I need a better picture than this!Around the 28 March 2000, I had the opportunity
to conduct an email interview with Gary Russell
about his time on the Audio Visuals,
as well as what he is currently up to with Big Finish projects...

First off Gary, what do you think of justyce.org?

Site looks nice.

Do you still have all the master tapes?

If you mean the metal cassettes that we did the copies from, yes. They're not in very good nick sadly all those promises that metal cassette tapes will never degrade is actually nonsense. Some of them (The Mutant Phase particularly) are very crackly, with lots of drop out. Mind you, we did rather wear them out. When we started, I think we duped about 25 copies of Space Wail. By the time Justyce was done, we had over 700 pre-orders! That's a lot of copying, all of which was done in my spare room (we never used an outside firm, John Ainsworth, Nick Briggs and I did 'em all by hand). We did buy the blank chrome tapes for recording onto from a big firm, to keep the costs down.

What methods have you employed for their storage?

Errr... a cupboard.

Who are you still regularly in touch with from the AVs?

Most folk. Nick. Bill. Jim Mortimore, Nick Lyton and Tim Keeble I see once in a blue moon, Nick sees Nick L and Tim quite a bit. But then, there wasn't anyone else really on 'the team' other than us.

Did you have any pseudonyms apart from Warren Martyn?

As an actor, I think I was Tony Dexter. My three fav names, Warren, Tony and Martyn. Were I to have had kids, I think that'd have been their names. Which would've pissed them off if they'd been girls, I s'pose. I was also Mark Chappell.

Season One:
You scripted, directed and starred (as Guard Joba) in the Space Wail, any interesting memories of it?

Where to start? Bill and I came up with the idea of Audio Visuals (he thought up the name, I thought up the problems) one afternoon on a stony beach in Hampshire. Milton I think. Or Milhaven. It had Mil in it anyway. I went away and wrote The Space Wail very quickly. He wanted me to play Greg and I said no. He wanted a 'name' in fandom to play the Doc (even back then, Bill was the perfect publicity-conscious producer) and asked me to ask Steve Payne, which I did. I recommended Richard Marson and Bill wanted a female companion added for his lovely sister to play, hence Nadia. Being dim, I gave the family in the story a very classical way of speaking and promptly cast a bunch of people who had delightful 'ampshire accents and killed the joke stone dead. All these criminals, speaking like Shakespeare but sounding like The Archers. I actually like The Space Wail at lot. I introduced Bill to Michael Wisher (we'd been matey for a few years via letters and phone calls) and he did the opening announcement. And I remember having a character called Gryc simply cos I wanted the 'Beware Gryc's bearing gifts' joke. It failed magnificently. But it's still better than Connection 13!

Did you have fun playing Captain Stride in Time Ravagers?

Oh yes. I got on with Briggsie the moment we met and we all had a ball. Me, Nick, Bill, Richard, Sally, joined by my then girlfriend Debs (Richard's mad, mad sister, bless her cotton socks). That was great. Recorded in Bill's mum's living room. I'm sure you can hear his Dad's Lada revving up in the background at one point. Fab script - Nick's a genius, frankly. That day really was the start of something great. We came to that, Debs and I, straight from David Howe's wedding. So it must've been a Sunday that we recorded it.

Any other memories, feelings about the First Season?

I sort of had nowt to do with it much after that. I was around when Conglomerate and Cloud of Fear were recorded, but not Shadow World, although Sargol was my name, I know that. I liked the idea of a junkie Doctor. And of course John was fabulous as Askran. He wanted to play it like Joan Collins in Dynasty. It came over as Leslie Phillips in Carry On Nurse but was fab anyway.

Tell us more about the villain you played the part of in Scarecrow City?

