Doctor Who: Lesser Evils – Interview with Writer Simon Guerrier

The first contribution from Big Finish to the Time Lord Victorious storyline sees two Short Trips starring the Master – Master Thief by Sophie Iles and Lesser Evils by Simon Guerrier. The release, containing both stories, is out TODAY from the Big Finish website. I was lucky enough to talk to both writers ahead of time.

The WhoShelf Podcast also launches today where Sophie Iles is my guest and we discuss (among other things) her work on the story. And Simon Guerrier was kind enough to chat to me via e-mail about Lesser Evils

The Kotturuh have arrived on the planet Alexis to distribute the gift of death to its inhabitants. The only person standing in their way is a renegade Time Lord, who has sworn to protect the locals. A Time Lord called the Master…

Lesser Evils, Synopsis

Interview with Simon Guerrier

With Time Lord Victorious tying together the creative work of dozens of licensees, I wanted to know how Simon got involved with the project and his reaction to the scale of the task…

Alfie Shaw [Producer] got in touch with me on the 6th January this year and asked if I might be interesting writing a Short Trips story and script editing another by Sophie Iles. In fact, Alfie and I had talked before about me writing something for him, but this was the first time it became a real offer. When I said yes – basically because I wanted to work with Sophie again – he let me in on the details of Time Lord Victorious, sending over some initial outlines and scoping stuff. So that was very exciting. I think my main thought was how Sophie and I were going to fit into all the plans, not least because things were still being agreed and developed. I suspected it would take a few goes to come up with story ideas that fitted, so it was the practical side of things like that.

Simon Guerrier
Master Thief by Sophie Iles & Lesser Evils by Simon Guerrier
Master Thief by Sophie Iles & Lesser Evils by Simon Guerrier

The Master

The Master has a storied history with Big Finish, with two ongoing series featuring incarnations of the character – The War Master and Missy. While they (and other incarnations) appear frequently in other ranges and special releases. January sees eight versions of the Master uniting for Masterful. So what did Simon and Sophie want to do with the character for Time Lord Victorious?

Alfie’s brief in those first emails…were always to do two Master stories, but at that stage they’d not agreed who would narrate the stories – which would rather dictate which incarnation it would be. Once we’d written the outlines for our stories, in mid-March, Alfie suggested that one might be for Delgado and one for Ainley, and that Jon Culshaw would narrate both. I was happy to write for either incarnation and Sophie said she felt more comfortable writing for Delgado. In fact, my very first Short Trip – and first published bit of fiction – was a story involving Delgado’s Master – The Switching, in 2002. So it was nice to do something a bit different. And Ainley’s Master is the one from my childhood.

Simon Guerrier

Lesser Evils reintroduces the incarnation of the Master played on television by Anthony Ainley, who inhabited the role from 1981 through to the end of the classic series in 1989. A more theatrical take on the character, Ainley was unable to reprise his role for Big Finish before his death in 2004 and the incarnation has not been heard from since. I asked Simon if reintroducing this idiosyncratic Master, potentially to a brand new audience, required a different strategy…

I did what I usually do and watch TV stories involving the characters I’ve been asked to write. In this case, I’d just got the Blu-ray box sets of Seasons 23 and 26, so I watched those and made notes. My two big notes were that he’s very different in his final screen story, Survival, from his previous appearance in The Trial of a Time Lord. So there was space there to suggest that something had happened to him that affected his character – and perhaps even explained why he lost his fetching velvet outfit. I was also making notes on how he spoke and moved, any kind of detail I could work into my story. To be honest, I figured that listeners would at least know the Master from more recent incarnations, so they’d get who this one was.

Simon Guerrier

Jon Culshaw

Actor and impressionist Jon Culshaw narrates both of these Short Trips and, by extension, will be the first to voice these versions of the Master for Big Finish. Culshaw has used his talents on many occasions for Doctor Who, most recently playing Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the absence of the late great Nicholas Courtney. How did Simon react to the news Jon would be narrating his story?

Alfie mooted the possibility when briefing us to write for Delgado and Ainley, but it wasn’t confirmed until we’d written our stories. In fact, I think I had it confirmed just after I’d been listened to the audiobook of the TV story Death to the Daleks, which Jon narrates brilliantly. He does the various voices, but he’s also really good at the descriptive prose, bringing it all vividly to life. So I was delighted. Of course, under lockdown and everything there was no chance to go and join him for the recording so as I write this I’ve only heard the trailer – but blimey, that was a thrill.

Simon Guerrier

Sophie Iles

Though Lesser Evils is a standalone story, its pairing with Sophie Iles’ Master Thief, the shared use of the Master and ties to Time Lord Victorious must have meant some collaboration with Sophie, right?

We came up with the outlines at the same time, and then we got on with writing them individually. Once I’d got mine done, Sophie sent me hers and I edited it – making suggestions and generally making a nuisance of myself while she and Alfie sighed patiently. I think Alfie was editing my story at the same time, so there was quite a lot of back and forth. I was conscious of trying to get my story to echo some of the elements of Sophie’s, and also of trying not to burden her with any of that sort of thing.

Simon Guerrier

The Kotturuh

Anyone following the other strands of Time Lord Victorious has met the Kotturuh in the novels and short stories already, but this is the first time we’ve heard them on audio. How did Simon deal with having to write established foes for a new medium?

That was the trickiest thing because there wasn’t a huge amount of description when I started. I asked Alfie questions, and he got answers from James Goss – who has masterminded this whole extravaganza – and I then tried to embellish that and build on it, on the basis that they’d cut anything that didn’t fit with their plans. Then there was a fun conversation with Anthony Lamb who was busy putting together the artwork. We knocked some ideas back and forth about how the Kotturuh should look, him taking on bits of what I’d put in my story, and me rewriting some of my descriptions to match his designs. I remember having to rewrite a whole section because I’d specified footsteps…That really stretched me; on audio, having to convey the visuals in enough accurate detail to tie in to the other Time Lord Victorious stuff.

Simon Guerrier

Wicked Sisters

We haven’t got long to wait until Simon’s next Doctor Who outing. But it sounds like something big is also on the horizon…

The next thing I’ve got out is Wicked Sisters, which is all very exciting and a huge joy to do. And then I’ve just delivered a draft of something quite big that has taken up most of my summer. But I can’t even hint about that for fear of being deleted…

Simon Guerrier

Doctor Who – Time Lord Victorious: Short Trips: Master Thief / Lesser Evils is available to buy now from the Big Finish website.

With thanks to Simon Guerrier for taking the time to chat with me and Big Finish for their support.

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