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Who is your Favourite Guest Rebel?

Avalon - (Project Avalon)
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Hal Mellanby - (Aftermath)
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Hunda - (Traitor)
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Interview with Christopher Cooper

Interview with Christopher Cooper

Jackie Emery
with additional questions by Ann Worrall

Christopher Cooper is a writer and editor, and a lifelong fan of Blakeís 7. He has written a Doctor Who novel for BBC Books and audio dramas for Big Finish, including Bernice Summerfield and Torchwood. For their Blakeís 7 range, he wrote the full-cast audios Outpost and Kith and Kin, and the latest novel, Uprising.

I met Chris over a pint and a pot of tea at the Parcel Yard Pub in Kings Cross. Having done a bit of Googling, I wondered whether he was the same Christopher Cooper who writes science books for Dorling Kindersley.

Chris: No, thatís not me! I should have done a Russell T Davies and added my middle initial when I got my first writing gig, to avoid any confusion, but at the time I didnít realise there was a proper science author out there with the same name. Just an Oscar winning actor. Maybe it gives me extra kudos? I donít know. Iím way more fiction than science!

Chrisí novel Uprising is set between the Series 2 episodes Shadow and Weapon. The story focusses on Gan, Blake and Travis Ė and a whole lot more besides. Chris has described the book as Ďa labour of loveí, so I began by telling him how much I enjoyed it.

Chris: Thatís very flattering, thank you. It was such an unexpected privilege to be invited to write a Blakeís 7 story, with all these characters Iíve loved for so long. I wanted to make the best job of it that I possibly could, to put in all the love that I have for the series and make something wonderful, so Iím glad you liked it.

Jackie: How old were you when you first watched Blakeís 7?

Chris: It was 1978, and I was 9. I watched it from the first episode, because I was obsessed with science fiction. One of my earliest TV memories is Star Trek. I always watched Doctor Who, I loved all the Gerry Anderson series, and obviously Star Wars arrived here at the beginning of 1978. But I needed more Ė and then Blakeís 7 came along. It was everything I loved rolled into one, and excited me from the very beginning.

My favourite seasons are Series 1 and 2, and although I was a bit confused when Travis changed, I managed to roll with it. My fondest memories are of Series 1, though, because that was the first to come out on videotape. Iíve got a special fondness for the three or four episodes that were cut together Ė quite harshly, I think Ė which I owned on Betamax!

Iím less keen on Series 3, where I think things went a bit Star Trek-y, and Series 4 had its own issues. Scorpio was no Liberator, and I didnít like Slave. He was like an over-apologetic Parker from Thunderbirds. Soolin I donít think was particularly well defined or explored. And I missed Cally.

Even so, I was devastated when it all ended. I remember reading the TV listings in the newspaper that implied that the last episode was pretty final, and I refused to believe it until we saw the bodies. I was shell-shocked. But Iíd felt much the same at the end of the first series, when the crew were watching the screen and saw the Liberator explode. I burst into tears! Blakeís 7 was one of those programmes that really embedded itself in my psyche from an early age.

Jackie: What did you think of Blake and his crew?

Chris: My favourite character has always been Vila. He was the one I most identified with. I could easily understand how somebody could be so overwhelmed and scared, but put on a brave front every once in a while. He just seemed the most human to me, while the others were more straight-down-the-line archetypal heroes and villains. Vila was slimy and awful in The Way Back when he steals Blakeís watch, but I still liked him immediately. There is something so warm about Michael Keatingís performance, you just canít help but relate to him.

And I always loved Cally, I thought she was awesome. Jenna was cool as well, because she flew the spaceship. Avon always seemed to be a bit nasty to Blake, so I didnít like him as much Ė bearing in mind I was only 9 years old, so my opinions were very cut and dried. I didnít trust him, but thatís kind of the point with Avon, I think. He gets all the best lines though (or the best ones that werenít Vilaís), delivered with cynical glee by Paul Darrow, so even though I was wary of the character, I enjoyed Avon.

