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Interview with Cavan Scott - Part Two

Interview with Cavan Scott - Part Two
by
Jackie Emery and Diane Gies
with additional questions by Jude Constable


In Part One of our interview, Cavan spoke about his childhood influences, his career and about writing Blake's 7 for Big Finish. He has now taken over the reins as producer of Big Finish's Blake's 7 audio range, so the next question we asked was:

Horizon: From writing to producing... two very different jobs – or are they?

Cavan: Yes, they are. The Blake's 7 "journey" has been brilliant for us, me and Mark together. First we got asked to write The Forgotten, and we thought at the time that was it, that would be our chance to do Blake's 7. But our style was very different from what they were doing in Liberator Chronicles, which was quite small then. Our style isn't small, we do broad stroke, bigger stuff. David came back to us after he read the first draft of The Forgotten, and said, "Do you think you could do a story like that for The Liberator Chronicles?" And we said, "Yeah, if you give us three!" and he said, "Go on, then!" And it was brilliant, because it gave us such a big canvas on which to write The Armageddon Storm. It got bigger and bigger, because we could have different worlds in different episodes.

Horizon: Were you asked to bring in Del Grant?

Cavan: It was always part of the brief. The idea of The Armageddon Storm came forward and we said it was a bit like Countdown. And then we said, if we're going to be doing Countdown – or Countdown 2, the Revenge! - why don't we get someone who's got experience with world-changing weapons? And then we all went, "Oooh," at the thought of the chance to work with Tom Chadbon! It was one of those rare moments when I was actually together with Mark. I was visiting him up in Halifax when the emails started flying back and forth with David on a Sunday morning – there are no weekends in Big Finish, it's a 7-day job. Mark came up with the idea of the Armageddon Storm being a weapon and that sparked the whole thing of 'Would you like to bring in Grant?' and we obviously bit David's arm off at that point.

Originally, the plan was for Grant just to come back and do a guest spot in the one story. But then we were in studio recording The Armageddon Storm, and heard him and Paul together... Mark and I were sitting in the Green room having a catch-up, when David came in and said, "I need a new ending to The Armageddon Storm," and we went, "WHAT?" and David said, "Because we want Grant to stay!" So I got out my iPad, Mark and I wrote the scene, I emailed it to the studio manager who printed it out, and it was recorded. From that point on, Grant was a member of the crew – which I'm not sure a lot of people realised. It kind of trickled through.

Horizon: It felt implied, but not definite. David dropped hints at Big Finish Day, but fans were wondering whether we were hoping for too much!

Cavan: We didn't want the dialogue to be: "Will you be a member of the crew?" "Yes, I will be a member of the crew. I am a member of the crew now!" It was more subtle than that.

Horizon: And now The Armageddon Storm has won the 2014 Scribe Award.

Cavan: It's very exciting. The Scribe Awards celebrate the best in tie-in media so it's wonderful for Big Finish's Blake's 7 range to be recognised on the international scene.

After The Armageddon Storm, again we thought that would be it, but then David asked us to write a Tarrant story, and then Blake's Story and then we were asked to do the ultimate one – the final two episodes of the first all cast series. It's actually one story, a two-parter, but we couldn't say that at the time, which is why the two episodes have different titles.

We delivered that, and it was during the recording of Cold Fury that David pulled me aside and asked if I could take over as producer. Mark and I have both produced things before, we've both had experience doing it, but it was such a great honour to be asked to take on Blake's 7. And to know that David felt comfortable with it, to know that he thinks I'm safe hands to take it on, is a massive thing, because David loves Blake's 7 and it was a huge decision for him to step down. I didn't really have to think twice. I said, "Yes, but can I think about it? But I can tell you now that the answer will be yes!"

So we recorded Cold Fury one week and then by the time we recorded Caged the following week, I was discussing with David what I was going to be doing, because my head had just exploded with ideas. A lot of the stuff that Mark and I had been laying down and I'd thought, David will never let us do this, I can do now!

Producing does use different muscles, but there is a creative element to it because of the way I work. I'm not just a producer in the traditional sense of the word. Part of the producer's job is to make sure the production comes in under budget, make sure that we get the actors to the studio on time, make sure they're fed, all those kind of things. But I'm also working with Justin Richards, the script editor, working creatively on the story arcs. Like David was before me, to be honest. David doesn't write for Big Finish, but he has an incredibly creative mind, and he knows what he wants. All I'm doing is carrying on what David started in Blake's 7, following on from what he began.

