Exclusive Interview: Writer and Director, Alan Stevens!

You’ll recognise Alan Stevens as the creator and core writer for Magic Bullet Productions, the company responsible for Kaldor City and Faction Paradox, or from his non-fiction books for Telos Publishing, Fall Out: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to The Prisoner, Liberation: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Blake’s 7, and By Your Command: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Battlestar Galactica Volumes 1 & 2.

Pick up the latest volume of fanzine, Vworp Vworp!, however, and you’ll not only find numerous pieces by Stevens but also a wonderful free gift: The Mechanical Planet CD, written and directed by Alan, and starring David Graham (one of the original voices of the Daleks) and Sasha Mitchell (Blake’s 7).

The Doctor Who Companion chatted to Alan about the origins and recording of the audio, the vinyl variant, and his Magic Bullet work…

DWC: Hi Alan! So how did The Mechanical Planet come about? Did the Vworp Vworp! editorial team approach you, or did you bring the idea to the table?

ALAN: Gareth Kavanagh asked me if I’d be interested in writing an audio play based on the TV Century 21 The Daleks comic strip adventure, The Rogue Planet; I said that although I’d happily write a play for them, I didn’t think that story was a particularly good choice for adaptation, as it was very visual and is really more about Robot Agent 2K than the Daleks or the Mechanoids. I suggested instead that we went for The Mechanical Planet, which comes from The Dalek World annual (1965). Gareth then approached Colin Brockhurst and he okayed it. I understand they had someone else in line to write the script originally, but for some reason that fell by the wayside. I think the idea of doing a Dalek audio play had been in their collective heads for some time, certainly before my involvement with Vworp Vworp!

DWC: What was it like adapting a comic strip? Have you done anything like that before? It must be quite a departure from your Kaldor City work.

ALAN: When I was a kid I ripped off the Alan Moore/David Lloyd comic strip, Black Legacy for a school essay. I got an “A”, so thank you guys! Therefore, as a seasoned plagiarist by the age of fifteen, turning The Mechanical Planet into a script for an audio play was pretty easy, especially as most of the hard work had already been done by Terry Nation and David Whitaker. Kaldor City was a much harder task as I also had to think up the plots.

I did go on to subvert the clear lines of the story a bit by showing Earth teetering on the point of a fascist take-over, but aside from current world politics, I’d once again point to Terry Nation, or more specifically, to The Dalek Outer Space Book (1966) with its dangerously sinister Space Security Service, for inspiration; Esra Valdis is basically my take on Sara Kingdom.

DWC: How did David Graham get on-board? And what was it like directing such a Doctor Who legend?

ALAN: Both Gareth and Colin were keen to forge links with the 1965 Century 21 Records release, The Daleks, and as David Graham has appeared as both a narrator and a Dalek voice in that production, it seemed an obvious move to try and get him involved. The production was directed by Alistair Lock and myself. David Graham is a legend, but when directing you can’t let something like that daunt you. We treated Graham as we would any other actor, and that’s what Graham wanted – he wasn’t looking for a lot of bowing and fawning. He just wants to get the job done and for everyone to be satisfied with his performance.

DWC: Readers can find The Mechanical Planet CD free with every copy of Vworp Vworp! Volume 3, but the third cover has a very special addition: Where did the idea for this vinyl release come from?

ALAN: Originally, the play was going to be released on a flexi disc which would have been included with every issue of the magazine; however, when Gareth and Colin heard the finished production, they went cold on the flexi disc idea as the playback quality really wouldn’t have done the production justice. Alistair Lock is like the Rolls Royce of audio design, and so you don’t want to throw that away. Consequently, I suggested releasing it on compact disc and when I told them it was also cheaper than using flexi discs, hearts and minds followed.

This also meant that we could include more material. I had interviewed Sasha Mitchell at the recording studio as a Dalek for a joke, with the intention that it would be written up as an article later and made part of a making-of feature for Vworp Vworp!, but when it was decided to go for the CD release, we thought we’d put that on as well as, quite frankly, it sounded great. Gareth then started agitating for a David Graham interview to also be included. We hadn’t done an interview with David on the day, because he was worn out from playing the Dalek Emperor. Voicing a Dalek require a lot of energy to do properly, because you’re literally having to shout into the microphone. So we released David with the intention of doing a follow-up interview via the telephone.

However, for the interview to be a feature on the CD, we’d need better sound quality. In the end, Fiona Moore and I went down to David’s house and recorded the interview in his bedroom, where the soft furnishings dampened any room acoustic.

It was me who suggested that David should be interviewed by a Mechanoid, although Alistair, having watched some clips of them from The Planet of Decision, wasn’t too keen, as their dialogue appeared very limited. I told him the Mechanoids in the Dalek annuals and the TV Century 21 comics were far more articulate, so Alistair cheered up and when we heard the finished production, everyone was very pleased as, once again, Alistair had done a splendid job.

