Nick Briggs on Sword of Orion

What can you tell us about the Big Finish production of this play?

Not too much at the moment, but I'll have a go.

Which Doctor/Companion will it be

Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) & 'Charley' Pollard (India Fisher)

Will it be a direct copy of the produced plot?

The plot will be very similar, because its simplicity was its strength. This is unusual for me. I rarely want to just redo what I've produced before, but I think Sword will be an exception. I've changed quite a lot of peripheral stuff. Once I got to work on it again, I realized there were all sorts of little plot holes. I've also developed some of the characters more. Grash is not so OOT now.

How much of the haunting music will be the same?

It's more than likely that I will do the music. For copyright reasons I won't be able to steal those Cyber themes the way Jim did so brilliantly, but I'm intending that it will have that Sword feel that we all remember and love. I can't wait, actually.

Will you include elements from the unproduced original script?

As you now know, the original script wasn't Sword of Orion, so no.

When will it take place, in terms of Earthshock,Tomb, Attack etc...

No idea. I just write 'em and leave Gary Russell to sort that out. Seriously though, I think it's definitely after Tomb, because they mention that the Star Destroyer was launched from Telos when the Cyber race went into hibernation. That was in the original too.

Do you still have the original script for Sword of Orion, involving brain implants, for this story?

The original script was called THE ULTIMATE BRAIN (not a good title, but very apt). It was a totally different story. It was inspired by an idea that Jim Mortimore put to me. Jim is a fantastic ideas person. He was always sitting me down and telling me the most fascinating plot ideas. I picked up on this one and developed it. I do have the script somewhere. But don't ask me where. I'm not very organised. It wasn't actually to do with brain implants, it was to do with an intergalactic politician who had a tumor in his brain, which had altered the way he thought. He suddenly became a man of peace... and this simplicity made it possible for him to activate something the Cybermen were after. I'll say no more, because it's an idea I want to re-develop at some point.

Did you feel dismay when Bill said he wanted an action story instead of another character story?

Bill's recollections are fairly spot-on here. I really loved ULTIMATE BRAIN. So did Jim. We *were* dismayed when Bill didn't like it. But, as he pointed out, it wasn't that he didn't like it, it just didn't fit the brief. He'd planned the last section of season 3 very carefully, with regard to the appearing and disappearing of Ria and Truman and the emergence of the whole Sargol thing. We had lots of meetings about it, and Bill was very definite about what he wanted. And in this slot, he wanted space opera. He wanted something more straightforward. ULTIMATE BRAIN was not straightforward. It was full of character and tragedy and spookiness.

Did you really write this play thinking it would make a classic, or did you think the opposite?

I have joked since that I wrote Sword of Orion in a spiteful way. You know, 'You want it obvious? Ok, here it is!!!' It wasn't quite like that; but I certainly decided to use all the cliches. The two funny guys on the bridge, the bumps in the dark. The rogue Cyberman. All that. I remember writing it very quickly and being a little infuriated that once I'd decided to be obvious and follow all the classic scifi/Who cliches, the story really came to life and almost told itself!

When I was doing post-production, I thought the play was as boring as hell. I said to Jim, 'You've got to save this with spooky music'. It was just like Alien, nothing happened for the first half. But when Jim put on all that marvellous, low, unnerving music, also using distorted vocals, the whole thing came to life.

Did you enjoy playing a Cyberman?

It was 'excellent'. I love being monsters.

Tell us about some of the sound effects

Somewhere at my parents' house is a huge box of virtually all the portastudio multi-track tapes. I may yet nick some sound fx from them, if I can clean them up a bit. I've never been able to better that lovely, grinding door noise I did for Sword of Orion. I did it with one of those old-fashioned food-chopper things with the spring-loaded plunger on top. It was rusty and made a nice squeak which sounded great when slowed down.

Any stories, around the recording of Sword of Orion

During season 3, Bill, Paul Lunn and I were sharing a house in Peckham. Bill decided to have a party. He invited a few friends, but I foolishly said, 'No, no, no, Bill. I want it to be like a party when I was a student. The house should be full of people we don't know, some of them puking in the loo, others shagging in our bedrooms!' Big mistake.

