Kaldor City: a Magic Bullet Production


Chris Boucher Interview


Conducted by Alan Stevens and Anthony Brown in 1992, the following article, where Chris Boucher discusses his work on Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and Star Cops, is a full, uncut version, of the one that previously appeared in issues 107, 108 and 109 of DWB.


ALAN STEVENS: Where were you born?

: I was born in a place called Maldon, in Essex.

AS: I understand that you were an only child, do you think it made you more imaginative?

CB: I don't know, it made me lonelier certainly, and so I suppose it tends to make you more self-contained. When I was nine my best friend who lived just across the street from me contracted meningitis and died, and so losing your best friend at that age can make you feel more isolated somehow, and makes you more self-absorbed. I've always found it difficult to socialize and make friends, which I suppose explains why I've got three kids of my own now, I've got my own unit!

ANTHONY BROWN: Did you read a lot when you were young?

CB: Yes I did. As a kid of about eleven or twelve I became something of an addict of the romantic short stories that appeared in the women's magazines, that my mother and my grandmother used to get. So I read quite a lot of those, along with a lot of science fiction and anything else really that came to hand. As I recall I discovered sex in literature, with a book called Forever Amber and I remember I was completely rapt, it was a cracking story.

AS: When you left grammar school did you go straight to University?

CB: No, I went to Australia.

AS: Really? Why?

CB: Well at the time I had just missed National Service, they did away with it the year before I was due to be called up. It was a stupid system, but the one thing that it did do was give you the chance to leave home. So when my generation's turn came there was no way to leave home any more. Unless you were going to University and I wasn't because I'd screwed-up my A-levels.

AS: Do you think it's essential that there is something to help you make that break with your parents?

CB: I don't know if it's essential, but I mean everyone's got to leave home at some stage, and it's one of the functions of University to allow you, as parent and child, to break without having to make excuses about it. Without having to feel that initial hurt, and National Service was a way of doing that, University is a way of doing that, going to Australia is a way of doing that I suppose, and after you have made that break and come back, you are really just a guest in your parents' house. So a mate and I saved up, and did the overland trip to India, which you could do in those days, because the Middle East wars hadn't started yet and it was still possible to go through Syria, Iraq and Jordan without getting your head blown off. We drove to Calcutta, it's the overland trip to Australia, which actually is impossible because there is a large amount of water between Asia and Australia, but anyway we eventually arrived in Australia, got ourselves jobs-- I worked on the railway-- and spent a year in a country where the ratio of men to women was ten to one, so it was there that I learned to queue...

AS: What did you do when your year was up?

CB: I returned home, arriving on my mother's birthday, unannounced, clutching a bunch of flowers and I think I had five shillings old money in my pocket, which is about twenty-five pence. And there I stayed, because basically I didn't have a lot of choice, I didn't have anything left. I'd spent a year of boozing and carousing, in fact that was the point I discovered what drug dependance must be Like. I'd spent six weeks coming back on a passenger cruise liner where the booze was all duty-free, and so about three days after I got home I started to shake, I needed a drink very badly. It came as a nasty shock to discover that I had become alcohol dependent. I worry less about it now, of course.

AB: What sort of work did you do when you got back home?

CB: I boiled ball bearings for a while, and then my father got me a job with the company he worked for, which was Calor Gas and I became what was laughingly known as a management trainee. I met my wife and at twenty-two, I got married, I went to night school to get my A-levels and then Calor Gas very generously sent me to Essex University. Somewhat less generously to read economics, which I wasn't hugely interested in. What do they call it? The gloomy science? I'm not sure it's even a science actually, I got a BA not a BSc and then I came back to Calor Gas and sort of worked off my debt.

AS: What made you start writing?

CB: I had been married for four years and up until that point we had both worked. Although I was still at University I was getting an allowance from Calor Gas, which wasn't a huge amount, but obviously a hell of a lot more than one would get from the average University grant. Then Lyn became pregnant and had to give up work, which left us marginally strapped for cash, so I was looking around for means of making money and writing was one possibility. I did some, what I discover later were called, three-line quickies, for a television programme called Braden's Week and also I wrote a couple of short stories and sent them off to women's magazines. I think I did a science fiction story as well, which I whacked off somewhere and then sat back and waited for the money to start flooding in. However the only thing that did sell, and looking back on it, I was extremely lucky that anything sold at all, were the three-line quickies I'd sent to Braden's Week, and for that I got paid the princely sum of five quid apiece, which was a lot of money in those days. Later when I became a regular contributor, they upped that to ten quid a throw and I started averaging about thirty quid a week, which was very nice indeed. In fact I was doing so well they actually gave me a contract on the last series, where they paid me twenty-five quid a week no matter what.

AS: Did you then go on to bombard the BBC with scripts and ideas?

CB: No not really, I did a lot, of three-line quickies for other people, for Dave Allen and like that, but strictly on a submission basis, and by then I had an agent, a very nice guy called John Hays and it was he who suggested Doctor Who because they d take work from non-established drama writers and so it was a way in. Although I had done a couple of sitcoms by then, John was trying to broaden my range and get me to the point where I could give up the day job. So I did a first episode on spec and my agent sent it to the script-editor Robert Holmes, and then later I was called in by the producer Philip Hinchcliffe and the three of us got together and had a long chat. The episode I had submitted on spec was only about fifteen minutes in length if that, but Bob thought he could use me. He was trying to push Doctor Who towards a more mature audience, which he was doing largely I think to coincide with his own tastes, because he wasn't really a great lover of children's programming.

AS: Did the fifteen minute script become “The Face of Evil”?

