INTERVIEW | Joseph Lidster

Joseph Lidster has written Here Today, the first episode of Big Finish’s upcoming Rani Takes on the World series. George Hewitt spoke to Joe about his career and about his new story, and this exclusive interview is presented here, in full.

Starting off simple – how did you first get involved with working for the Doctor Who universe?

I did media at university, and I knew I wanted to be creative. I think I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but when I left university, I didn’t have a clue how to get a job in anything related to what I wanted to do. So I bimbled around, moved to Newcastle, worked in telly sales, went out a lot… but I knew about Big Finish. I wasn’t really listening to them, but I knew they existed. I had an idea for a story, which I sent in, and they liked it, and it all spun off from there! But I didn’t know anybody there; I didn’t know anybody in the world of Doctor Who at all.

This was Doctor Who: The Rapture, right?

Yes, it was that one. It was very lucky – they liked it, we worked together, it got made, it was released, and it was pretty much universally hated! It was before the TV series came back, so the fanbase was a lot smaller, a lot older, a lot more… middle-aged males. Very white, with a narrow set of interests. So they didn’t really like a story set in Ibiza that was about drugs and trance music! And it’s about mental health and stuff like that, so it was not really what they wanted. Also, it was my first script, so it was a bit rubbish. It falls apart a bit.

Was The Rapture your first ever professional script?

Yeah. Well, I’d done things at university, but I hadn’t done fringe theatre or anything like that, so it was very much a learning experience. I ended up doing a lot more for Big Finish, then eventually I moved to London and got to know a lot more people there. I was in the pub one night and James Goss, who at the time was producing the Doctor Who websites for the TV series, came over to me. He’d listened to one of my audios and he said he was looking for a writer for the websites for The Christmas Invasion and then Series 2 (then Martha’s MySpace blog for Series 3, because it’s that long ago). That got me known in Cardiff a bit. We wrote these videos for Noel Clarke for Mickey, and it was all script-edited and approved by Russell [T Davies].

Is that how you met Russell?

I don’t think we ever met at that point. James was my producer, so everything went through him. It was more about working with the computer games company. They would say, “here’s an idea for what we can do” for whichever week it was, and I’d look at the script and see what worked with what, whether there was character-based stuff we could do, but I’m not a big computer games person so they would explain things to me, and I would make it accessible for a family audience. It’s not a gaming audience, it’s a family audience, because Doctor Who is huge for families.

At that point, Gary Russell (who’d been my producer at Big Finish), moved on to become a script editor on Torchwood, and he was doing approvals on merchandise, so he got me a job abridging the first three Torchwood novels. That got me to visit the set and everything like that. Then for Series 2 of Torchwood, Russell said he wanted to give a writer who didn’t have experience in television a shot on one of the ‘spare scripts’. They did fifteen scripts for a thirteen-part series, so that if a script fell through, they had something else in place. Gary very kindly suggested me, and that’s when I met Russell. I had a meeting with Russell and Julie [Gardner], where they asked me what I thought of Torchwood Series 1, and so on, and that got me into Torchwood.

What was it like writing your first TV script having only written for audio before?

It’s obviously a huge job. You can’t deny that. I wrote an audio script not so long ago, and the work for me is still the same. I’m still putting the same effort into it. But I suppose with TV there’s so much more attention on it, and you’re working for so many more people. For audio writing, you’re working with a script editor and maybe a producer. You do two or three drafts and it’s done. They might do a rewrite, they might do a polish, they might ask you to do a polish. But it’s relatively straightforward and it tends to be what it started off as. With TV, it’s so much bigger, and you have to go to meetings with heads of departments – which is very exciting but also terrifying. I’d never done this before, and there were people there going, “here’s an artwork of what we think the Pulse is going to look like”, and all these people who have been working while you’ve been writing.

But it is quite a scary jump from audio where you just write it, you don’t even need to see people, the notes can just come on an email – or, these days, on Zoom. But then in TV you’re aware that there are many, many people already working on the words that you are writing, which is very odd.

How was it going to The Sarah Jane Adventures and getting the chance to write for these new characters?