We encouraged cast members of Sword of Orion to invite everyone they knew. When the house was packed with people we didn't know, and I discovered a couple shagging on top of the audio equipment I'd left on my bed, Bill said, wryly, 'This okay for you now?' The place was packed, and I think some of these unknown specimens, in various states of drunkenness saw a pile of high quality metal tapes (AV Master Tapes!) and thought, 'I could record some really great sounds on those' and nicked them.

We blamed ourselves for being so lax and leaving them out. Odd that they only picked on season one. Maybe they were top of the pile.

What was the companion like

Terrible. Every time you got to her line, there was a huge pause, then a giggle and she'd say, 'Oh, is it me?'. Where was she looking? The script was in front of her!

She was and is a lovely person, but she was AWFUL!!! back then. To be honest, she didn't get any better. I used to write less and less lines for her.

Then, in Sword of Orion, we decided to lock Ria in the TARDIS. We recorded the scenes with Trish, but Bill lost the tapes. Hmmm... Convenient, eh? We re-recorded with my then girlfriend, Heather Barker, who'd already done Planet of Lies by then.

Who wrote most of the music for Sword of Orion, you or Jim?

Jim did all the music. However, I'd done an early trailer for the story, in which I'd done some very basic music on the Rogue Moog monophonic keyboard. Jim actually picked out the notes I used and built on that, coming up with something almost completely different in the end. His use of the old Cyber theme and the new one was inspired.

Did you ever think about exploring more storylines about artifical lifeforms as part of society(c.f. Asimov), or did you (as a team) usually reserve robots for the more menacing 'monster-of-the-week'?

Well, Sword of Orion fits the bill, if you think about it. The whole Diva thing. That was very much in the flavour of Blade Runner... the idea of human beings rejecting androids and persecuting them. I thought, What if the androids got organized? The answer was, The Orion War!

Final Thoughts...

Immodestly, I think we really hit the nail on the head with Sword of Orion. So, thanks to Bill for telling me to write it, and thanks to Jim Mortimore for that superb music. Sword of Orion without that music would be unrecognizable and simply not very good.

Nigel Peever on Sword of Orion

Sword of Orion sticks in My memory a bit better I was meant to play one of the cybermen as well as the parts of Grash and the wet guy in the opening scene. But spending the night on the floor of the Pekham house with Gary and John Ainsworth I got no sleep at all, I'm afraid one of us snored quite loudly I shan't say who, but by morning I felt wretched.

We did the play and one of the cables or something was missing for the cyber voice box so they asked me to stay for the night. There was a party going on and everyone I knew left to go home or whatever and I was left with a lot of people I'd never met in a noisy environment.

I'm afraid I have something of a problem with crowds and noise that confuses my poor old brain and brings on something like a panic attack, what with that and the lack of sleep the night before I had to leave in the middle of the night and didn't get to be the other cyberman or play my own death scene.

Bill Baggs on Sword of Orion

At one stage we were considering that script for video because it was so popular. And then it moved away from that, but the title stayed, because it was a good title to use. Had we done that, it would have been substantially different.

I think Nick did start to write something, and it just veered off into something different. We were just capitalizing on the idea that Sword of Orion was very popular as an audio, and people would know what it was. It is interesting that the most popular in terms of reaction, and Nick kind of wrote it under duress, and against his better judgement.

I remember, Nick and I were living in Peckham at the time, Nick edited it, but Jim Mortimore did the music for it. It was a real mixture between Earthshocky type stuff, and the early Cybermen themes. It was a real crossover between the two. They set up the recording stuff in the sitting room of our house, and I come back and they were doing this thing, and I remember vividly the sound, I can remember it now. The music they came up with was deliberately meant to evoke familiar feelings in the audience, it was very spooky.

Nick and Jim worked extremely well together, I was very envious of that, but admired it at the same time because Nick managed to get this amazing sound from Jim, and I think Jim recognised that, he was very lazy, and he needed somebody to motivate him, and not only motivate him to do it, but he needed somebody like Nick to drag out... Nick knows quite often exactly the sound he wants. He does do music, but I'm not sure one would call him a musician. He knows the sound he wants, and he can kind of create it. He does do the music, he's done it for Big Finish too.

Gary Russell on Sword of Orion

In Sword of Orion you played Chev, was that fun?

Yeah. I died quickly. I don't like acting.