“I’ve Got a Huge Ego”

Graham Kibble-White interviews Gary Russell

First published September 2005

At the start of July, OTT learned that writer, broadcaster and occasional contributor Andrew Collins was to make his Doctor Who debut in Big Finish’s audio drama “Live 34″. We took this as ample excuse to catch up with the range’s producer, Gary Russell, who’s been steering the fortunes of Doctors five, six, seven and eight on CD since 1999, to ask him how the return of the TV series had affected Big Finish – and what had led to him casting Mr Collins in his latest production.

OTT: So, “Live 34″ …

GARY RUSSELL: In 2004, we had an open submissions policy and got about 630-something submitted ideas – of which 630 were rubbish. No that’s not true, they weren’t remotely rubbish, many of them were funny, clever and exciting, but they just weren’t what we were looking for. “Live 34″ leapt out because it said, “Hello, I could only work on radio” and that’s what wanted – writers who had thought about the medium and said, “Okay, I’ll give you something that won’t work as a book, won’t work on TV, but will work beautifully just on audio.”

When we entered the script stage with it, I took it a whole step further and said, “Let’s forget the whole Doctor Who trappings completely”. This will be the first Big Finish release that doesn’t have the theme music on it, because James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown had written it as four, 30-minute radio broadcasts. So I said, “Fine, then let’s do it. Let’s treat the whole thing in real time, and go for it.”

OTT: So it’s kind of like a radio broadcast that the Doctor happens to stumble into?

GARY RUSSELL: That’s exactly what it is. Disc one is two days, and disc two is another two days. The only thing that separates them is the Live 34 zone jingle music. I thought it would be a really interesting experiment to do something that was completely different to anything we’ve done before, which is why I was very, very keen when we got the script through and it had a role for an anchor man to cast a real person in the part.

OTT: You mean a real radio broadcaster?

GARY RUSSELL: Or a real journalist. I thought this isn’t just an actor’s part. There were a couple of people who floated through my head. Andrew [Collins] was one. I also thought BBC political correspondent Shaun Ley would be really good – I’d worked with him on a fan Doctor Who audio project when he was an actor. And the other person I briefly considered was Phill Jupitus because I’d met him many years ago when I did an interview with him on his show, and I just thought he was a lovely man.

I felt it had to be someone who was a Doctor Who fan, who’d happily come down and do this, and all roads kept coming back to Andrew.

OTT: Was that because of his appearances on Doctor Who Confidential?

GARY RUSSELL: I think it probably was, just watching that and saying, “Yeah, it’s got to be Andrew, really, because he knows his stuff and he’s lively, bright and funny”. Everyone I spoke to about him said, “He’s the loveliest man in the world. There’s no ego on him at all”.

We got Jonathan Pearce in last year, and he was quite nervous – he’d never done anything like this before. But he was just amazingly brilliant and great fun. He really went for it and joined in. That’s why I thought, “Yeah, I know I can get away with it this time. If I find the right person, I can make this work”.

OTT: How do you go about directing someone doing this?

GARY RUSSELL: I just treat them like an actor. Just saying, “Play yourself – do what you want to do”, it’s the easiest way around it. It was the same with Andrew, I gave him direction when he needed it – whatever. That’s the only way you can do it, you can’t say, “Oh, I’ve got to treat this a bit differently”. Andrew is a bright, cheerful guy, he knew what was going on. Nothing floored him at all, except possibly Sophie Aldred coming in and being charming. I think he was really taken with Sophie, which is not difficult because most people are.

OTT: What’s the equation you go through when you’re trying to get guests in? Presumably there’s money, publicity …

GARY RUSSELL: Publicity doesn’t rank with me at all, because there isn’t any. What we’re doing has a pretty set market – at the moment, anyway. The only publicity I’m going to get is a couple of column inches in Doctor Who Magazine. So, it’s more for the quality of the product, and the fun of it.

I used to say, “If Doctor Who was still being made today, these are the sort of people who’d be in it,” which is why we went for Simon Pegg, Mark Benton and all these people early on. I also look at those who didn’t do Doctor Who back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I want to get people like Anthony Valentine, and this is a chance to do that. So that’s more my criteria for finding a guest artist – someone who’s a damn good actor and should do Doctor Who.

OTT: If you say publicity isn’t a factor, is there much fluctuation in Big Finish’s audience? Is it a set audience?

GARY RUSSELL: It is at the moment. We all went into the new series with very different opinions on how it was going to turn out. Jason [Haigh-Ellery - the company's managing director] was very optimistic and said, “We can do nothing but benefit from this. With the increased coverage it’s going to be a huge success”. I kind of went in on the glass half empty attitude which is: If I was a Doctor Who fan, and I’d just discovered Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, and gone onto the internet and realised there’s 100-something audios, nearly 300 books, a 40-year history, and a Doctor Who magazine that’s been running for 30 years, I would go, “Uurgh, no way, I’ll stick to Chris and Billie thank you.”

The sad thing is, I’ve been proven to be right – across the board. Not just with Big Finish. You talk to any of the specialist shops, the books, everything. Chris and Billie sells like mad. Past series – dead in the water. This is something we’ve got to hope will pick up now the show is off-air.

OTT: While the programme wasn’t on, Big Finish was Doctor Who, now it’s back, that’s no longer the case.

GARY RUSSELL: It’s gone from being kind of around here [gestures high up] for Doctor Who, to, we’re down there now [low].

OTT: So you’re suddenly a periphery thing when you were the main event?

GARY RUSSELL: Yeah. But I was anticipating that. I’m disappointed that sales aren’t necessarily rocketing up like everyone told us they would. I think BBC Worldwide had high hopes that all their merchandise would make a million out of this new series, and when they get their sales figures in next Christmas from us and everyone, they’re going to, “What’s gone wrong?” What’s gone wrong is, we’re not doing stuff for the new series, and that’s what people want. If I could get Eccleston, I’d be a happy bunny.

OTT: I’m not saying you’re not doing anything new, but if you did get him, would you feel you were doing something newer?

GARY RUSSELL: Newer, yes. We’d still have the problem in that we wouldn’t be able to use the new logo. It’s little things like that that actually. When we were told we couldn’t have it, we all went, “Well that’s good, we don’t like it much, we’ll carry on using the classic one”, whereas I was thinking. “Actually, I do quite like it”, but that’s irrelevant. People are not going to be drawn to the old blue McGann logo. They’re going to be drawn to the taxi logo. I kind of think, I wish we could use it – particularly on CD. It doesn’t look great on books, it doesn’t look great on Doctor Who Magazine, but it’s perfectly shaped for the top of a CD. If we got Eccleston, I still don’t think we’d be allowed to use it because they’d say, “No, that now relates to David Tennant”. So, if we were ever to get him, he’d fall back into the “past Doctor” range.

It’s a big if, as the BBC may say, “No, you can’t do Eccleston either.”

OTT: Is this something you are pursuing?

GARY RUSSELL: I should think it’s something that we will pursue, not yet, but in the future.