Blake to me was Captain Kirk, he was the Doctor, he was the hero without any grey areas. Of course, as I got older, I realised that heís probably not the most trustworthy of leaders Ė heís led too much by his ideology, but did he know what heíd actually do if he won? Iím not so sure. One of my favourite moments is when he rushes into what he thinks is Central Control, shouting: ďIíve done it, Iíve done it!Ē Itís all about him. Thatís when you know heís lost it.

Blake starts out stumbling across this amazing spaceship, he can go anywhere and do anything, but his exploits are all a bit piecemeal early on. By Series 2 he has to start thinking about what he really wants to achieve. That was something I wanted to reflect in Blake when I wrote Uprising. He has these grand plans that never really work out Ė which of course is part of the charm of Blakeís 7.

Blake, Avon, and Vila are kind of like Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in Star Trek - I mean, not at all in personality, but similar in roles. Avon has that cold aloofness of Spock, and youíre never going to get any BS out of him. He says what he thinks. Same with Bones and Vila, except itís more the emotional directness you get from them.†

And I donít think Avon and Vila are actually too dissimilar, though where Vila will suggest running away when told heís going into a situation that someone wants to kill him, Avon has already checked his gun is loaded. They are both realists, and I can identify with that more than with Blakeís often blind dedication to his cause.†

Obviously, as a child, my reaction to the characters was emotionally immature to an extent. I didnít understand the shades of grey in the characters, but as you get older, you consider these things more. Blakeís 7 was ahead of its time in that regard. You didnít get those shades of grey in Star Trek, or The Avengers or The Saint. Thereís always a clear moral. Good versus bad. Thereís no moral ambiguity in Thunderbirds Ė they just rescue people, and the Hood is a bad guy. Blakeís 7 is an incredibly interesting, ahead of its time science fiction series in that respect. Being able to explore it now Iím old enough to understand those things is just brilliant.

Uprising is very much a Gan story. To me, it felt like Ganís Ďmissing episodeí.

Chris: Ah, Gan! Bless his little cotton socks, heís so wounded! He has this sketched-in back story, but all you know is that he had a Ďwomaní and was up for murdering some guy. Thatís about it Ė you donít even know where Gan is from. I donít think heís from Earth; heís from a colony somewhere.

Jackie: It wasnít mentioned in the series, but the Blakeís 7 Programme Guide says that he was a native of the planet Zephron.

Chris: I have a big, non-canonical theory about all those planets that crop up in Blakeís 7. I think many of the colonies are like the one you see in the episode Horizon. These planets were originally Earth colonies, but because space is so very, very big, interactions between them have been few and far between for centuries. So all these distinct cultures have developed in their own way over however many hundreds of years, and I reckon that Ganís lifestyle was a bit Viking-esque Ė all horned helmets, furry clothes and beating of chests. Bloke-ish. Very 1978. Not really the type of culture that would have embraced the MeToo movement.

Jackie: Why do you think the original series struggled to find a satisfying role for Gan? And if he hadnít been killed off, what could he have brought to the series?

Chris: Itís quite a crowded cast when youíre trying to give everyone some screen time, as well as telling a broader story of rebellion and the struggle for freedom. Other characters were better served because there was the comedy one, the heroic one, the fighter one, the sardonic, cynical oneÖ A big friendly bloke doesnít necessarily create dramatic impetus. Once theyíd sorted out Ganís limiter there was almost nothing for him to do, apart from act as the foil or to question somebody elseís decisions. He often asks: ďWhy are we doing this? Should we be doing this?Ē That became his default role, which is a shame, really.

Jackie: Do you think that without the limiter, Gan is a psychopathic murderer or a wronged gentle giant?

Chris: Heís a big chap, and someone who had a bit of rough and tumble in his past, but not a psychopath. Somebody did something horrible to his partner, and he took vengeance when he found out. Thatís quite a relatable response. Heís just someone who did what he did in the heat of the moment, in a real-world sense of somebody lashing out.

