Friday, August 25, 2023

Finish Big interview

Last week, I was grilled by Mark and Joe from Finish Big about a whole bunch of audio plays I've worked on for production company Big Finish - the adventures of Bernice Summerfield, the sci-fi series I created Graceless and my work on the Doctor Who Companion Chronicles

Now you can watch a confused old man trying to remember things and articulate some kind of cogent thought.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

David Whitaker book launch - 9 November

Hooray! We'll be launching my new book David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television at the Portico Library in Manchester on the evening of 9 November 2023.

Full blurb as follows:

To celebrate 60 years of Doctor Who, discover the extraordinary, little-known life of one of its chief architects: David Whitaker. As the show’s first story editor, he helped to establish the compelling blend of adventure, imagination and quirky humour that made — and continues to make — Doctor Who a hit. David commissioned the first Dalek story, and fought for it to be made when his bosses didn’t like it. Regeneration, the TARDIS being alive, the idea of Doctor Who expanding to become a multimedia phenomenon in comics, books and films… David Whitaker was all over it. 

Yet very little was known about this key figure in Doctor Who history — until now. Why did he fall out with Irving Berlin? Was he really engaged to Yootha Joyce? And how did an assignment to Moscow badly affect his career? Simon Guerrier, author of a new biography of David Whitaker, will be interviewed by Carol Ann Whitehead.  Books will be on sale.


Simon Guerrier has written countless Doctor Who books, comics and audio plays. He’s also the author of Sherlock Holmes — The Great War and had produced a number of documentaries for BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. 

Carol Ann Whitehead is a trustee of the Portico Library, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; Deputy Chair of the Chartered Management Institute Women’s Board; and a Chartered Companion. She heads the Zebra Partnership, a boutique publishing, events and campaigns agency. 

Ten Acre Films publishes a range of high-quality books on the history of TV, including, most recently, Biddy Baxter: The Woman Who Made Blue Peter and Pull to Open – 1962-1963: The Inside Story of How the BBC Created and Launched Doctor Who.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Doctor Who Magazine #594

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine is the last under the editorship of Marcus Hearn, who has been so supportive of my efforts over the years. In fact, his (and others') work in the 1990s uncovering the early days of Doctor Who was a big influence on lots of what I do now, and Marcus has been really supportive of my various deep dives into obscure and leftfield bits of history. He commissioned a piece I pitched about Solzhenitsyn and The Ambassadors of Death, and another on the significance of The Face of Evil being the only Doctor Who story to mention 'eugenics' in dialogue (at least it was when I wrote the feature).

This new issue features the latest instalments of two regular features devised by Marcus and written by me. In All Decs on Hand (my best headline in an age), I interview assistant set decorate Verity Scott and set decorator's assistant Lois Drage. In Sufficient Data, Roger Langridge illustrates my take on the last of the reader's poll winners - this time, the winning stories of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Doctors respectively.

These features will continue under the new editor and we've also been discussing some new things. More of that to come...

By coincidence, I got home to find this new DWM waiting for me after a long drive, in which me and the children were entertained by David Tennant's reading of How to Train Your Dragon (2003) by Cressida Cowell, which was different enough from the films to keep my guessing and is full of fun twists and adventure. It's also fun to hear Tennant's skills as a storytelling with multiple characters and accents, and I quietly thrilled to him referring several times to the 'The Green Death'. But what really struck me - and Lady Vader - is the absence of female characters. A book about young Vikings from another age.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Sandbaggers: Think of a Number, by Donald Lancaster

I've long been on the look-out for this original novel based on the ITV spy series The Sandbaggers (1978-80). A chum lent it to me last week and I've whizzed through the 125 pages. It's a pacey, gripping shocker, all gruff men being cross about their nasty, dirty world.

The plot involves a phone call from Switzerland, a Russian agent called Lekarev asking for help from SIS director of operations Neil Burnside, the central character of the TV series and a man usually behind his desk in Whitehall. Against his own better judgment, Burnside is sent out to Switzerland to meet this Russian agent who may want to defect - but who may be up to something else entirely.

It becomes clear that Lekarev is a very senior Russian agent, one of the so-called 'Numbers'. In fact, he's number 50, with responsibility for infiltrating the British Government. He knows which members of the Cabinet are actually Russian agents. Rather than allow this to come out, the Russians want him dead - and so do the British. And since Lekarev might say something to Burnside, orders are issued to kill Burnside, too. His own underling, Willie Caine, is dispatched to do the job.

But what is really motivating Lekarev and who are the third party, prepared to shoot people in broad daylight?

Over the years, I've read various reports of this novel, variously critiquing its logic or how much it matches the TV series. I think Donald Lancaster - a pseudonym for thriller writer William Marshall - has done pretty well matching the grim mood but in a location beyond the modest budget of the show. (This was my brief when I wrote a tie-in novel for Primeval.)

By sending Burnside out on a mission, Lancaster ups the stakes with the effect that this feels a bit like a series finale. Right to the end, I couldn't see how Burnside could possibly get out of his predicament - or Lancaster save him without cheating. But the solution is ingenious and I just about buy it.

What's harder to buy is the idea of a Cabinet full of Russian agents who in turn dictate the orders given to SIS. The TV show made an asset of keeping things mundane and drab and boring, tension conveyed by people anxiously waiting for telephones to ring. Think of a Number is much more in Bond territory with this high-level conspiracy. And then it does little with it: we're meant to believe that, while not part of the conspiracy, Burnside's superiors go along with their orders and the imposed death sentence. It's trying too hard; it's too daft.