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Friday 4 September 2020

The DOCTOR WHO Pinball

The following is an article commissioned for and published in the third of the Update Volumes of HOWE'S TRANSCENDENTAL TOYBOX, which is long out of print ...

Pinball Wizard

In 1992 Bally Williams released, to date, the only Doctor Who arcade pinball machine. William Pfutzenreuter worked on the game for Bally Williams and here he shares his memories of developing something which has become unique in the field of Doctor Who merchandise and collectibles.

The Start

I was a games programmer for Bally Williams, and after about ten years working at this, I was given the opportunity to be the ‘Game Designer’ of a pinball game. All I had to do is come up with a game idea and ‘sell’ it to management. Many sleepless nights and several unsold ideas later, one of my colleagues, Ken Fedesna, knowing that I was a Doctor Who fan (and I suspect he was too!), suggested that I design a game using that as the subject. So, I went back to the drawing board and designed using sketches the main features and the game story. 

For the story, I did not want to adapt something which had already been seen on television, so I tried to come up with something from scratch. I have always liked time paradoxes, and I wanted to get all the Doctors back together again (like the stories ‘The Three Doctors’ and ‘The Five Doctors’ on television). I also wanted there to be a companion for each Doctor, and I wanted to include speech samples from each Doctor and companion. Every story needs an enemy and so I added the Daleks and (my favourite) the latest incarnation of the Master (played on television by Anthony Ainley). The story I came up with was that the Daleks and the Master had compressed time on Earth, hence the slow continental drift back to the one large continent Pangaea, but the Doctors (who visit Earth a lot at different times), escape, only to be flung into different situations represented by different areas of the playfield. 

This was the initial concept of including a 3-level ‘mini-playfield’ known as the Time Expander. Management approved the game and the BBC (for the Doctor Who show) and Terry Nation (for the Daleks) were approached for licensing. After the licenses were preliminarily agreed, the project became official and a team was assembled to make Doctor Who the pinball. Since it was a licensed game it would be released by Bally as they did all the licensed products, and it would be put into production following the development and release of games for The Addams Family and Black Rose

The Team

Once the project had been approved by management, the team members could be assembled. The core team comprised a Mechanical Engineer (Zofia Bil), a Graphic Artist (Linda Deal), a Sound Engineer (Jon Hey), and a Dot Matrix Display Artist (Scott ‘Matrix’ Slomiany), all of whom were assigned to work for me. There were some others, like Roger Sharpe from marketing and my contact for Licenses, plus a lot of other people helping. Next came the task of explaining what I wanted each of the team members to do, and educating them on 26 years of Doctor Who

The Mini-Playfield

Zofia started on the ‘mini-playfield’ from my sketches. Her task was to design it with the smallest footprint possible, but to make it ‘indestructible’ and still not cost a fortune. Several motor designs were suggested, and a few were simulated, but Zofia liked the offset cam. The motor was chosen to last a long time. It was strong enough to break pencils (fingers would be an easier target) and I even demonstrated it (please do not do this at home!) for management. This concerned a lot of people and we had to find a way to make it safe. Just opening the coin door (doing so cut the power to the solenoids and mini-playfield motor) was not good enough. So a switch was added to detect the presence of the playfield glass, and I programmed the machine to only move the mini-playfield if the glass was present. We even added an obnoxious alarm sound, a dot matrix display warning ‘sticker’, and speech in two languages (English & German) warning the operator. 

The Artwork (Part One)

I gathered up all my Doctor Who collection (magazines, books, video tapes) and brought it to work. Linda look through all of it. We also had access to the BBC Archives, but this took several weeks to get hold of images, and despite being given descriptions of the poses Linda desired, she was never too happy with what we were sent. The backglass is perhaps the most important part of the machine – it advertises it and needs to draw people to it in the arcade. For the Doctor Who backglass I gave Linda the requirement that all seven Doctors, the TARDIS and the Master had to be featured. She also added in the Daleks and the Doctor Who  logo had to be in there as well. The BBC presented the requirement that the faces had to be all the same size (so that no one was more important that the other). This somewhat restricted the design, so she looked at my collection and came up with a design of the seven Doctors around the Doctor Who logo. On the bottom left was a silhouette of the TARDIS, and on the bottom right was a silhouette of the Master flanked by the Daleks. Once approved by myself and the management, she made a full sized colour magic marker drawing. This was then sent out for the approval of Bally and the BBC. 

While this was happening, the playfield and cabinet was being designed. After that was done and sent out for approval. The real painted backglass was started and completed, then twelve translates (temporary backglasses made by a quick process to see the colours and art) were make for the twelve test machines. During all of this, Linda designed the cabinet artwork, the magic motion artwork, the playfield artwork, the playfield plastics art, the playfield stickers, and an assortment of free handouts (bumper stickers, coasters, and so on). 

The magic motion piece was added to the Bally cabinet at the last minute and we didn’t know exactly when they would arrive to be fitted to the machines. So, a back-up piece in standard plastic was made. As it turned out, this was not needed, and so it became another free handout.

The Playfield Design

While all this was going on, it was up to me to start laying out the playfield. I found a discarded drafting table in the hallway. AutoCAD was still not really popular at Williams back in ’92, it and the computers with all the extra memory needed to run it were very expensive. So I dragged the drafting table into my office and picked up a pencil. I rapidly found that I was a better programmer than a draftsman, but I did have a lot of help from other game designers (who always drafted their playfields themselves! I had been missing out!). So the first playfield was designed and built, but the play action was somewhat stunted. Shots did not work, you could not hit a thing, it was no fun at all. Williams (rightly so) rejected it and I was gloomily beginning to think that the game was going to be cancelled.

Well, I dragged my ego down to Roger Sharp’s office and dumped my ‘problems’ onto his lap. He gave me a pep speech about his game design days, but we still had to get the game sorted out. So he suggested that I ask Barry Oursler, one of the more experienced designers, if he would co-design the game with me. So I left Roger and made a bee-line directly to Barry’s office (I had programmed many of his games) and asked him. He accepted, and now it was time to convince Williams’ management that the game was still viable. It took them a little while, but they accepted and Barry took my ideas and gadgets, added a few of his own, and made a real game. 

Once we had the basic design, then a ‘white wood’ version of the playfield was made. This is the playfield without artwork, just wood. It’s used so that the designer can check the shots to see if there is good action. If something needs to be moved, then he will fill the holes and drill new ones to move ramps and/or posts. Sometimes a white wood gets so full of holes that another white wood is made, and so on until you have it right. Once the game play is working, then the design is ‘locked down’ and the playfield artwork can be started. Of course, even the best of playfields can change later in the design … Much to the horror of the playfield artist!

Barry’s play action worked great! Perhaps too good … the ‘sonic boom’ ramp shot (left flipper to right ramp) was so popular and so easy (for the Williams game designers at least) to loop the ball forever. I had to modify the rule and on the tenth loop, divert the ball, give the player a bonus, and force the player to use the right flipper with the diverted ball. Of course, a skilled player would use the right flipper to shoot under the left ramp. This would trade flippers back to the left one as a setup for the right ramp. But this did slow them down a bit … 

The Dotwork

Scott ‘Matrix’, the designer of the ‘dotwork’ images, also had access to my collection of Doctor Who photos and tapes. I originally wanted each ball in play to represent one part of a Doctor Who episode, so that starting a game would start at Part 1. But I also wanted all the different video effects and themes for all the Doctors. This would be selectable depending upon the selected Doctor at the start of playing a ball. However, just creating one theme (and there was more to a game than the start and end of a ball in play) in a low resolution dot matrix display was time consuming. So I abandoned the multiple themes idea (the sound system had limits too) and stuck to just one theme. 

While Scott was working on the display effect he discovered that faces were staring back at him from the Doctor Who titles for the early Tom Baker stories. He had been staring at the Doctor Who titles for quite some time, trying to imitate the effect in a low resolution dot matrix display. Quite to his surprise, a face was staring back at him! These can be seen on the right side, half way from the top on the end credits, and on the starting credits, it’s upside down on the left side on both the top and bottom half. Scott came and found me and asked about the faces. ‘What faces?’ I asked! 