Scarecrow City. Oh God, I watched that about three weeks ago ironically enough (bar the middle section which Bill lost!) God, it's awful! I was hidden under studded leather (very hot, very kinky) and a fab latex mask made by Fleur Whitlock, who is now very successful in the TV industry as a set designer on The Bill. I remember she made a cast of my face and I freaked out. I'm not claustrophobic, but that terrified me. I funded most of the film, but Bill paid me back eventually. It was fab to do. Nick was mad as Arthur Mowbray, Liz Knight was excellent as the heroine and Barry Killerby, who later played Cuthbert in the AVs and is now extraordinarily rich cos he's been Mister Blobby since day one, was the other (and far better) alien. He got the head movement and voice right. I just sent it up rotten. I died well, I know that. Getting shot in the back and throwing myself down an incline. I was well protected by the leather 'n' studs. Actually, it was enormous fun to do we were kids with new toys. David Rowston was our cameraman, and he was great. I can't remember a day going by without him and Bill ready to kill each other, but nevertheless, it worked. The only drawbacks were the dodgy interior sets and the poor woman, Roxy I think she was called, who played the alien woman. She never really 'went for it' as you do if you're doing SF. Bill ended up editing it on low-band umatic in black-and-white cos we never got the colour balance consistent on the shooting days. A lesson. Amateur films that end up in monochrome rarely start out that way. 'Oh, it's arty' usually means 'Oh, we buggered the colour balance up'. As I said, I've got a copy, but there's fifteen minutes (quite important ones) missing from the middle cos Bill lost it. You know how you're mum always shows your prospective girlfriends pictures of you as a baby? I show Nick's prospective girlfriends Scarecrow City. Oddly enough, he never thanks me.

Why didn't Scarecrow City get a release?

Because
a)some of it isn't there
b)it really in unwatchable except to those who made it

What is the exact story behind the stolen tapes from Season 1, and what impact did it have on the AV's at that time?

Well that happened much later - in 1987, halfway through Season 3. There was a party at Bill 'n' Nick's home in Peckham and some friends of Bill's wandered off with them. We were never sure who but as the only people there who weren't AV people were these strange friends of Bill's, it had to be them. It gave us the opportunity to remix some plays a bit better, add new trailers and, for a while, drop Space Wail and Connection 13 from the list (but loads of people complained, so we reinstated them, but because we had no masters even to remix from, the new masters of those two were just copies due to be sold, quickly bounced onto a metal cassette. The quality was awful. Bad beyond belief, so Nick did a verbal intro explaining and apologising for this).

Season Two:
You started the second season with Maenad, were you influenced by Star Trek 'Whom Gods Destroy'?

Oh, you spotted that then. At the time, it was banned by the beeb so very few people had seen it. No one noticed at the time. Christ, I even lifted lines of dialogue from it. How embarrassing.

Did you enjoy playing the villain?

Oh yes, wrote it for myself. Great playing villains.

Why do all three of the stories you wrote have a prison setting?

You know, I'd never thought of that till you said it. No idea. Scared to death of the places myself, so I can't imagine why. You'll notice that there's always a theme of redemption for the criminals as well and that the guys in charge are basically gits. Gosh - how very left-wing of me.

In the Mutant Phase you played Greg, was it fun?

No, not at all.

Why did Richard Marson leave the party?

Richard was being, to be honest, a complete and utter prima donna. Can't recall which, might have been Cloud of Fear, but one play was recorded without him, and he did his lines later, which is a nightmare to both act and edit. We said 'Never again' but Richard would not commit himself, thinking that we'd fit everything around him. On the Friday night before MP was recorded, we were doing a read through and Richard simply didn't turn up. He phoned halfway through the evening, saying he was going to a party instead and would record his lines a week or two later. Nick was less than pleased and said to me 'Okay, you're Greg'. Liz was Ria and we recorded this before Maenad was even written. So it had the stand-in cast. Nick and Liz weren't getting on that well, and Bill realised she wasn't going to be committed to the project so when I came to do Maenad, I utilised Greg lines from previous plays so we wouldn't need him and Bill cast his then girlfriend Trish to play Ria. I hated doing Mutant Phase because I simply didn't ever want to play Greg and as Richard was a mate, felt a bit bad. I mean, I also thought he deserved getting dropped because he was being a twazzock, but it felt... wrong. I'm not companion material. Hell, I'm *not* an actor.