OTT: Big Finish was running some quite complicated stories at the time the series returned, and you had to rethink a lot of what you were doing. Where did that impetus come from? Was that you realising things had to change, or the BBC?

GARY RUSSELL: Jason asked me, “Look, how much longer is this whole alternate universe arc going on? [a continuing McGann plot line across several releases]” I said, “Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s going on permanently.” The original idea was you leave McGann in the alternate universe ad infinitum, but he said, “Look, if we’re going to pick up new people when the new series starts,” – and at that point we thought it was starting in January – “and we’re in the middle of a McGann season set in an alternate universe, that’s not good for us.” And I went, “Absolutely good point. Let’s pull it back and end it, so that anyone coming to us in January will not be met with a load of baggage.”

That’s kind of why I put “Juggernauts” in for January, because I thought, if you’ve got new people coming in and you meet them with Daleks and Davros, they’re going to get excited. As it is, the show came out in March and we had “Dreamtime” which is a brilliant script, but doesn’t have a hook. It doesn’t make anyone go, “Oh wow, there’s some new Doctor Who!” So, you know, swings and roundabouts. We learn.

OTT: What do you feel you’re doing with the Doctor Who franchise? You’ve innovated in terms of the audio concept, but you’re presumably very restricted in how far you can push it – you can’t regenerate him or anything like that.

GARY RUSSELL: We can’t do regenerations – we can’t do anything that would contradict what’s in the TV series. We can’t signpost the future, or make any subtle, tiny references to anything in the new series at all.

OTT: This has been said to you officially?


OTT: But if Big Finish did something like that, the people who are going to pick up on it would be those very clued into what the situation is. It’s not like it would impact on the general TV audience.

GARY RUSSELL: You know that, I know that – the BBC doesn’t work that way. They go, “No, that is a whole new programme, a whole new license.” I kind of thought it might be fun at some point to use psychic paper, or have a mention of the Slitheen or something. Before I knew what “bad wolf” was, I thought, maybe we could have someone make a reference to that. No, all absolutely out of the question.

OTT: Is it the case that Russell T Davies now has a say in your scripts?

GARY RUSSELL: For the last six years we’ve survived on Jac Rayner working for BBC Worldwide, doing as she does for all the licensees and looking at all their stuff, and that was great. At the beginning of this year, suddenly it went from Jac to a committee of nine. So a process that used to maybe take three or four days is now taking three or four months per synopsis, and that’s before we’ve even got to script stage. None of this I have a problem with. It’s fine. Everyone’s been great.

I also do a little crib sheet once a month, which goes out to all these people and Russell. So they’re informed about everything I’m planning up to 2008, even if it’s not got to a synopsis stage, yet because I haven’t talked to a writer about it. It’s quite handy because it does mean that occasionally Russell will go, “Oh, could you not? Because we’re thinking of doing x, y or z,” and I’ll go, “Yep, not a problem”. Or he’ll say, “Actually, can you move that down three months because there might be a clash with something in the series?” That’s happened a couple of times, and that’s great.

OTT: Has it been the case that there were certain avenues you would have normally gone down that you haven’t even bothered trying under the new regime?

GARY RUSSELL: One of the first things they sent us was the new BBC guidelines, and that floored me completely. “Live 34″, actually, was the first one that came up with a slight problem, in that it’s about terrorism.

OTT: You can’t do terrorism and witchcraft, is that right?

GARY RUSSELL: You can’t do terrorism, black magic, religion or gratuitous violence. So, you know, if those criteria were in place years ago, you couldn’t have had [1971 TV story] “The Daemons”, you couldn’t have had “Day of the Daleks” [1972] – it’s that level of things you now can’t do. The terrorists in “Day of the Daleks” are seen to be the good guys – you can’t do that. That threw me a bit.

“Live 34″ and another story next year called “Pier Pressure” had to go through some major rewrites. That one was all about a mad fallen priest doing black magic. Ho ho! Everything all in one with a big “No!” going through it. These are things that, a year ago wouldn’t really have mattered – but it’s particularly since Jerry Springer: The Opera, the BBC has kind of gone, “Ooo, we’re all a bit scared of everything now”.

I find it quite amusing that Doctor Who can have Captain Jack snog the Doctor with no problem, but you can’t have terrorists or black magic. And I think, “Hello, I can’t even do something that’s in Harry Potter”. That would be considered too much for the BBC at the moment. So that’s the only real change, but it’s got nothing to do with stuff going through this committee so much as, that’s just the way the BBC has altered in the last six or eight months.

OTT: Did you feel there was a moment when Doctor Who suddenly no longer belonged to the people who know it best – these fans-turned-professionals?

GARY RUSSELL: No. That never really occurred to me, mainly because Russell’s doing it. If it had been someone other than him, who didn’t know about Big Finish, the books and Doctor Who Magazine, and came into this going, “I’m producing Doctor Who“, we’d all be buggered. But because Russell has got a finger in every pie, we’re all feeling a little bit more involved and welcome. We’re probably not – but we feel it.

He’s gone out of his way to make everyone still feel that what they’re doing is important and matters. I think the fact he takes an interest, and Cardiff do by going through scripts and storylines, is a validation that we matter. If they really thought Big Finish was dead in the water and of no interest whatsoever, they wouldn’t give two shits about us.

I was very, very flattered at the BAFTA do a couple of weeks back. I was sitting chatting away to someone and [series producer] Phil Collinson came over and introduced himself to me. He said, “I love everything you do … Thank you … We got ‘Dalek’ out of ‘Jubilee’ [a 2003 audio] … and blah, blah, blah.” I thought, “How the hell did he know who I was?”, because we’ve never met before. He didn’t have to do that, and I really appreciated it. That’s nice. Again, it’s someone saying, “It matters”. It just makes you feel good and you want to help them. With another TV producer I might have been in a different situation where your back would go up when they asked for changes. You might think, “Well, fuck it, why do I have to change everything just for him?” Because it’s Russell, and Phil and Julie [Gardner] and Helen Raynor in the script office, I’ve no problem. I’ll fall over backwards and they can tickle my tummy for all I care.

OTT: It’s quite surprising that you’re not more proprietorial about Doctor Who.

GARY RUSSELL: I’ve been in Doctor Who for too long to be proprietorial. I can’t be bothered. I’ve been in there for 26 years now and seen so much in-fighting, so many people going, “Oh, this show belongs to me”. You end up being Andrew Beech or Ian Levine if you go down that line. That’s not me, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got a huge ego, but I know when to leave it at the door. Where the new series is concerned, God, my ego doesn’t even get to that door – it’s halfway down the garden path being chewed on by a dog. That’s exactly as it should be.

OTT: So there was never a crestfallen moment where you felt you’d suddenly been demoted?

GARY RUSSELL: No. The only crestfallen moment was, when it was initially announced I just thought, “Shit, that’s a nail in the coffin for us – this is going to damage us”. But from an ego point of view – no. Because it couldn’t be in better hands. Part of me thinks, “I’d like to have done that job”, but, God, it’s got Russell in there, I’m desperately impressed with Helen Raynor as a script editor, I think she’s got her head screwed on perfectly. I think it’s all great, or as Russell says [Welsh accent]: “Marvellous!”

