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Exclusive Interview: Class Stars Greg Austin, Jordan Renzo, and Blair Mowat

You can now re-enter the world of Doctor Who spin-off Class with a new audio story from Big Finish, Secret Diary of a Rhodian Prince, starring Greg Austin as Charlie Smith and Jordan Renzo as Matteusz Andrzejewski.

The DWC caught up with the pair — alongside writer, producer, and composer, Blair Mowat — to discuss the new production, getting back into the role of Sixth Formers, and how writing music compares to scripting dialogue…

The DWC: Blair, obviously you were composer for the Class TV series, and have now written Class: Secret Diary of a Rhodian Prince for Big Finish. What’s the difference between writing a musical composition, which is essentially telling a story by writing, and with a script that has dialogue and various other notes for the actors? What’s the biggest challenge in doing that?

Blair: One of the similarities is that dialogue has an internal rhythm and pace, and if you listen to certain writers like Aaron Sorkin, he will talk about the dialogue and writing being like a piece of music. Where you put the commas, where you put the punctuation, it is musical in the way that people speak. And people don’t always necessarily speak exactly how they would do in real life, but certainly his belief is that good writing is like a piece of music. And I think always remember that when I’m constructing scenes, that they have this internal flow and this internal rhythm. So I think there are similarities between writing music and composing, but what I try to do is actually wear completely separate hats.

So yes, occasionally, I will put in things about ‘music here’ or ‘music there’ in the script, which I’m usually told off for by my script editor. Because most writers wouldn’t do that, but of course I know I’m going to be composing it so I almost put it in there to remind myself. But when I come at it as a composer, I take off my writing hat and I make completely different decisions that I might have done then when I was writing the script.

And once I hear it, what these guys have done with it, and what our director Scott Handcock did with the directing — it changes things. And I originally didn’t envision any music over the diary entries; I thought they should be straight like an audiobook, and then when I heard them I was like ‘no, actually some of these are quite sweeping and cinematic and they need something underneath to support that’. So that journey of being both a writer and a composer, and being the first thing and pretty much the last thing that goes on, it’s really intellectually interesting and something that I really, really enjoy. And I think I would be terrified to hand it over to somebody else to write up the music. I’d love to do that one day, but I don’t know how I’d feel about it.

The DWC: So if you got this production opportunity again to do both roles, could you write the music first? Or at least write the scenes with the music in your head first, and then the dialogue after, if you know what story you want to take the characters on?

Blair: Well, I sort of did do that! There’s a few instances where I knew exactly; I’d be writing something, and I’d think ‘gosh, how are we going to do that in a short space of time? How are we going to segway that?’ — and I just knew that it was going to be that piece of music. And sometimes it would be something that I had already written [as a composition] and it was just a case of adapting a melody. And the opening actually of the whole script relies on music for humour; the music coming in or coming out helps punctuate certain jokes or things that we do. So I think knowing that in advance of what’s possible, especially on our budget which is limited obviously by not having a TV budget, it’s really helpful to know what tools we have at our disposal upfront [that we can use to aid the storytelling].

The DWC: And because for this release you’re writing it, writing the music and also producing it, what additional tasks have you had to do  in building this whole audio together?

Blair: I mean, contracts are really boring! Hahaha. About 50% of a producer’s job is really boring, and oh my gosh…

Greg: Lots of budgeting!

Blair: Yeah, budgeting and contracts are really quite dull, and I’d say that I ended up almost producing it out of necessity, really. Also having that extra layer of control was nice, in knowing how we were going to go about things, how much time we had to do things. Because I had to fit it around all my music writing as well, so a lot of this was written on international flights or moments where I just couldn’t actually be with my keyboard in my studio writing music. And so had I not been producing it, I might have had to write it a lot quicker and maybe it not be as good. So that was really nice. But I produce my own film scores all the time; I’m literally booking musicians, booking recording spaces, scheduling things so that they happen on time, so it’s really no different to doing that, apart from the fact that there’s a lot more contracts.

The DWC: Greg and Jordan, this is a show set in school years, and being at school I think is one of the most unique experiences/mindsets in life, nothing else quite comes close to being a student; how do you try to get yourself back into that mindset? When people develop so much further from the anxieties and the stresses and particularly the agitations and the relationship with authority when you’re in that setting and at that age? Obviously as adults now in professions where everyone’s got respect for each other, but your tolerance for authority and understanding of others’ responsibilities as a sixth former is a lot different. How do you get back into sixth former mindset?