Jackie: There are two popular fan theories about the limiter: either Ganís real personality is so violent that he has to have the limiter implant in order to make him normal, or it was the malfunctioning of the limiter that caused him to be violent.

Chris: My reading of it was that they had to fix the limiter to stop him having violent urges. Gan is a one-time offender, but they punish him with this permanent implant. Itís a rubbish form of offender control if it goes wrong and makes them worse than they were before! If I was going to continue his story, Iíd probably have followed that line. You might have an episode where he has to go back to his home planet and face things, but in Blakeís 7 - BANG - that was it, heís written out.

Jackie: How would it have affected the series development if Blakeís 7 hadnít killed off a major character?

I think it was the right thing to do, dramatically. Someone had to die so that the crew would be seen as vulnerable. Otherwise they would be like every other series where the heroes were indestructible, just having adventures every week. I remember being incredibly shocked that one of the heroes died. That simply didnít happen on telly. The crew just beam up, or go off in the TARDIS Ė they donít get crushed under a pile of bricks!

Jackie: So if you were one of the writers at the time, and youíd been instructed to kill off one of the characters, is Gan the one you would have killed off?

Chris: Yeah, Iím afraid so. Because heís the one character you can kill off without affecting the set-up or the ongoing story. You couldnít kill off the leader, or the pilot, and you certainly couldnít kill Avon! In terms of character progression, Gan was the one who wasnít likely to provide any more story. Sad as it was, he had to cop it. But at least he had a heroic death. The other person they were considering writing out was Vila, so I think they chose the right character to off.

Killing off a character also lets you explore how the others would respond to their death. In those environments Ė in rebellions and war time scenarios - people do just get snuffed out. I wanted to capture that in my own writing for Blakeís 7. Some of the charactersí deaths in my audios and in Uprising werenít in my original pitches, but the stories just came to the point where it seemed like it had to happen to them. Ideas occur to you while youíre writing, and events lead in a certain direction. Itís that nebulous thing writers say: ďThe character told me I had to do this!Ē

Jackie: How did you become a writer?

Chris: Itís something Iíve always done, and wanted to do professionally. When I was at school, my English teacher said that I was the ĎKing of Corní because I always tried to slip a corny gag into everything I wrote. I wanted to be a comedy writer, and I did write and perform comedy sketches years ago.

But for years, I was always writing and tinkering away, but never really getting anywhere. Then I began writing a three-panel cartoon strip for lastminute.comís email newsletter. It was called The Understudy, and it was about an actor who never got the lead role. That was my first proper paid writing gig!

In 2002 I got a job at BBC Worldwide, in a not-very-glamorous role coordinating the final delivery of master tapes and paperwork from various productions for international sale. Iíd been doing that for a couple of years when Doctor Who came back in 2005. I looked after drama shows at the time, so had a very tenuous link with the series. I got to watch the episodes early, which was tremendous.

BBC Magazines was part of Worldwide back then, and they decided to produce a Doctor Who comic. I had supplied some viewing copies to the editor, Moray Laing, so I sent him some Doctor Who cartoons in the hope of becoming a contributor. Thatís how I ended up writing and illustrating single-panel humorous cartoons for Doctor Who Adventures. One day I asked Moray if I could pitch an idea for a comic strip story, and thatís where it all began properly. Iíd been plugging away unnoticed for donkeysí years, and suddenly I was writing comic strips for Doctor Who, which was a childhood dream come true! I wrote the scripts and a brilliant artist called John Ross did the art. They were generally quite bonkers, whizz-bang adventures. Over the years, I did around 70 of those for DWA. I also started writing the Letters Page in the Ďvoiceí of the Doctor; Iíd actually been two Doctors by the time it ended. That was fun.