OTT: Is there anything about the series you’re uncomfortable with, or things you feel you wouldn’t have done if you’d been in charge?

GARY RUSSELL: No. There are stories I don’t like. I might have added another couple of writers to the mix, to give Russell more time to spend on the scripts that needed him to – the last two. You know, give “Boom Town” and “The Long Game” to someone else, perhaps.

In terms of story content, no, I think what he’s done is to look at everything that’s good in the last 10 years in science-fiction. The whole Buffy generation has paid off dividends and I think we’ve benefited enormously. I have to say I came into the series wanting to hate it. I was absolutely convinced I was not going to like it.

OTT: Why?

GARY RUSSELL: I just did. From September 2003 at my 40th birthday party, where someone’s idea of a good present was to come up and say to me, “Doctor Who‘s coming back and Russell’s making it” – thanks. From that point up to the day of transmission there was a part of me that was thinking, “I’m not convinced this is going to work for me. I think Doctor Who on TV is a dead concept”.

“Rose” started and I went, “Gary Russell, you are so wrong”. When “End of the World” came on, I went, “Okay, not only was I wrong, but oh my God this is good”. I’m not a big fan of “Rose”, I think it’s a good set-up, but it didn’t do anything for me. But the moment “End of the World” started, I just went, “Okay, I’m really up for this, I’m part of this, I’m on the roller-coaster”. It’s still either my first or second favourite of the season. It blew me away. The moment Tainted Love started, I thought, “This is what it should be doing – he’s got it right, he’s got everything. He’s got the zeitgeist and he just knows what he’s doing”. My faith in Russell as a producer and my faith in Doctor Who came together with that episode.

OTT: Because you see these people who are working on the new series as peers, did you feel inclined to question them? Did you feel you wouldn’t be able to sit back and let the show wash over you?

GARY RUSSELL: No. Not remotely. I sat there going, “This is fantastic – thank God Rob [Shearman]‘s doing this, thank God Paul [Cornell]‘s doing this, thank God Mark [Gatiss]‘s doing this”. I am so proud of these guys, particularly Rob, because – bless him – I don’t know he would have got the TV job without Big Finish. He probably would because he’d done Born and Bred and other things, but there’s part of me that thinks Big Finish has led some way to Rob getting this and I am so proud of those three guys. And next year, Matt Jones.

These are my mates, my friends and they’re succeeding, they’re getting somewhere – they’re doing Doctor Who on TV. What could be better than that?

OTT: Is there any element of you thinking, “They’re doing it – why aren’t I?”

GARY RUSSELL: I know I’m not good enough, therefore, it would never cross my mind. I would love to work on the series. My ideal job would be script editor, it’s what I do at Big Finish, it’s what I enjoy the most, working with writers and scripts. I wouldn’t want to produce, I wouldn’t want Phil Collinson’s job for all the money in the world. Russell’s got quite a good job, that’s because he’s more a creative producer, but I think script editing, that’s my kind of gig. So that’s the only part of me that says I’d like to do that, but I don’t sit there going, “Oh, it should be me and why isn’t it me?” That surprises me, because with an ego my size, I’d have really expected myself to go, ” I feel really slighted by this” and I don’t.

OTT: Big Finish has done some quite niche stuff – things like The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Sapphire and Steel. Are you doing them because there is a specific audience you can tap into or because you like the properties? How does that work?

GARY RUSSELL: Each one is different. The Tomorrow People was a gamble, and it paid off. I remember saying to Jason, “I think there’s a market for the Tomorrow People, but I don’t think it’s very big. It would be sort of Bernice Summerfield level [Big Finish's spin-off sci-fi line centring on a Doctor Who companion created for the New Adventures novels in the 1990s].” No, it’s much bigger than that, and we were absolutely surprised.

Sapphire and Steel was a project Jason and I wanted to do when we first started Doctor Who. We’d been working on it and sorting the rights out for six years. We finally got there.

OTT: You had been speaking to PJ Hammond …

GARY RUSSELL: Right from the word go. I was very upset that he, in some interview somewhere (I didn’t see it) was allegedly quite dismissive about us and said he didn’t really approve. I thought, “Well, you took the money and you signed the deal. You knew all the way down the line, and you were asked to write for it and ‘umm-ed’ and ‘ahh-ed’ about it”. For him to turn around and say, “Oh I don’t approve of this”, I thought that was a bit ungracious. I’ve never met him, I admire him and think he’s one of the best writers in the world – but I was disappointed. It’s the only time I’ve actually been disappointed by something somebody said negatively about us.

OTT: Tom Baker’s been a bit snippy.

GARY RUSSELL: Oh well, Tom Baker’s Tom Baker and I can expect that. You expect him to be snippy and make fun at your expense. I think it was bloody rude of him, but the difference between that and PJ Hammond … With PJ I think, “Oh, come on! Get with the program”. Tom, I think, “Well, that’s just you being a twat. You’re just being rude to and about us in front of an audience because it’ll get you a laugh.” I’ve got less respect for Tom than I do PJ Hammond, because at least PJ Hammond’s got an opinion, I think it’s a stupid opinion, but he’s got one. Tom’s just Tom. Whatever.

Then we did Judge Dredd.

OTT: Where did that come from – was it you?

GARY RUSSELL: No, that was Jason, he loves Judge Dredd. He met Jason Kingsley at Rebellion [the company that own the character] and got the rights. We did quite well out of it in the sense we got to do stuff for the Dredd computer game – that was nice. But, ultimately it really didn’t sell enough.

I think, on the whole, comics fans aren’t geared up to sitting down and listening to radio drama. There’s no pictures, it’s just not a medium they’re interested in. Judge Dredd, I think, translated very well to audio, and [producer] John Ainsworth is justifiably very proud of what he did with it. I think it’s a very, very good run of stuff, but it didn’t sell and that’s a shame.

Luther Arkwright was Jason’s project again because he loves [creator] Bryan Talbot. I read one of the books 15 or 20 years ago and it did nothing for me at all. That’s been successful. This is perhaps the only moment of shrewd marketing on our part, really. Suddenly, “Oh, David Tennant’s in it, isn’t he? Let’s market it”. The moment you push David Tennant, sales of Luther Arkwright went through the window.

OTT: Did it make a difference with the UNIT stuff [Tennant's also in Big Finish's spin-off UNIT series]?

GARY RUSSELL: No, because with that you’ve got Doctor Who fans saying, “We know”. Luther Arkwright was going to people who went, “Well, we don’t really know – ooh, he’s the new Doctor Who, we’ll have that then.” Plus, Doctor Who people were actually getting it because it was something different. Sapphire and Steel is too early to tell, but I think it’ll be a success.

OTT: What are the drivers here?

GARY RUSSELL: Personal taste.

OTT: Is it just people doing what they want to do?