There were many other visual effects in the pinball game. Multiball was the most complicated, both visually and with integrated speech, because it involved telling a story during the play of game controlled by the player and not by the actors. If you think the actors have it tough trying to talk while running down a corridor, try getting hit by flippers, rolling on the ground, bouncing off posts, and talking, all in the middle of all those sounds and changing rules! The game also interacted with the player – as you removed Daleks or Davros from the mini-playfield, they all started to panic.

As mentioned, there was a lot more to the dot matrix display than just titles, and one of the more fun elements was the ‘video mode’. The concept was simple: a Doctor was running away from a Dalek that was chasing him. But there are obstacles in his path that the Doctor must jump over. The narrow obstacles only need one flipper to be pressed, the wider obstacles require two flippers to be pressed at the same time. If the Doctor does not jump over an obstacle, or he jumps into an obstacle, he trips and falls and loses (the Dalek catches him, and this obstacle pattern repeats on the next video mode). If the Doctor does not trip, and reaches his TARDIS, he is safe and he leaves. There are some extra points if you jump into the TARDIS, rather than run into it. And points accumulated on each successful video mode until the ‘end of the wave’ (multiple video modes). Remember that the playfield multiplier could also multiply this score, and the timer for the playfield multiplier was temporarily stopped during video mode.

All seven Doctors (depending upon who you are at the time you start video mode) could run in the video mode, however, I only had speech from Sylvester McCoy, so … every other time (I think) the Doctor made it into the TARDIS, there was funny line that McCoy would say. I loved the line that went, ‘(Exhausted Breathing) I do not mind the guns or running or a Dalek or two, it’s the obstacles that I hate!’

Of course a Dalek would not dream of jumping over an obstacle. He merely blasts it to tiny bits. But … at the end of a video mode wave, too many Doctors have escaped. And the Dalek must report his failure. This is something that Daleks do not accept. We had a lot of fun here and there are several of these scenes, each getting worse. I do not remember them all, just the final one because I could not decide what to do. So I gave in to the ‘big gun’ theory and blasted the Dalek to atoms.

My favourite video effect is the entering of the player’s ‘High Score to Date’ initials. It came from a silly idea: that all Time Lords already have your initials and score in their record book. All you do is flip the pages until you find your score and initials. Remember that they know the future. But then, has the future really been recorded in this book accurately? You’d better double check …

Another element of the dot matrix display was the cow. Yes, there is a cow. In case you did not know, Williams has been putting cows in the dot matrix displays for a long time. The trick is to find what makes it appear. I did not want to do it (I am serious about my Doctor Who!). But Scott made me … He was fascinated with the Transmat, and knew my pinball rules about charging the Transmat when the jet bumpers were hit, and if the charge is big enough, then there was a rule to Transmat in a Doctor’s helper. Of course you can activate the Transmat without there being enough power, and every so often (actually rarely) a cow’s head would appear wearing a Tom Baker hat on its head. Sorry about that Tom … 

Sounds and Music 

John Hey had the job of reproducing the sound effects and theme music from Doctor Who. My video tapes of the TV show helped him a lot here and the sound effects were easy for John to reproduce by ear, or at least get close. Some of it was digitised from my video tapes. However, the theme music was a problem. I originally wanted all the different themes to play depending upon which Doctor was selected in the game. But just doing the Tom Baker theme took weeks, and a lot of space was going to be taken up by speech. So we ended up just using the one theme. With uninterrupted music from ball to ball (which was a first for Williams), each ball is supposed to represent one part of this Doctor Who story … and you do not have to wait until next week to play the next ball!

Somewhere along the way I asked the BBC for a copy of the sheet music to the Tom Baker theme. It was then that I found out that there apparently is no sheet music for the score.

As mentioned, the speech was to take up a lot of space on the chip. My original art concept was have as many companions and Doctors as possible but unfortunately we found that there were not enough rules and playfield available for everybody. But for everyone who made it onto the playfield, I planned to include at least one line of speech. I actually wrote up about three lines on average for all the companions, and more for each of the Doctors, the Daleks, and the Master. Williams management started with an open mind, but it always comes back to the money. Williams would have to locate all the actors, get them to/from a recording studio, and pay everyone something. At the time this payment was not very much for a given pinball, and usually there was only one actor involved. I was dividing the pot by about 20. Well, it was a nice idea while it lasted.

So a decision had to be made and at the end of the day, we would provide speech for just three characters: the seventh Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy, some Dalek speech, and the Master as played by Anthony Ainley. We tracked the actors down, they were both available and both agreed … without seeing a script, which was handy as it wasn’t written yet.

Let me explain that I did not talk to the actors directly. I first talked to Williams marketing (i.e. Roger Sharpe), who talked to an international licensing company located in California, who talked to the BBC in England, who talked to the actors agents, who talked to the actor. This was six layers of communication and it took a while to arrange. The actors probably never knew my name.

Now it was my turn to go back to the drawing board. Remember, that not only is there a certain amount of recording time that can fit on an EPROM, (and I was not going to waste a millisecond!) but it uses lossy compression that trashes the quality of speech. (S’s and T’s are not heard, C’s turn into H’s … I always remember the arcade game Sinistar (released by Williams in 1982) and hearing the phrase ‘Run, Howard!’, it was really ‘Run, Coward!’) This is another reason why we always ask for more than we can put in a game, because some of it ends up as not understandable. I quickly re-wrote all the multi-ball speech so that all three would interact in the game, and added more funny lines for video mode, and a few variations. I only had one chance to get the speech and get it correct. And I am a better programmer than a writer.

The script for Sylvester turned out to be about one and a half pages, mostly instructional with some of the funny lines. The script for the Daleks was less than one page, and I had their usual ‘kill’, ‘destroy’ and so on with a little dialogue and some funny lines for the video mode. The Master ended up with about three pages of script, because I found it easy to write for him. Armed with the scripts, John Hey quickly packed his bags and went from Chicago to England to record the actors. All this happened very, very quickly. Schedules for each of the actors was tight and on short notice, and I am sorry to say that all did not go well. Even today, I am not sure what happened, but Anthony did not record the Master speech. Panic gripped Williams …

The Dalek speech was the last to be recorded. Many ideas were discussed, including using a sound-alike Master (after all there was another actor playing the Master before Ainley). John Hey was still in England and a suggestion came (I think from England) that the person recording the Dalek voice could also do, and was willing to do, a Davros voice. Well, back to the scripts I went and super-quickly re-wrote the Master speech into a Davros speech. Then we faxed the new text to John. Both voices were recorded! We had our speech!

But the Master issue was not over yet. Rumours were flying at super sonic speeds, and there was talk of removing all traces (playfield and backglass artwork, dot matrix, etc) of the Master from the game. After a couple of weeks this died down to giving the Master a face lift on the playfield, making him look like the first Master, as played by Roger Delgado on television. And now instead of the Doctors battling the Daleks with a surprise appearance of the Master as the real villain. Davros was now the surprise villain. At the time, with the Bally backglass, he truly was a surprise … Davros was not on the Bally backglass at all and the Master was only on it as a silhouette. More weeks later, sanity returned at Williams. John knew that I missed the Master character and so he recorded a sound alike voice for Master’s laugh. That I put on the outlanes and a few other places in the game. More weeks went by, and I was talking to Roger Sharpe and told him of the sound alike laugh in the game. He showed me a letter from Anthony written in his own hand, which explained that, basically, he didn’t feel that the £1000 being offered for the recording was enough, and that there wasn’t enough time between his seeing the script and the recording date to effectively negotiate for more. 

When John Hey returned with the speech tapes. Both Sylvester and the Dalek/Davros speaker had added a few more of their phrases on top of my scripted ones. This added a nice personality touch that I missed, so we used them in the game as well. All the scripts were recorded onto a digital audio tape (DAT) machine by John and then the good ‘takes’ grabbed using Sound Designer II on a Mac before being converted through a Williams custom built CVSD (Continuously Variable Slope Delta) encoder. We experimented with the Daleks’ voices. They sounded bad enough to start with, much less after trying to get them correct following CVSD sampling. We ended up using the ones recorded in England. The music was recreated on the Williams Yamaha FM chip sound system by John as well. He reported that it was a real challenge making FM synthesisers sound like older analogue synthesers. The TARDIS sound was sampled and played directly from the DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter). All the rest of the effects (except the drum hits which were also DAC) were created on a Yamaha FM. 