That was really exciting, because my audio stuff had always been more adult-oriented, but that kind of helped because that’s what they wanted on Sarah Jane. They wanted me to do the character-led stories that were pitched slightly higher. It was the great thing about the show – one week you could have a ‘scary’ clown, and then the next week it was homelessness. My first one was Mark of the Beserker, which had Clyde’s dad coming back and they go on the run with a mind-control pendant. Mine were a bit more character-led and a bit less plot-led. The mind-control pendant – there’s no clever plot with it, but it’s all about relationships between parents and children, and children trusting each other, and places you feel safe, and so on. So all three of my episodes had… not ‘simple’ plots, but were more rooted in the journey of the characters rather than an external force coming in.

Having done so much TV work, how did you find it going back to audio?

I had a bit of break when I was writing TV, and then I went back to Big Finish to produce Dark Shadows. But it was quite a while before I wrote anything for them again.

Since Sarah Jane, I’ve been constantly writing kids’ TV. That’s my career, which is very nice and very happy. I’ve been writing children’s TV every year, doing different shows, different genres and stuff. It’s been really, really exciting. And then Big Finish got the Torchwood license and I basically said, “I adore Torchwood, and I will kill to write a Torchwood script. Please let me write Torchwood”. I did quite a few Doctor Who audios, and I find them really hard. Especially the four episodes, it’s an odd format, and it doesn’t really follow a natural structure. I was writing a Doctor Who and I think we called it quits at one point because I just couldn’t do it. But with Torchwood, it’s an hour long, probably a two-hander, which is brilliant because it’s like writing a play. I was given the choice on my first one [One Rule] between Yvonne or two other characters, and I just went, “oh my god, to write for Yvonne Hartman would be amazing”, because at that point she hadn’t been back since the TV series. So it was this one-off chance to have Yvonne Hartman back. It was really exciting.

Did you have to get into a different mindset writing for audio again after writing mainly TV for a few years?

Not really. I don’t have that much struggle – for me, I write audio as if I can see it. I think that’s partly because I write a bit more character-led rather than plot-led. But also, people do say what they can see! People always say, “ooh, isn’t it sunny outside”, and things like that. I find writing very difficult, but the one thing I don’t find difficult particularly is writing audio. I’ve never had a note saying, ‘how will we know this is happening?’.

With TV I was often being pushed to write more, write bigger, because I was writing [like] audio, or TV I saw growing up, where you’ve got three sets and two actors. But now we can actually go on location, we can actually go somewhere. So that was the challenge for me. But there are things I got from TV that I took then into audio. My first Torchwood audio with Yvonne, I would never have written that before doing TV or as a younger writer. It’s got so many locations in it, and so many characters. The brief was ‘Yvonne has a bad night out in Cardiff’, and I said, “well, to have a bad night out, she’s got to go out”. And actually, it’s written more as a TV style of writing than my previous audios.

Compared to the classic Doctor Who ones, Torchwood has younger characters, and you’re writing for characters from a TV show that was ‘modern television’ in a way that the old series of Doctor Who wasn’t. I think that does kind of subconsciously influence your writing style for it. If Torchwood the TV series does ‘Yvonne having a bad night out in Cardiff’, she’s going to go from pub to pub to Chinese buffet to club, the hotel’s going to burn down… if they did that in original Doctor Who, it would be set in one pub, and she’d have trouble with the people inside it. Saying that, my first Doctor Who story was Ibiza and all that lot… but thinking about it, it’s mostly one nightclub, and there’s only about four locations. Maybe that’s because I was subconsciously thinking from a classic series style, rather than a modern Netflix show, for instance, where if they need something set in a cave, they’ll go to a cave rather than trying to double it as something else.

With Rani Takes on the World coming up, this is the second time you’ve launched a spin-off of a spin-off, as you also wrote the first episode of Torchwood One. How do you find taking existing characters and creating a new world for them?

We did it on Dark Shadows as well. We wanted new listeners, so we decided to relaunch it as a thirteen-part murder mystery, Twin Peaks-style. The series is about some people who live in a spooky town in America, basically. The ongoing full-cast stories before that had taken who was alive, and worked things out around them, and brought in some new characters, but that was it. It was the actors who were still alive from the TV series, and they all lived in a big house. When we did Bloodlust, the thirteen-part series, we decided we needed younger characters, and we needed to relaunch it as a soap opera, which is what it had been in the ‘60s when it was on TV. We looked at it and we plotted out a diagram of the town, and what groups lived where, and what the family relationships were… we plotted it out like a soap opera.