GARY RUSSELL: It’s Jason doing what Jason wants to do. It’s his company, he controls the purse-strings.

OTT: Are you specifically thinking, “Here’s another niche to target”?

GARY RUSSELL: We’re always looking for things like that. There’s been a couple of things I’ve suggested to Jason that we can do, but he’s less keen because he’s not passionately interested in it. In the same way that when he came to me to talk about Luther Arkwright, I couldn’t have cared less – not interested. Ultimately Jason’s the moneyman, it’s his company so he’s my boss. If I go to him and say, “I really want to do The Wizard of Oz on audio, I think it would be fantastic and it’s got a huge market”, but he’s not a Wizard of Oz fan, he’s ultimately probably going to say no. And I think, “Well, that’s a shame, I’ll go and do Wizard of Oz somewhere else.”

OTT: Is Big Finish his obsessions and likes writ large?

GARY RUSSELL: Not obsessions.

OTT: His preferences, hobbies.

GARY RUSSELL: Hobbies, yes.

OTT: Is that frustrating?

GARY RUSSELL: No. I trust him implicitly. He’s a very shrewd businessman. We’ve been mates for 25 years nearly, so, no, I have no problem with Jason at all. I can shout loudly at him when I feel I need to, but the bottom-line is I’m employed on a month-to-month basis to make Doctor Who and Benny. If either of those two ranges go, so do I. I have no control over the company. I can’t say to him, “No, we should be doing this”. If he wants to diversify into TV or stage or something, that’s his ball game. That actually suits me.

We were talking about my ego earlier, and there was a time two or three years ago where it didn’t. I was really getting quite sort of, “I want more say in this” and I think it was Ainsworth who said to me, “Yeah, do you really? Think about what you’re saying. Do you really want to have all that input, all that interest in the company? Isn’t it better to let Jason take the risks and do what he wants to do? You do Doctor Who and Benny and throw other ideas at him and you’ll have an easier life.” As always, Ainsworth talks complete sense.

I am very happy to be an employee, because it also gives me the flexibility to go off and do my freelance work and say to Jason, “I’m sorry, I’m going to Cambridge, I’ve got a Lord of the Rings stage book to write. I’m off.” Because I’m freelance I can do that. I’m not beholden to him and he’s not beholden to me. It’s quite a good, flexible arrangement.

OTT: How does the freelance life suit you, then?

GARY RUSSELL: It suits me mentally much better than anything else. I’ve never been a nine to five person. Because of Big Finish, I’m financially okay, as it’s regular work. I have the best of both worlds: I’m a freelancer with a regular job. You know, set income every month. I know where I am, I know what I’m doing, I know what I can and can’t do. It’s fabulous, I don’t want to change it. The one or two times I throw my hands in the air and go, “That’s it! I’m leaving Big Finish! I’m having a queeny strop out of here,” I then go, “No hang on. You now know as a freelancer what you’ll be doing till September 2008. How many freelancers can say that? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” And Big Finish is the biggest gift horse.

OTT: How long can it all last?

GARY RUSSELL: Our license runs out in September 2008. The BBC came and offered us another one about three weeks into the new series of Doctor Who, which I thought, again was a very good “we like you” sort of thing. There was never, “Oh, well we’ll see.” Nope, it was, “We want you to carry on, you keep going, here’s the new license”, so we took it.

OTT: Did you have a wobble beforehand, thinking it might not go your way?

GARY RUSSELL: No, because they came to us. We didn’t go to them.

OTT: So was this before the license was actually due to be renewed?

GARY RUSSELL: Yeah, it was due to run out at the end of 2006, and they said, “Let’s keep you in for another 18 months”.

OTT: Why do you think they did that?

GARY RUSSELL: Money. They’re a business, they need to have projections and things on paper that say Doctor Who is a success for them and here are all their licensees. They label us a “major license holder”, which is very nice. Therefore I think they thought, “We need to be able to say, these people will still be giving us money for the foreseeable future”. Once they realised they’d got 10 million viewers for that first episode, they knew this was going to be on telly for another three or four years. They then wanted to make sure they’d got support for it.

OTT: Are you a major licensee in terms of how much you contribute financially, or just in terms of the profile of your product?

GARY RUSSELL: I think from their point of view it’s profile of product. It’s good for them to have on their merchandise list, every month there’s a brand new Doctor Who CD audio drama with original cast. Every month there’s a Doctor Who book. Every month there’s something new from whoever the new toy licensees are. It shows their bosses upstairs that Doctor Who is a viable license.

OTT: What are the overheads on something like this? I know you’re not on the business side of things, but it seems Big Finish can do quite specialised stuff. So presumably you don’t have to sell absolute shit-loads to make it worthwhile creating something. Is that the case?

GARY RUSSELL: We’re sailing close to the wind at the moment, unfortunately, because the new series has dented our sales. At a rough ball park figure – and Jason will probably crucify me for this – I reckon when you take everything into consideration, the average double CD Doctor Who costs him £25,000 a month. We don’t make that back. Not in the short term. We hopefully do in the long run, though.

So, Doctor Who pays for itself, but it doesn’t leave a great deal floating around in the pot, which is why we have subscriptions. The subscribers are the most important thing to us, we need them. When someone signs up for six or 12 months worth of plays, that’s your money. That’s how the product is funded. It’s not by someone going to Forbidden Planet every month and paying £13 or £14.99. That’s a bonus. That subscriber base is what we fight to keep.

At the moment we have a real problem with Amazon and Play, because they’re effectively undercutting us.

OTT: How does that work?

GARY RUSSELL: Someone goes to Play to buy Doctor Who and they’re going to purchase a book, a DVD, a CD and pre-order another six CDs and another five DVDs while they’re there. They’re going to buy in bulk, because they can get all their Doctor Who stuff in one place online. So, yeah, they might not make a huge profit on every CD, but actually, because people are buying in bulk over a long period of time. I think it works in the long run for them to be able to do that. They probably don’t make much if someone just buys one copy of “The Juggernauts”, but if somebody turns around to Play and says, “I’m going to order the next year’s worth from you”, that makes money for them. From an admin point of view, they know what stock they can order and they don’t have to have surplus lying around.

It’s a bugger for us, because suddenly it looks like we’re more expensive than them or Amazon, and people are going to them instead of Big Finish. By the time the money filters through and comes back to us, we’re on a much smaller cut.

OTT: How important is your website to you in terms of sales?

GARY RUSSELL: I think it’s very important. It’s going through a bit of a revamp at the moment. We’re about to really relaunch it as a more dynamic-looking venture – much more of a gateway into what we do. We wanted to have it up and running for when the series ended, but we didn’t. That’ll happen in time.

It is enormously successful for us, because that’s where the subscribers come from, and that’s what we need. As I said, they’re our lifeblood, we treat them well, we give them loads of free things because we need them to keep coming back to us.

OTT: What’s the variance in sales?

