Planet Skaro: The Interview

17 07 2008

No, not daleks. The audio makers. They’ve just embarked on a journey through their second season of stories. Episode one was released last weekend, and recently we’ve managed to round up a big chunk of the cast and crew for a Q&A on things past, present, and future. Planet Skaro’s certainly proved to be a thriving website with strong community spirit. For their first release, ‘Echoes of the Protii’, they raised over £200 for Great Ormond Street Hospital, and continue to promote different charities with further releases. The colour coded culprits joining us can be viewed below.

Si Hart: Writer / Producer / Actor
Si Hunt: Writer / Producer / Actor
Steven Alexander: Writer / Producer / Plays companion Rob
Paul Monk: Plays The Doctor
Martin Penny: Writer / Actor
Pip Madeley: Artwork / Producer / Writer / Actor
Supporting Cast: Ant Cox, Tim Hawtin, Ant Williams

On with the questions…

> 1. How did it all get started? Why did you get involved in the Planet Skaro productions?
SI HUNT: Well, it all started with an idea! Si and I had written a story for a fan fiction website, using their Doctor and companions, called “Echoes of the Protii”. And one day I had the idea of making it into an audio play. Then I forgot the idea. Some time later, it popped back into my head and we did it! Luckily we had a follow-up story to turn into a sequel, and by the third play we’d decided to do it regularly and write our own scripts from scratch.

SI HART: As Si says, we wrote Protii and Soap many years ago and I was delighted when he came up with the idea of adapting Protii as an audio play. I was honestly astounded at the time at what we’d achieved, since none of us had had any experience of this kind of thing before. It was just something we were going to do once, make some money for Great Ormond Street hospital and that was that. It’s just grown and grown since!

STEVEN ALEXANDER: There was talk of doing a live-action Doctor Who related adventure. Sadly, this was far, far too hard and expensive so we did an audio only instead! I’ve always had a vague yearning to do some amateur dramatics, this was a good opportunity. Plus it’s a very good excuse to meet up with everyone from the forum without getting too drunk!

ANT COX: Without wishing to sound flippant, the answer is because I was asked! The reason I agreed is that I’ve been involved in Doctor Who fan productions in the past and have always thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

PAUL MONK: I honestly can’t remember. I was a regular on the Planet Skaro forum and was good friends with both Si’s. I’d like to think I volunteered for the part of the Doctor and then did a lengthy audition but I reckon Si Hunt got me drunk one night and got me to sign a 10 year legally binding contract. I thought I was signing a birthday card! J

TIM HAWTIN: Why not!? I was already a regular on the Planet Skaro message board & a regular at the annual meet in London so I was interested & I’ll try anything once…within reason. 😉

PIP MADELEY: It sounded like lots of fun! I’m the Technical Admin for the Planet Skaro website, so it’s been my job to help with the website, but the chance to make the covers was too good to miss! I like to do the occasional cameo in the actual recordings, but it’s the technical side that interests me most, particularly when I had the chance to produce the final episode of “Doctor Who and the Christmas Gnomes”. I enjoyed the freedom and control of shaping the episode together so much that I’ve agreed to produce a story to be released this winter, “The Curse of Ratanapura”. A cracking ghost story, but then I would say that, I co-wrote it! 🙂

ANT WILLIAMS: Because the people involved in making them are really good friends of mine. Also, I thought that they’d be a lot of fun (which they have been!)

> 2. The first two audios, ‘Echoes of the Protii’ and ‘The Soap of Fatal Death’, were adapted from novellas. What was that process like?
SI HUNT: Mostly quite dull and time consuming. It literally consisted of turning the story lines into lines of script, and then tweaking it to how we needed it. Then of course, we added extra bits according to cameos we wanted to fit in. In those days, we were trying to give everyone star spots, rather than casting to fit a group of characters, so there was often scenes shoehorned in to accommodate a favourite forum poster we’d persuaded to do a cameo!

SI HART: It was actually quite difficult. In prose it’s easy to report things back to the reader without actually showing them, as you can get inside the character’s heads, but with audio, we had to expand all those short cuts in the storytelling, and so the scripts were rather longer than they needed to be. I remember Si having to cut down Soap of Fatal Death quite brutally because we’d simply written and recorded too much material From that we’ve learnt to write concisely, which is good, but it was shame to lose some good material from the early stories.