CB: No that story came later, the only thing that I can really remember about the other script is the title, which was “The Silent Scream”.

AS: So how did “The Face of Evil” come about?

CB: The idea owes quite a bit I think to Captive Universe, a novel by Harry Harrison, and also probably to various other SF novels that I've read over the years, but then anyone who says they write completely original material is either insane or a liar, or possibly both. Anyway, because I was new, Bob Holmes kept sending me away to write more and more detailed story-lines, saying things like, "We need to know more about this character, and this area needs developing." Until eventually the story-line ended up longer than the final script! I still remember now Bob saying to me, "Story-lining is all of the hard work and none of the fun." Which is true, because all script-writers are basically dialogue writers, and that's really what I prefer.

AS: I read somewhere recently that the original title for your first story was “The Day God Went Mad”. What made you think you could get away with a title like that?

CB: It fitted what I was doing, that's all. The story was about these two groups of people who had become enslaved by tradition and by a supercomputer who was God, so it seemed reasonable to call the story “The Day God Went Mad”, particularly since the machine was finally going off the rails and becoming a vengeful God, but really I'm not hugely wedded to titles; I've always found titles quite difficult to arrive at satisfactorily. And for the most part I was quite happy for people to suggest and alter titles within reason.

AB: What did you think of the direction? Because Pennant Roberts can be a bit variable.

CB: I was sat at the back of the gallery when “The Face of Evil” was being done, and it was the first time that I'd actually been invited to a gallery session, and poor Pennant was having problems, as they always did, because they worked on a very tight budget and time was money, and you flaming well had to get everything done within the recording period because over-runs were damned expensive, and you couldn't always get them. So Pennant was pushing and something wasn't going right, and at one point he said, "Oh come on it's only television, let's move on." And then he remembered that I was sitting behind him and he looked back and said, "Oh well, er, I mean it's very good television," or words to that effect, and then said, "I hope I didn't upset you?"

But I learned some lessons from sitting at the back of the gallery, lessons that were confirmed for me over the years. Pennant is a jolly man who has a realistic view of what he is doing, he is not a major stylist, but then they are few and far between, especially on video in studio, on what was regarded as work-a-day television. Doctor Who and programmes like it did a very useful job for writers and directors, they were the beginners' slopes, where you were taught your trade. I don't think for the most part it showed because people were excited to get the chance, so they basically worked very hard to make the most of what they had been given. But now unfortunately those opportunities are no longer there, because people are not prepared to take chances anymore and this has resulted in totally safe television. The only thing that seems to matter now is that you don't offend anybody.

AS: Usually Doctor Who stories end with something being blown up, however this didn't happen to the computer in “The Face of Evil.” Was that your idea?

CB: Yes, all the story details were worked out by me, the only thing that did change in relation to the end was that I didn't what to have a scene where the Doctor actually gets to meet the computer. I remember saying at the time, "Look this is supposed to be the computer equivalent of God, an absolutely major super-brain. Now how the hell am I going to write dialogue for that? You know I'm not clever enough to come up with conversation for God!" And Philip said, "But you've got to. We can't have gone through all this without having a confrontation scene of some sort. You've got to have the Doctor and the computer talking to each other, I'm sorry, but you have to do it." So eventually I did.

AB: Wasn't Leela inspired by a Palestinian terrorist?

CB: Yeah, Leila Khaled, she was from a time when plane hijacking was still considered to be an almost idealistic, brave and noble thing to do. She was jailed for her beliefs and no one had been killed, she was glamorous, she was articulate, but she also became the precursor of some rather less appealing people and happenings.

AS: I've heard that Leela was created originally just for that one particular story.

CB: Yes that's right. From what Bob Holmes told me, I gather that Tom Baker had always wanted to go solo, and so I suspect that's one of the reasons why writers at that stage, were being asked to create companions for their own particular episodes. Simply to keep him happy.

AS: Why did the idea fall through?

CB: I don't know really. I was just told that they liked the character of Leela and that they wanted me to immediately do another four parter with her, which I did and then discovered after that they intended to carry on with her. Now whether that was a result of the casting or as a result of the way the character was going I don't know.

AS: To my mind the character of Leela seemed to become more and more diluted as the series progressed.

CB: Yes, that did seem to happen. The character was originally conceived as a reaction against the little screaming companion type, but as it went on things did seem to revert back somewhat, though obviously not to quite the same extent as some of them had been.

AS: Leela got married you know.

CB: Really?

AS: To a Time Lord no less.

CB: I didn't know that, and it does seem a bit strange, but to tell you the truth I wasn't actually watching the programme at that point anyway, because I'd become involved with other things.

AS: What provided the initial inspiration for your second story, “The Robots of Death”?

CB: Well, the storm miner was fairly obviously I think from Dune, the robots themselves, well there could have been an Isaac Asimov influence there I suppose, but I can't really remember. I just like the idea of machine intelligences, and I liked the idea that it is possible for intelligences to have human characteristics, that develop as the artificial intelligence develops. In other words, there is not a lot of difference between human intelligence and machine intelligence once you reach a certain stage.

AB: Both “The Face of Evil” and “The Robots of Death” are unusual in so far as television SF goes, in that although they are about insane robots and insane computers killing people, in both cases it is an externally imposed insanity, rather than a malevolence from within.

CB: That's because I don't believe in malevolent machines, I don't actually believe in malevolence to be truthful, and I suspect most insanity is imposed from outside. Now obviously there are some organic failures in the brain which will produce symptoms of insanity, and as we speak no one knows what schizophrenia really is, but I don't believe there is such a thing as fundamental evil.