The New BackBox Feature 

The Dalek Head on top the backbox was an after-thought. The game had a great white wood playfield, it was playable with a lot of rules and interest, the artwork sketches were approved. and management asked me if I could decorate the top of the backbox. I was shocked! Usually they took off features! I had spent a lot of dollars on the mini-playfield for the machine, rather than decoration. But, in that era, most Williams games had a backbox feature. And the continuing success of The Addams Family looked like that machine was going to run and run! So, I decided on a Dalek moving head, with an eye ball that would flash in time with the speech. I even devised an simple electronic circuit and software program that would give me the flash rates for any speech phrase that I could play back. But this was a last minute decision that had to be designed quickly. Several motors were tested, and broke. Meanwhile, four Styrofoam models of the head were made. All had a ‘snub nose’ which was made short because it had to fit under a protective plastic dome, there to avoid mischievous players or dedicated fans from pulling the Dalek eye out … and the width of the top of the backbox is very narrow! Then I made and sent a video tape of the prototypes for Terry Nation’s approval (he was the creator/owner of the Daleks). Finally, a reliable motor was found and a mock-up was created since the real parts would arrive just before our scheduled test date … and I still needed to develop the software to make it all work.

The Test 

The issue of where to test a game has always be been a hot one. Here is the logic used to determine the location:

Criteria #1: Marketing and Sales want to sell as many as they can of the next game. But they do not want to impact the sales of the current game. Williams sells to distributors who stock the game, and the distributors sell the game to operators (operators being arcades and/or a ‘route’). So typically, they like to test a game as close to production as possible. But … The Addams Family was a bigger hit than expected, and no one knew when interest would die down. Doctor Who was the second game after The Addams Family, so, the ‘hurry up and wait’ syndrome happened. 

Criteria #2: Test it in a low profile (so noone knows about it) but a high number of plays (for example in a popular arcade). 

Now, how do you get a lot of people to play a game, but nobody knows about it? Marketing and Sales had the answer: They tested it at an average arcade called ‘Dennis’s Place’. They had about two walls of pinball machines, mostly videos, and a couple of sit down video games. At the time there were more high profile (for example Gala North Arcade) and low profile (for example a Bar) locations. All locations were well known test sites for manufacturers, and usually when we went to observe our own game on test we met employees from other manufacturers, and sometimes they even beat us to our own test locations! 

The Artwork (Part Two) 

It was after twelve prototypes had been built and tested that Williams decided that they wanted the Bally pinball cabinets to be more like Williams cabinets. This would allow Williams to order the same parts in a higher volume, thus qualifying for discounts on part prices. I knew that this was coming, but I just never knew when. 

With regards to the Doctor Who pinball, it was ready to be produced, and was just waiting in line, mainly for The Addams Family machine to start to dip in popularity. Then the decision was made by Williams to change from the Bally style backbox to the Williams style backbox. The William backbox was a lot shorter, and Williams management suggested that we just cut off the bottom of the backbox art on the Doctor Who  machine. But a mock up was created, and it looked terrible. It was then that the artist and I went back to the drawing board, and tried to come up with a replacement as fast as we could. I had suggested that we create a scene with the time expander, all seven Doctors, Davros and the Daleks. Then Linda took over the composition, and the final backglass was created. It then had to be rushed to the BBC for approval, and thankfully it was all approved without issue. The twelve Doctor Who pinball test games were made and tested (in public) with the Bally style backbox and then the twelve games were converted to the Williams style backbox. Doctor Who was the first Bally game to be produced with the Williams style backbox, and I do not know what happened to the original backglasses. 

Cost cutting 

Well, it had to happen to Doctor Who. While it was being produced, the money men came, and calculated the cost of producing the game, and decided it cost too much. After many hours of negotiation, the moving Dalek head on the backbox had to go. The head itself was cheap and could stay as part of the shipped game – it was just some plastic and a flasher, but it was integrated into the effects of the game, and so the head stayed! However the motion had to go, and this alteration was scheduled to happen after about 100 had been produced. I changed the software to try and detect the presence of the head, and then to activate the code to move it. There is even a game adjustment (adjustment 49) to manually enable the head software. Years later, some people have even added a motor to their Doctor Who game (take a look at http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Quark/1825/).

Premiering the Game

I had been to previous Visions conventions in the USA, and they feature Doctor Who and other TV shows. I proposed to Williams that we bring a couple of games to the convention in 1992 and have free handouts and a contest. We had plenty of free plastic handouts, and we decided the contest would award a backglass (or, in reality, back plastic) to the overall winner. But there was a condition, Doctor Who could only go to the convention if the game was actually in production. Remember the marketing rules from before: Williams did not show games before production, since it might have an adverse effect on the current game in production. Since production of Doctor Who was being delayed by the success of The Addams Family pinball, it was impossible to predict if the game could go to the convention or not. So, with these restrictions in mind, I contacted the convention people. They were happy that I wanted to show the pinball at their convention, but of course I could not guarantee if I could bring it at all! Hence, there could be no announcement or advertisement about the pinball in advance. However, I was lucky. About one month before the convention, Doctor Who finally went into production. It was too later to tell the convention organisers, but time enough for us to organize to have two games shipped to the convention. It turned out to be well received, and people loved the free handouts. Although I missed any of the actors visiting the game, I heard that they liked it.

Success Story

If there is one impossible obstacle that any pinball machine must face, it is when it comes after a mega-production hit. I am of course, talking about The Addams Family pinball. That game shipped about 20,000 units! It was a huge success that broke all records and raised all expectations for a popular pinball machine. The next one in line, Black Rose had a very short production life, and sold about 3,700 units. Although it was an average game (in my opinion) it was not as good as The Addams Family, and it did not meet the high expectations of the market. It took a while for the last Black Rose we produced to sell. Next in line was Doctor Who which started production in September of 1992. To my relief, that sold around 7,700 units. At around that time, an average production number was 4,000 to 5,000. 

Summing Up

It was a lot of fun designing, programming, & even promoting this game. I am also glad that Doctor Who is now back on the air. I hope this inspires future game designers to continue their efforts despite the many obstacles & issues that can occur.

Statistics and Information

The following information is from the Internet Pinball Database at: http://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=738

Doctor Who / IPD No. 738 / September, 1992 / 4 Players

Average Fun Rating:      8.1/10  (34 ratings/29 comments)         

Manufacturer: Midway Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of WMS Industries, Incorporated,

of Chicago, Illinois, USA (1988-1999) [Trade Name: Bally]

Model Number: 20006

Common Abbreviations: DW

MPU: Williams WPC (Fliptronics 2)

Type: Solid State Electronic (SS)  

Production: 7,752 units   (confirmed)

Theme: Celebrities - Fictional - Licensed Theme

Notable Features: Flippers (3; the two main flippers – ‘Lightning’ Flippers - are shorter than the standard size flippers), Ramps (2), Multiball

Toys: Three Level Mini-Playfield

Design by: Barry Oursler, Bill Pfutzenreuter

Art by: Linda Deal (aka Doane)

Dots/Animation by: Scott Slomiany

Mechanics by: Zofia Bil

Music by: Jon Hey

Sound by: Jon Hey

Software by: Bill Pfutzenreuter

Marketing Slogans: ‘It’s About Time’

’The Doctor Is In …’

Rule Sheets: Doctor Who! Rulesheet Version 1.02 (Mar/31/1993), by Bowen Kerins  

Richard Poser’s Tip Sheet  (External Site)

Additional Info: View at PinLinks.org  (External site)

ROMs: 355 KB ZIP Game ROM L-2 [Midway Mfg. Co.]

  1 MB ZIP Game ROM P5 (Prototype) With L2 Sound [Midway Mfg. Co.]

  1 MB ZIP PinMame ROMs Set (L-2)

  260 KB ZIP PinMame Romsets (L-1)

  995 KB ZIP Sound ROM L-1 [U14,U15,U18] [Midway Mfg. Co.]

Documentation: 8 MB PDF English Manual [Midway Mfg. Co., a subsidiary of WMS Industries, Inc.]