> 3. What are your memories of the/your first recording session?
SI HUNT: Really good fun, but really hard work. I can remember, as is now common, sitting up in our spare room calling people in to record scenes for hours on end. We took a break to take some photos by the river for the cover, and then it was back in the bedroom for more slogging away. The climax involved a lot of noise and everyone crammed in the room together! But it was very good fun and I think people were surprised at how good the results were once the editing and post-production process had been completed.

SI HART: I remember everyone laughing a lot! But there was a lot of nervousness too. No one really knew what they were doing and we all sort of muddled through it together. We had a great day and no one could believe how quickly we’d got through it all in one day.

ANT COX: A bit hazy now as it was a good couple of years ago (if not more), but it was certainly an atmosphere of great excitement and enthusiasm (mind you, they all been like that!). It was definitely a learning experience for all of us, as I think subsequent stories have shown.

PAUL MONK: I was very nervous and unsure of myself. I felt a lot of pressure on me because I was The Doctor and I was worried I might let everyone down. Also we were raising money for charity and I was worried that I might let them down too. Once we started recording I realised that everyone else was nervous too and I started to enjoy myself.

MARTIN PENNY: I had recorded my lines for the first two audio stories on a microphone and emailed them in, and it was much more enjoyable actually interacting with the cast – although I recall being embarrassed about having to sing in front of people…my singing was…not the best!

STEVEN ALEXANDER: I remember in the very first scene we ever recorded, Rob had the line ‘Spanners, wires, an old Pentalion drive’. I corpsed like you wouldn’t believe and after 30 takes and gales of laughter, Si Hunt had managed to record most of the individual words and was able to cobble it together. It didn’t bode well! Although the rest of the recording went with hardly a hitch.

TIM HAWTIN: To be honest everyone seemed nervous but excited. Lots of out takes, lots
of swearing when my lines wouldn’t come out properly & lots & lots of laughs.

PIP MADELEY: My first cast recording session was for the second story, Soap of Fatal Death, and I remember having such a great time. It helped that my character, the conniving Rufus Sugar, had such memorable & funny lines. Doctor Who’s strength is the fact that you can take it anywhere and to do something so silly and enjoyable like acting in a spoof soap opera was a joy.

ANT WILLIAMS: Playing a rather camp villain, and having great fun camping it up in the

> 4. Has there been a change in the way you write, record and produce since the early days? Any lessons learnt along the way?
SI HUNT: Plenty! I used to try and edit the tracks whole and fit sound effects around them. Now I literally strip out every line then piece them all together again! It takes longer, but gives better results. Also I think we are very much aware of how long it takes to record, and trying to be economic with the roles we can record at different times. We’ve recently bought proper mike stands and popper shields to improve the quality of recording. The very first play involved some performances being submitted on cassette! All I can say is, never again! Those people sounded like they were underwater!

SI HART: I think we’ve learnt a great deal from every recording session. Each play has given us the chance to refine what we do and how we do it. As Si said we’re trying our best to reduce the popping on the dialogue recording, and trying to write more concisely so that we don’t have to record too much material. I think we’ve learnt a great deal really.

STEVEN ALEXANDER: Loads of lessons. Too many! With production, I found that sound effects and music should be used sparingly. If there’s more than one piece of music in a scene it’ll sound overcrowded, unless it’s a very long scene. Episode 2 of The Christmas Gnomes, which I produced, has so much sound it’s almost a musical! But then it is Christmas.

> 5. There’s a lot of history to the creation of this incarnation of The Doctor. How have you approached playing the part?
PAUL MONK: The part has evolved quite a lot since recording the first play Echoes of the Protii. Initially I had in my head a sort of Troughton / Davison type Doctor and I approached the role with that in mind. I had decided that he’d look sort of scruffy but actually be quite well spoken and so I gave him a slightly posh voice, which in hindsight didn’t work too well. Over the following plays I definitely relaxed into the Doctor and he’s now a more exuberant version of me, with my voice. I basically see him as a guy that just wants to see the sights with his friends and then sit down for a nice cup of tea but saving the universe keeps getting in the way.