AS: Well I don't think in black and white either, but you must admit there are some very dark shades of grey wandering around out there!

CB: Oh god yes, there are some evil bastards about, but I don't believe in evil as an abstract. I don't think you can say, ")oh look at that bastard. There is a chunk of pure evil.” I mean evil arises out of situations, it arises out of inadequacies, pain and ignorance, and fear, and I suspect it's awfully easy to stumble into evil and to stumble into being evil, or into being what is perceived as evil, but I don't believe it starts out that way. I often get depressed by the way society appears to be going, where you hear strange politicians, and God knows we've got a lot of those now, saying, "It's no excuse to say that joy-riding and rioting arise because of unemployment," and I find myself yelling at the television, "No one's saying that it's an excuse, they're saying it's an explanation, you stupid twat."

AS: People often make the mistake of confusing explanation with justification.

CB: Yeah. Just because I feel I understand why something arises doesn't mean that I approve of it.

AS: And it doesn't mean you'll act the same way.

CB: No and it also doesn't mean that you stand there and condemn it as evil. I think if we could possibly lose the word evil altogether it would be a great help.

AB: The trouble is it's a lot simpler and easier to think in terms of black and white, and so most people do.

AS: [LAUGHING] Do you think Tom Baker was an evil man, because a lot of people didn't like him?

CB: Good lord no, he was an actor.

AS: Some people described him as a monster though didn't they?

CB: Well he was a monster! He was a big man, he was physically big, he had a big personality and a big ego to go with it, and from a writers point of view he was a pain in the butt certainly. I mean I went to a read-through of one of my scripts once, when Tom was in full flow. George Spenton-Foster, who is not one of my favourite directors, had done what he always did and taken the cast out to lunch and got them all drunk. So when I turned up at the read-through I was the only sober one there, and Tom was sending my script up something rotten. I hadn't been to many read-throughs back then, and I must say I was deeply embarrassed, and at that point I really hated him. I went back to my office and kicked a couple of filing cabinets until I could clearly see the shape of my foot in the bottom drawers, I also remember expressing at the time a great desire to see the bastard die in a cellar full of rats! I got over it eventually and I liked Tom, on those occasions when I met him after that, but he was a big guy, you know.

AS: What was Tom doing? Picking out all the double-entendres?

CB: Yeah, and it makes you paranoid about these things, because you know that in the read-through, anything that can be taken in that way will be, and eventually it gets to the point where you find yourself spotting them and thinking, "Oh no, shit, I'm not having that line in," and taking it out and writing in something else that can't be taken that way. Which is silly, but it's a sort of function of paranoid embarrassment.

AS: From what I've heard, it wasn't just writers Tom gave a rough time to, either.

CB: It was explained to me once why the gallery was so high up and had this great long ladder leading down to the studio floor. Apparently if a director really did his nut and went down to kill an actor, he would hopefully have regained his composure by the time he reached him! On one occasion I actually saw this happen, Tom had been a right pain all day, and suddenly the director leaped to his feet and said, "Right, I am going to kill the bastard," and headed for the door, but of course by the time he had climbed all the way down the ladder it had changed to, "Tom dear boy, this possibly is not quite the way we should be doing it."

AB: How did the story-line for “Image of the Fendahl” come about?

CB: I've got a feeling that the inspiration for that one came from a short story that I read, about a society which after growing up and achieving scientific and technical expertise, built this spaceship. Whereupon an alien, who had set the whole thing in motion, popped up out of hibernation, climbed in the ship, and flew away. The population then collapsed into barbarism and eventually returned to primitive life forms, went back to being rats as I recall. It was a striking little story, and so I used it as my kicking-off point. I think Nigel Kneale used a similar notion in Quatermass and the Pit.

AS: I thought the actual design of monster that appeared in the story was a little-- unconvincing, it was a sort if green sleeping-bag affair wasn't it?

CB: And it was inexperience on my part that made the thing look worse. I mean, if I was writing it now, I would make the monster into something that could be done as an optical or a video effect, or not even shown at all. I certainly wouldn't spend three episodes building up to it, because that's a major error anyway, you really do build up audience expectations and then to have this cuddly caterpillar come on, well it makes it even more of a let-down.

AB: Did you notice a difference when Graham Williams took over as producer?

CB: The first thing I noticed when Graham took over was this extremely weird framework he had come up with for the series, which involved time paradoxes and various esoteric formulae, all of which were total crap. Least I think it was total crap, I can remember once accusing Bob Holmes in the boozer of making up scientific terms, and he had sort of sucked his pipe and nodded. Then about a year later I came across the term again and found out what it meant, and he was right! So I went back and said, "you bastard, you let me sit there like a prat and say that you'd made up this bullshit, and you hadn't at all, it was true!" So maybe I am slandering the whole grand concept, but when I read this particular piece of paper I thought, well this is no help at all, it's got nothing to do with telling stories. Of course looking back, I can now see that it was all really just Graham's desperate attempt to find some new avenue down which to go, away from what had been attacked as violent, corrupting and generally not good for the children.

I don't know if Graham ever came across Terry Nation, but I remember Terry telling me in the bar one time, that whenever he got letters from people complaining about scientific inaccuracies, he would just send back this standard letter, which would say, “you will be aware of the formula XYZ to the power of 17...” He said it was all total bullshit and he didn't know what it meant, but he would just bung it off and they loved it!

AB: “Image of the Fendahl” was your final story for Doctor Who, why was that?