GARY RUSSELL: Pretty much there isn’t. When we first got McGann, there was a significant difference in how much he sold compared to the other three, but that’s leveled out now and they all sell pretty much of a muchness. Stick a Dalek or a Cyberman or an old monster in something, there’s a rise. Not a huge spike, but it’s a notable one. If we were in this just for the money, every single story would be a multi-Doctor story, a Dalek or a Cyberman story. That’s all you’d need to do, month in, month out. The fact is, “The Sirens of Time” is still our biggest seller ever, not just because it was our first one, but it’s a multi-Doctor story. “Zagreus” sold bucket-loads too, because it’s also a multi-Doctor story. All the Dalek Empire stuff does really well. If we just churned that out month-in, month-out, Jason and I probably could go and live in the Bahamas.

Luckily, we’ve got some integrity … I think. Somewhere! Somewhere inside me there’s a bit of integrity, that says, “No, for every Dalek or Cyberman story that we’re going to do – and they’ve got to be brilliant as well – but, Christ, I want to do a ‘Creatures of Beauty’, I want to do ‘Catch 1782′, I want to do ‘Live 34′”. I want to do something that pushes the envelope which isn’t just bog-standard Doctor Who 1963 – 89. We’re still taking the actors and the elements from that bog-standard series, but we’re pushing.

We can’t do that every month. This is the problem I had with the Virgin [New Adventures] books, they’d do that every single month. After a while you looked at it and went, “None of it’s Doctor Who. It’s great science-fiction, it’s great stories, but it’s not Doctor Who because pushing the envelope has become the norm rather than the exception.” I still make sure, I hope, that the norm is great, but the experimental stuff becomes greater still and you only do it two or three times a year.

OTT: Do you feel you’ve got an obligation to put out standard Doctor Who as well?

GARY RUSSELL: Yes. My job is to make Doctor Who to appeal to the widest variety of people eight times a year. I’ve never thought right from the word go that everyone who buys our stuff is going to like all 12 plays that year. That ain’t going to happen. I’d like them to really enjoy eight of them, and then the other four they go, “That’s a bit shit”. That’s fine for me. But those eight will be different for every single person.

My job is not to make Doctor Who as I like it – though it helps – my job is to make Doctor Who that, this month those people will like it, this month those people will like it, this month those people will like it, and at the bottom there’s a nice bunch of people who will pretty much like everything.

I think, if I’m going to be egotistical about anything, then the one thing I’ll say is there aren’t very many people doing anything in Doctor Who who would be that open-minded about it. If you put others in my position, they’d very quickly only be making the Who they want to. They wouldn’t be looking and saying, “Okay, I don’t like this writer, I don’t like his style of writing – but there’s a group of people who do, I’ve got to make sure I meet those people in the 12″. So you cater for everybody in the dozen, one way or another.

OTT: Are you willing to say which Big Finish releases aren’t to your tastes?

GARY RUSSELL: No. [Laughs] But on the wall in my office I’ve got every cover for everything we’ve ever done. I can stand there and go, “Don’t like that one, don’t like that one, that’s not to my taste – great play, but I don’t like that style of Doctor Who.” That’s my job, to do that. To make sure the things I don’t like are still out there for people who do. Otherwise you die.

OTT: In terms of innovating, you can’t innovate with the character of the Doctor …

GARY RUSSELL: You can’t innovate with the character, but you can with a new companion and I think we’ve succeeded there. I really like all our companions. We’ve done the alien from another universe who doesn’t look human; we’ve done the go-getter girl from the ’30s; we’ve done the old woman; we’ve done the Egyptian princess who’s not as stupid or as ignorant as Leela, but isn’t as advanced as Peri and sits in a nice grey area.

I’m very, very proud of Hex. I think he is shaping up to be the audio equivalent of Rose, in the sense that he’s quite modern, he’s not that awful ’80s idea of a Doctor Who companion. He’s a little more grounded in reality, a little quicker, a little faster, a little snappier with his dialogue. So, that’s where we can innovate, it’s through our companions.

I’ve got another companion for the future I want to do, who again I think will be just different Hopefully Russell doesn’t get there first. That’s my biggest fear at the moment – every story I’ve got, he’s going to get there first. Which is another reason why he knows everything I’m doing until the end of 2007 and a bit of 2008, because I thought I’ve got to get this all put down in stone so that I know what I’m doing and he won’t then say, “Oh, that’s a great idea, I want to nick it”. He won’t do that because he’s got integrity.

OTT: So what about innovating with story format?

GARY RUSSELL: Then you get things like “Flip-Flop”, “Creatures of Beauty” or “Doctor Who and the Pirates”. And, to some extent, “Project Lazarus”.

OTT: Do you feel there’s a risk when you’re doing stuff like that, or don’t you worry about it?

GARY RUSSELL: I don’t worry about the risk. I don’t care about that, because I think these things need to be done, but they don’t need to be the norm. There’s just that balance, that not over-egging the pudding thing which means you can’t do it all the time. But I do think you have to break the rules occasionally. I’m hoping this’ll happen with “Live 34″, that people will go, “Whoa, there’s no theme tune, there’s no episode endings – this isn’t what we expect from Big Finish” – and that’s what we need.

I think “Creatures of Beauty” was an absolutely brilliant example of that. It just worked, it just came along and everyone went, “What the fuck is going on?” We had people send discs back saying they were mis-pressed.

OTT: This is because the story is non-linear – is that right?

GARY RUSSELL: Yes. They’re going, “This is mis-pressed, everything’s in the wrong order”. How can you think your one CD is mis-pressed? Do you not understand how CDs work? But you just have to say to people, “It is meant to be that way, listen to it as is”. One person put it back into what they considered to be the right order. Part of me is quite flattered that they go to those lengths, but part of me says, “You’re spoiling the bloody story! The point is, you’re meant to listen to it like that.”

Then there’s these people who remaster our stuff and put the “right” theme tunes on. And I think, “Great if you want to do that – but … why?”

Do I listen to feedback? To some extent. I’m more likely to listen to someone who comes up to me at a convention or someone who’s written a 2000 word review in a fanzine. That I might listen to. I don’t listen very much to the internet, because the internet is knee-jerk reaction to everything, whether it’s good or bad. It’s nice when it’s good, it’s horrible when it’s bad, but it’s better to filter it all out and go, “I’ll read it, I’ll note things, but I don’t need it as a barometer.” I’m much more likely to use the Doctor Who Magazine poll as a signifier of what people do and don’t like, because, it’s a year later – they’ve had time to think about things and listen to the plays two or three times. It isn’t some person sitting in front of a computer going, “I think this is absolute crap! Blah, blah blah!” That’s not a review, that’s not informative. That tells me you don’t like it – big deal. If you haven’t got the time, inspiration or ability to give me a reasoned argument why you don’t like something, then – I hate to say opinions are invalid – but, I can’t be arsed, frankly.

There are some marvellous things written on the internet, there’s been some brilliant things posted on Outpost Gallifrey. Somebody’s critiqued a story and it’s taken up loads of screen space. That I’ll read and take notice of, because that’s somebody who isn’t just wanking into the computer. They’ve sat down and they’ve thought creatively. They’ve reviewed.