  207 KB TXT Parts List


Tuesday 14 April 2020


If you thought that Doctor Who had died in 1989 when the TV series came off the air, then you could not be more incorrect.

Since then, an ever increasing number of novels featuring the seventh Doctor and his companions Ace, and latterly Bernice, have been published by Virgin Publishing. These novels, while bearing the name Doctor Who, are in many respects far removed from the TV series that spawned them. 'Stories too broad and too deep for the small screen' ran the original publicity, and this approach seems to have paid off, with every new novel selling as many as 25,000 copies.

To find out more about the range of books, and to meet some of the authors involved, David J Howe met with editor-in-chief Peter Darvill-Evans, assistant editor Rebecca Levene and writers Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts, Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore.

'Doctor Who The New Adventures comes out of a long tradition of publishing books that related to the Doctor Who television series,' explains Peter. 'Virgin Publishing gained permission to publish new novels at about the same time as Doctor Who ended on television. As it became more and more apparent that there wouldn't be any more Doctor Who on television, the New Adventures became more and more important as the standard bearers of Doctor Who. But it also meant that we were increasingly able to regard the novels as taking Doctor Who into a completely new medium, with completely new types of stories and perhaps a different type of audience.'

To this end, Peter created a lengthy writer's guide which, as well as giving basic information on how to write, what Virgin's house style was, and the sort of stories they were after, also contained the concept of the Time Wyrm - a running theme which was to tie together the first four books.

Paul Cornell was the first previously unpublished author to write one of the New Adventures and his book, Revelation, concluded the first 'season' of books.

'The story which became Revelation was already there as a six part piece of fan fiction I had written for a fanzine called Queen Bat,' reveals Paul. 'The story was absolutely the same. I think that fan fiction has fed the New Adventures to quite a large degree. Peter has very cleverly tapped in to that aspect of fandom and has got quite a few of the people who were writing in that fan fiction boom doing the same kind of things for the New Adventures today, and that's a very good thing.'

Despite having written a large amount of fan fiction, Paul found the process of actually writing a novel pretty gruelling. 'I'd never written anything of that length before, I had to teach myself how to write a novel as I went along. It's a great challenge. I think this is one of the things that a lot of first time New Adventures writers have found.'

'I'd never mounted any serious attempt to get anything published professionally,' laughs Gareth Roberts, another first-time novelist, 'but the Doctor Who connection is that I used to fill up exercise books when I was a kid with Doctor Who stories but they always stopped at around page three when I got bored. Strangely enough - and this is a confession I have to make - some of the elements in The Highest Science came from those exercise books.' 

One of the unique things about the New Adventures is the way that they are chosen. Peter revealed that almost all the manuscripts that they receive are what other publishers would call the slush pile. In other words, unsolicited submissions which have not come through literary agents or through Virgin approaching an author. 'We actually encourage our slush pile,' he exclaims, 'and we read it, which most publishers don't do. Rebecca will go through all the submissions and read every one. I then read the ones she recommends. The process of getting a book published is long and hard but we do our best to work with the authors, to encourage and suggest, and hopefully to end up with a good book.'

'I've never known any publisher take the amount of care and lavish the attention that Virgin do on their writers, especially encouraging new writers,' comments Andy Lane. Andy had, like Paul written a great deal of fan fiction, but had also branched out into factual writing, his work appearing regularly in Starburst and many other genre magazines.

'It's very important in publishing to encourage new people to come along and then to develop them,' he states. 'Publishers must encourage the next generation of writers. As far as I can see Virgin are one of the few who are doing that and all praise to them for it. If you look at the nearest equivalent to what Virgin are doing here, to the Star Trek books, it's nowhere near the same. They take established authors who write standard Star Trek plots. What Peter and Rebecca are doing is taking new, untried authors with wonderful ideas, giving them most of the latitude they want, guiding them a little bit along the way and producing something magical at the end of it, and that's marvellous.'

Paul Cornell agrees with this view: 'If we'd gone down the same path as the Trek people have then the Doctor Who series would be of a lot less interest. One of the ways in which this cultivates new authors is that we're expanding and going with the zeitgeist, the current trend, the same way as the tv series always used to.'

This willingness to explore the boundaries of fiction has resulted in a very diverse range of books. There are pure fantasy novels (Witch Mark), horror novels (Nightshade, White Darkness), science fiction (Lucifer Rising, Shadowmind), cyberpunk (Love and War, Transit) and others which embrace any number of combinations of the above genres.

'It's experimentation,' states Andy. 'We're given the freedom to experiment and just find new ways of writing these books; I don't think anybody else is given that freedom.'

Gareth agrees: 'I think where the New Adventures score over the television series is that the television series was quite limited. There was a wide, open-ranging format of times and places but the same kind of plots were coming around a lot of the time. Whereas in the novels some of the actual stylistic changes are incredible. The jump between Marc Platt's Time's Crucible and Andrew Cartmel's Warhead is amazing. You go from Platt's Dostoevsky-esque Doctor Who history based book to a gritty futuristic cyberpunk thing, which you could never do in the television series. So that freedom which was always talked about Doctor Who is actually coming into its own.'

This freedom has only recently extended to featuring old enemies of the Doctor, and Jim Mortimore's next New Adventure, Blood Heat, features the return of the Silurians, first seen on TV back in 1970 and again in 1984.

'The thing that appeals to me most of all about the chance to write a novel in this sequence of Doctor Who books is the fact that you don't actually have to write Doctor Who stories,' explains Jim. 'Part of the brief is to write science fiction stories. Science fiction has always, when it's been done well, commented on what's going on socially, politically and emotionally in the world. That's what appeals to me. By a quirky coincidence, all I've done is managed to address the sort of things I'd like to address by way of stealing a very obvious bit of Doctor Who continuity. I kind of smashed together both worlds really and hopefully the result is quite interesting. Certainly it wasn't done as an exercise in continuity. Some of the things that I like about television drama are when you can see reflected what's going on in the world and I tried to encompass some of that.'

'You can write any story you want to and it can be a Doctor Who story,' agrees Peter. 'We briefly touched on the matter of genres, you can write horror, science fiction, fantasy, crime thriller, historical romance ... all of these can still be Doctor Who stories. But it's not just a matter of genres. You can also cover any subject you want to from any angle you want to. Doctor Who itself is an infinitely flexible subject matter. You can do anything with it.'

'The other thing is that the New Adventures are character driven,' adds Rebecca. 'Regardless of the actual stories, it's the characters you put in them and the fact that you can see everything from different viewpoints. Our characters are very important in the novels. I also think it's interesting to compare our books to the Star Trek novels. In those books there is a large and fixed cast and you're stuck with them. You can't introduce many new characters, you can't even kill the existing ones off. Whereas with the New Adventures you take a small TARDIS crew, you put them in a strange setting and you have lots of other characters to play with. They are really the reader's eyes onto a whole new situation and every novel has a whole new cast who also have viewpoints to be explored.'

As a final comment, Peter stresses that while the New Adventures form an ongoing series, they are very much designed as a series of one-off novels. 'We do our best to organise it so that the books tend to contrast with their predecessors and successors so that although we are publishing in a series we don't get a bland, series feel. For the regular reader there's a fluctuation of style and content that is hopefully refreshing in that they don't know what to expect next, but equally to the person who just comes along, sees a book on the shelf and decides to buy it, we hope that they're not going to feel totally alienated.'


It’s December 1997 and David Howe travels deep into the Surrey countryside in search of a film crew currently working on the television adaptation of novelist Stephen Gallagher’s 1988 novel Oktober.

The car I’m travelling in jolts and bumps over potholes as we pass through what appears to be the middle of a Bavarian pine forest, although we are in fact just outside the M25 in Surrey. The muddy track is grooved and scarred by the passage of many vehicles, and the light drizzle speckles the mud-splattered windshield as we move deeper into the woods. Small white arrows are pinned to jauntily-angled wooden stakes along the way. Some say ‘UNIT’, others ‘OKTOBER’. We are on the right track.