Horizon: There's a saying that it's the director's role to spend money and the producer's role to stop him spending money. Is that the same with writing and producing? Or do you say, "Well, I'm producing now so I can do what I like?"

Cavan: I can overrule everything, mwah ha ha! But I never thought I was going to be producing my own stories. People will probably look at Liberator Chronicles Volume 9 and think, "Oh look, the first thing he's produced was written by him and his mate!" But it wasn't like that, it was never planned that way.

We initially wrote Defector which is a stand alone story, and thought that was it. But a while later David said, "Actually, do you want to finish the set, and could you write something that will tie into Defector and develop more of the themes?" I think it was because The Armageddon Storm had gone down so well. So we pitched what then became Planetfall and Secrets, which is kind of a two-parter. They're two linked stories, put it that way. At the time we wrote them, I didn't know that I was going be producing them, but then there was that interesting thing of taking it forward while we were working on the actual recordings. You're in the studio and stuff's going on, and you're hearing the actors perform, and it automatically gives you ideas for the future. Mark came in for the recording of Secrets, and I leaned over to him and said, "I've got an idea," because it was sparked by something the actors were saying. But whereas before I would have had to go to David with the idea and ask if he could fit it in, now I know I can fit it in! I'll do it in a couple of years time, and have fun getting there.

It's going to be funny, because with the next lot of Liberator Chronicles, some stories are produced by me and some stories by David, because David works so far ahead. There are stories that are coming out two years after they've been recorded. As it turns out, Liberator Chronicles Volume 10 is completely produced by David.

So being a producer is a bit like playing God. We plan to be weaving stories in and out and I want there to be pay-offs for the people who listen to Big Finish Blake's 7. There aren't going to be enormous story arcs that you need to hear them all, but things like David and Nigel Fairs did with Nyrron, just sort of nipping in and out. We've not really worked out if we've finished telling Nyrron's story yet. There might still be more to come, it's been talked about, but Nyrron is Nigel's baby, and he's doing other stuff at the moment. But that's why we dropped Nyrron into Cold Fury, because it's one universe, you know. Hopefully there are going to be all sorts of Easter Eggs along the way. There's already been some stuff dropped in that will have relevance in a few years' time. That's my plan, anyway! But it's also about putting the characters back in their boxes. After we finish our story, we need to put them back where they were, so that they've had an adventure within the adventure.

One thing about the Big Finish Blake's 7 universe is that there hasn't yet been as much humour as there could be. The Liberator Chronicles are quite intense, you're inside someone's head. Perhaps with the full cast there's the chance to do a bit more comedy, because the actors work so well together and there was humour and witty exchanges in most of the TV episodes. I would never go as far as something like The Trouble with Tribbles, but I do want to see them having fun. Like when the character is up to something and you don't know why they're doing it, or seeing Avon and Vila gambling and having fun in a casino. In Planetfall, Avon starts off playing the tables and he's enjoying himself trying to break it. To Avon, a roulette wheel is a challenge. And a line Avon has is: "You take what pleasure you can in our job," because there is so much darkness in what they do.

When Jon Pertwee was the Doctor, he used to say that he wanted a 'moment of charm', because his Doctor was so horrible at times. He wanted bits of light in it, to bring the character out. And I think in Blake's 7 you need those moments of charm as well. That's when you realise, these are real people. It's not just Vila making a quip, it's the rest of them as well. Jan said she appreciated that Cally has developed a sense of humour and can make quips like the rest of them. I don't think I'd ever commission an out-and-out comedy episode, but also I don't want it every episode to be a matter of life and death. There have to be shades, you know.

The love I've got for Blake's 7 is because it's got a very bleak end that you know is coming. With everything I'm doing, I still know where it's going to end up. There are starting to be lines slipping through that will foreshadow things. The characters don't know how they're going to end up, but we can play with that a bit, give the audience a little bit of a wink. We've got Vila saying how he thinks he's going to die, and obviously it's a very different world when he actually gets it. If he does die, that is – who knows? I still love the theory that he faked it, because that's so Vila! I'd love to revisit that.