People say the internet killed fanzines. Yes, it did. It didn’t do that because of its immediacy. What it’s killed is the ability for people to learn to write. We all learned to write on fanzines, that’s where we got our critical faculties from. There’s a generation of Doctor Who fans in the past 10 years who haven’t had to do that. Their critique, their way of writing is three-line, knee-jerk “this is shit”. I think that’s terrifying. Clay [Hickman, editor of Doctor Who Magazine] often says he finds it hard to find new writers. I’m not surprised, because all the young people who are getting into Doctor Who are brought up on the internet where there is no editor sitting over their shoulder saying, “You can’t say that, you can’t do that, back that up, justify it, that isn’t an argument that’s an opinion”.

I’m sure it’s not just true in Doctor Who fandom. Newspaper editors must be tearing their hair out, trying to find journalists between 18 to 24 who know how to reason an argument. Because they don’t, and I think it’s really, really sad.

OTT: But isn’t something like Outpost Gallifrey just gossip? It’s not informed arguments or essays – it’s gossip.

GARY RUSSELL: Exactly, but that brings us back to the question of do I take notice of these people? Well, that’s why I don’t. It’s opinion and it’s valid opinion, but it’s not informed, it’s not critical, it’s not written as a critique. It’s a great website. I love Shaun [Lyon, the webmaster] to death. I love his news and everything. Outpost Gallifrey is fantastic. But those message boards do not represent my customers. They represent a very small fraction of them.

OTT: So where are you getting your feedback from?

GARY RUSSELL: This is why I go to conventions a lot, because that is where I actually get most feedback. If someone comes up to me and says, “God, I thought ‘Chimes of Midnight’ was shit” – now that’s what I get on the internet. But, when I’m face-to-face, I can go, “Okay, you’re not leaving for 20 minutes until you tell me why” and I can argue with them. Afterwards I might go away thinking, “Okay, he had a point there”, because I learn all the time. I certainly don’t believe in my job that I know everything I’m doing. Christ no. That’s why I do all the conventions I can.

I’ve got to be so careful, because the moment I criticise internet fandom, it crucifies me.

OTT: One of the things I notice is that you’re not hugely accessible on the net. You’re not a Joss Whedon. Do you feel there needs to be that distance?

GARY RUSSELL: Only because I was – well, never a Joss Whedon – but I was there quite a lot. I had an “Ask the Author” thing I used to respond to on Outpost Gallifrey. I’ve got a thick skin, but, my God, it took quite a few punches, and I began to think this isn’t worth it, because I’m getting into arguments.

It all tied in with when I got kicked out of going to [Doctor Who convention] Panopticon by the organiser Andrew Beech, and I just thought, “I can’t be bothered anymore.” Much as it pains me to say anything good about him, he might have done me a favour, because it made me take that step back and now I will only respond to stuff on Outpost Gallifrey if someone is saying something really inaccurate. Or, the amount of people who say, “I know this for a fact” and I think, “The only person who knows anything for a fact is me, and you’re telling the world.” I know from fandom this is how in 10 years time something turns up in a book. So I nip things in the bud as quickly as I possibly can.

I recently posted about why Tom Baker won’t do a Big Finish. So many totally off-base people were explaining why he won’t do one, so I needed to sit there and go, “Actually, this is the line. These are the facts”.

If you give some fans something, they’ll take what they’re given and a small but unpleasant minority will take a bit more as well – and slap you in the face at the same time. And you think, “It ain’t worth it”. These people are probably quite small-minded. There’s a guy on Outpost Gallifrey who just loathes and detests me. He’s always going on about how I should be sacked. At first I thought that was quite funny, but then after a while I began to read this vitriol and think, “Oh my God. You’re quite a dangerous person, aren’t you? You really are utterly consumed. Your every posting has to somewhere along the line include a dig.” That borders on quite psychotic-obsessive, and that’s scary. That’s stalker territory. It’s not nice, it’s “oh my God, if I ever meet you, you’re going to knife me”. He can never let anything go. Someone will make a comment and he will come back at them if he disagrees, and throw in an anti-Gary Russell remark to boot.

That kind of person makes me stay away from Outpost Gallifrey. And I won’t go near Jade Pagoda [a New Adventures-derived Yahoo! Group].

OTT: Presumably it was a disappointment to you at one stage. Are you well beyond being disappointed by it now?

GARY RUSSELL: What, the internet?

OTT: Yeah, and the fact that you can’t use it to connect with your audience in the way you’d like.

GARY RUSSELL: I’m resigned to it. I think it could be a “force for good”. It could be fantastic fun.

OTT: But initially your thoughts must have been, “Oh, I can actually interact with my customers”? If so, how long do you think it took to realise that it wasn’t going to be like that?

GARY RUSSELL: [Laughs] About three hours, I think.

OTT: And how long did it take for you to stop deluding yourself?

GARY RUSSELL: A couple of years. I used to say to all the writers and everyone, “Don’t do it, don’t go on there” but I kept doing it myself. But it was the Panopitcon business that made me just go, “A small but powerful bit of fandom is really run by a bunch of tossers. I need to get away from this, I need to move away from it. Stop making myself such a target.”

OTT: So where are you now in relation to that?

GARY RUSSELL: I think I’m pretty much the same place I was in September 2003. But I’m going to conventions again. My ego got the better of me. I thought, “No, I want to start doing them – I like going to America.” Then I started doing more over here. So, nowadays, if the people who are running them are nice, I’ll go, because they’re my mates and I see all my other friends too. And, yes, I can do a lot of work there and, as I said, get feedback that’s worth having.

But there are some aspects of fandom that have always been the same. I can remember when I came into it in 1979, there was just as many factions. When I joined the Doctor Who Appreciation Society executive – oh my God! It wasn’t a happy committee of people, it was these three people versus these three people. I remember sitting there going, “This is really horrible. I don’t like Doctor Who fandom!” 26 years later, I’m still in it, thinking, “Okay, I didn’t like it then, why am I still here?” You’re a big fish in a big pond. Not a big fish in a small pond. I’m a big fish within quite a big pond, and I like that. That feeds my ego.

OTT: Well, that’s quite self-aware to say that – that you enjoy the attention.

GARY RUSSELL: I love it. I love it. God, walking onto the stage at a convention and having people clap you and applaud you and want to hear what you got to say? How fantastic is that? How many chances do you get in life to stand up on a stage in front of – well, say in LA – 600 people who actually genuinely want to listen to you? And your jokes get laughed at and applauded. It’s great! It’s fantastic! It’s cool!

OTT: With some of the Big Finish stuff, I would say the working-class get a raw deal. You’re output is quite middle-class.

GARY RUSSELL: Actors are quite middle-class. I don’t like getting them to put on silly accents, and if I want someone who’s rough east end, I’ll get someone who’s rough east end, simple as that. But they’re hard to come by, to be honest, because it’s drummed out of them.