> 6. What is the basis for the writing behind this Doctor, and is he a specific regeneration?
SI HUNT: We’ve never really explored where our Doctor fits in, and I’ve always assumed him to be an unspecified future Doctor. We concentrate more on his personality, knowing now how Paul plays him. I think we know him pretty well, so he leaps off the page really. Few stories have been about the Doctors past, as we prefer to look at his personality and how he reacts to his companions. I think we enjoy giving Paul tough emotional material to tackle! And if he steps out of line we just write a ridiculous hat into the story and force him to wear it for the cover shots.

SI HART: The first two stories were written for other Doctors, and I don’t think we necessarily worked to Paul’s strengths in those, and Paul has admitted he was quite nervous about playing the Doctor to begin with. As we’ve gone on, we’ve got a better idea of who this Doctor is, how he handles situations and he’s good fun to write for. I quite like the fact that we’re not specific about which Doctor he is. Whatever you do will always be contradicted by the TV show in the end, so it’s far better to keep it vague. One thing we were specific on was that we weren’t going to recreate a TV team. What’s the point? It’s always far better and easier in the end to do your own thing.

STEVEN ALEXANDER: The Paul Monk Doctor is defined by his blundering incompetence. In some ways he’s like a young William Hartnell, but he’s more likely to be the 80th regeneration than the first.

> 7. Nick is an unusual character, and seems to be the butt of a fair bit of sexual tension. What’s his place in the TARDIS?
SI HUNT: Nick is an alien, but paradoxically more level headed and balanced than our other companion, Rob. Being an alien stems from the character he replaced in the original version of the first story, and I developed this idea that the Doctor hatched him from an egg after sitting on him for 6 months, and gradually dropped it into conversations until it became fact (Paul has tried to claim that the Doctor must have invented some kind of incubation machine, but it’s not true!). But again we’ve never really looked at how the characters joined the Doctor; we’re more interested in whatever adventure they are in currently. But Nick is loyal to the Doctor, and his place in the TARDIS is as a sort of adopted son to him.

SI HART: Nick is great fun to write for. I’ve always seen him as a bit of an innocent, open to new experiences whatever they may be. His relationship with the Doctor has been good to develop and I like the fact that we’ve only hinted at what and who he is. It gives us lots of scope later on to explore his character and his past. I enjoy his banter with Rob, but we don’t seem to use them together too often sadly. They’re a pretty close knit TARDIS team for all their little arguments.

STEVEN ALEXANDER: Nick is actually the main character of most of the stories and is the romantic lead. His problem is that he never attracts the right kind or person, or even the right sex of person!

> 8. Is companion Rob terminally daft? Or will we see a transformation in future?
SI HUNT: No, I’m afraid Rob is a lost cause! But he’s not daft in a silly way, despite his eccentric way of talking sometimes. In himself, he’s very serious and very seriously wrapped up in his problems. Because he’s always got problems! Mainly sorting out where he stands with the other two, what he wants from life and messing up things by getting into trouble. I’m sorry to say the writers of next year’s stories have even more unfortunate messes lined up for Rob to get himself into!

SI HART: Poor Rob, he’s just misunderstood. I think he’s a good person underneath but he’s just a bit awkward and unsure about how to approach things. I hope the audience realises that! I think in a typical Doctor Who story it’s good to have a companion who gets things wrong and adds to the story’s jeopardy, it’s just that in ours it always seems to be Rob. He has had his heroic moments though and I’d argue through most of Magical History Tour he’s brilliant- he gets himself to where Nick is and even if he doesn’t get the girl, he does better than usual!

STEVEN ALEXANDER: I think Rob is in his late teens at the moment. I’m sure he’ll settle down by the time he gets to his thirties!

> 9. What’s it been like playing the same character for so long? Has much changed in the character or your acting?
STEVEN ALEXANDER: It’s tremendous fun playing a regular in these stories. I’m always pushing for more lines, a bigger slice of the cake, a comfier chair and payment of some kind.
Fortunately for me, Rob is quite pig-headed and unlikely to change too much as a character.