CB: Well I had a script aborted. While I was script-editing Blake's 7 I had this story idea which Graham liked and wanted to use in season sixteen. I had it all worked out in my head, and we were going to go ahead with it, when suddenly Ronnie Marsh, the Head of Series said, "No, I'm sorry, but you can't write for another show in the same department, while you're script editing and writing for Blake's 7". Which was fair enough I suppose, but of course I then had this idea for a story and nowhere to use it, and it sort of sat there in the back of my head like a... like a sort of...

AS: A sort of rock?

CB: No. It was more like something had died there and it was gradually going rotten, you know, and bits of it start creeping into other stories.

AS: Why did you let Terrance Dicks destroy your Target book novelizations, instead of writing them yourself?

CB: I think that's putting it a bit strong, but basically you get half the money and do none of the work, which sounds reasonable enough to me. Also around that time I was working on Blake's 7, so I doubt I would have had the time to do them myself anyway.

AB: How did you become involved with Blake's 7 then?

CB: David Maloney, who had previously worked on Doctor Who as a director, was now working on Blake's 7 as a first time producer. He contacted Bob Holmes and asked him if he would like to come and script-edit for the series, but Bob, who didn't really want to do any more script-editing, suggested me instead. So I went along and met David and we got on okay, and eventually he phoned me up and offered me the job, whereupon I resigned from Calor Gas instantly. I was very unhappy at Calor Gas by that stage anyway, and my only regret about leaving was that I didn't go to the guy I was working for and tell him to stick his job up his arse, and that is a sort of regret. You know, I should have just stopped in and said, "Listen you bastard, you can take your job and stick it where the sun don't shine, and you're a miserable prick to boot." But I didn't, I went along and said, "I'm sorry but I have to leave, I don't want to drop anybody in it, I'll serve my notice, but I'd like to leave as soon as possible." And I gave up the proper job and went to work for the BBC, and it was the best move I ever made. It was the happiest work related experience I've ever had before or since. It was great!

AS: How far was the series advanced, by the time you became script-editor?

CB: Terry Nation, who created Blake's 7, had by that time, I think, written about six first draft scripts, but really the series was still in its design stage and so it was great fun to work on. I got on very well with the producer David Maloney, he was really a very nice guy, who always listened to my opinions and included me in everything. On one occasion we went to see Doctor Christopher Evans at the National Physical Laboratory, he liked all the concepts in the series I remember, except telepathy.

AS: The teleport was all right then?

CB: Yes, that would happen in due course he reckoned, anyway it was in Star Trek so what the hell. David was also able to get tickets to see the press preview of Star Wars, but he didn't however take me, for which I wasn't highly chuffed I have to say. I think he took Terry though, and when they came back David said, "Well that's us finished, we can't possibly match that, we're dead." It seriously depressed him.

AB: It didn't seriously depress you though?

CB: [LAUGHING] I didn't see it!

AB: I've heard that because of the work-load Terry Nation was under he was delivering first, maybe second-draft scripts and you were effectively writing the final draft.

CB: His scripts did tend to be a bit on the short side yes, because Terry wrote a lot of action, I mean he was an action writer of the old school if you like. He wrote casts of thousands and action, whereas we could only afford casts of several, and although we could talk about the action, you didn't get to see a lot of it. At one stage Terry did say, "You can have second drafts or you can have the next episode, but you can't have both." So we settled for next episodes and I did the re-writes. Terry actually wrote tremendously quickly, I've known him to write a script in five days, he simply sort of roared through it, and I have to say when you write that fast it does from time to time show. But I mean it was a hell of a work-load for him, thirteen fifty minute episodes already commissioned with a date for production and so forth, it was a hell of a strain. He could have said that he didn't want to do all thirteen I suppose, but he's no mug, Terry.

AS: Did you have any say in who should be cast?

CB: David Maloney cast it, but I went along to all the auditions, and then we would go back to the bar afterwards, have a couple of pints and discuss it. I remember I was standing at the bar once, and David was introducing me to various people, when suddenly this very pretty make-up girl came up and had a chat. After she'd left, and I still treasure the notion, David turned to me and said, "She just said, I see you've cast Blake then," and I said, "What do you mean, see you've cast Blake?" and he said, "She thinks it's you!" And that was my one moment of stardom, the child was obviously drunk of course.

AS: Is it true that Ian McCulloch was at one stage considered for a part in Blake's 7?

CB: Yes, but Terry wasn't very keen on the idea, I think they'd had some previous falling-out over another series he had created called Survivors.

AB: Did you find that Terry Nation was at all protective towards Blake's 7, particularly once he'd moved on from writing it?

CB: Terry wasn't really like that as far as I could see, I mean he was going to America anyway, so I think he was cutting ties. He didn't seem hugely protective, but then he was a pro from way back, and there isn't a lot of point with being hugely protective. I mean what you've got to be protective of is your programme rights, and he and his agent were very good at that, nobody screwed Terry. I mean on all the books and videos it's Terry Nation's Blake's 7, but I'm sure he bled, I'm sure he did because we all do, but Terry bled in private.

AS: In what way did your approach and Terry's differ in regard to the series?

CB: Terry had a much clearer notion of right and wrong than I did, and saw the series as basically Robin Hood in space. Whereas I sort of warped it a bit and tried to make it more ambiguous, so that in the end it became more like Che Guevara and the Dirty Dozen.

AS So you didn't see Blake as a hero figure then?