Anything else funky happen in season two?

Season Two is the time I was least involved in the AVs. My only other real involvement was during the writing of The Trilexia Threat cos John (my partner then) was getting more and more upset at the changes being put onto it.

Season Three:
Season Three has a large story arc, (Sargol, Disappearing Companions, the Doctor's breakdown...) is this your influence?

Possibly, but only in discussions with Nick and Bill. I always liked story arcs (we didn't call 'em that in those days). As I say, the Doctor's addiction to Sargol was certainly my idea, but the constant referral to it and it being a springboard for so many good stories was more Bill, Nick and Jimbo.

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

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

Did the full length On-Tape ever materialise?

Yes, I think so (checks pile of AV tapes) Yes indeed. Four music tapes and one On Tape Special. Plus numerous plays. What a lot we did.

In Planet of Lies which voices did you do?

God knows. A couple of the Outsiders chanting Wayalalla Wayalalla I expect. I was certainly present.

Season Four:
Did you feel constrained by the two stories every two months schedule?

Nope, that was my idea. I'm a Virgo. Everything done to order, everything anally retentively sorted. Dreadful idea - big mistake. It worked for about oh three months!

Did you achieve your stated aim of quality stories in season four or did things like the music still get done in a rush?

Not at all. The only plays that were in any way rushed were Mythos and Subterfuge. And that was because they took on lives of their own and became bigger than they should have.

Who led the new covers project?

Do you mean the repackaging of the old stories in new covers? The three of us really. We'd run out and decided if we were going to reprint, we'd make 'em better.

Had you fully taken over producership by Deadfall?

Yes although as I say, Bill was there for the first few weeks. I know he read Deadfall and said it was awful.

Did you approach Andy Lane to do Requiem?

Yes. I said write me a story that plays with the audio medium, and give me a new companion. Then kill her in the last scene to fool everyone. It worked brilliantly.

Who did the music credited to Gregori Glasst?

Jimbo

Which studios did you start to use, was that from Cuddlesome?

Oh God, let's see. Deadfall was BBC's World Service (Bill's last thing he arranged for us). Requiem at BBC studios in Broadcasting House. Cuddlesome, Endurance, Mythos, Subterfuge and Geopath at the IGA in Elephant, music rehearsal room that had lots of mice and smelled of month-old dope. Justyce and Truman's Excellent Adventure were at the Beeb again.

Michael Wisher guest stars in cuddlesome, any interesting stories?

Sadly, I wasn't there. Can't recall why. But Michael was a good friend and we all miss him heaps.

Who was involved in Endurance?

I think it was the first one that Alistair Lock was involved in, which was fun. He rapidly became part of the team, sort of Jim's replacement. Erica Galloway is Nick, not Nick John and me.

What happened in Mythos, did you feel it lost direction?

I'm not a fan of Mythos. Neither is Jim, who wrote it. Jim is a great ideas man, but he is hopeless when it comes to discipline and so it rambled on and on. I was on holiday when that and Subterfuge were recorded, and came back to discover the disaster that Mythos was. It was thirty minutes too long and bypassed all the rules of good storytelling.

Was Trumans Excellent Adventure just a space filler?

Yes to fill up the now necessary extra side on Mythos tape 2. Unforgivable. Lousy. Bad. Hideous. Sorry.

Did you write it?

Yes. Sorry again.

Who else starred in it?

Nigel Fairs and Anthony Townsend.

You directed and produced Geopath, what was it like to work with Peter Miles and Stephen Bowkett?

My fav AV of all (but I think I'm unique in that respect). I had so the best time doing that - it was making Geopath that made me really want to do a fifth season. I had such a ball with Peter, Chris Webber, Alistair, Mark Trotman etc. Great play. Steve's script was so cleverly structured - my only input was to ask him to change the end so no one died. The scene where the two guys find themselves suddenly transported to the moon is knock-out.

You directed and produced Justyce, were the last two stories shorter than the previous three because you were all running out of spare time?