Greg: Well I’m 30 now — I’ve just turned 30 — and it doesn’t feel happy. It’s terrifying, and playing a teenager into your 30s… well, that’s every actor’s dream I suppose. I’ll take it as long as I can do it. It’s such a weird time in everyone’s experience, that transition as seeing the world that’s something under control and that the adults know what they’re doing, and I suppose that’s the first real time where you start testing that theory and realising that ‘oh, hold on, if I’m getting close to being an adult, I’m a young adult now, and I still don’t know what’s going on, maybe no one else does either’. So with respect to authority, that’s when you’re really challenging it. And especially for Charlie, it’s something — he has just had all the authority in the world taken away from him, so it’s particularly interesting for him trying to reestablish his own authority on Earth and understand where he lies in the social order of things. It’s a very interesting thing to try to portray, and as an adult it’s really hard to remember what being a kid’s like. It’s really hard to remember what life was like a year ago, let alone half a lifetime ago now, but that’s the eternal challenge of being an actor. It’s trying to find those emotions and trying to portray them as truthfully as possible. That’s the challenge.

Jordan: I just feel like I’ve never grown up, so it’s not that difficult. If anything, it depends on year by year. Sometimes, you feel like you’ve regressed and you’re like ‘wow, where’s the really wise 23-year-old that I used to be?’ But then life happens, and you’ve gone back to kid mode. It just happens. It’s tough because you’re having conversations with old boys as well and you’re like ‘this is so cool, I’m hanging out with you, old man’. ‘Old man? We’re just buddies hanging out — we’re the same age!’ I only notice it if I do too much sport or something and I start to break down in the elbows and the knees.

Greg: The pain is settling in. I turned too quickly to one side and my neck just froze up.

Blair: It gets worse, boys. It gets worse.

Jordan: You only really know you’re an adult when you adult stuff. It sounds strange, but that’s the truth. You only know when you move house or sort something out, book a flight, something that seems pretty basic now but actually that’s the difference as when you’re a kid you literally can’t and you push it off. Or you make like massive childish lists that you never accomplish. Like every day, I check them off. I guess I never think about it. That rebelling against authority, I feel the same; I guess I don’t feel any different towards — I’ve always felt like I was just moving around. I didn’t have like a traditional way of growing up. Anyway, that’s answering another question.

The DWC: You’ve mentioned previously that these are scenes that we didn’t get to see in the show, or Patrick Ness didn’t have time to fit them in — are there actually moments in this that are picked directly from scenes that didn’t end up televised from Patrick’s ideas/scripts, or is it original content?

Blair: It’s all original content. Well, we obviously reference things that happened in the show, and I certainly rewatched parts of the show just to actually hear their vernacular and the way that they speak to each other. And also to avoid contradictions, I will dip into episodes and I will be like ‘gosh, I really need to rewatch two minutes of that scene’. I have them all on my computer and I can access like episode two, 17 minutes in very quickly within seconds, then watch something and go ‘ah yes, okay, cool, that’s not quite how I remembered it’. So we definitely reference things that happened verbatim in the show, but everything that is in the diary is new content spinning on what’s already happened.

I will say that obviously when I was on set occasionally, when I visited in Cardiff, I had conversations with Patrick Ness and also with the producer Derek Ritchie, and it’s honestly quite hard now to remember exactly how much of what was said was public, how much was private, whether certain things have got in there that might have been from discussions back then. It’s almost impossible to know now, exactly. So yes, quite possibly there will be things that were mentioned that were never fulfilled on screen. I also got early cuts of the episodes, and so I saw deleted scenes that never even ended up on DVDs, which sometimes I actually remember as being in the episodes. And then I go back to the episode, and then it’s ‘oh yeah, they cut that, that wasn’t in it’. And I also have all the scripts from those eight episodes as well, so I can go back and read stuff that Patrick wrote that didn’t end up in the actual edit. And maybe sometimes even wasn’t filmed because of time constraints or other things, because I even have early versions of the scripts. So there’s a whole wealth of material for me be able to draw on, which I’m sure a very avid Class fan would love to have! So it’s fascinating, and yeah, it does help having that.

A big thank you to Greg, Jordan, Blair, and Big Finish!

You can order Class: Secret Diary of a Rhodian Prince from Big Finish now. Only 1000 physical CD pressings will be made, which you can order (alongside a complimentary download version) for just £10.99; or grab a download-only copy for £8.99.

Ida Wood

Exclusive Interview: Class Stars Greg Austin, Jordan Renzo, and Blair Mowat

by Ida Wood time to read: 8 min
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