With the release of The Best-Laid Plans, author Ben Tedds sees his entry into the ‘Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity’ – run annually by Big Finish – brought to life. Ben spoke to me about the experience.
The Best-Laid Plans
Dracksil Forg sells ideas. For the right price, he’s got a solution to every possible problem. His reputation is impeccable, and whilst his ideas aren’t flawless, he has a 100% money-back guarantee.
Dracksil has started selling to a new type of customer. They are dictators, warlords; species having trouble conquering galaxies or controlling populations. However, for these clients, Dracksil’s ideas keep falling apart.
There’s something that unites these failing ideas. A name, screamed and whispered angrily among the rants of Dracksil’s new clientele: the Doctor, the Doctor, the Doctor…
Performed by Jacob Dudman.
Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity
Paul Spragg was a production assistant at Big Finish whose many talents helping the day-to-day running of the company. He sadly passed away in 2014. Beloved by employees and fans, Spragg was eager to encourage new talent. In his memory, Big Finish has annually run the event – opening its inbox for writers to submit ideas for Doctor Who stories in the Short Trips range. Ben Tedds is the fourth writer to be selected by this process, following from Harry Draper in 2018 with The Last Day at Work.
Interview with Ben Tedds
First, I asked the obvious question. What was his inspiration?
It was quite close to the deadline, and I was completely stuck. I’d had a couple of ideas and written out synopsis for them, but I couldn’t quite get them to come together. Then, I received a message from my friend who was also entering the opportunity. I bemoaned my struggle to come up with something, ending my own message with ‘Why can’t we just go into a shop and buy an idea?’. His next message was, ‘Imagine if you got in with that, what an origin story…’
So once an idea had hit, the hard work was over right? With that in mind I asked if putting together the submission took long…
I needed a very quick turnaround! Knowing I didn’t have long until the window closed, I opted to use elements from a Fourth Doctor story idea, A Gold Star for the Doctor, to develop the outline. The villain of that piece was Drickson Slade (later Dracksil Forg), and it featured the Galactacus Award, a Quantum Macromiser, and the Doctor putting paid to Drickson’s schemes in a variety of comical ways. In many respects, the stories were the same, but A Gold Star didn’t quite have the fairytale, emotional hit that I wanted. I was especially keen to get away from the more downbeat nature of my previous entries, writing something a little more jovial, a piece I would really enjoy working on if I were to succeed. Reshaping the story around the concept of an ideas shop and what someone with dubious morals might do with that helped form a piece I was satisfied with.
As if a deadline wasn’t nerve-wracking enough enough, it’s followed by the waiting to hear back. Ben, however, didn’t feel the weight of those weeks…
Although I was happy with my entry in the end, I didn’t think it would get far – this was my third year entering and with no success or runner-up emails from the previous times I expected much the same results this time too. I was also keeping myself occupied in other ways – taking on extra shifts at my job over summer and preparing for a concert with my musical theatre group, so I don’t think it was on my mind much in the weeks following.
That is, until the news came…
I’d climbed into bed and decided to check my notifications and emails one last time before going to sleep. The next minute I was jumping up like Grandpa Joe with Charlie’s golden ticket and running around the house! I told my parents and my siblings, who were all very excited. But I don’t think I properly celebrated past disturbing the neighbours, come to think of it!
The neighbours successfully soothed, now it was time for Ben to get down to brass tacks.
The writing process was very educational, as this was my first piece of professional commissioned work. The synopsis went straight to the BBC, and just a week later I was sat in front of my laptop with a blank Word document. The script went through about four drafts. Getting [script editor] Alfie [Shaw]’s feedback was quite a learning experience as I’d never had such precise, detailed notes before. It was a lot of ‘make this clearer’, ‘rephrase this’, ‘change this joke’, but the most helpful – to me, as well as the script – was whenever he told me to cut something. Alfie never did it himself, he highlighted it and said ‘cut’. That allowed me to think about why it was I was being asked to cut something – and every time I did so, I realised he was absolutely right. Draft 3 was the trickiest, though, as Alfie had spotted a rather large plot hole that needed to be filled. I spent an entire day in front of my whiteboard to sort that out! A few things did change from the original submission. For instance, it was originally going to be that one of the unintended impacts of Dracksil’s work was H.G. Wells finding the idea for War of the Worlds, until I remembered about Timelash! So that became Jurassic Park instead, which also spawned a line said by the Twelfth Doctor which I’m always quite afraid I’ve stolen from somewhere. Sorry if this is the case! In addition, Dracksil’s name changed from Drickson Slade after my realisation that his name was accidentally quite similar to Voyage of the Damned’s Rickston Slade!
The final script completed and safe from litigation by Rickston Slade, it was time to record!
Alfie very kindly invited me to London to see the recording, and fortunately I was able to make the date. It was the most surreal experience of my life. It was great to meet the lovely Alfie in the flesh at last. I was very nervous sat in the green room before the day began properly. However, [writer and competition judge] Rob Shearman was present, for which I am especially grateful as he understood exactly the nerves I was going through and our conversation really relaxed me for the recording. In the studio, there was Nick Briggs, voice of my childhood nightmares, next to me giving a masterclass in direction. And, of course, the wickedly talented Jake Dudman in the recording booth, working his wizardly ways with my words. I had a fair amount of input, as Nick would turn to me and ask how I envisioned the enunciation of a line or the voice of a character. “Evil Shelia Hancock” (I think I meant to say Susan Sheridan, whoops) for Klevin of Goba unfortunately didn’t quite work but we got there in the end. I was also allowed to sit in on the recording of another upcoming Short Trip, which was very interesting to watch as an observer rather than being as heavily involved.
With Ben’s first commissioned work a rousing success, what’s next for the young writer?
I have a play going on in Chelmsford in February, entitled Are Boyfriends Electric?, and I’m working on an original short story which I would love to be taken further than my hard drive. There are a couple of other things in the works too, but they’re under wraps for the moment I’m afraid! I hope Big Finish will have me back again in future, it’s been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done to make even a tiny drop in the giant ocean that is Doctor Who.
Ben ends our chat by talking about Paul.
I must also thank, and be eternally grateful to, Paul Spragg. Sadly, I never knew or spoke to him – he passed just after I started listening to Big Finish – but having read and heard so much about him it is plain to see how passionate, patient, and extraordinary he was. I feel truly honoured to be working, with people I have looked up to for years, in his memory. The Big Finish family is filled with so many wonderful, witty and welcoming members, and whomever the winner is in 2020, they are in for the warmest reception and the absolute best of times. Let’s raise a glass to Paul.
Have you heard The Best-Laid Plans? Let me know what you thought in the comments…