Suddenly the leafy canopy breaks and we emerge into an open area in which an unfeasible number of cars, jeeps and land rovers are parked. Across the makeshift car park is a line of caravans and generators, and, off in the distance, bright lights can be seen shining across a lake.

Leaving the warmth and dryness of the car behind, I trudge across some of the muddiest ground I have ever encountered (the suggestion to ‘wear boots’ was never more appreciated) and head towards the lake, where a small wooden house is surrounded by technicians scurrying to and fro, setting up lights and cameras and generally preparing for the evening’s filming.

Seemingly unperturbed by all this frenzied activity is my host for the shoot, Stephen Gallagher himself. Not only did he write the novel on which the television show is based, but he also wrote the screenplay and is directing. As dusk starts to fall, I manage to grab Steve for some pictures with a soon-to-be-crashed Mercedes before retiring to the warmth of a crew bus to find out how Oktober came about and how it has all been going.

‘It’s been good,’ smiled Steve. ‘It’s been one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had. It’s also been extremely wearying and exhausting and in one or two places quite harrowing as well.’ Steve is being modest. He and his crew are currently on the sixth week of a seven week shoot. The end result will be three, hour long episodes of a dramatic thriller with science fiction undertones, starring Stephen Tompkinson of Ballykissangel and Drop The Dead Donkey fame.

‘We have 42 days altogether,’ confirms Steve, ‘and I’ve got three second unit days with a reduced unit of around six people that’ll take it back to France to do some ski sequences that we just weren’t able to get while we were over there.’

The filming in France seems to have been fraught with problems, not least because the French truck drivers decided to go on strike the week they were due to travel out. Ultimately, however, this turned out to be the least of their problems. ‘We had a week spent in Geneva and [Chamonie] in France where we spent three days on top of the [edwee de midi] near Mont Blank which is 4,000 metres up. A lot of the crew suffered badly from the lack of oxygen and we had people dropping out left right and centre. The unit nurse was loading them onto the cable car and sending them down. At least one guy was hospitalised. I felt like Erik von Stronheim having led them up there. There were only three of us that weren’t affected. Luckily the three were the cameraman, Stephen Tompkinson and myself.

‘It was a frightening time. There was the lack of oxygen … the cable car journey was quite scary to some people … the claustrophobia once we got up there … There was an element of nervousness which communicated itself when the first couple of people fell ill. I mean everyone really hung in there and tried to do the best they could. It was a really tough time. On the second day we took up the mountain everybody we thought was OK from the first day. The first day we lost something like eleven people which meant that my storyboards went out the window and I had to rethink everything. “What can I get on film to tell the story with those people I’ve got left?” On the second day we lost a further eight people. Even the nurse was having to take oxygen by the end of it.’

Oktober is the story of one Jim Harper, who finds himself on the run from a large multinational organisation as his body is host to one of their experiments, and they want him back. Gallagher first started writing the novel in 1983 and it wasn’t published until 1988. Like many authors, Gallagher’s work has variously been optioned for film and television adaptation, but unlike others, Gallagher seems to be hitting projects which actually happen.

The road to getting Oktober on screen was complex and involved, as Gallagher explains. ‘What happened was that about two years ago I was approached by a script editor at the BBC to ask if I had any ideas for series for BBC 2. They wanted an open-ended, long-running series. A sort of contemporary thriller but with a weird edge to it. Although the words “British X-Files” were never used, you could tell that this was what they were really after.

‘Now we back-track a little. Around 1990, a producer called Ian Smith had optioned Oktober, two years after it had been published, and Mike Newell was going to direct it. I had numerous meetings with Mike, I very much enjoyed the contact, but at the end of the day, the funding wasn’t there and we went our separate ways. Ian went on to be production manager on City Of Joy, and I think the last thing he was production manager on was The Fifth Element, for Luc Bessant, while Mike went on to do Four Weddings And A Funeral! As for me, I went back to my little office and carried on writing novels. However, as a result of this, I had some half developed ideas of what I would do with Oktober for the screen. Therefore when BBC-2 asked about ideas for new series, I wrote them a little presentation about Oktober and asked them what they thought.

‘They got quite excited about it and within two weeks, it had shot up through the entire strata of the BBC, and arrived on the desk of Michael Jackson, the controller of BBC-2, who would give me an answer by Thursday. Thursday came and went, and the next Thursday came and went. And a full six months went by with no response or contact whatsoever and there’s nothing more frustrating and annoying than that. Those lower down the ladder were all quite gung-ho to get this in motion, the idea being that we would adapt the book, and then at the end of the story those characters who were left alive would move on into other stories involving corporate misdeeds or whatever. Time passed, and all these people moved onto other projects and the impetus that had been built up was lost. I have not to this day had any response from controller level at the BBC on Oktober. Well … we’ve shot the thing now. I’ll probably get a call next week asking to go in and talk about it.

‘Given that no-one at the BBC had actually paid me anything, and also that I’d got the thing up and running and still had a certain head of steam about it, I decided to take it elsewhere. And the only other game in town is really ITV.

‘It just so happened that Nick Elliot, who was Head of series and serials at the BBC, had just left the Corporation and had joined the ITV network centre. Virtually the last thing he saw as he was leaving the BBC was the last Bugs script that I did for them, and virtually the first thing he saw when he arrived at ITV was a letter from me talking about Oktober. He knew my work and so wrote to me asking if I’d come and talk about it, let them see some material and they’d see what they thought. Initially, I thought that was all going to go nowhere as it all seemed a little luke warm, however, Elliot’s assistant, a lady called Jenny Reece, really championed the project. She read it and bent Nick’s ear about it and eventually, they suggested I try and get a producer involved in order to pay for a script to be developed. I didn’t tell them this, but I would happily have done a script for nothing in order to advance the project further. So I went to Brian Eastman with whom I’d been working on Bugs. I explained to him that I had this thing up and running with ITV but I couldn’t do it on my own, so was he interested in coming on board. He read the material – he’d never read the book as it turned out – and he optioned it on the basis of the outline and knowing what I wanted to do.

‘It was around that time that I basically attached myself to the project more directly. At the BBC, there’d never been any inkling that I’d be directing it, but when I took it across to ITV, I did so on the basis that I would both write and direct it, and waited for someone to challenge that view, but no-one ever did.

‘So I had a script and a producer, but we still weren’t home and dry because ITV started this little dance, saying that they really liked it, but they had seven projects they liked but only three slots in which to place them. It was Brian who suggested coming up with some ideas for casting, as if we could attach some names to it, then we might be able to swing the balance with ITV in our favour. I’d wanted Stephen Tompkinson for the part of Joe Lucas in Rain when that was in development for the BBC but whenever I’d suggested him, everyone looked at Drop The Dead Donkey and thought “Light Entertainment”: how can you cast him in a thriller? It was only when he did Brassed Off and showed that there was a dark side to him as well, that people started to take my suggestion seriously. Steve was the very first actor I suggested for the part of Jim Harper in Oktober, he’s the only one I put forward. He was the first and only actor we showed it to: I had lunch with him and his agent and he came along thinking he was just up for the part and had to pitch for it. We were there just hoping he’d like it. We got on like a house on fire and he really liked the material and we just took it forward from there.

‘Within two weeks of attaching Stephen’s name to the project we received the go-ahead from ITV. They claim that this was coincidence, and that Stephen being attached to the project had nothing to do with their decision, but I have my doubts.’

Over this extended period of development, the basic requirement for the production kept changing, and each time the scripts needed adjusting to take these things into account. ‘One of the difficulties with Oktober was that the brief I kept getting back from the potential producers kept changing,’ explained Gallagher. ‘First it was going to be four, one hour episodes, and then they wanted it to be three hours long in two 90 minute parts. Then it finally settled down as three one hour parts and the structure had to change quite a bit to accommodate all those alterations.

‘The two 90 minute ones were quite exciting because the climaxes from the original story fell in the most natural places. When we went to three one hour episodes they wanted the climax of the first part to fall in the same place as that between the 90 minute episodes, which meant that I had to do a bit of radical restructuring and re-plotting a bit later on. I don’t think I’ve been in any way unfaithful to the original book, although I’ve changed a lot of incident and dialogue, but, let’s face it, it’s several years on from when I did the original book. I don’t feel I need to slavishly do the same thing again. I confident that I’ve taken all the same impulses and have told the story with pictures instead of words.’

