Some time back before ‘Doctor Who’ came back to television in 2005. The only way that most people could get their fix of Doctor Who was through the brilliant audio plays from Big Finish Audio.
One of the people that was with Big Finish from the very beginning back in 2003 was John Ainsworth who has directed many of their audio plays for ‘Doctor Who’ as well as numerous spinoffs and other audio adventures featuring other pop cultural favourites such as Judge Dredd.
A few weeks back I caught up with the director and asked him a few questions about how he got into Audio Plays and talked about future projects.
SFP: How did you get into directing for ‘Big Finish’ Audio?
John Ainsworth: Quite a long time ago in the 1980’s there was a group of us. A fan organisation known as Audio Visual, which was not for profit and while lots of ‘Doctor Who’ fan groups would create fanzines. We’d create are own ‘Doctor Who’ audio adventures, which were basically audio dramas.
Nick Briggs played the Doctor in most of them and we did them over a period of quite a few years. Gary Russell was involved Bill Baggs was the person that started it. No one ever made any money out of it. It was for fun. People brought them on cassette’s at conventions and seemed to really like them.
At the time we all thought wouldn’t it be great if we could do this properly for a living because by the end of it they had gotten pretty good. When we started they did tend to sound a little amateurish, but by the time we’d done all 28 we’d gotten to a point where we were recording to a really high standard. We did the cover designs and composed our own music. So we’d actually gotten quite good at it. And we thought wouldn’t it be great to do it for real, but at that time it didn’t look likely.
Many years later thanks to the efforts of a few people including Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nick Briggs and Gary Russell Big Finish started to put out audio adventures and we started with Bernice Summerfield, which led us to getting the license to produce Classic Doctor Who audios.
I wasn’t able to join immediately at that point, but happily worked on the website. At that time I was doing a stage play that I had produced, which ran for three weeks. It was a two hander and it starred Jacqueline Pearce who played Servalan in ‘Blake’s 7’. Jason, Gary and Nick went to see the play and on the strength of that Jason turned round and said you should be directing for us, which was very flattering, so I said yes and the first thing I did was ‘The Plague Herds of Excelis,’ which was one of the earlier ‘Bernice Summerfield adventures, and it was the first story to feature Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme. So that was quite fun because I got to work with Katy Manning, which was great!
So that’s where it all started really and since then I have directed over 60 titles, which is over a period of 10 or 12 years I think.
SFP: One of the many things you have done for Big Finish is the Judge Dredd audio adventures. Would you mind talking a little about those?
John Ainsworth: Yes that was quite early on actually and it wasn’t just ‘Judge Dredd’ we also did a few with ‘Rogue Trooper’ and ‘Strontium Dog,’ but the ‘Judge Dredd’ proved to be the popular ones. We only did two ‘Strontium Dog’ ones and we didn’t get to do Rogue Trooper in the end even though a script had actually been written for one.
But yes. I loved working on those. Toby Longworth got to play Judge Dredd as well as many of the supporting characters and I was very pleased with the quality of those. They’re very funny as well at certain points. I liked the comedy side of it.
SFP: I believe Simon Pegg of ‘Shaun of The Dead’ and ‘Star Trek’ fame was also involved with those?
John Ainsworth: Yes he was. Simon Pegg played Johnny Alpha in ‘Strontium Dog’. He is the Strontium Dog character. So he starred in the two ‘Strontium Dog’ titles and guested in a ‘Judge Dredd’ where both Dredd and Johnny Alpha meet, which technically under normal conditions would never happen. So we had to create a situation in which they could meet.
He was great to work with and he has gone onto be a huge megastar now, which is great. In fact at around about that time ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’ was out and I remember chatting with Simon about the film at the time not knowing that he would be such a big part of the next ‘Star Trek’ film.
SFP: Another thing you have done more recently is helmed the new ‘Pathfinder’ series of audio adventures, which are based on the books, which are based on the popular role playing game. What do you think drew you that that project.
John Ainsworth: I was basically offered that to be honest. I think Jason and Nick Briggs had actually met the people who created ‘Pathfinder’ at a convention and they hit it off well and thought it be great to do some ‘Pathfinder’ audios and they obviously agreed.
So that was set up and it was offered to me. I agreed because I liked the fact that it was something new and I quite enjoyed that it had a unique feel to it. I also liked the idea of there being quite a bit of fighting in it.
At that point I had never heard of ‘Pathfinder’ I had certainly played a lot of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ in my teens and ‘Pathfinder’ has a similar type of style to it. So I felt I knew what the feel of the world was like.
It was a good opportunity, which allowed me to be involved in shaping the characters to a certain point. The characters were drawn from the ‘Pathfinder’ table top games. ‘Pathfinder’ has quite a lot of character types. I think there are at least twelve varying from the wizard to the warrior and an elf one. So there was some discussion of what we would use. We finally decided on four. We have Valeros the fighter, Ezren the wizard, Harsk the dwarf and Merisiel the elf and those are the four main characters.
The adventures themselves – we’ve done six – are based on a very famous game scenario, which is called ‘Rise Of The Runelords’. So each game module of that has been adapted as a single audio play.
SFP: I was looking at what is coming up and it looks like you have a new Triffids series coming out through Big Finish. The Night Of The Triffids.
John Ainsworth: Yes ‘The Night of The Triffids.’ It isn’t a series its a one off. It is a double CD, which is adapted by Simon Clark from his novel ‘The Night Of The Triffids.’ And that’s the official sequel to ‘Day of The Triffids,’ which was written by John Wyndham, and its sanctioned by the John Wyndham estate.
The book originally came out about ten years ago, which was when I met Simon originally actually. And more recently they have had to republish it both as an eBook and a paperback, which proved a good opportunity to do an audio version of it as well.
We’ve recorded it all. It is in the middle of post production. Sam Troughton is the main character of David Mason who is the son of Bill Mason who was the main character from the first novel. Much of the action takes place on the Isle of Wight, which by the end of ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ was the only safe haven for humans to settle. But a new infestation of triffids takes hold there many years after the first.
Sam Troughton is of course Patrick Troughton’s Grandson. And Nicola Bryant plays the main leading lady in it. So yes. We’re very excited about it. It feels like working on a movie rather than a series.
SFP: Is this the same Sam Troughton that was in the Robin Hood series a few years back?
John Ainsworth: Yes, and that’s how I first got to work with him actually. Big Finish got to do a few audios based on the Robin Hood series and I got to direct two of them. Which Sam Troughton read. These were like the recent Doctor Who: Companion Chronicles where it was just one person narrating the story. And Sam read two of them for us.
It was his first audio book apparently, which is what he told me at the time. He was brilliant and I really enjoyed working with him. So when ‘The Night Of The Triffids’ came up I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with him again and fortunately he agreed.
You can check out more of this interview in our forthcoming SFP-NOW ‘Doctor Who’ special, which will hopefully be available on Saturday.
- You can place a pre order for ‘The Night Of The Triffids’ at: www.bigfinish.com/ranges/coming_soon_reverse/night-of-the-triffids
- You can also purchase The Pathfinder Chronicles, Judge Dredd and Doctor Who audios at: www.bigfinish.com