No, although Subterfuge was planned as a two-parter, Mythos certainly wasn't. I didn't like two parters and originally swore there wouldn't be any (as those who subscribed to Season 4 with Deadfall will remember). Endurance deserved being as long as it did, Mythos and I'm afraid Subterfuge really didn't. So Geopath and Justyce were always single tape releases.

Which additional voices did you do in Justyce.

I honestly don't know that I did any. Maybe the odd guard. We had a great cast for that. Nick Pegg, Steve Wickham, Mark Wyman, delightful Holly. Great story.

Was this the ending originally envisaged at the beginning of Deadfall?

Good grief no. You don't really think I had any idea who Justyce was do you? :-) No, seriously, it was a case of putting together all the pieces of the jigsaw we already had and seeing what picture formed. I created Justyce to be the personification of revenge but I had no real idea of what, whether he was a paid assassin or even a figment of the Doctor's imagination. I always knew he'd look like the Doctor and be played by Nick though. I loved the concept, I loved the way it allowed us to be really dangerous and do things to the Doctor that no one had done before. Ironically, the Virgin books later put the Doctor through the wringer and everyone thought they were brave ands wonderful for doing so. We'd done it three years earlier and far more Who-ishly I believe. Sorry if that sounds agrandising, but to be frank, I'm enomously proud of all four years of AV - I think we did so much with so little resources. And while for every Sword of Orion or Geopath we had a Space Wail or Trilexia Threat, overall, what we did filled a gap in the market. They were very much of their time but storywise, I think Bill, Nick, Jim and everyone else carried off some great stories with great style and panache. And although I was there at the start and the end, it's Bill's determination to succeed that carried the initial momentum. And Nick's understanding of scripts and acting.

Did anyone have an idea when writing Second Solution that it would lead to this plot?

Nope.

Season Five:

Was anything recorded for Season 5?

Nope.

Have you got a detailed outline of 'Boom City'?

Not any more. It involved an opera singer who committed suicide. There are moments in The Fifth Element where I thought 'bloody hell, who's read Marc's storyline?'.

Have you any details about the other proposed season five stories?

Colin Brake was writing one called Ice. I was doing Legacy (which would be the same as the eventual novel it became, but with less characters). And there was going to be a Zygon story, too. No Daleks though.

What date did you decide to end it all?

Roughly when Virgin announced the New Adventures were going monthly, maybe a bit before then. Justyce was a year in the making and that typified our exhaustion. We were willing but all three of us were in full-time employment and there simply wasn't the opportunity to keep the quality high enough.

Can you ever see the AV's being re-release on CD, for charity?

No.

What do you think of Cyber-Hunt and its sequel, and do you think that Briggs' portrayal remains true to his AV Doctor?

I've not heard the second one. I enjoyed Nick's performance in Cyber-Hunt.

Big Finish begins...
How did Big Finish start, and why that name?

Big Finish existed long before Nik or I came long. It's Jason and Nancy's company which they'd set up for other projects, including a TV show written by Paul Cornell. Nothing came of them and when we asked Jason to help out with the Benny audios, it made sense to use the existing limited company than create a new one. The name comes from an episode of Press Gang, one of Jason's fav TV shows. Originally he was going to call it Rock Hard (another PG title) but that sounded a bit pornographic!

Who suggested Lisa Bowerman for the part of Benny?

I knew Lisa but the actual reminder came from DWM scribe Peter Grifiths in Pizza Express on Baker Street one evening. God bless Peter. The moment he said her name, a million fireworks exploded inside my head and I thought 'Why didn't I say that?'

Do I detect that you and Bill don't exactly get on these days, or just that you have a difference in opinions on some matters ;-)

Not really not getting on, but we come from different sides of the fence. Bill's a businessman who wants to turn a quick buck, which is fine. I'm more interested in getting the quality high than the price down. It's the same argument we had doing AV really. But personaly, we get on fine.

Was Nick playing Justyce inspired by 'The Prisoner'?

Nowt to do with The Prisoner - more to do with giving Nick a chance to play the bad guy.