That led directly to my Doctor Who novel for BBC Books. Gary Russell was the productionís brand gatekeeper, so he used to approve the things Iíd written for Doctor Who Adventures, and he suggested to the rangeís editor, Justin Richards, that I might be good for writing a novel. That was a tremendously exciting opportunity. I approach every commission as if itís a one-off, my only chance to do something like this. When I wrote the Doctor Who novel, I put everything into it Ė every spare moment I could fit around the day job, I was writing away. The BBC books were published in batches of three, and mine was the final book in the last batch that came out for the tenth Doctor. Itís called The Krillitane Storm, and I strongly recommend everyone to read it! That was in 2009, so my career as a novelist hasnít exactly been stratospheric.

Jackie: Was it Justin Richards who got you into writing for Big Finish?

No, that was Gary again. The first thing I wrote for Big Finish was a Bernice Summerfield audio called Brand Management, in 2011. It was one of the stories in the Road Trip box set. I got that through Gary Russell who directed it, and Scott Handcock who was the script editor. I owe an awful lot to Gary, actually, and Moray, and a handful of other people. Iíve been very lucky. Youíre always looking for a benefactor who appreciates your worth, and Gary gave me two very good opportunities to do some exciting things that lead to other things, so Iím forever grateful.

Brand Management was my first proper audio play. Iíd written for actors before, when I was writing comedy for myself and others to perform. But it was really nice to have the chance to write a scripted drama, and put all the little thoughts I had into operation and see if they worked. I think they worked! Iím not sure it was the most ground-breaking of dramas, but itís good fun to listen to. There was a great cast, with a lovely old actor, Roger Hammond, playing the professor. He was amazing. Delivered every line perfectly. I remember sitting in the recording studio, thinking ĎThis is great!í

In 2015, I wrote a Doctor Who audio for a Big Finish box set called You are the Doctor, and other Stories, featuring the seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), and Ace. It was fun to write a self-contained episode in that classic 25-minute format. And I wanted the story Ė again, maybe my one chance to write for a real-life Doctor Ė to express everything I feel about Doctor Who, so I gave Ace this big speech that was basically me saying how wonderful the Doctor is!

My day job is editing Star Wars Insider magazine for Titan Magazines. I used to edit the official Star Trek magazine and a few comics, and that bizarrely led me to writing for Blakeís 7. There was one comic I was editing that Cavan Scott was going to write, and we were having a conversation about sci fi and spacey things, and he asked me if I happened to like Blakeís 7. I said: "God, yeah!" At that time, he was about to produce a box set of new audios, but he ended up handing over to John Ainsworth Ė and he passed me on to John, too. Iíd already come up with a few ideas that John liked, and it moved forwards from there.

My first Blakeís 7 audio was the episode Outpost in the Spoils of War box set. When John told me that I would be writing for Vila, I was ecstatic! Thatís probably partly why Outpost is one of my favourite things that Iíve done, and one of the few things Iíve written that I enjoy listening back to. Usually I just canít, because I end up wishing Iíd written lines differently, but when I listened to Outpost I laughed at my own jokes!

Spoils of War is set in early Series 3, when theyíre all getting to know each other. Outpost is a kind of a missing story beat to see why Tarrant and Vila have that edgy relationship. Why does Tarrant bully Vila? Iíve always wondered where that came from, and it was something I wanted to address. I even put in a joke about Tarrant having curly hair but not being Blake, because thatís how I felt about him coming into the show when I was a kid.

It also occurred to me to wonder what made Vila stay on the Liberator, especially once Blake was gone. I wanted to fill in some details for his personality traits. I wanted to show that he came from a horrible, disadvantaged, dangerous background. People have always taken advantage of him, which is why heís wary of everybody he meets. Especially someone as overtly confrontational as Tarrant.

Jackie: It was great to hear Servalan make an appearance at the end.

That was Johnís suggestion. He said: ďDo you fancy writing a little bit at the end for Servalan?Ē That was another ďGod, yeah!Ē moment. I just had her swish in, kill someone and swish off again Ė wonderful!