Horizon: As producer, you also oversee things like the sound mix, the cover art...

Cavan: Everything. As producer, your role goes from beginning to end of a production. From commissioning the stories with Justin Richards, through to casting, getting the actors in the studio, making decisions on the day – because we sometimes change the script on the day. The actors bring their ideas to it as well, and make suggestions. It also depends on the director you're working with. I listen to every edit, from the first sound edit with just the voices. I listen to the music and the sound effects, and eventually sign it off and say we're good to go. And then the next part of my job is promoting it. So yeah, as a producer you get the entire run from original idea by the author, through to selling it over the table at a convention. That's the good thing about Big Finish. You're hands on throughout the entire process. And I can't stress enough how much everyone works together at Big Finish. It really is a joint production with the writers, the actors, the editors, everyone. Martin Montague, who does the sound mix on Liberator Chronicles, is a huge Blake's 7 fan and he'll pick us up on things we've missed or got wrong. Even if it's gone past the great Peter Anghelides – who is our Orac, and we run everything through him – Martin will come up and say, "I don't think you'll find..." and he'll make suggestions and come up with an alternate take. That's what I love about this company, it's not just a job. As producer, I try never to say, "No, this is the way we're doing it," unless it's getting to the point where someone needs to say, "No, we need to get this done." Everyone listens to each other, and it's all the better for it.

The cover of Scimitar, which is the first episode of the new all cast series, is beautiful. It's got a new Federation ship on it. Grant Kempster – the guy who designs the covers – he kit bashes, he does it in photoshop. He'll take bits of kits and scan them in and build them, and then beat it up. We've got a gif of him building the ship as if it was like a bit of a hoover, a bit of a this and that kind of thing. Hopefully that cover is being approved at the minute, and I want that up soon, because it's exciting to see.

Horizon: The Big Finish writers have different styles for the Liberator Chronicles - you and Mark do epics (or broad strokes, if you prefer!) Simon Guerrier does emotion, Nigel Fairs is dark and James Goss VERY dark. As a producer, do you decide in advance that a particular story should be dark, or big adventure, or emotional etc and then hire the appropriate writer? Or is it the other way round?

Cavan: It’s a bit of both, really. Sometimes a writer will come to you, sometimes you have the story and fit the writer to it. The latter was definitely the case with the new full cast series. Justin and I had stories we wanted to tell and came up with a wish list of writers we wanted for them. Who would do funny? Who would do scary? Who would do emotional? Who would do an all out romp?

Horizon: Will you be writing more episodes?

Cavan: When I became producer, the only stories I'd co-written that hadn't yet been recorded were Planetfall and Secrets. They're finished now. I've not written anything since I became producer, and I'm not going to be writing anything for Blake's 7 for a while. I'm hoping that Mark will, on his own, and hopefully some time in the future Mark and I will write together again for Blake's 7. But at the moment I want to do bigger world stuff, I want to see the bigger picture. But it's the most difficult thing to say, "That's a really good idea, someone else is going to have to write that, dammit!" So ask me again in twelve months time when I've said, "I want to write that story!"

When we were doing the second series full cast, Justin asked me a couple of times if I was going to write one, either with Mark or on my own. And I said I didn't want to write one of those, because I didn't want to be invested in one story in addition to seeing the bigger vision for the series as a whole. I had hoped Mark would write one but he was busy on other projects. I work with the authors, and the stuff that I would probably have ended up writing, I don't impose on them but I do suggest things. Especially about the relationship between Grant and the crew. Grant is one of my babies, because it was Mark and I who brought him back and up to now we were the only ones writing him. But now I have to let other people write Grant, and at first I thought, 'You're writing MY character', as if I owned him! But the other writers have all got the relationship brilliantly, some of them even before they've heard what we did in Planetfall and Secrets – which shows how good the characters are.