> 10. As a long serving supporting cast member, how do you find jumping from character to character with every new story?
SI HART: I suppose I’ve been lucky to have had some of the best roles in the plays so far! Vera Jundrey is a joy to play, mostly because of the really silly voice that just developed when we were first writing the story, and the character has been taken to the hearts of all that listens to the play (or so they tell me to my face anyway!). I hope the fun I have playing her comes across! It’s all in true panto tradition (and indeed due to the lack of women we have who are happy to be in the plays).

Playing Brian Epstein was difficult, but rewarding. It was hard work playing someone real and I didn’t really true and do an impression of him, because I didn’t feel comfortable (or indeed able) to do that. I hope that the spirit of the real Brian is in there somewhere.

Soap was difficult too, because those of us playing the stars of Clear Waters also had to play them playing the characters in the soap opera too, so it was two characters for the price of one. That’s why I played Daniel Nelson with my natural voice. I don’t think my joke of playing Ethan Fox really badly worked very well in hindsight, but it seemed to go down well at the time.

At the moment I’m having a break from acting in the plays, other than as small bit parts when they’re needed, as I think people will get sick of me and I’ll exhaust my ability, such as it is. I’d love to play a villain sometime though.

ANT COX: Quite easy for me, as my two biggest parts have both been security guard types (now the subject of a running gag!) so there wasn’t a huge amount of variance between them. I did play a villain in a Doctor-less spin-off story, which was enjoyable, although I did end up slipping into the voice of Nyder from Genesis of the Daleks! Even though the other bits and bobs I’ve done have been more minor parts, they’ve perhaps been more challenging in that they required accents and/or funny voices. The most fun voice-wise was a Reindeer with a speech impediment, but the entire scene I was in was cut from the story!

MARTIN PENNY: My first two characters were mainly just me playing myself, but I’ve gotten some very varied roles since then – including a pirate and Freddie Mercury! I consider myself lucky to have gotten such a wide variety of roles, and now have two recurring characters to play who are vastly different.

TIM HAWTIN: I’m not sure I’d class myself as a regular but I am in 3 of the first 5 plays (my last being Gnomes) & all 3 characters were very different. I’d place my self as a method actor in that I feel I need to get in character & stay there. I wasn’t great in Protii & it makes me wince when I listen to myself. I also like to have more instruction than probably most of the
others guys, so I know where I’m coming from in the story.

PIP MADELEY: It’s interesting, I’ve played pirates, doormen, a 10 year old boy, a tree and an intergalactic Brian Blessed. Madness! All to varying degrees of success of course. Voices can be difficult, especially accents. I wouldn’t mind a crack at playing the Doctor, but not until our Paul Monk has had many many adventures!

ANT WILLIAMS: Well, I was quite pleased to reprise the role of Scott (who I originally played in the first episode, “Echoes of the Protii”) in “The Christmas Gnomes”. One role I played, I pretty much played a younger version of myself, and in another, a more evil version of myself. Maybe I’m just getting typecast!?

> 11. The stories range in tone from the silly (Christmas Gnomes) to the emotional (Magical Mystery Tour). Who brings which elements to the writing?
SI HUNT: That’s a difficult question. I think the writer of “Gnomes” (who also plays Rob!) definitely brought a welcome sense of silliness to that story. I think it’s ironic that Si and I are both quite silly people, but we seem to write quite seriously. When I write alone it often comes out quite bleak. But when I script edit, I tend to strive to add more humour to other peoples work, which I think is ultimately appreciated by the actors as it tends to add colour to the scenes. Sometimes new writers don’t realise that every line has to be different, or entertaining, or absurd, because even one dull line is not good.

SI HART: It’s difficult to say really. It’s been such a collaborative process that it’s not easy to say who came up with what idea and how it’s all evolved. I have to say that I love writing the character stuff best of all and it was great to be able to have the space in Magical History Tour to write lots of that kind of material for Rob and Nick. Then of course we have Steven Alexander’s notorious ad libs… I’m not sure what they add to each story though!

STEVEN ALEXANDER: I’m probably responsible for the ludicrous bits, Si Hunt is responsible for the outrageous bits and Si Hart is responsible for most of the jokes that are funny. I think it was very brave of the two Si’s to try for something more emotional in Magical History Tour and very impressive that it worked. It’s much easier to keep a cynical audience engaged with more humour – and in my opinion, the listeners to fan audios are likely to be the most cynical of the lot with their fingers poised on the ‘off’ switch.