Thereís a loose familial connection that I have to Servalan, actually. My Mum is originally from Woking in Surrey, and when she was about 14 she used to hang out with Jacqueline Pearce at a local coffee shop, and Jacqueline taught her how to blow smoke rings! My Mum was quite naughty when she was young, but I donít think she had any plans to dominate the galaxy.

Jackie: I noticed that you sneaked references into Outpost from other sci fi series Ė Star Wars, Star Trek and Judge Dredd.

Chris: Not entirely deliberately! Maybe a bit. Thereís a reference to Ďjuve cubesí that John did pull me up on. He knew it was familiar, but couldnít remember where heíd heard it, and I couldnít remember either Ė but I knew it wasnít me that made it up. Even if it wasnít Judge Dredd, it was somebody elseís idea that Iíd nicked. But thatís okay, writers are degenerate thieves Ė we canít help ourselves! Youíre the sum of your influences.

Jackie: What are your other influences?

Chris: British sci fi and fantasy, especially those lovely ITC series. When I was in the sixth form, I had plenty of time to sit around at home in my pants, watching repeats of Man in a Suitcase, The Champions, and The Avengers turned up on Channel 4Ö I love that British telefantasy genre. All those Gerry Anderson series with American voices but British lunacy at its heart. Doctor Who is dripping with British lunacy. Blakeís 7 is dripping with British despondency, which always floats my boat.

Jackie: Kith and Kin focusses on Tarrant. Given your feelings about the character, did you like writing an episode for him?

Chris: Yes, I did. When I wrote Outpost, I think I still had a bit of a bugbear about Tarrant Ė itís only been 34 years, let it go! - but I came to appreciate the character much more after that. Kith and Kin is the last but one episode in Crossfire Part 3, so it was written as a Tarrant-family story to echo the penultimate Tarrant-family story in Series 3.

As with all these things, audios start off with John Ainsworth saying: "Youíve got these regular cast members and a couple of guests Ė can you come up with an idea that suits them?" Then thereís some back-and-forth discussion about where you might take it. John was keen on my idea of having a Tarrant episode that focussed on his family relationships. I came up with this story that I was convinced someone would have done before, but apparently not, so I was allowed to tell it.

Del Tarrant and Deeta Tarrant have both chosen quite hardcore paths in life. Del was a Federation pilot who jumped ship. Deeta worked as a mercenary / assassin out in the galactic sticks. Where did they come from, what drove them to that point where they donít communicate?

And then thereís the other one, Dev Tarrant. You canít ignore the possible connection there! I love all that stuff in The Way Back where Dev turns out to be the baddie, but heís never seen or heard of again. Heís always fascinated me as a character, so I thought, ĎWell, the nameís the same...!í I thought it might be interesting to find out what happens to a family thatís so enmeshed in the intrigue of Federation HQ, where various factions ebb and flow and betray each other, and everyone is sneaking around plotting to stab each other in the back. I wanted to explore the fall-out from that, and Dev seemed like a conduit into that world through Del.

I also wanted to do something with Cally; actually using her telepathy for something sensible, like warning somebody that something bad is about to happen. Callyís a fun character to write for. I think sheís as hard as nails, but really nice as well. You would absolutely want to have her on your side. You know sheíd look out for you, and if you were going to do something stupid, sheíd reel you in. I think she works well with Tarrant, but they didnít get much chance to do that in the original series, as far as I remember. They nearly always seemed to pair Tarrant with Dayna.

It was also good fun to make up new characters, because they can undermine the regulars. Having new people coming into the mix stretches the way you write the regulars, and you can be more robust with what you do with them.

Jackie: When you were asked to write Blakeís 7, did you rewatch the whole series?

Chris: No, and that was a conscious decision. I havenít watched the whole series for quite a long time. For my first audio drama, Outpost, I watched a couple of episodes just to get the tone, and remind myself of the voices. But as I watched, I was surprised to find that I recognised every scene! It was really strange. Sometimes when I rewatch shows years later, I find that I remember some bits but have forgotten most of them. But with Blakeís 7, it was still all there.