CB: I saw Blake as an idealist who goes down the road that idealism, and fanaticism to an extent, takes people. Although he believed that he was working for a just cause and that his motives were purely altruistic, I can't see how Blake could possibly have avoided being brutalized to some extent, by the kind of guerrilla war that he was undertaking against the Federation. This was shown clearly I think, when Blake was finally placed in a situation where he was forced to consider the outcome of his actions. To infer that the end justifies the means is, to my mind assuredly wrong, because I don't think there is an end, there are only means, and means are corrupting.

AB: Of all the characters that appeared in Blake's 7, did you have a favourite?

CB: I liked the character of Avon instantly and I liked the way Paul Darrow played it. One of the particular things I liked about Paul was that he learned the lines and delivered them, he and Michael Keating [Vila] had that in common. They took the scripts, they learned them, they didn't paraphrase them, and they didn't assume that they could do it better than the writers. When you get characters like that you write for them, it's more fun, there's no point in sweating over getting a line right, if the actor then changes the line. In my case, I guess, it's probably because I started in comedy and as you know, if you change one word in a line, or add a word, you can lose it completely and it's no longer funny. Most of the others had a tendency, for whatever reason, to change lines, very occasionally it was an improvement, in most cases it wasn't, but Paul gave good script, you gave him good one liners and he did good one liners. Michael's timing was less good oddly enough, but he did get better as time went on. So basically, if you play it according to the script, you get a feed back process working, do the lines properly and you'll get more to do, it's as simple as that really.

AS: I noticed that you would often borrow lines from films like Casablanca, or The Magnificent Seven.

CB: Yes that's right, Paul relished good Western lines and I used to quite deliberately lob then in. I watched "Trial" recently, which was one of my episodes, and there was a line in there which I had taken straight from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, "Stick to action Blake, that's what you're good at."

AB: Was Avon really as cynical as he made out, or do you think deep down he was an idealist like Blake?

CB: Well I was always careful to make sure that Avon could have an idealistic reason for doing something, and also a totally selfish and cynical one, and you pays your money and you takes your choice. I don't think to my mind the character was really sure of his own motives anyway, I mean as far as Avon was concerned rationally, he always did it for totally cynical reasons. His ambition right from the start had been to get rich and then retire to a place in the sun, but finally, when it came to the last episode, Avon, either despite himself, or because of what had happened to him, believed in Blake's friendship. No, I've sort of skirted round the word, he had come to believe in Blake's love for him, and Blake was the last possible thing he could believe in. Having lost everything that he had ever believed in, there was one last possibility for faith, for belief, for love and when it became apparent to Avon that Blake had betrayed him, he killed him and Avon had absolutely no choice, but to kill him. The final irony of course, was he then realized that he'd made a mistake, he was wrong, Blake hadn't betrayed him at all. Which was basically funny, and which was why, I guess, Avon smiles in the final frame.

AS: The last episode of Blake's 7 certainly had an impact, and from the reaction it got, it's a wonder you weren't lynched.

CB: Yes, I know what you mean. My mother-in-law was talking to this electrician once, who had came to fix something in her house. Anyway they got chatting about television and suddenly she said, "My son-in-law works for the BBC," and the electrician said, "Oh that's good, but mind you, I'd like to lay my hands on that bugger who killed everyone in Blake's 7." At which point she bit her tongue and decided not to tell him what it was I did at the BBC.

AB: Was the final episode, "Blake," intended to end the series as a whole?

CB: It was an ending in itself, but it wasn't necessarily the end of the programme. If Blake's 7 had returned for a fifth series, then the episode would now be regarded as a cliff-hanger, following in the tradition previously laid down by Terry Nation.

AS: How then did Avon survive his last stand against all those Federation guards on Gauda Prime?

CB: Well, don't forget you never actually saw him die did you? The freeze frame ending does leave open the possibility that he may have survived after all.

AS: So if there had been a series five, what form would it have taken? Because surely after an encounter like that, Avon would have become a gibbering loon!

CB: What I would have suggested, and what I would have tried to do, depending of course on Paul's reaction, would have been to make Avon over into a hero, and make over his personality as well, so that he would have become Blake. In effect recreating what he'd destroyed, and if you really wanted to play games with it, Avon would now actually be called Blake, for some specific reason or other.

AB: Perhaps you could have a situation, where people just simply refused to believe that Blake was dead. I mean the Federation had lied before, why should anyone believe them now? Therefore the next time a Federation installation got blown up, the whisper would go around, "Blake did it."

CB: Yeah, it's like Elvis Presley being alive and well and living on the moon, or as my kids say, "He's up in our bog!"

AS: One character who didn't appear in the final episode was Servalan, and when I spoke to Jacqueline Pearce recently I got the distinct impression that she had taken it personally.

CB: Well it wasn't meant as a personal thing. As far as I was aware she'd had her number of contracted episodes, and we were out of budget, I mean there was no money left over for extra characters, I just had to work with whoever was at hand. As writer and as script-editor I'd have a list of people who were available for any particular episode, or were required to go into any particular episode, and I'd put them in, but if they'd been used up then that was it, I couldn't help them, and Jackie had been used up. End of story.

AB: So you got on okay with Jacqueline then?

CB: Everything was fine as far as I was concerned. In fact I had a lot of time for Jackie, she had a wonderful sort of big camp attitude to everything. I remember she was once late for camera rehearsal, and so drove up and parked her car outside the Television Centre, you know, out the front, where the Rollers used to pull up and everything. Anyway the next minute out came one of the Jobsworths and said to her, "You can't park that there. You can't park that there 'ere, missus." To which she replied "Nonsense, of course I can park it here. I'm a star. Without people like me there wouldn't be any programmes, don't talk rubbish man, and I'm late, so out of my way!" And she stomped past him, and then there were phone calls to the gallery, "She'll have to move the car!" I loved it, I thought she was great.

