shakespeare in 1983, which does a weird thing with Helen Mirren and Pooh Corner.

20/07/2012  The Guardian failed to review Henry IV.2 in the television column but have sent Michael Billington to review Staging the World at the British Museum.  If they're happy for him to review an exhibition, why not television?

28/07/2012  Billington reviews some televised Shakespeare or rather Caliban's speech during the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

07/05/2016  Billinton review The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses.  Not in the paper but online.  Nevertheless....

Shakespeare and me in The Observer

Today's Observer has a special section, Shakespeare and Me in which various actors and directors talk about the plays have effected them. There's plenty of Hamlet interest.

Simon Russell Beale: "I think it was the actor Paul Rhys who said to me: "Hamlet will change you", and I didn't believe him. He was right, though – it's the only part you can't hide behind – and you spend most of the time contemplating your death, which is quite hard to do when you're 40, not yet ancient."

Judi Dench: "I made my professional debut as Ophelia in 1957. I didn't know enough to be daunted by it at the time. I learnt an incredible amount from it. My notices were certainly daunting. You learn from them – you learn very soon. You just have to grit your teeth and get on and learn to do it better."

Alan Cumming: "It probably wasn't a great idea to play Hamlet opposite my ex-wife [Hilary Lyon] as Ophelia. We were coming towards the end of our marriage and I pretty much had a full-on breakdown after it. The play also dredged up some awful things with my father, and I realised there were a lot of unresolved issues in my life that I needed to deal with."

Michelle Dockery: "Anyone who's ever played Ophelia should all get together for a big group hug. I played Ophelia with John Simm at Sheffield and I began to suffer terrible insomnia in the same way that Hamlet does. It's such a tough part and Ophelia is a huge leap, especially in the end, when she descends into her madness."

But the whole thing's a pleasure and all available here.

The Sunday Seven.
Alan Barnes.

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.