We all knew Tom was marvellous anyway, but making him a member of the crew was just too good an opportunity for David to miss. It also shows the way David thinks on his feet – he has to, because he's the backbone of Big Finish and keeps it all going. If he vanished tomorrow, we'd be floundering! And we haven't got Josette Simon in the new all cast series – Dayna's not in it, which is the point of the series really - they're looking for her. But with Grant we've got another person on the Liberator who likes weapons and knows about weapons, and also comes from a different background. In Secrets, he takes them to an arms bazaar – he's a mercenary, he goes to arms bazaars to pick up the latest weapons. And he knows all the other mercenaries around him, he plays poker with them and with some of them he's played more than poker. He brings something else to the crew, because none of the others come from that world. They come from criminal backgrounds, or like Cally, from being a guerilla. Grant's a soldier and he has different reactions to things.

Horizon: Having brought back Del Grant, are there other characters you might be bringing back?

Cavan: Yes.

Horizon: Can you tell us who?

Cavan: No! There are some familiar voices coming back, but I can't say who, otherwise there would be no surprise, would there? I don't want to have a returning voice every other month, it would make the world smaller and I want to make the Blake's 7 world bigger. But at the end of the day, from a fan's point of view, I know that people love to hear returning voices – it's what we all want. From a business point of view and with my producer's head on, those will probably sell very well and obviously I'm looking at a way to do it, but I'm not just bringing people back for the sake of it. There are some characters that I would love to bring back, but I'm not going to talk about them at this point because I actually think it's going to happen. But there's a story that's being recorded soon with an old friend in it. Or maybe an old foe, depending on how you see it!

Horizon: Can you tell us if Hugh Fraser will be returning as the President?

Cavan: I can't mention whether he's coming back, but all will be revealed. Actually, it will probably be revealed when the cover goes up and he's on it!

Horizon: Might we see Travis 1 back again?

Cavan: I'd definitely like to think so. It's a question of making it work...

Horizon: Would you recast a character to bring them back, if the original actor was no longer around?

Cavan: Although recasting is something we talk about a lot, and it's happened before, at the moment I don't want to start recasting because where do you stop? We've recast Zen and Orac with Alistair Lock, but hopefully people don't think, 'Oh, that's Alistair,' I want them to be hearing Zen and Orac. Obviously, it's not the same as Peter Tuddenham, but it's pretty close. Alistair also does a very, very good Avon impression when he has to read in for him in the studio – his Avon is brilliant. But I'm not going to recast Avon!

We try to protect the era we're recreating. I recently worked on a Doctor Who project and we had to change the end of the story, because it was a very modern Doctor Who ending. If you had slotted the story into that particular season it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. It doesn't mean we're not pushing things, and we're hopefully doing stuff that perhaps you wouldn't have seen on TV in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's got to feel like it's from the same era. It's got to feel like a story you can slip between episodes. So the music, the sound effects, the terminology – some writers come into Blake's 7 and write it with modern terminology, which you can't always do. For example, firewalls – they would have had those, but we have to think of a Blake's 7-y way to say 'firewall', because the technology and terminology didn't exist back then. You also have to think about whether something is written on paper or on a plastic thing. In Blake's 7, you've got both. People probably suppose we don't think about those details, but we do, we think about them a lot! And weapons, and the way computers work. Robots are a really good device from a practical point of view, you can treat a voice to sound like a robot so we can have an actor playing a robot as well as their character. But there aren't many robots in Blake's 7. There are some in the Big Finish Blake's 7 world, but we're trying to ensure they're Blake's 7-y robots - robot receptionists and that sort of thing – you're not going to get Data turning up. There's one in Secrets and I can imagine that it would look something like Kamelion in Doctor Who. It would have been not working on set, it would be jerky, there would be a puppeteer underneath it. We are trying to make it authentic – if things are not authentic, we lose what we're trying to do.

Horizon: There were a couple of Star Trek terms in The Magnificent Four that people picked up on.

Cavan: Star Trek has so permeated science fiction and space opera that it has become engrained in one's culture of what a ship is. Like talking about 'the bridge' instead of 'the flight deck'. It's the most obvious thing, but we all do it, even people who know Blake's 7 backwards every now and again will write: 'Get to the bridge!' And then we obviously have to correct it to 'Get to the flight deck!' In The Forgotten we used 'hypo-spray' as a shorthand in our outline, because we all knew what that was. But then it took us ages to work out what Blake's 7 name we were going to call it instead.

Horizon: Is there now a chance we might see The Scorpio Chronicles?

Cavan: I would love to. I am pursuing the idea. I can't say when, or how, or even if it's going to happen, but as producer of Blakes 7 it would be remiss of me not to explore it.