I’m not so concerned about the working classes getting a raw deal. I’m very, very concerned that it’s very hard to find black, Asian and Chinese actors. But, you see, it’s my “right-on” leanings clashing with my proper left-wing political feelings that you don’t employ a black actor just because they’re black, just to fulfil a quota. In my job, you take on the actor who’s best for the part. Whether they’re black, white or pink with yellow spots should have no difference. We walked into a minefield with [Big Finish-created companion] Erimem. Had I originally known that I was going to keep her on after her first story, I would have probably gone out and cast a black actress to play the role – much as I love Caroline Morris [who does it now]. It shouldn’t matter on radio, because the chances are the average black female actress in her 20s in this country sounds like Caroline Morris anyway. Unless you say to them, “Put on a black accent” and they go, “Why? This is me. I’m black and I speak like this.” So, it’s a horrible minefield to get into.

When I was casting Erimem’s dad for “Roof of the World”, I thought, “I’m going to cast a black actor”. That was my first thought, “I have to cast a black actor”. A couple of people said, “Yes you do”. A couple of others were saying, “No, shouldn’t you be casting an actor? If they’re black, fine and if they’re white, fine. On audio, the acting is more important”. I had a feet in both those camps, but ultimately I geared towards thinking I have to get the best person for the part – so I went with William Franklyn who’s about as far from a black actor as you can get.

In the back of my mind I kind of always remember my initial feelings when they recast Blake’s 7 for radio and got Angela Bruce to play Dana. I thought, “You haven’t got Angela Bruce because she’s a great actress, you’ve gone, ‘We need a black actress to play a black character because she was black on telly’.” Josette Simon didn’t sound black, she didn’t act black, she wasn’t black – she was a human-being who happened to be black. That was a real piece of stunt casting that shouldn’t have happened. It should have been irrelevant. It was nice, but it should have been irrelevant.

OTT: So what about Don Warrington as Rassilon? He’s depicted on the covers, isn’t he?

GARY RUSSELL: Yeah, but that was because I’m madly in love with Don Warrington and thought I want to slap him on a front cover.

OTT: You weren’t making a point with that, then?

GARY RUSSELL: No, not at all. My first choice for that role was Christopher Lee, and then when his agent just laughed at me, I sat down with a list, and that included Don Warrington, Patrick Allen and Ed Bishop. So I could have had a black Rassilon, a very middle-class English Rassilon, or a broad American Rassilon. But I went, “I’ve always wanted to work with Don Warrington, I love his voice, I love him as an actor, he’s the one I’m going to ask first”, and I did. So, no, it wasn’t a case of I’m going to stir everyone up and recast Rassilon as a black man. I cast the voice. It’s Don Warrington’s voice I love.

With “Live 34″, I went to slightly more effort, because there was a part written for a character called Charlotte Singh. I thought, “You don’t have a character called Charlotte Singh who therefore isn’t played by an Asian actress” so I got an Asian girl in. She’s Australian. She’s got a broad Australian accent and I said, “Can you do Meera Syal, basically. I’m looking for that level, that pure Indian”. I’d seen her on stage and that was what she was doing, so when she spoke to me and I discovered she was Australian, it was like, “Oh shit, do you mind being Indian? I’ve cast you because I wanted Indian”. She said, “Well, of course not. I’ve spent my life doing Bollywood musicals, it’s what I normally do, but I’m actually a broad Australian”. I thought, “Great, next time I need an Australian, I’ve got another actress who can do it.” Best of both worlds.

The only one that upset me that I tried very hard to do and couldn’t was for “Dreamtime”, the character of Baiame was meant to be a 60-year-old Aborigine. I went everywhere to find 60-year-old Aborigines in England. Not a hope. In the end I thought, “Well, I’ve got to go for a genuine Australian, I will not have somebody putting on an Australian accent” and I said to John Scholes, “As an Australian, do you have a problem doing an Aboriginal?” He said, “No, I’ve done it hundreds of times. All Australian actors do it, there aren’t enough Aboriginal actors. The ones that there are are never out of work in Australia, because there’s only about six of them.” But I made sure he was willing to do that rather than saying, “By the way, I want you to play an Aborigine.” It was important to me, but I also felt it was important for the actor to know what I wanted. I still felt bad about not employing an Aboriginal, though.

OTT: Is this something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you feel you should be doing?

GARY RUSSELL: It comes naturally to me – it’s my political upbringing. No, no it’s not my political upbringing, it’s my politics. I was brought up in a right-wing Conservative kind of background. So I rebelled against that. I was a union official at the BBC, and I probably have an MI5 file as a result.

OTT: Really?

GARY RUSSELL: When Thatcher did her investigations into the BBC, she found all the trouble-makers and had their staff papers marked. Mine had two markings on it, because I was a political activist and I was a gay political activist. Two marks apparently meant I automatically had a copy of my files sent to MI5. I’m on MI5 records. I think, “Yaay! My proudest achievement! My left-wing principals have got me an MI5 file! In the ’80s I was considered dangerous to Margaret Thatcher.” How fantastic is that?

But I’ve never been right-on – although I’m not disparaging it. I’ve never believed in positive discrimination, because a) it’s patronising to people and b) it doesn’t work. It really doesn’t work. You have to be practical about these things. It’s a great ideal, and maybe when I was in my 20s I would have had that idealism. As you get older, that goes, reality kicks in and it becomes more important to me to keep your personal beliefs, despite that. So, if a character’s written to be a black person, or a Chinese person or whatever, I will move Heaven and Earth to find the right actor, but I won’t always succeed.

Twice I’ve failed, once with the Aborigine, and also with the Chinese guy when I did “Sympathy for the Devil”, and the abbot was meant to be Chinese. But that was more to do with time than anything else. I still felt fucking guilty about it. I don’t necessarily feel guilty when someone says there aren’t enough working-class or general black actors in Big Finish, because I think, “No, everyone has to be right for the part.” If someone comes along who is right for the part and is black, I will employ them, but I will not employ them because they’re black and it’s going to look better in a photo-spread. It doesn’t look better, it looks like positive tokenism. There’s nothing more rude and insulting to anyone than to be a token. I think that as a gay man I don’t want myself to be considered a token of anything, therefore, someone who’s more visibly a minority probably doesn’t either. Positive discrimination is a guilt thing created by white liberals who think, “Hey, I can be cool to all those people”, but it’s just to stop them feeling guilty.

OTT: You haven’t actually written a regular Doctor Who Big Finish by yourself, is that right?

GARY RUSSELL: “Real Time” [a web-cast created for the BBC's Doctor Who site] is the only thing I’ve written alone. I’ve co-written with Alan [Barnes] – he’s the only person I would dream of doing that with, as he’s the only person with no ego. Alan doesn’t possess a shred of ego, and to work with me – my God – that’s how you need to be. I’ve got enough for both of us.

But, I don’t like writing.

OTT: Really?

GARY RUSSELL: Not greatly.

OTT: But you do it for a living.