Steve Gallagher is primarily a writer, used to telling his stories with words, and creating pictures in his readers’ minds. How has he found the switch from writer to director, especially as Oktober has been his first experience of directing.

‘What I’ve found the hardest is going right in at the deep end. I’m surrounded by people with lots of technical knowledge, but I don’t have the terminology with which to put my ideas over. I’ve been learning new terms, words and approaches from the very start. On Day One I found out what a ‘dirty single’ was. This is the term for an over the shoulder shot where you have a close up of somebody, but someone else’s’ shoulder is just fringing the shot. In the old days, such an image was unthinkable, you just couldn’t do it, but modern camera techniques allow you that flexibility and it’s also considered acceptable. Every day I’m discovering new ideas and techniques, and different ways that I can tell my story on screen. It’s very exiting.

‘Despite my initial problems with communication, every day I start out with a long list of shots that I want to get and I strike them off the list as I do them. I look at the rushes at the end of each day and, one way or another, what I intended to get has been what I actually did get. So somehow the crew are managing to pick my brains as I stumble inarticulately through what I want to achieve and they’re giving me pretty much what I want.

‘In some cases, I’m seeing something in the rushes that’s better than I’d hoped or expected, and in other cases there are things that just didn’t work out. We’re running over anyway, and so I suspect that some scenes will be cut and others will be treated in a different editorial manner. I’ve even been able to go back and re-shoot some material even though we are on an enormously tight schedule.

‘I was told by the first assistant director after the first week of shooting that whatever I do after this, I’ll never do anything as hard as this. I suppose it really has been a case of jumping in at the deep end and has been something of a baptism of fire. Stephen Tompkinson has been wonderful for me in that respect because not only is he an extremely good actor, he’s also technically competent and very generous. When you get those three things together in one actor, you’re smiling. Stephen is right at the centre of the production and his presence on screen really holds the whole thing together. The strength that he brings to the part is of great benefit to me because I don’t have to worry about the central performance, which is very much critical to the overall success of the production.’

With much of the filming complete, how has Gallagher found directing the necessary action sequences, including what is to happen at the cabin today.

‘We started as we meant to go on,’ he laughs. ‘In the first week down at Woolwich we had a 100 foot stunt dive off the top of a building. We then moved down to Broadstairs for the second week and drowned a Volkswagen in the sea, right up to its doors. All our actors, cameramen and even the camera were kitted out in wetsuits and everyone was in the freezing sea up to their armpits. I was pleased with that material as we managed to achieve very good production values and it’s all there on the screen. It all went a bit quiet after that until we were 4000 metres up and everyone was being stretchered down off the mountain suffering from oxygen deprivation. We’ve had a couple of extremely good looking fight scenes that were superbly choreographed and executed. One of them was in a dissection room that we built out in Wembley, and the other was a big set-piece fight which comes just before the finale of episode three, and that was shot in the dog-pen set which we built down in Camden, so those were quite big sequences.’

Outside in the growing dusk, the drizzle has eased off leaving it simply cold and muddy. A tea wagon steams to itself in the background and people make frequent trips to obtain polystyrene beakers of hot liquid, partly to drink, but mostly to warm the hands.

Inside the cabin, preparations are nearing completion for one of the main sequences, in which a car is driven into the cabin, smashing through the wall. Stephen Tompkinson and Maria Lennon playing Jim Harper and his friend Linda disable the driver and then drive off in the car, just before the cabin catches fire.

‘Today is probably the biggest and most complex sequence of the entire shoot,’ explains Stephen. ‘It depends on a combination of a number of skills. We’ve got three cameras rolling on it, we’ve got the stunt driver, we’ve got the riggers who have rigged the house to break away, there are pyrotechnics as well. This is just a gravel area by a lake and the cabin doesn’t exist.’

I look across to where it is standing: large as life. A wooden cabin containing two comfortably furnished rooms and a blazing log fire in the hearth. Certainly it is somewhere warmer than the December night that is drawing in outside. ‘Three days ago we started shooting here, and three days before that, the house wasn’t there,’ insists Stephen. ‘The production designer bought a job lot of old floorboards and built the place from scratch. He apparently based it on a houseboat that he stayed in on a lake in India. Everyone who walked into it on the first day said that it was lovely and that they could live there. Of course you wouldn’t want to live there because it would be cold and damp and filthy, but it really caught people’s hearts at that moment.

‘Because Oktober is all about archetypes and shared nightmares and the things that we all have in common in our subconscious minds, what I’m trying to do is hit as many of those unconscious pedals that are common to us all as possible. The comfort and safety of the cabin was one of these pedals and obviously I hit it with the production designer and everyone else on the unit as well because they all responded in exactly the same way to it.’

At that moment, Stephen is summoned away to supervise the sequence of filming that will culminate with the total destruction of the cabin. I watch as he puts Tompkinson and Lennon through their paces. The car revs up, and drives straight into the side wall of the cabin. Glass appears to break, wood smashes, and everyone rushes to ensure that there are no problems. There are not.

There follow more scenes inside the cabin as our heroes overpower the driver, jump in the car and reverse out of the cabin. As darkness really takes grip, preparations are made to ignite the place. The pyrotechnics are set, and the flames start. Stephen is not happy, though. It doesn’t look right, it isn’t his shot. Suddenly, the cabin itself catches – this was always a possibility – and the fire starts to burn out of control. The cameras keep rolling, Steve smiles broadly. He now has his shot, and the burning cabin is merrily warming the crew clustered around.

Another impressive sequence is in the can for Oktober, what looks like an impressive debut for Gallagher, and a thrilling television production for the spring of 1998 on ITV.


Jim Harper doesn’t know it but he’s a walking experiment. One minute he was a lovelorn teacher at a school in Switzerland, the next he’s escaping from the secret Alpine laboratory of a multi-national pharmaceutical company, with a security division larger than most governments’. They hunt him ruthlessly, for his body contains their secret enzyme which could make illegal millions for the company – and can turn him into a weapon of enormous potential. Fleeing to England, and with no-one to trust but his beautiful companion Linda, Jim has to discover what the Oktober project is and how it can be stopped. If he fails, the prospects for the world are truly terrifying.


Peter Diamond has been working as a stuntman and stunt co-ordinator in film and television for many, many years. He is one of the most experienced and accomplished at his art, and was brought onto Oktober by the first assistant, Roger Symons. ‘I’ve worked with Roger on several other things,’ explained Diamond, ‘and he got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to be the stunt gaffer on this. Luckily, another show that is quite busy for me is Hart Beat, and this was going through a quiet patch, which allowed me to fit Oktober in.

‘I met with Stephen Gallagher, who explained exactly what he wanted and then asked me how we could achieve it – which is what they hired me for. What I try and do is interpret Stephen’s ideas onto film, and it seems to be working very well.’

The stunt today involves driving a car through the wall of a cabin. How does Peter start to plan such an effect. ‘First of all you have to try and analyse the danger and then eradicate it. That’s the important thing about stunt work: we’re all in the make-believe business and you have to try and not get hurt, because if you get hurt, then the business suffers.

The most difficult aspect was that they had already filmed some scenes with the car after the crash was supposed to have happened, and so I had to try and maintain continuity with that. We had to make sure that the car didn’t get damaged and thus mess up your continuity. So the biggest problem I had was not to break the windscreen – which is usually the first thing to go on a car smash – or the headlights. We very carefully placed everything in the cabin in a good position so it would look effective on camera but in fact, would not damage the important parts of the car.

‘You can’t control exactly where everything is going to smash, but from experience – which I hope I have enough of – you can visualise where everything is most likely to go. We had a cable tied to the back of the car to slow it down once the crash happened and the reason for this was that inside the cabin there was a table made of real wood. If that had caught under the tyres, it could have been thrown off line and gone up into the radiator, the engine, anything.