AS: How did you see the character of Servalan?

CB: I never really saw her as possessing any great depth or detail somehow. I did on a couple of occasions, try to undermine the clear lines of the character and introduce an element of ambiguity, as I had done with Blake, but really she was an archetype. She was Terry's villainness, and he wrote her as a villainness, and as she went on she became more villainous and less villainous in a way.

AS: In what way exactly?

CB: Well, Jackie relished the part and sometimes the relish was a little too apparent I felt, for her to be truly horrific. There was something wholehearted about the way Jackie played it, which sort of undermined any really scummy and truly unpleasant edge the character had. So although she did terrible things, she did them with such a flourish that you never really got that feeling of internal corruption. What's that cliche about evil?

AB: The banality.

CB: Yeah, the banality of evil, well she was too big to be banal.

AS: I don't know. Speaking personally, it was the fact she was so desensitized from her actions, that made her all the more disturbing. She had this ability to do the most appalling things for no reason at all, and at the same time be completely relaxed and calm about it.

CB: I suppose there was something feline about her really, and actually now I'm thinking about it, something feline about the performance as well. I mean if you were going to look for an animal parallel, it would be a cat, and to basically say they're cruel is to misunderstand how they work. I mean what they do is really an instinctive sharpening of their hunting prowess, and although the way they go about it is horrendous, you couldn't actually say a cat was cruel. Because to say something is cruel is to impute intent, whereas a cat has no intention to be cruel it just is, in the same way as Servalan, just was, and so in the performance, perhaps you got that feeling of the feline cruelty. A sociopath, someone who was basically lacking a certain area of understanding, or empathy.

AS: Servalan always struck me as someone who wasn't interested in the Federation, and only saw it as a means of gaining personal power.

CB: Well of course, that's what it was. She and people like her, subvert organizations and ideas and movements, not because they have a different view of what they should be, but purely because they can. Servalan was just using the Federation to gratify her own selfish needs, and anyone who got in her way was ruthlessly purged.

AB: After Travis was killed in the episode "Star One," I take it there was never any thought of introducing another Federation regular for Servalan to team-up with.

CB:: Not really, the trouble with series, is that the more regulars and semi-regulars you introduce the more of a strait-jacket you're working in. So to avoid that situation we would instead just produce one-off characters, for Servalan to inter-react with and explain the plot line to.

AB: As far as you were concerned, was there ever an attempt on behalf of the writers to develop a progressive, on-going relationship between Servalan and Avon, or among any of the regular characters for that matter?

CB: No, and this was quite deliberate, because with a drama series it should be possible to show any of the episodes, apart from the first and the last, in any particular order. So really from that point of view, it would be essential to try and keep the relationships between the regulars as simple as possible. Occasionally we would suggest that one or other of them would have romantic feelings towards a person outside of the group, but then that was convenient, because once the episode was over you never saw them again.

AS: Usually Avon shot them didn't he?

CB: Yes.

AS: [LAUGHING] That's a bit disturbing really, isn't it?

CB: It doesn't say much for his love life.

AS: Both Jacqueline Pearce and Paul Darrow have stated in the past, that on occasion they did try themselves to infer a relationship between their two characters.

CB: Well that's true, they did used to do that. I remember it happened once to one of my episodes, “Rumours of Death”, where they fed in a relationship that was never intended, by interpreting lines in a particular manner, but that still doesn't mean there was a relationship there.

AS: But in your story “Death-Watch” ...

CB: Yes, I know they did kiss, but thinking about it, that must have been another they snuck in. Anyway you could always take that as Avon doing a Burt Lancaster, one of Paul's heroes, and just being macho and dominating towards a female.

AB: Were the actors given any say in the way the series progressed?

CB: As far as I was concerned they got the scripts in time to learn them and do them, but they were rarely, if ever, consulted about the development of the overall line of the series, or about any particular episode. I mean there were a couple of occasions when I did scripts for particular actors, because I felt that they hadn't been given much to do, but that wasn't done in consultation. I didn't get in a little huddle with these people and say, "Who feels they haven't done enough recently?", because as far as I'm concerned, and I'm sorry if it sounds arrogant, but I don't think it's got anything to do with the actors quite honestly.

AS: How much contact did you have with the cast on a personal level?

CB: Not a great deal really. I mean we would gather together at the end of the recording for a drink and that sort of thing, but I would always steer well clear of any intrigue that was going on; simply because I don't like all that incestuous gossip and back-biting that develops over a period of time with any given group of people. I mean if you think about it, soaps must be horrendous to work on. So quite honestly I didn't get to know any of them particularly well, and to me they were basically just the people they played. This of course went with my natural inclination anyway, because as I've said before, I don't make friends very easily and I'm not all that comfortable with social chit-chat.

AB: Paul Darrow wrote a script called “Man of Iron”, for series four. How did that come about?

CB: I don't know. I never saw the script or knew anything about it until it was mentioned to me recently. It certainly never came across my desk at the time, and definitely wasn't commissioned by me. So why it was written and who it went to I have no idea, but as far as I was concerned it had nothing to do with the official scripting of Blake's 7.

AB: Why did you only write two episodes for series four?

CB: Because that was all that I was allowed to write. The Writers Guild at that time were pressurizing the BBC in an attempt to stop script-editors writing for programmes, and so consequently I was told that I would only be allowed to write two episodes for the new series. The decision to write the first and last, came from a piece of advice Terry Nation gave me in the bar once, when he said, "To make sure you get your repeat fees when writing for a series, always write the first and last episode, because then, even if they only re-show part of a series, they'll still have to repeat yours."