GARY RUSSELL: It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But I don’t like it – it’s very solitary, very dull, very boring.

OTT: But as script editor, you like the interaction?

GARY RUSSELL: I love script-editing.

It’s changed over the years. It used to be that I would write millions of notes, send a script back to the writer, then they’d send it back and then I’d write millions more and we’d do four or five drafts. I haven’t got the time or patience anymore. I’m working with people who know me now. I’ve got a better grasp of what does or doesn’t work – certainly more than most of the writers. So what happens now is, unless something is catastrophically missing the point, I will take their first draft and I will go through it. I will send it back to them with a few things written in red on the computer, saying “This is now the master copy – my corrections, suggestions, questions are in red. You send this back to me with your questions, answers, suggestions, rewrites in green” and this is how we work. Back and forth, back and forth. It still might be three or four times, and we have a beautifully multi-coloured script at the end of it, but it’s much easier for me to actually do that first rewrite, rather than expecting them to. Plus the fact is, we don’t pay them enough money for that.

I’m at the stage now where I’m working with writers I trust enough that actually the first draft is going to be pretty damn good, because we’ve talked it through enough times. In the early days when we were all finding our feet, that wasn’t the case. Now, with the possible exception of the slush pile people, I’m pretty much at a point where I don’t need to ask them to do a whole second draft, I can do that, run it past them and we can then thrash out any remaining problems.

OTT: How fussed are you about bringing on new writers? Is it something you believe in? Or is it an arse-ache?

GARY RUSSELL: Yes, it is something I believe in. I believe in it because it’s how I got my break, so I owe it to them. But, it is an arse-ache, it really is. The arse-ache isn’t dealing with the writers, it’s dealing with the slush pile and just going through 650 things. You’re going, “Who in their right mind thought this was, good, appropriate, what I wanted and did they never read the fucking guidelines that they’ve had on the internet, sent to them, or whatever?”

OTT: How many people do that? How many people miss the point?

GARY RUSSELL: Most. Those guidelines weren’t difficult to read, but there were some quite major don’ts in them. I would say of the 650 that we got, 500 in some way contained one of those don’ts, the most common one being, “I know you said don’t stipulate which Doctor and companion, but I thought you wouldn’t mind with this one.” Nope! That’s not going to get you much further. If you can’t obey a simple instruction when you know I’m going to have 650 things to go through … Your job, surely, is to make it stand out. It’s not to make me go, ‘Urrggh, I can’t be bothered’!”

That’s why “Live 34″, “Best of All Possible Worlds”, “Night Thoughts”, “Cryptobiosis” all stood out to me because – first and foremost – they were bloody good stories, but secondly they didn’t cross any of the lines. They ticked all the right boxes and they didn’t make me cross in the meantime. I couldn’t believe how many people said, “I know you said no Daleks, Cyberman, Ice Warriors, Kraals, Mara – but this is really good Mara story”. No! Go away! It can be the fucking best plot in the world – chances are, I’m not going to accept it because I didn’t say those things for no reason.

It’s the same if you apply for television, same if you send a book into a publisher. If that publisher or TV script editor says, “Here are my do’s and don’ts”, you don’t then turn round, do the don’ts and say, “I’m sure you won’t mind and you’ll make an exception for me.”

OTT: The golden lesson, then, is the brief is the brief.

GARY RUSSELL: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m working with a couple of writers at the moment who I’ve used before. They wanted to do another story and I said, “Fine, here’s what I want to happen”. They kind of go, “Oh great” but then come back later saying, “Oh, it isn’t working. We can’t make this work, can we do this instead?” and I’m going, “No. I want the story where that, that and that happens – remember, like I gave you? That’s the story I want you to write, because there are reasons. There are lots of other things going on, it’s an important story, it has to happen.” Again, they came back to me today with, “Do we still have to do …?” I just said, “Yeah, end of subject. That’s what I’m commissioning you to do. If you don’t want to do it, fine. You haven’t signed a contract yet. But if you want a contract, that’s what I want.”

I don’t have to do that very often, but I’ve done it a few times. It’s like people who will give you a synopsis and then the script comes in and I’m going, “Well, the Doctor and companion are the same, and the title’s the same but …” I know how annoying that is because I’ve had those arguments with Justin [Richards, editor of the BBC's Doctor Who novels] in the past when I’ve written for him. In some cases he’s gone, “Here’s your four page synopsis, here’s your novel. Are any of the elements in the synopsis in the novel? I don’t think they are.” He’s told me off and I thought, “Yeah, now the boot’s on the other foot.”

Justin’s taught me so much. He gave me the greatest piece of advice on editing when I was arguing with him about a book I was writing once. He just said, “It’s very simple. I’m the editor. I work for the company that’s paying you. We paid you to write a book. But you can consider all that irrelevant, just remember, my job as editor is to make this product even better than it was when you delivered it. We’re here together to make a good product. Nothing I’m saying to you is to annoy you, to piss you off or challenge your artistic integrity. It is to make your product better.” I’ve never had that from any other editor. Justin’s one of my best mates, and for him to be annoyed enough with me to actually say that … It instantly became my philosophy for Big Finish, and I’ve repeated that so many times to writers.

It’s amazing how many BBC Books writers you see on the internet going on and on about Justin or Steve Cole before him and how they “took away my artistic integrity”. Fuck off! They paid you two-and-a-half grand to write a book! If someone paid you two-and-a-half grand to write a book, you write the book they ask you to write. You don’t turn around and say, “I don’t want to write that book” and then go on the internet.

OTT: What are you proudest achievements with Big Finish?

GARY RUSSELL: Getting Paul McGann because I wanted to. Taking Bonnie [Langford] and Colin [Baker], separately and together, and proving to a cynical Doctor Who audience that they’re two of the best things the show ever had. They were fucked over on television, and we’ve taken them and proven that they’re both brilliant actors capable of so much on audio.

I’m proud of certain stories. I’m proud of “Real Time”, doing that mix between BBCi and us.

Overall, I’m proud we got the Doctor Who range off the ground, and we have something I thought wouldn’t last more than six or eight months, (because originally I thought I, as a Doctor Who fan, probably wouldn’t buy them, and I love audio) and yet here we are seven years on – and we’re sticking around for at least another three or four.

OTT: The last thing I really want to ask you was, say the range was finishing and the Beeb weren’t on your shoulder with regulations about what you could or couldn’t do – what would you do for one final hurrah?

GARY RUSSELL: I’d do the Time War. If I had no restrictions whatsoever, I’d do McGann turning into Christopher Eccleston, I’d do the whole Time War scenario, play it out and give people something that they’re never going to get on telly now. I can’t see how Russell could do it now he’s lost Chris. That would be my big thing. And if I’m being really sad and anal about it and I wanted to go out with a big last hurrah – I’d get them all in. If it’s a wretched Time War, let’s have the Colin Baker Doctor facing his aspect of it. I wouldn’t bring them together to fight it. But, you know, they’d have a CD each of what they’re doing while the Time War’s on. That’s what I’d do.