‘We needed to slow the car down to ensure that it was safe. Supposing something had come through the windscreen or the side window and had knocked the driver unconscious. The car would still be running and it could have ploughed on through the cameras and everything. As a stunt co-ordinator you have to try and anticipate anything and everything. People don’t realise the work that goes into it because everything looks simple and effective on screen, but you have to think of everything.

‘The car would have reached only around 20 or 25 miles an hour when it hit the cabin, but it still did quite a lot of damage. Of course they’ll enhance the crash with sound, smashing glass and tyre squealing and so on so it’ll look far more dramatic on screen.’


In charge of the Special Effects team on Oktober is John Rafique, from Elements Specialist Design. The company has only been in existence for a few months, after John and some others set it up after working at other effects houses and wanting to strike out on their own. Shows they’ve been involved with include a children’s television series called Chucklevision – ‘a sort of knockabout show, very cheap and cheerful, with jokey props and slapstick’ – and they also worked on a Christmas television commercial for Boots, the Chemist.

For Oktober, the effects required ranged from relatively simple bullet hits up to a complex prop used to hold a dog. ‘In the storyline these dogs are penned up in cages,’ explained John, ‘and there is one cage where the dog has been fitted with medical drips and other apparatus. They wanted a special cage to keep this dog in where he would be happy and we arranged all the drip-lines so they ran to a special collar. The creation of an effect like this involves a lot of co-ordination between us and the dog handler to make sure that everything was right. For example, the production designer had specified that the floor of the cage should be made from perforated steel, and we had to check that what we wanted to use would be okay for the dog to walk on. We had to make sure of the collar size for the dog, and just about everything else to make sure that there would be no problems come the filming. We then had to prepare the cage a week early so that the dog handler could take it away to their house where the dog is most comfortable and get it used to going in the cage so that by the time we were on set all was well.

‘All these considerations had to be factored into our timescales and this was actually a bit of a problem as the effects requirements expanded, and there was considerably more than we originally planned for. As a result we lost six days from the timescale in producing the cage. We managed it but only because the dog fell ill and couldn’t look at the cage when it was originally planned. That gave us an extra couple of days to get it all finished off.

‘The most challenging effect has probably been the cabin and the car. The designer came to us and said that they wanted to see the car going through the wall of the cabin and the fire coming afterwards. So between us, the designer Julian Fullalove, Stephen Gallagher and Peter Diamond we had to figure out a way of doing this. We generally come up with the ideas and the others then tell us if there are any snags, like blocking camera angles, particular safety considerations and so on.

‘The problem was to stop the car from moving once it had crashed into the cabin and what we used was quite a simple method: weights on the back of the car. We would normally use a large piston but were unable to do so on this shoot because of the area we’re filming in. The piston has a small air hole and it’s the air pressure that lets the piston out at a steady rate, thus slowing the car down and preventing it from running out of control. That method is used because it’s infinitely variable: you can change the size of the air escape hole depending on the weight of the car involved and whatever speed it will be doing. In this environment, however, it’s too dirty to use a piston and so we used plastic bins with sandbags in instead. The car’s exhaust had to be strengthened to withstand the pull of the car, but that’s the only modification that was made.


Actor Stephen Tompkinson is on a bit of a roll at the moment. Perhaps best known for his role as Damian, the investigative reporter in Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s Drop the Dead Donkey and as the priest Peter Clifford in Kieran Prenderville’s Ballykissangel, Tompkinson was chosen for the part of Jim Harper in Oktober by director Stephen Gallagher based on a firm belief that he was right for the part.

‘This has been brilliant,’ enthuses the actor whilst relaxing after another gruelling day in front of the camera. ‘It’s such a departure from anything I’ve done before. Steve Gallagher saw this dark element in me which was fair enough. This is non-stop action this thriller. It’s got chase sequences in it that would put James Bond to shame!

‘This has been a hard shoot. As far as preparation went, I’ve lost a stone and have been keeping myself quite fit. The character is really all there on the page, the writing’s that good. I couldn’t wait to turn the pages of the script when I first saw it. I couldn’t believe I was being offered it, actually. It was great.

‘The appeal of the character came out of the fact that the story is very much like The Thirty-Nine Steps or North by Northwest in that everything happens to an ordinary fellow. How do you cope with it, when you’re dealing with a multinational company who are well capable in their way of just torching you rather than let you tell tales? What do you do? Who do you trust? Friends turn out to be enemies. There’s nowhere to hide.’

As the plot proceeds it becomes apparent that Harper has been given a very special sort of drug, and that certain people will stop at nothing to ensure that he does not live to tell the world about the experiments that have been carried out on him.

‘The idea behind the drug,’ explains Tompkinson, ‘is that were you to think of your loveliest and happiest thoughts and you did this in front of an audience, then they would all experience the same thing. But likewise, if you wanted to release all your darkest demons then they would experience that as well. That’s what “the company” hadn’t thought out. My character can actually put his pain onto anyone and slay them with pure emotion and feeling. It’s a fantastic idea, and there’s nothing else like this being made at the moment in this country. I’m very proud of ITV for actually getting the script to put on. It’s not like the inside of a hospital ward or a police station, or even the rural loveliness of Heartbeat or Ballykissangel. Oktober is completely raw and yet its only three episodes long. I would love it if they showed it on three consecutive nights as the plot rolls along so fast that you really get hooked by it. Steve has a beautiful economy of words and I think that the show could stay in the viewing public’s memory as, for example, Edge Of Darkness, or something like that. It really has that enduring quality. It’s a really immediate story and you care about this person because he is an innocent, and yet suddenly becomes worth 50 billion dollars on legs and it’s easier to kill him than to risk the secrets he carries being made public knowledge.’

Despite appearing in numerous shows since leaving drama school in 1987, including Chancer, Minder, The Manageress and Brassed Off, (in fact Tompkinson is proud that, since 1987, he has only been unemployed for three and a half weeks, when he went to Australia to watch the cricket) Oktober is the first time that he has really achieved ‘star billing’.

‘The other shows are real ensemble pieces, but this is the first time I’ve carried the story,’ he explains. ‘It’s not a pressure, it’s great. It’s what any actor always wants. You train for three years doing all sorts of things. I’ve worked in all manner of supporting roles since 1987 and now suddenly I’m starring. It’s as though I’ve earned my stripes.

‘What’s great is the variety. Variety is what I’ve craved. Actors are an odd breed. You’re never happy when you’re unemployed, but as soon as work comes along you worry about getting typecast. For example, when playing Damian I felt that maybe I was going to be comedic for the rest of my life, but then I won the comedy award for best actor, and then Ballykissangel happened which was poles apart from Damian, and then Brassed Off, and now this. The common link is really the strength of the scripts. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in great scripts.’


Just published is the graphic novel of David Gemmell's groundbreaking fantasy Legend. David J Howe spoke to the perpetrators.

The task of turning David Gemmell's classic book into a graphic novel was the job of the original author along with the combined talents of Stan Nicholls, who provided the words, and Chris Baker - otherwise known as Fangorn - who provided the pictures.

Stan Nicholls is perhaps better known as a journalist, interviewer and reviewer. His book review column can be found in The Dark Side magazine, and recent projects include the novelisation of the Tom and Jerry film, and the autobiography of William Roache who plays Ken Barlow in Coronation Street.

'My involvement with Legend: A Graphic Novel came about because David Gemmell had singlehandedly revitalised my interest in fantasy fiction,' explains Stan. 'I had gone completely off it because I thought it was a very moribund genre. The opportunity to interview Dave came up and I thought I'd better read his books. I was enormously impressed with Legend for its pace, its vitality and particularly for its characterization as good characterization is very rare in fantasy. Dave's books are full of human stuff, stuff you can relate to, almost domestic detail mixed in with all the battle and epic goings on. I then sat down to do an hour-long interview and were still there five hours later. I subsequently read the rest of his books and found them all to be immensely enjoyable.

'Then about two, maybe three years ago, we were talking about graphic novels. In fact we were talking about films. I'd always maintained that Legend, given a huge budget, would make a great movie and that kind of mutated into talking about how we could visualize it, and we decided to do a graphic novel. That's how it began. I wasn't given the job because I was Dave's mate, I had to audition like anybody else and he was good enough to trust me with it. Legend was Dave's first book, it was written under very peculiar, very dramatic circumstances - he thought he was dying of cancer at the time - and then he had a lot of trouble getting it published. Despite this it remains Dave's best selling book, and of course the one for which he feels the most affection. So to hand it to me and say do what you want with it was an act of great faith.