So what I wrote was based more on memories, which I thought was more important than Ďrevisingí. I wanted to express what the programme, those characters, mean in terms of how they feel to me. Blakeís 7 affected my world view at quite a young age, and the characters are so meshed into my brain, I decided to trust those voices rather than try to replicate whatís on screen.

When it came to Uprising, I watched another couple of episodes to get more of a feel for Gan and Travis. Gambit was one of those. I also did a bit of reading about mutoids, to find out if anyone else had had the ideas that I was thinking of, and get my facts straight.

Jackie: How did you get the commission to write Uprising?

Chris: John Ainsworth invited me to write it. It was a bolt out of the blue; I wasnít expecting another opportunity to do something so big again, given the first novel was Ė ahem Ė a way back.

With a novel, there arenít the barriers of cast availability or duration, and I wanted to write something epic. You remember the Trevor Hoyle Blakeís 7 novelisations? He combined a few episodes together, which gave them an epic feel that you wouldnít necessarily get with just one TV episode. That was the idea in the back of my mind. When I wrote the Doctor Who book, I was influenced a little by style of the old Target novelisations, that made TV stories much bigger than they were on screen. I wanted to capture some of the essence of that epic adventure storytelling.

Jackie: Was the commission to write any book, or one set specifically in Series 2?

Chris: It could have been set any time between The Way Back and Terminal, but I wanted to write something set sometime during the first two series, because those are my favourites. I thought mutoids would provide an interesting angle to create a larger story, and they were much more prominent in those earlier episodes. I think turning people into mutoids is the most horrible thing you could do to a person, exploiting them as if theyíre second hand equipment.

Uprising was always intended to be a Gan story, because I felt that heíd died too soon, and we didnít really get a chance to find out much about him. Gan didnít crack jokes, he didnít get the smart lines, he didnít get to be the hero. He peaks early Ė in Time Squad, where we get his back story and learn about the limiter. After that, he just potters around frowning, and being a bit upset about things. But because his character hadnít had much exploration, there was plenty for me to play with. You canít really play with Avon, Blake, or the others, although when I write them, I do try to give them all some real-world relatability, so they become believable, rather than just being archetypes. I wanted Gan to form a kinship with another character, because of how he had been changed a result of the limiter. I also had a lot of fun writing the new character, Jade. Itís her story as much as Ganís.

So much happens while Iím actually writing, even though Iíd done a fairly detailed story treatment. I discovered a lot of the story as I was writing it. Travis originally played quite a minor part in the story treatment; he was almost a footnote. But really early on, I saw so many parallels between him and Jade that he took more and more of a role and became a bigger element of the story, even though I hadnít planned it that way. I wanted to portray Travis as someone who is really clued up. He investigates like a space pirate Poirot, he does the groundwork, he goes to these danger zones and picks things apart. He notices things that other people miss, and pushes other characters to do their jobs. In Blakeís 7, a lot of the side characters are total slackers, grumbling as they fly the spaceships. It was nice to have Travis doing what he must have done throughout his life, working hard against everyone elseís tired general apathy to make things happen.

I also wanted to look at the differences between Travis 1 and Travis 2. Not merely to explain why he looks and sounds different, but how someone who was so in control in those early episodes could reach the point that Travis reaches, where heís ended up all over the place. And if you do think of him as being all over the place by the end of Series 2, how did he get there? At the beginning of Series 2, Travis is basically just a bodyguard, heís not being given any leeway to do what he wants. In Series 1, heís all: ďIíve got this plan, weíll do this, weíll do thatÖĒ But his plans go awry and by the end of Series 1 heís failed so often that heís getting more and more desperate, and Servalan must be embarrassed at having championed him. I wanted to suggest that by the time my book is set Ė early Series 2, before Weapon Ė that heís already a bit edgy, a bit desperate, and everything is on the line for him. I wanted to bridge that story gap of what leads to him really losing it. Thereís also a comparison to be made between Travis and the mutoids that I thought was interesting.

