|Barnaby Edwards is well-known to Doctor Who fans. He’s an actor and writer for many of the Big Finish stories and one of the famous Doctor Who Dalek operators. (If you don’t know what we’re talking about check out – The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot video below). In this interview Blogtor is chatting with Barnaby about his time directing the popular new Big Finish series, Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter.
As I have said in previous posts, I was lucky enough to watch the recording of the episode, Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter – Zero Space written by Adrian Poynton.
Blogtor: You’ve directed the brand-new Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter audio plays! She is a new character to Big Finish with very little detail from her original appearance on Doctor Who. This series is really defining who Jenny is. Who do you see the character as? Another Time Lord? A lost wanderer? A young child?
Barnaby: That’s an interesting question. One of the great joys of these four new adventures is that no one – including the character herself – knows who Jenny is or what she’s capable of. Both Jenny and her companion Noah are blank canvases in search of an identity, personal history, meaning. It’s only through their shared adventures that they – and indeed the listener – find out who they are.
Blogtor: You and the writers have two characters that know very little about themselves – Noah and Jenny. It isn’t like a Doctor series where most of the characters are known entities or at least have their own backstory. You were the overarching creative that maintained the continuity across all stories. How did the group define these unknowns? Were there characteristics that you discarded? What were they?
Barnaby: Jenny’s through line was clearly defined in the stories right from the start. As for her character, it’s an extension of Georgia’s own – sassy, smart, funny, fast.
Blogtor: I enjoyed watching the creative process of recording the series. You are a very experienced director and seemed to have notes on your iPad about different versions of each scene. I noted that you recorded many of these in succession. Clearly, there was some plan for the recording to editing step. Can you talk us through that process and how you decide what is in the final version?
Barnaby: You gotta have a plan! I get sent the scripts and read them, making notes about each in turn and sending them back to the individual authors via the script editor. When the updated versions of the scripts come through, I read them again and add in tons more stage directions. I also rewrite some of the dialogue to make it consistent across all four adventures – we have three continuing characters (Jenny, Noah, the COLT-5000) and it’s important that they speak in the same idiomatic way in each individual story. Then the stories are sent back to authors for final approval.
Once the stories are locked off, I then break down each script into scenes and part-scenes, working out a coherent flow for each recording day. Where possible, I try to record everything sequentially, following each character’s timeline. If a story hops around in time or contains flashbacks, I will record these in the order in which they happen to the characters, NOT the order in which they occur in the script. Naturally, all this is subject to considerable alteration to accommodate the availability of individual actors on the recording days themselves. Which brings us to the next phase.
Casting is as important as a good script. Get the script right, cast it well, and 90% of the hard work has been done. I make lists of who I want for each role and then begin the process of phoning agents and attempting to persuade actors that they really want to be a part of this exciting new project. When I’m casting a box set, I’m conscious not just of getting great actors but of assembling distinct groups of actors for each story. This ensures that each adventure has its own unique flavour. The cast of Prisoner of the Ood, for example, would not have suited Neon Reign, and vice versa. I’m making four separate movies, not one movie in four parts.
Then on the recording day, we follow my ludicrously anal schedule and we record as many takes as we need to of each scene until we get it right. The trick is to know when you’ve nailed it. Sometimes one take is enough, other times you need six takes. Also, don’t be dogmatic. You’ve assembled a cast of wonderful, talented performers, so let them do what they do best: perform. I’m always open to suggestions, rewrites and ad-libs from the cast. I try to create an atmosphere in which the actors feel comfortable, supported and able to perform at their best. If this were a circus, they are the death-defying acrobats giving their all on the high wire, and I am the safety net ready to catch them should they fall.
After the recording, the raw dialogue goes to a sound editor who assembles the dialogue edit (all the right takes in the right order) and adds all the effects. This involves a lot of toing and froing of sound files and director’s notes. Again, I actively encourage the sound designer to be inventive. Once we’re both satisfied, the FX edit is locked down, and we add the music. Again, this involves copious notes (both directorial ones and musical ones).
And then we’re done!
Blogtor: Having experience on all sides of the creative process as an actor, director and writer, how does each feed into the other? Are there skills and perspectives that transfer from one type of creative role to the others?
Barnaby: Definitely. I don’t really see them as separate skills. They’re all just different aspects of being creative.
Blogtor: As an actor, do you relish the ability to inhabit all of the characters in an audiobook? How does it differ in your experience from a character in an audio drama?
Barnaby: Audio drama acting and audiobook narrating are two very different disciplines. One involves bringing to life a single character alongside fellow actors; the other involves bringing to life an entire cast of characters as well as capturing the author’s voice. I find the former far easier than the latter, although I do a lot of the latter (about 15-20 audiobooks a year).
Blogtor: What are your next projects coming up?
I’ve got a Torchwood box set coming out shortly, as well as Nigel Planer’s brilliant time-tripping drama Jeremiah Bourne in Time. They’re both directed by me for Big Finish and feature some of my very favourite actors. I’ve also got a whole slew of audiobooks recently out or about to come out, including an Ian Fleming title, a Dickens novel, and the official unabridged audiobooks of Philip Reeve’s steampunk quartet Mortal Engines, which Peter Jackson is currently turning into his new movie franchise. Exciting times
That’s the end of our interviews on Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter. You can purchase this new Big Finish series on their website link located here.
For our review, please visit Review: Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter Heralds the Future and our interview with Sean Biggerstaff who portrays Noah in this new series.