Horizon: What input have you got into Big Finish's Blake's 7 novels?

Cavan: The books are Xanna's world. I had no input into the Lucifer trilogy. With the others, I read the synopsis to make sure they're not going to contradict what we're doing on the audios, and then I read the books at the edit stage. I don't give notes on the stories, but I do give tone notes. I might say that something is a bit too dark, because I know there have been comments on the violence in some of the books. In audio you can get away with violence because it's suggested, but in prose it's more in your face. There's that very thin line between showing the results of violence and being gratuitous. There's a passage in a forthcoming book that I really struggled with, because it describes what actually happens to a body when it gets shot by a Liberator handgun. It's something you never really saw on screen because they just fall over. In fact, being shot with a microwave ray is quite horrendous, and although the description was scientifically correct, haemorrhaging right, left and centre, we had to tone it down because it was too graphic for a Blake's 7 novel. It needed to be there, and it still is, but in a milder form.

Horizon: Apart from Blake's 7 and other Big Finish projects, you've got so many other projects - children, adult, fiction, non fiction.. how do you get your head into all those different compartments?

Cavan: Music! I have certain tracks I play for different things. Because I am a freelance writer, and I write for loads of different things, I have to gear change all the time. I write Skylanders for Puffin, which is based on a computer game for 7 to 9 year olds. And that's a very different world from Blake's 7. Sometimes I try to block the day out and say, I'm going to do two hours of Blake, two hours of this, two hours of that. But quite often I just sit and play a piece of music.

My music for Blake's 7 is the Aliens soundtrack. Not because I think Blake's 7 is like Aliens, but it puts me in the mindset of corridors and space and grime and all that kind of thing. It's also the Wrath of Khan soundtrack, because they're pretty much the same score. I love Aliens, and I can actually see that world would work within the Federation. My ships in Blakes 7 are always a bit grimy, you know. I also play the Geoff Love version of the Blake's 7 theme tune from time to time, if I want to remember being a fan! I introduced Paul Darrow to that the other week and he walked out, shaking his head. For me, that Space Themes album was a massive part of my youth, I loved it and listened to it over and over again. Aliens doesn't make me write Blake's 7, it gets me in the mood for it and helps me get my head round what the tone should be. But what I love about the jazz version of the Blake's 7 theme is that it reminds me that it isn't all doom and gloom, there is humour in there.

For Doctor Who I use the I Am The Doctor theme – da da da, de da da da. And of course the actual theme tune, because it automatically puts me back in that era.

Horizon: What about The Beano?

Cavan: Ha ha, for The Beano I use Madness! Because it just reminds me of being a kid and reading The Beano. Baggy Trousers and the Bash Street Kids are interchangeable for me.

For Judge Dredd I use the soundtrack from the film – the new one, not the Stallone version. There's also the theme tune from the Big Finish Judge Dredd, and the new Tron film. I'm not a big fan of the film, but the Daft Punk sound track is amazing. Actually, Blake has been known to be written to the Tron Daft Punk sound track as well.

For Warhammer 40K there's a music company called Two Steps From Hell that does trailer music. They do an album called Invincible and I use the first two tracks on that. Skylanders is The Incredibles soundtrack, and the Skylanders soundtrack as well.

I don't listen when I write, I listen when I plot. The music doesn't make me go, 'I'm now in Doctor Who mood', or Blake's 7 mood, or whatever, it's just getting the tone of it. And that's how I gear change, because otherwise I haven't got a clue!

Horizon: Do you find yourself dying to write crossovers, like Judge Dredd meets Dennis the Menace?

Cavan: That would be a story and a half, wouldn't it? Judge Dredd and Dennis! People forget that Judge Dredd is a satire of American science fiction. I was talking to Chase Masterson today, trying to explain that Vienna had very much the tone of 2000AD. She'd never heard of 2000AD and we were were explaining what it was. I think 2000AD has had an impact on a lot of the Big Finish writers who grew up reading it. It's that very British, sarky bleakness.