I think the female characters definitely came off second best throughout Blakes 7, so I gave Cally some attributes that I think she lost in the series, over time. They turned her into the nice one, the medic. But when she first came into the series, she kicks the crap out of Blake, and holds a gun at his head. Thatís her skill-set. Sheís an insurgent. Sheíll run around, sheíll beat people up, sheíll do some clever thinking, sheíll work things out.

Jennaís the character that I struggled with most, because in the series she only had one role, which was flying the spaceship. Because sheís quite sarcastic towards the other characters, I wanted to make sure I captured her snarky aspect. I wrote a conversation between her and Blake which speaks to why sheís following him. She could have just carried on as a space pirate, but rather than just stealing stuff and smuggling, sheís involved with Blakeís mission. Itís given reason and rhyme to her life she might otherwise never have found.

Jackie: As well as all the action and character interactions, I loved the humorous moments in Uprising.

Chris: Blakeís 7 is filled with cynical humour, and it wasnít just Vila doing the gags. All the characters come out with smart one-liners that no one in the real world would say. The witty retort youíre more likely to think of on the way home that you wish youíd said at the time. That kind of humour trickles into everything I write, not just Blakeís 7, and it could all be Blakeís 7ís fault!

Jackie: Would you like to create a new computer for Blakeís 7?

Chris: Thatís an interesting question. The computers in Blakeís 7 tend to muck up the numbers. Zen was counted as one of the Seven, but as soon as they acquired Orac, it became Blakeís 8, which I always found a bit tenuous. Slave was a pain; I never liked Slave. On the whole, I donít think Iíd want to bring in a new computer. I love Zen to bits, and was so sad when he went all melty! Oracís a bit prickly, but I do enjoy him.

If I was going to bring in something new, I think it would be some sort of android, maybe like Kamelion in Doctor Who. Or Data in Star Trek. But I think the human characters are more interesting, because theyíre more fallible. I donít think the computers are as interesting as the humans.

Jackie: When youíre writing for Big Finish, do you choose what you want to write, or are you offered various ideas?

Chris: Iím not the most prolific of Big Finish writers, but Iíve been lucky to be able work on series that I know and love, and people like John Ainsworth, and Scott Handcock who directed both of my Torchwood episodes, have asked me back to do more. In my experience, it varies as to what they give you at the outset. Generally youíll be told the characters that are available, but sometimes, like with Torchwood, thereís already a clear idea of the stories they want to tell, and that gives you the basis to come up with story ideas. Blakeís 7 has been more about the cast and the era of the show, and the storylines themselves Iíve come up with.

Jackie: When you write the audios, do you act out the parts to get the voices right?

Chris: The voices are definitely there in my head already with Blakeís 7, so I donít have to act them out loud. And then the actors will take the lines youíve written and interpret them their own way. Itís always fun when Iím in the studio listening to actors perform, and thinking, ĎOh yeah, those are my lines, but I didnít realise thatís what I wrote!í They find the beats that youíve subconsciously channelled onto the page.

Writing a book is a different thing altogether. You get inside the heads of the characters, and thatís a real joy, because no-one else gets to. Because of the nature of prose, you stay with a character for a certain amount of time, until thereís a natural break and you go somewhere else. You canít leap between characters the way youíd do in an audio, so thereís an absolute focus there. You start to think like them. Bob Hoskins had to get therapy after filming Who Framed Roger Rabbit because heíd spent so much time visualising the rabbit during filming that he couldnít stop seeing Roger in real life. Writing isnít quite as bad as that, but I do sit for days working on a scene with a single character inside my head, and moving on to another character makes for a very different experience. Itís hard to describe, but the process is the most ridiculous fun.

Jackie: What has been your biggest challenge as a writer, and what has been the most satisfying?

Chris: Moving from writing this book to writing another audio for Big Finish was tough, actually. After Iíd finished Uprising, I did a Torchwood audio and the first draft was terrible. Iíd written stage directions that were paragraphs of prose. It turned out okay in the end, but I needed a period of realignment to change mindsets.