AS: Do you think Vere Lorrimer was the best choice to replace David Maloney as producer on series four?

CB: I have yet to meet anybody who doesn't like Vere and I like him very much indeed. He's a sweet man, and by his own admission he was at a loss on a couple of occasions with regard to certain scripts. We had a long discussion one time, where I tried to explain a particular plot point to him and I tried to explain it four different ways, four different times and he still hadn't grasped it. Then eventually I discovered he was talking about a completely different script, but really, if people fault series four, and they do, I don't think you can fault it from Vere's point of view. I think you probably can fault the scripts, but as I've said to people on previous occasions, series four wasn't series four it was series one Mk 2. It was the first series of a new set-up and so really I think it's sort of unfair to judge on that basis.

AB: I thought that the second half of series four seemed to work a lot better then the first half.

CB: The problem was, that we had the go-ahead on series four very late in the day, and so we were in a god-awful rush to get enough scripts together, to select the directors and then get the first film block rolling. After you've done that you've got a bit more time to think, so that, I suspect, is why the second half feels better and works better than the first, simply because we had more time.

AS: Blake's 7 ended with the Federation still very much in control. Do you think Blake ever stood a chance of winning?

CB: No, I don't think it was possible. Although on occasion it was suggested that there were other freedom fighters about the place, they were never of any real threat to the Federation. So really when you came down to it, there was only Blake and his four companions, fighting alone and against overwhelming odds.

AS: The Federation was here to stay then?

CB: No, I don't think it would have lasted forever. It's a fact that most empires seem to develop a life of their own, they grow for particular reasons, they carry on growing, they cease to grow, they collapse in on themselves, they're replaced by something else. The question is, does an empire collapse because of the outside forces ranged against it, or do the outside forces arise because the empire is self-destructing?

AS: Then Blake's appearance could therefore have been an early symptom of the Federation's eventual decline?

CB: I don't know.

AS: How did Star Cops come about? Because I understand it was you who created the series.

CB: Yes I did. Star Cops was originally a project for radio. I had worked out quite a lot of the detail for it, and then for various reasons and coincidences, it stopped being a radio show and became a potential television series instead. Jonathan Powell, who was then head of series, commissioned a script, and so off I went and wrote a two part opening story which unfortunately he didn't like. He'd set his face against two part openers for some reason, so I then had to go away and telescope those two episodes into one.

AS: Did have much control over the series as a whole?

CB: Well devisers very seldom have control, they're usually sort of on the outside looking in, or in my case shouting in. Star Cops was an unhappy experience for me I'm afraid, it certainly wasn't a marriage made in Heaven. Some producers you get on with and some you don't, and unfortunately Evgeny Gridneff and I just didn't.

AS: What did you think of the other two writers who also worked on the series, John Collee and Philip Martin?

CB: I like then both personally, they're nice guys. I remember sitting down and having a drink with Philip, and hearing the horror story of what they had done to him and his script, and having a lot of sympathy for him.

AB: This concerned the episode that had been cancelled because of the strike, I presume?

CB: No, this was about the one that got made! I remember he was pretty steamed at the time, and I was pretty steamed about the whole thing anyway, so we had a good session.

AS: Sounds like a sauna.

CB: [LAUGHING] Yes, it does really doesn't it, but anyway I thought the writers were fine, it's just that to be perfectly honest I wanted to write all ten episodes myself. I wanted to do a Terry Nation and I was told that I couldn't because there wouldn't be time, but in my paranoid way I suspect that it was just an excuse. I mean one reason you don't let a writer do all the episodes is because it gives them too much control, or rather if you bring in some other writers then the control shifts to the producer. And my impression was frequently that Evgeny Gridneff was more concerned with making sure of his own authority than anything else. So instead I ended up writing the first four episodes and the last one.

AB: How much attention did you pay in the script to describing the various spacecraft?

CB: With series like Star Cops and Blake's 7, you have to look for ways of keeping it simple and using as many of the vehicles, in as many ways as you can. Although I remember in one script going into great detail about the moon-buggy, I would mainly try and keep the details sketchy and just describe the functions that they would be required to perform. One thing that I would do regularly however, was to write in suggestions as to where stock footage from the NASA space shuttle could be included, because some of the film available is very beautiful.

AB: I noticed that most of the vehicles seen in the series, are in fact designs that are currently on the drawing board, but equally most of them seemed to be used the wrong way once they had made their first appearance. The moon shuttle in episode three for instance looks like a X-30 or a HOTOL, but that's purely earth orbital, you would never send one of those to the moon.

CB: Well here, I'm afraid, I will have to apply the usual cop-out answer of, if it was crap it had nothing to do with me, and if it was good, it was my idea! Though thinking about it, I seem to recall liking the loading modules in the final episode. That was really quite impressive, and I certainly didn't specify anything like that.

AS: Did you ever have any disagreements with directors or writers about scientific accuracy?

CB: There was one or two occasions where it did seem to me that Evgeny Gridneff and script-editor Joanna Willett hadn't really got to grips with the basic physics involved in the series. I mean I'm not a great physics expert myself, but at one point they did seem to think that NASA had a weightless room stashed away somewhere, in which they trained the astronauts, and they seemed convinced that if they could get permission, they would be able to go and film in it. I mean I did try to point out that you can't turn off gravity, and that basically they achieved weightlessness by playing in water tanks and things, but it was hard going.