What full time jobs did you, Nick and John have at the time of season four?

John and I were both BBC employees, Nick worked at Visual Imagination on TV Zone and Starburst.

Is Big Finish now full-time employment for you and Nick?

Not Nick, no. BFP is, Who-wise, me and Jason. I takes up 90% of my time, but I'm still a freelancer being paid by BFP for what I do rather than being actually employed by the company.

What was Peter Jurasik like during recording for 'Winter of the Adept'? I think that Peter has a superb voice, excellent choice for audio...

Fab

Do you see the BBC whipping your licence away, like they did to Virgin, at the drop of a spielberg-like-hat. Or do you have a solid, legal agreement to produce audio Who on behalf of the Beeb for a number of years?

Who knows what the Beeb will do when our initial license expires. I think they'll find doing them themselves very expensive. And the CD reissue of Paradise of Death has sold *very* badly. Which is good for us. If they take it back, a la Virgin, well, there's nothing we can do. It's their license. But it'd be a shame, not just for BFP but for us as Doctor Who fans as well. That said, we have a very enjoyable relationship with the BBC. I've known a lot of the Worldwide licence people for years - mainly through my writing and then editing of DWM - they trusted me. They were quite forthright however that we didn't get Bill involved in our stuff as a director, which was an idea we had mooted with them at one point. It wouldn't have been very sensible to employ someone who they'd initiated some sort of legal action with. Bill seems to have taken this as a personal snub from me and Nick, which is odd because he's not dim and must have foreseen the problems that would arise if you go to the BBC, ask for a licence to do something, get turned down and then effectively do it anyway. That's why we couldn't involve him in the Talkin' About My Regeneration DWM CD covermount. The Beeb had to approve that as they do everything we produce and wouldn't agree to us involving someone they had a disagreement with. A shame as Bill's involvement in getting us where we are today should never go untrumpeted, but that's the realities of life.

Do you see the new radio pilot for Who being a threat to your licence, or do you think it would work in harmony with your 'product'...?

I see no threat whatsoever, other than the beeb might make them think they could try it regularly and when our licence expires, do what you outlined above. I think Dan Freedman will have a ball, but I doubt he wants to do more than one.

Is anyone archiving Big Finish scripts safely, together with production notes and other such things that make Mr.Howe so busy...?

Well, Mr Pixley, certainly. As much as is practical. Sadly, unlike ten years ago at the BBC, a great deal of our work is done electronically and so hard copy is rare. But what there is will go to Andrew if he wants it.

The present day: Describe your day, the day you got the licence for Doctor Who...

Oh heck, it wasn't so much a day as a lifetime, drawn out interminably as we waited for certain things to all into place. The approach was made in November '98 - we knew by the day of DWM's 35 Up do at BAFTA. All these people saying 'Now you've done the Bennys, why don't you do Dr Who?' and us going 'Oh, the BBC would never let that happen', knowing full well they would and had but we weren't allowed to say so cos we hadn't signed bits of paper. We did that in December. To be honest, none of it seemed real until the day we were in studio for Sirens and I just looked around and went 'Oh my God. We've actually done it'. That was the best day.

Now that you're considered canon by BBC, and you're using Temperons in Sirens of Time, does that mean you consider the AV universe canon?

Nah, we just used the name and a similar concept. Sirens also had Drudgers in it. We've namechecked a couple of AV planets (but I've been doing that in my novels ever since Legacy) and we're reusing a couple of story titles but the AVs are a delightful sub-alternate-Elseworlds-What If-universe of their own.

What is Mark Gatiss like to work with?

Fab. The man is a genius. We've known each other for, God, nine years now? How old are we? Aaarghh....

With Whispers of Terror you directed, and co-produced it (as with many others), do you have any interesting stories about this?

Only that I forgot to record two bits! So much stuff was re-used in the plays, particularly Krane's drama speeches and Beth's phone calls that when they needed to be slightly different, I forgot to tape 'em. Harvey, sound meister that he is, got round it - and when we recorded Dragons' Wrath, I got Lisa to do her missing lines!