'At no point has Dave ever said "I don't like what you're doing." He's made suggestions but he's never made demands. I've found him very good to work with and very trusting. I think his attitude is, if you own a dog you don't bark yourself.'

Along with the artist, Chris Baker, David Gemmell and Stan Nicholls have formed a company called Waylander Enterprises in order to package more of Gemmell's books as Graphic Novels.

'One of Dave's books is called Waylander,' explains Stan, 'and what we are doing is creating the books to then be sold on to publishers. Legend is Waylander Enterprises' first title, Wolf in Shadow is the second and all being well we want to do not only more of Dave's books but also books by other people: fantasy, science fiction, and perhaps some horror.

'We want to do quality graphic novels. That's what we're hoping for and that's why Legend took a long time to develop. The intention to produce something of quality grew out of the realisation of what an adaptation is. It isn't taking the book, nailing it to a piece of wood and passing it to the artist to paint. What I realised very quickly were, first of all, the nearest medium you can compare a graphic novel to is movies. The script is very similar, the way you look at it is very visual, you use some of the same terminology: jump-cut, fade-to-black and so on. The other slightly deeper realization is that you don't just take a book and turn it into a comic. It's essentially a process of deconstruction and reconstruction, in other words, you have to absorb yourself in the original and read it many, many times, then you attempt to capture the essence and then you retell the story. I think that's how you have to adapt.

'What I produce first of all is a script, just the words, but it's structured like film shooting script. It might say: "Page One, Panel One. Three men ride into a town with guns blazing, people running out of the way..." Sometimes this can be a very long and detailed description, just for the first panel.

'I can't draw a straight line, but I made myself up a dummy book corresponding to the finished product and in that dummy I worked out the flow and where the spreads were. It's very important to remember that you don't look at single pages in isolation, you look at two-page spreads, left and right, so every page of the script will have a reminder of this for the artist at the top. You also try to end a right hand page with a revelation, a close-up, something to get people to turn over and keep reading.

'We gained confidence with the format as we went through. If you look at Legend: A Graphic Novel closely, you'll see that the experimentation with the panel sizes and shapes becomes more radical as the book progresses. We also put a lot of thought into what happens to the colouring as the story unfolds. You'll find that it is more vivid towards the end than at the beginning and that in scenes of despair the colour hues are, as it were, despairing. The book is a synthesis of Chris's vision and my vision and ultimately Dave's vision, because he was the ultimate referee.

'I hope it works. It took us eighteen months to do the actual work, probably two years from the point of conception, but I hope it has all been worth it.'


'I was raised on Marvel and DC Comics and I've always wanted to see a graphic novel of Legend done well. I didn't have the time to break the script down which is where Stan came in. He's a tremendous professional, you can always rely on Stan to do what he says he'll do and he's not a prima donna. You need people you can rely on to give the thing some heart. So having decided on Stan to do the breakdowns, we then had to find a really good artist. Initially, we were looking at some of the biggest guys in the field but they are mostly booked up years ahead, men like John Bolton and Simon Bisley. We then decided to find a new talent and we saw quite a few artists' work until we were introduced to Chris Baker. He came down to see us and produced some pages of art which just knocked us out so we signed Chris there and then.

'The process of producing a graphic novel is very involved. Somebody once said the Devil was the first lawyer and if that's true, it was a publisher who hired him. But when you look at what Random House have put into this project, knowing nothing about graphic novels, I've only got the highest praise for them. Random agreed that it should be printed on the finest quality paper, at one of the best places in Europe and that it would be stitched, not glued. I'm fed up with buying graphic novels that I read twice and a page falls out. The care that the publishers took is evidenced by the fact that they flew Chris out to Milan where it was printed to judge the colour balance.

'Legend is a nice, tight story centering around a fortress under siege and a small group of heroes. There is a lot about valour, bravery, courage and nobility that made it ideal for graphic novel. It also has a central hero, an old man called Druss. Druss the Axeman is absolutely made to be painted. Chris Baker put his heart into this, it's his first graphic novel and the reaction to it has been fabulous.

'My actual involvement was as an arbiter. Chris is a great artist and he's very intense about his work. Stan knew what he felt the script should say and how the story should flow in visual terms. I basically resolved any disputes between them. The biggest problem facing Stan was the size of the novel. There's something like ninety characters in Legend, and Stan decided that we just couldn't have all the sub plots. In that respect, Chris and Stan were both against me because I'd suggest including aspects that had been dropped and they would both say "No".

'As to the future, when we were halfway through this project, Random commissioned a second graphic novel from the three of us. Chris and Stan are currently working on Wolf in Shadow which is another book of mine. Chris has produced about twenty two pages so far and his work is just getting better and better.

'Chris is an astounding artist. We sent the artwork for Legend round to John Bolton and asked him for an honest opinion. "Chris is a real find, a real talent, hang on to him," he told me. "He's done some spectacular work here; I can see some of his influences but the most important thing is that what's coming through is pure Baker, he's got his own individual voice." Coming from John Bolton, that is a great compliment.'


'I got involved through a friend. Dave and Stan were looking for an artist and a friend just mentioned my name to Dave. I had a chat with Dave, sent a couple of samples of artwork - I didn't have any comic work - and it went on from there.

'The funny thing is, I've only ever had two pages of comic work published before, and that was in the second issue of <I>Starburst<D>. After Dave asked me to produce something from Legend to show the publishers, I took a scene from the book and painted some pages, they liked them and I got the job.

'I've been painting professionally since I was at school I suppose, because I was selling stuff even then. I did a little freelancing at college, then I worked for an advertising agency for twelve years doing illustration, design and layout. In the meantime I was still freelancing. I've done a lot of games work for German companies and stuff for Waddingtons, as well as some book jackets.

'The easiest way for me to think of Legend was in terms of a film and to try and tell the story in relatively simple terms. Because Legend is rooted in a kind of reality, you can't be overly fancy with your page layouts. First and foremost you're telling a story about people and the layout and design must reflect that. I would like to be given the opportunity to come up with an original story to tell in comic terms but with Legend you are restricted in how you design a page by the story.

'I did read Dave's book, but Stan's script was the basis for the Graphic Novel. It was a watered down version of the book unfortunately, because there are a lot of scenes that I wished I could have painted. When working on something like this you quickly realise how short 96 pages is and we had problems trying to tell the story visually within that. Traditional comics are sequential art, and with Legend we had to lose some of that aspect. The action runs across the page from the first panel to the last panel and it couldn't be overly sequential because you would be trying to fit too much information into a single panel. I think that was about the only real problem I had with it: cramming the story into 96 pages.

'It must have taken me about nine months to complete the paintings. Some of them just flowed off my pen: things like people sitting at a table - they're always much easier to paint than action scenes. Because with action you really have to start thinking about the figures and the movement.

'Anything really physical I pose for myself, I tend to either use a mirror - I've got one in front of my drawing board - or photographs. There's nothing taken direct from these sources however, things just don't work out that way, I don't look anything like those people! My wife posed for a couple of things, but she doesn't look anything like the finished pictures. Part of the problem I had with Legend was that I didn't originally want to portray it that realistically. I wanted to go for a much more "from the hip" look, where you just drew from the heart but the story didn't come across that way, it wasn't abstract in any way whatsoever.

'One of my heroes is an artist called Alex Nino, and he was very much more expressionistic. You don't really hear a lot about him these days but he was very popular in the early eighties. He was a real master of comic art, of laying out pages, coming up with incredible page designs and this kind of thing, pulling the medium to its limits. That's the way I would really like to do comics.

'Currently I'm working on Wolf in Shadow which is quite different. Instead of swords and axes there's guns and rifles. There's no dramatic swinging of weapons above the head; you find yourself asking how many ways are there of showing someone being shot without getting boring? Or how many ways can you show someone actually shooting a gun? Thankfully it hasn't been a problem.