Then Gareth told me they wanted to do a record release as well. I was dead against it, to be honest, as I though it was going to be a very expensive gimmick. Also, Alistair would now have to do a new sound-mix, not only to split the story into two parts, but also to reduce the bass, as very low frequencies don’t work well on vinyl and can cause the needle to jump.

There was also a lot of shrieking from the duplication company because we were exceeding the recommended length of a 7’’ record, but as the original Century 21 record was around four minutes longer than The Mechanical Planet, I wasn’t convinced by their argument.

DWC: And what about the Japanese cover? That’s a very rare copy of the third cover, shipped completely randomly.

ALAN: That was Colin; he’d seen Phil Stevens’ Japanese Dalek model and decided to base the ultra-rare limited edition record cover on that. Phil then took a series of photos from specifically requested angles of his model, while Andrew Orton created the “Japanese version” of a Mechanoid with CGI. It was Colin who finally put it all together.

The hardest cover to do was the one for the CD as it took months of work. To design and build TV Century 21 style Daleks is easy for me to suggest, but was a massive undertaking for genius model maker, Phil Stevens. Thinking back now, the idea was clearly nuts, especially when you look at the fantastic piece of artwork Tim Keable came up with for that other slightly less ultra-rare record cover. Having said that, I think the CD cover looks phenomenal. It’s like a screen-grab from a multi-million pound Dalek film.

DWC: Beyond the CD and cover for VV, you’ve written some great features too about the Daleks. What can you tell readers about those? Was revisiting the Dalek annuals an enjoyable experience? They’re quite an overlooked section of the Who universe.

ALAN: It wasn’t really a case of me revisiting the Dalek annuals, as I’d never read them before. The articles on the Dalek annuals were a direct off-shoot of my pieces on the TV Century 21 The Daleks comic strips. After reading through those and writing about them, I suddenly became interested in finding out what the Dalek annuals were like. So I put up a request on Facebook for PDFs and Michael Seely kindly sent me the lot.

I read them and thought they were amazing, I spoke to Gareth and Colin and they said “go ahead and write something”.

For kids in the 1960s, the Daleks were more than just what appeared on their TV screens – they were also what happened in the annuals and comics. Indeed, the latter had more impact, because you could reread the stories over and over again, whereas the televised episodes were ephemeral. From reading the Dalek annuals and comic strips, it’s very clear that there was a feedback loop between the programme and the printed page, which is not really surprising as the main authors of both were Terry Nation and Doctor Who story editor, David Whitaker. The two mediums were copacetic.

As for the Daleks themselves, they have a perfectly understandable world view. They see humanoid races, and humans from Earth in particular, as purveyors of chaos, destruction, and treachery. Now, we can point the finger at the Daleks and say “pot – kettle”, however, there is one abiding difference; the Daleks are always loyal to each other and willing to sacrifice themselves for the collective. The civil war on Skaro during The Evil of the Daleks, or the factional split we saw during the 1980s, was all caused through the injection of some form of “human” contaminant into Dalek society.

DWC: In Volume 3, I saw the ad for your audio series, Kaldor City and Faction Paradox – for those readers who might not have picked these up, can you introduce us to the ideas behind them?

ALAN: Kaldor City is a six part CD audio series that is a cross-over between the Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 universes. It takes place in the Kaldor City as mentioned in The Robots of Death and featured in Chris Boucher’s Doctor Who novel Corpse Marker. It stars a whole host of familiar names including Russell Hunter, who returns to play the part of Uvanov, and also David Collings as Poul, David Bailie as Taren Capel, and we have Scott Fredericks recreating his role as the psychostrategist Carnell from the Blake’s 7 episode Weapon, plus there is Kaston Iago, a mysterious character on the run from the Federation and played by Paul Darrow.

A reviewer once called it a cross between Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, The Sweeney, and Monty Python, which I think is a far description, although I’d also add that it was written as a very dark comedy.

The True History of Faction Paradox is another six part CD series, this time from the pen of Lawrence Miles. Again, it’s full of well known names like Julian Glover, Philip Madoc, Isla Blair, with the main villain played by Gabriel Woolf in fine fettle as the Egyptian God Sutekh. Personally, I think this series is the best thing Lawrence ever wrote. Like Kaldor City, there’s plenty of action, plenty of shocks, and plenty of humour. Also both series are sound designed by Alistair Lock, which makes them officially fantastic.

DWC: Away from Vworp Vworp!, what’s next for Magic Bullet?

ALAN: It’s a secret, so you’ll just have to keep checking kaldorcity.com for future updates!

Huge thanks to Alan.

Don’t forget to pick up Volume 3 of Vworp Vworp! for just £9.99 plus postage and packaging now.

  • Christian Cawley

    Super read, great to see Alan expanding on the CD/vinyl duplication situation.

    If anyone is reading this who hasn’t already got their own copy, it really is worth getting hold of before they sell out.