Another challenge was the prospect of writing a 60,000 word novel Ė that was daunting! At the start, it was a vast blank canvas blotting out the horizon and all hope with it. I knew I could do it, though, because the Doctor Who book was 50,000 words, and Iíd managed that, and I didnít know what the hell I was doing back then, either. Mainly I worried about whether the plot and pacing would work out, that every one of those 60,000 words happened at the right time and in the right order. Iím still not entirely sure how I managed to get to the end point I wanted. What weighed on my mind most was doing Blakeís 7 justice. But you have to ignore that little voice in your head saying ĎIs this going to be any good?í and just write what you feel works, hope for the best, and that other people will connect with it in the same way. That was probably the biggest challenge Ė doing the best job I could, to make the book as good as it could be. To make it the most Blake's 7-y it could possibly be.

Jackie: And was this the most satisfying?

Chris: Yes, I think it has been. For a long time, the Doctor Who book was the most satisfying, because it was such a big deal, after those little 6-8 page comics, to write a book that was going to be on sale in WH Smiths and Waterstones. It was a massive thrill, and I was so pleased to be allowed to do it. But then I didnít get another chance for the best part of a decade, until the Blakeís 7 book. Iím pleased with how the book turned out, especially the end - but I donít want to give it away! Itís been extremely satisfying, actually.

Jackie: Do you write full time now?

Chris: No, my day job is still editing for Titan Magazines, which I do enjoy. Editing is really just another form of writing, in a way. I formulate ideas that can then be dished out to writers, and I commission the right people to write them. Itís a writing mindset that that employs me most of the time. So although Iím not a full time writer, I am full time, in a way.

Obviously Iíd love to write fiction full time, although it is a bit of an odd profession, sitting on your own all day, indulging all these voices in your head who want their stories to be told. Itís really nice to go out and see actual people every once in a while. But writing stories is so much fun! It stretches you. Itís really rewarding when it works, and even more rewarding when people like what youíve written. It means that youíve done what you intended to do. With Blakeís 7, given that Iím a lifelong fan, Iím the audience anyway, so Iíve written the kind of Blakeís 7 story that Iíd love to see on TV. Itís very selfish of me! Sometimes I think, maybe I should be doing something more serious with my life. But then I think, no Ė I enjoy this! Itís good fun.

Jackie: And finally, the silly question we like to end on. Which Blakeís 7 character would you take to a bar, and why?

Chris: Well, I did send Tarrant and Vila to a bar in Outpost. Vila robbed everyone on his way to the bar, and Tarrant was just a bit of an idiot.

I wouldnít want to go to a bar with just one of the characters. It would be nice to have a little group, for a pint and a chat. Vila is the first one who springs to mind. Heíd tell some funny stories, it would be a fun evening. But youíd have to watch him, because heíd probably get tipsy and take it a bit too far.

I wouldnít invite Avon or Blake. It could get a bit heated if you went to a pub with Avon - youíd end up having a difference of opinion, or heíd just sneer at you. The same with Blake, except it would get political. You wouldnít want to have the Brexit conversation with Blake!

Cally would be fun to hang out with, and Jenna would be a good laugh too. Possibly Tarrant, he might let his hair down and relax, but weíve got history and it might be uncomfortable. Dayna would be too busy working on some weapon design, so sheíd decline the invite anyway. And I wouldnít trust Soolin in a bar. Sheíd get into a fight!

So, Iíd like to go to the pub with Vila, Cally and Jenna Ė and Gan, if he wasnít dead by that point. Afterwards, weíd go on somewhere like Pizza Express. That would be a really nice evening!

Picture credits:
Photo and original cartoon courtesy of Christopher Cooper
Screenshots from Blakes7 Image Library
Cover artwork for Outpost and Kith and Kin by Lee Johnson
Cover design for Uprising by Mark Plastow

Available from Big Finish:
Spoils of War
Crossfire pt3

Available from Amazon:
Doctor Who - The Krillitane Storm


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