How do you and Jason-Haigh Ellery split the production role between you?

Jason is my boss. He runs the company financially and administratively, but very much in tandem with his other company, CFP which has nothing to do with the media at all. It's a juggling act for him and he rarely works less than eighteen hours a day, which can't be healthy. I do the 'arty' side of things - getting scripts, directors, working out schedules, plans, plus editing the scripts, sorting out printers that sort of thing. It's a very symbiotic relationship - we both counter-check everything with each other. I've never worked alongside anyone in the professional world who I've trusted as much as Jase.

Fearmonger was very different to the traditional Who, is this the start of a new direction?

I don't see how it's different. I asked Jon to write something that was halfway between Season 26 and a New Adventure. It's very much a product of Sylvester's era. I think it requires people to pay attention to the story, which is the art of audio production - with no visual elements to distract you, the story has to be concentrated on that much more. So I don't see ow its 'untraditional' - it's merely an echo of that Doctor's time on the show. No, it wouldn't work as a Pertwee (actually, it might thinking of Season 7) or a Tom Baker, but for Sylv it was perfect.

Can you give anything away about the Dalek Empire series?

It's got Daleks in. And Thals. And spaceships. And rayguns. And Daleks counts time in "rels" (someone has already written to us moaning that "our" Rels and "official" Rels are different. Apparently in the films, 1 rel is approximately 1.3 seconds. However, it took our Dalek nearly 25 seconds to get to 5 rels in Genocide. You just can't win, can you?) And there are Special Weapons Daleks, and the Golden Emperor and the Supreme from "Planet" and in one story they successfully invade Gallifrey. We've got touches of Sixties, Seventies and Eighties Dalek stories. Indeed, in Apocalypse Element, there's even subtle link to the McGann TV movie (not involving Daleks however), so we're covering all bases. No Davros, however.

The AV's were quite dark and showed new aspects of the Doctor's personality, like fear and self-doubt. Have you got any plans to explore new aspects of the Doctor's personality?

Yes.

Are there any plans to adapt certain AV's to BF?

Vaguely. Sword of Orion is the most likely candidate to get a fairly straightforward transferal. Mutant Phase is only the same in so much as it has the title and, at my insistence, an episode climax features a Dalek screaming "The Mutant Phase" and exploding! There may be one other AV that gets a major overhaul before long, but really, I want to go forward, not look back.

Cuddlesome is actually one we talked about re-doing but the basic premise is terribly flawed (it's so lucky that there's only one boy with that name) that we passed. I love it, though. Mike Wisher is sublimely wonderful in it.

Are you going to do any On-Tapes with these new plays?

No

Any Cybermen in the works?

Yup. Sword of Orion.

How far do you and Jason Haigh-Ellery go back, I see he was in Maenad, so you have known each other for a fair old while...

Since about 1984

Where do the Big Finish recordings happen?

Fulham.

Any other interesting stories about the first year of official Who production :-)

It's been exhausting, mentally as well as physically. Trying to balance everyone's needs, desires and ambitions, particularly my own, which are frequently ridiculous and have to be reined in by Jase or Nick or Jac. In some ways I regret opening the door to script submissions - mainly because people can be very... negative when I say "no" or it takes more than three days for them to get a reply. So far I've found three potential stories out of the rather large (ie three filing cabinet drawfuls) amount of proposals. Two of those ultimately didn't pan out - one I'm still thinking about. But really, I think I'd rather leave that job of finding new talent to the BBC who have a tad more (though not much to be honest) time and resources to cope. I'm happier going to people I know and trust can deliver an audio script (so many people submit visual scripts) to my specifications than taking pot luck when I simply don't have the time or facilities to i've people the time or respect they and their submissions deserve.

But above all, it's been enormous fun - best fun I've *ever* had and despite the odd day after some irate American would-be author has berated you for not replying to/accepting his script proposal before his package has even got here, or someone from Sussex thinks The Fearmonger is crap because Jacqueline Pearce sounds like Servalan (d'oh!!), I wouldn't change it for the world!

gee