AB: Were you happy about the way Nathan Spring's mini computer, BOX, was realized?

CB: No. What I wanted, and what I was quite specific about in the scripts, was that BOX had to speak clearly with Nathan's voice. There was to be no ambiguity about it at all, when BOX spoke, it had to sound as if Nathan was speaking. I quite liked the idea that this guy who instinctively mistrusted machines and computers, for whatever convoluted reason, was placed in a situation where not only would he have to rely on this machine, but also have the machine sound like him. So in effect it would sound like he was talking to himself.

However when director Chris Baker saw this in the script he threw a dickey-fit. "I can't do that, how am I going to know which angle to shoot from? The audience will never know who's speaking, the audience will be confused!" Well that was exactly what I intended, but I suppose I can understand how Chris felt really, he was afraid I think that it would make him look like a big prat, who didn't know what he was doing. So unfortunately we lost that particular aspect, and with it the only new twist in the set-up, and so BOX became just another ORAC.

AS: Why do you think that the series failed to take off?

CB: It's the perennial bleat of course, but I mean it was in a crappy slot and put on at a lousy time, so consequently the figures were very poor. You had to really want to see it, and sacrifice an hour and a half of viewing time in the process, because there wasn't a junction with any other programme, nothing at all. It overlapped every fucking thing and when I think about it now it really makes me angry. Of course I should have known that it was going to happen, and I should have been prepared for it, because Jonathan Powell did say to me at the time that it was the sort of programme that would make its own audience. He did have this view that science fiction fans were so rabid and undiscriminating, and so sort of desperate for the gear, that they would tune in at any time in order to watch it, but I think quite honestly, if they had put Star Trek: The Next Generation out in that slot it you would have got the same result.

AS: The series was never repeated either was it?

CB: One of the dangers of getting pulled after one series is that it's in nobody's real interest to repeat. Because if it's repeated in a different slot and it gets better figures, then it's a black mark against the scheduler, and everybody feels bad about the thing being pulled, but if it doesn't get any figures at all again, what's the point of bloody showing it?

AB: Were there any ideas on your part as to how the series could have progressed, if it had gone on to a second series?

CB: Evgeny did say to me at one stage, "Why don't you work out the second season?" But it didn't seem to me that there was much prospect of a second season, and being basically lazy I didn't feel like working out a whole concept just to have it sit on the shelf.

AS: Do you think the failure of Star Cops damaged you personally?

CB: Well it didn't do me a lot of good. I thought at the time that it would be okay, because I would at least have a series creator credit, and that would look good on the C.V. and hopefully by the time it mattered everybody would have forgotten that the series wasn't a success. Well I don't know, I haven't had a hell of a lot of work since I have to say!

AS: So what are you doing at the moment?

CB: Well at the moment I'm writing a book based on the five scripts I did for Star Cops.

AS: The Soviet Bloc's gone now though hasn't it?

CB: Yes, it's a damn nuisance, I wish they'd waited, you can't trust anybody can you? You can't rely on the bastards at all. I've been picking new villains and thinking, if I don't hurry up these buggers will be back in the fold as well. Anyway in one set of circumstances, I have now substituted the Japanese secret service, and with another, I've decided that the red Chinese will now be the logical people to take over as bad guys, I've also, of course, incorporated some evil Arabs!

AB: Is Doctor Krivenko still a Russian?

CB: No. Krivenko is now Chinese and so he's had to change his name too. He's now Jiang Li Ho, which if you think about it, now makes him Doctor Ho.

AS: When's the book going to be finished?

CB: God, I don't know. It's taken me far too long already, so I can't really tell you, but it's going to be a long book, it's going to run to a least five hundred pages. When I first started out writing the thing I set myself a daily minimum of a thousand words... fat chance! So I thought, oh well, that was a bit ambitious we'll make it five hundred words a day... fat chance! And gradually the minimum has come down and down and down, until I now sit there and think, well I've done a sentence and I've turned the page, We're all right today then, so I'll go down the garden and sort shallots.

AS: Have you got past episode one yet?

CB: Yes, and I'm now finishing off episode four. What I've done is write the book in two parts, break for adverts you see! The first part is an extended version of episode one, it's the story you would have got if it hadn't been chopped down, and into that I've now fed teasers and beginnings for all of the other episodes. Then in the second half of the book I pick up the remaining episodes as cases, so I'm currently on case three, which is the fourth script, and I hope I'll finish it fairly quickly, because I never really liked “Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits”.

AB: Why is that? Because I thought it was the best one.

CB: Well it's a slim story you see, and although it has a nice structure, it basically relies for the main part on funny lines. However once that stories finished, I'll be able to get on to the one I liked the best, which was the last episode, “Little Green Men and Other Martians.” There was a lot of good stuff going on in that one, you know, it's your standard private eye number, somebody dies, mystery and all that shit, so I figure I should be able to make a good last case out of it.

AB: Is the book going to be left open for a second batch of cases?

CB: Well that's the idea, but obviously I'd like to find someone to publish the damn thing first, and then perhaps it could go on to become as series of books.

AS: Does the book still end with them going to Mars, as in the television series?

CB: No. Gauda Prime.

AS: That's a good ending. So Nathan Spring goes mad...

CB: And turns into Evgeny Gridneff.

AS: He is then surrounded by an army of black-clad Federation troops...

CB: And just before he can smile, he is shot repeatedly by a rather bald and bearded, middle aged trooper, who seems to take a great deal of pleasure in hitting him, and shooting him, and generally stamping on him, until...

AS: It's time to sort shallots?

CB: Mmmmm.

Click to return home