> 12. Who is responsible for ‘Man Hole’ and why is it not on itunes or all good record stores yet? [from Keepsake]
SI HUNT: “Manhole” is a song by a rather wonderful singer we happen to know called Lorraine Bowen. It’s not, alas, available as a single but is on her CD “Lorraine Bowen’s Vital Organs” available from Lorraine herself makes a cameo in “Soap of Fatal Death”, singing a few bars of another of her songs, “Crumble”.

ANT COX: God only knows – there are some criminal injustices in this world, aren’t there?

STEVEN ALEXANDER: Manhole is a song by Lorraine Bowen, obscure but brilliant cabaret artiste and underground celebrity. Check out her Myspace profile.

PIP MADELEY: Good question! I don’t think the world is ready for Lorraine Bowen; she’s so ahead of her time. Getting her to perform a cameo in “Soap of Fatal Death” was a real coup. Maybe we can get Jim Bowen, or even Christopher Bowen next.

ANT WILLIAMS: Because there is no justice in this world!

> 13. The title ‘Doctor Who and the Christmas Gnomes’ -are you trying to start more arguments? Which side of the fence are you on?
SI HUNT: I can’t remember how that got started, but I insisted on keeping it like I made sure nobody sneakily dropped the exclamation mark from “Heist!”. It just works better, not to mention keeping to the slightly offbeat nature of the story. Like “The Silurians”, “The Christmas Gnomes” as a title would be slightly lacking something.

SI HART: I always thought it was a homage to the Target Book titles. Really though it was just a bit of fun for Christmas!

STEVEN ALEXANDER: In the story, Father Christmas refers to the Doctor as ‘Doctor Who’ throughout. I thought this befitted Father Christmas’s status as an iconic, mythical character. Anyone who transcends fiction like Father Christmas should be able to call him ‘Doctor Who’. On the other hand, the story also implies that Father Christmas discovered his name through using a mild psychic probe, so ‘Who’ might just be a placeholder for a man with no surname. The ending of the story too implies that ‘Who’ is not his real surname, though the Doctor doesn’t flat out deny it. People should form their own opinions!

> 14. How has recording been for the new stories?
SI HART: Heist! Was recorded almost in real time and in story order, which was a first. We’ve tried to encourage some other members of the forum to join us this time round, which was good as you hear different voices and get different inputs from the casts. Oh and Si Hunt made another round of wonderful sandwiches.

ANT COX: As fun as it’s always been, though the last few have been much improved from a technical point-of-view by means of more microphones and pop-shields.

PAUL MONK: Good fun. We all have a great laugh and the recording days are more like friends getting together and having a party. In fact that’s exactly what they are.

STEVEN ALEXANDER: Efficient, professional and great fun! We’ve brought in some new people, which is always a joy especially when they put in a good performance. Mike Talks and Alex Finch in particular have come in and made excellent contributions this year. My only concern is that we could do with a few more female voices, to vary the sound of the plays if nothing else.

PIP MADELEY: I find that recording becomes slicker every time we get together; it’s a real learning curve for everyone involved. We recently invested in professional recording equipment and I think that shows in the end productions. Recordings are always great fun though and there’s always a role for newcomers, whether its writing, acting or production.

ANT WILLIAMS: I’m quite sad to say that I haven’t been in them, due to other commitments.

> 15. One of the new stories, ‘The Paradise Machine’, is by a new author for Planet Skaro – Martin Penny. What might we expect?
SI HUNT: You can expect a very traditional adventure for the Doctor, and a very sinister new foe (which Martin wrote for himself to play). We hadn’t done one set on a spaceship before, and it’s also based around a very clever central idea. And you can expect a peek into the dreams of our companions, as they are both imprisoned in a world of their desires!

MARTIN PENNY: With, ‘The Paradise Machine’, I wanted to keep the same tone as the previous audio’s, and also take advantage of things that had not currently been done. In some ways I think it’s a very traditional Doctor Who story – with a space station, evil executives, robot guards, and plenty of escapes and captures!