I was telling Chase about Blake's 7 and how it ended. She's from Star Trek, and she couldn't believe what she was hearing! She said, "What? They did what? They all got shot? And you like this? Why do you like it?" And then I realised that I was making all Brits sound really weird! But we like bleak in this country. It was a really interesting conversation about why British science fiction is cynical, and I think it's because as a nation we get a little bit uncomfortable about imperialism. A lot of our science fiction is anti-imperialism, whereas a lot of American science fiction is very imperialistic - 'We're the greatest power!' I think Blake's 7 is fascinating, because it does sum up a lot of British science fiction.

Horizon: Would you like to perform as well?

Cavan: No, I'm rubbish! I'm not an actor in any way. I think in the 15 years I've been with Big Finish, I've had three lines and they've all been overdubbed! Mark's a proper actor. He quite often played people who died, and for a time Mark had died the most in Big Finish. I do perform regularly as people who grunt, and today I did a lot of roaring. I love doing monsters, I love shouting. I'm quite often troopers shouting: "Stop!" But acting isn't something I want to do. We have actors – let them do that bit!

Horizon: Can you tell us about your future plans for Blake's 7?

Cavan: The next all cast series started recording at the end of July. It's not done with all the actors in the same room, you know. It's a scheduling thing, and it can be a nightmare getting them all together, because they have busy lives. That's the trouble with Blake's 7, there are six main characters at a time. We also have to work out budgets for episodes with a set allocation of how many voices each can have, but no writer I know will stick to that. You have characters who only appear in one scene – a computer voice, or a character to bounce off, so you need an extra voice and if you haven't got that person in, we'll have somebody doubling up for another episode. It's a bit like a rep company at that point, a bit all over the place. I feel sorry for the poor sound engineers with their files: "That line's for this episode, and that's for this one, and that's for this..." But it's getting there. I'm really happy with the scripts. The only one left to sign off is by Justin Richards; he is doing the last one and wrapping everything up, so he had to wait for everything else to be written first. I am excited about it this series, and hopefully everyone else will be too.

Once we get the all cast series finished, we'll have Steven Pacey back in the Liberator Chronicles with Paul and with Michael. It's great to hear Tarrant having a go at Vila! But I've made sure that other people step in, mainly Cally and Grant. But Vila gives as good as he gets now, he gets the chance to get one over on Tarrant a couple of times.

I want to do a Liberator Chronicles story from a trooper's point of view, that's something that will definitely happen. It's the kind of thing I'd like to do. It's good to hear our heroes, but like Pol in Logic, it's interesting to have a new character's point of view, and get to see the world through their eyes. I want to see the world through a trooper's eyes – or a trooper's visor! Seeing the world would be interesting through a mutoid's eyes, too.

Horizon: Then you could hire Glynis Barber to play the mutoid!

Cavan: Oh ho, I hadn't thought of that! I'd love to bring in Glynis. We're definitely going to be exploring mutoids. If I was still writing and not producing, that would be one of the stories I'd pitch.

Horizon: Are the releases going to carry on following the same Series 1, Series 2, Series 3 pattern?

Cavan: Yes. You'll probably notice the frequency of Liberator Chronicles releases is slowing down a bit, because we're doing the full cast series. They're selling well, but we have to make sure that we don't flood the market. I don't want to put so much product out there that people won't be able to afford it. And we've got the extras, like the Lucifer audio books. I'd love to see audio books for the other novels as well.

Horizon: And finally, the silly question we always end with: If you could take any Blake's 7 character to a bar, who would it be, and why?

Cavan: That's a really good question. Vila would be good to go for a drink with, because he would make you laugh and you know you're going to be there for the long haul, a bit of a session. The trouble is, he would drink you out of all your money, wouldn't he? But Vila's the obvious one, and I don't want to be that obvious... No, I'd love to go for a drink with Servalan. Because let's face it, it would be a fabulous drink! It would be very dangerous as well, the most dangerous date in the galaxy. Yeah, I'd go for a drink with Servalan and hopefully survive!

Horizon: Thank you very much for your time, and for bringing us more Blake's 7!

Cavan: It's David you need to thank. He started it off, and it's his success that I'm now trading on – it's all David's doing. He did a fantastic job. Just let me know if I start to ruin it, so I can hide...

***



Big Finish's range of Blakes 7 novels, audiobooks, The Liberator Chronicles and the all cast audios are available here: B7 from Big Finish.
Read more from Cavan Scott on his website here: Cavan Scott




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