> 16. Has making these audios opened up any aspirations beyond fan audios? Will we see any names in lights one day?
SI HUNT: I’m not sure, but what I will say is, we do these for fun and no-one has delusions of grandeur! I think essentially they are the product of a fun day of recording, and that’s how I always like to look at them. “Come over, have a laugh, and take home a CD as a momento”. Well, take it home three months later. That said, we are constantly getting new writers on board, so I don’t see why success shouldn’t find them at a later date if they are good enough. So long as they remember who started them off when they are rich and famous!

SI HART: Who knows. For the moment it’s just for fun. I really enjoy the writing, and the recording and it’s not for me to say if either is good enough to go professional!

STEVEN ALEXANDER: Maybe. Look out for Steven Alexander’s story in the forthcoming Big Finish short story collection, ‘How The Doctor Changed My Life’.

ANT COX: It’s certainly inspired me to do something beyond fan audios, but I’ll say no more about that for the moment…. I doubt you’ll ever see my name in lights, but there’s at least one actor who’s been involved who is, in my opinion, very capable of acting on a professional basis….

PAUL MONK: I’m on the phone to BBC Wales as you read this!

MARTIN PENNY: I’ve always dreamt of being a voice actor, and I always enjoy creating new voices and speech patterns for the characters I have played. So, hopefully, one day, I might get somewhere!

TIM HAWTIN: LOL Are you kidding!!!? Have you heard me!? No, I’m nowhere near good
enough & I know it. Know your limits & I do believe I’ve reached mine. 🙂

PIP MADELEY: Perhaps! We’re not out to become the next Big Finish of course; it’s just a fun little sideline of the Planet Skaro forums. It’s a very rewarding hobby and I’ve made many friends through it. Although the stories are offered as a free download, we also take the opportunity to raise money for our favourite charities, so there’s an added incentive to get hold of the limited edition CDs in the knowledge that every single penny will go to a good cause.

ANT WILLIAMS: Not really – acting’s too difficult a profession to get rich in 😉

> 17. Obligatory question – favourite Doctor and why?
SI HUNT: Paul Monk of course, because he’s fab!

SI HART: I love them all, but for me it’ll always be Tom. He was my hero as a young kid and his Doctor has always been my favourite.

ANT COX: If we’re talking PS Audios, then there’s a bit of a narrow choice, isn’t there? In general though, I’d say Tom Baker, but I like them all for different reasons. In some cases it’s like trying to compare apples with oranges!

PAUL MONK: Cop out answer time. All of them! Oh all right. If I had to pick one it would be Peter Davison. I only really remember the end years of Tom Baker so Peter was really the Doctor I grew up with and they’re always the one you like best aren’t they?

STEVEN ALEXANDER: Sylvester McCoy. When the director nailed him down and forced him to give a good performance, he was astounding.

TIM HAWTIN: Tommy B. He’s da main man! Even if he is a little odd…actually that’s probably why, birds of a feather and all that. 😉

PIP MADELEY: Paul Monk’s Doctor of course! Anyone who likes tea and Battenburg has got to be nice, right?

ANT WILLIAMS: Sylvester McCoy. He was MY Doctor (or the closest thing to!)

> 18. You’ve blown up the TARDIS, brought back the time-space visualizer, had a Doctorless story, brought us Brian Epstein and a Scottish Santa Claus. Where do you go next? What’s in store for season two?
SI HUNT: The 2008 season features many wonders, most of them poached by Big Finish before we have been able to release them! I’m joking of course. It’s the cruelty of timing. Our Doctor faces his first robotic enemies this year, acquires a wife and journeys up a living tree. Is this enough? He also faces a very, very old foe from the “proper” series and we also have another Christmas Special being written as we speak. So lots to look forward to!

SI HART: Anywhere we want really. That’s the fun of having our own Doctor and our own series of stories. We can do anything we like! We’ve got a new companion on the way which we hope will show some different sides to our Doctor and we’re trying out some 2 part stories so that we can try and get lots more stories and some more variety too.

STEVEN ALEXANDER: A new companion, the Baron of Boralis, a taste of Paradise, the Zunestra Collection and a shocking betrayal!




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