I remember somebody who didn’t know Dark Shadows messaging me when it was being released, and saying they felt the murderer was this character Maggie Evans. And I was so thrilled, because Maggie Evans was one of the characters from the TV series who could never be the murderer. It would be like saying, “I think the murderer is Melanie Bush”, it would never be her. But what that meant was that that person couldn’t tell the difference between the legacy characters from the TV series and the new characters we’d created around them. We’d created really strong characters and cast them really well.

For me, that was the challenge with Torchwood One: Before the Fall. For that we had Yvonne, Ianto, and I’d been given the brief for the character Rachel, so I really thought about who else I wanted. I thought, it’s Torchwood, so I wanted a receptionist, because I want someone who doesn’t care about the aliens and isn’t in that world. She’s just a receptionist and she’s having the time of her life. We want the Head of HR, because that’s that kind of Torchwood world. And it’s the same with Rani. We want this to be the launch of a new series. We know Rani and Clyde don’t live in each other’s pockets anymore. You aren’t best friends with the same people aged thirty as aged fifteen. We knew that we were giving Clyde a girlfriend, Phoenix, so I was really keen on giving Rani a new best friend. So she’s got this new best friend, Samira, who she basically lives with, and we talked about making Samira as strong a character as Rani. It can’t be the Rani and Clyde show with Samira and Phoenix feeling like ‘new characters created for audio’. They’ve got to feel like they live in that world, that they were on Bannerman Road, that they existed at that time.

There’s a blog by a man called Danny Horn called Dark Shadows Every Day, and he talks about the introduction of a new character, and how you make a new character likeable. And what he said was in their first scene they should make a joke, be involved story-wise, and be connected to someone existing in the series. That’s made a big impact on me, because quite often you’ll write people meeting each other for the first time, so there’s a series out there where Rani meets Samira in the first episode. I’ve been very influenced by that blog – they’re not bothering to introduce themselves to the audience, they’re just two best friends talking, because Samira is on equal footing to Rani. When you create that world, it then really feels real and follows on from the TV series.

Is there something in there about relying on the intelligence of the audience and trusting listeners to work out what’s been going on without necessarily getting every single bit of background information?

Well, the backstory does get revealed in mine, but later on in the episode. You have to trust the audience. Not everything is going to be in the opening scene. As long as you’re aware that they’re best friends, that’s all you need to know. And then, about halfway through my episode, Phoenix and Samira chat and Phoenix is like, “oh, how did you meet Rani?”. But even then, you could cut that scene and just assume they’re friends. It’s about treating the audience with respect and creating characters that are equal to the originals.

You should be able to listen to Beyond Bannerman Road and if you don’t know The Sarah Jane Adventures, you shouldn’t know that Rani and Clyde are from the TV series, but Phoenix and Samira aren’t. You should think of them as four equals.

With Torchwood One, I can often forget that Tommy was never around on TV.

Tommy’s mine! I love Tommy. He’s Yorkshire, and I grew up in Yorkshire. I wanted someone who was more sweary, and not all clean-living HR. I can sometimes be a little bit un-politcally correct, and I listened to it not so long ago, and I was just like, “oh my god, Tommy’s so bad”! There’s a line between funny and curmudgeonly, but often it’s just, “no, that’s really offensive, Tommy”! But he’s also a decent bloke. Yvonne trusts him completely and loves him because she knows he’s good. Tim Bentinck’s performance is 100% equal to Tracy-Ann Oberman as Yvonne. You don’t think of him as a character created for audio.

I think that isn’t something you always get, because often with Big Finish it’s ‘Doctor Who and his companion land somewhere’, so obviously all the characters are new. These aren’t. These are people who have been friends for a few years.

The synopsis for Here Today is pretty vague – can you give any more details for what your story is about?

It’s character-driven, but it’s an odd story. It’s 100% acknowledging The Sarah Jane Adventures and Sarah Jane as a character, but I’ve written it like the pilot of a new TV series. And you don’t start the pilot of a new TV series as a sequel to a 15-years-old TV series. So it’s acknowledging Sarah Jane, it’s acknowledging Farewell, Sarah Jane, it’s hitting the ground running as a brand-new, exciting adventure. Because of the format of the story, there is time to catch up on things. It’s confirming that this is the new series. The end of it is very much Rani saying, “life on Earth can be an adventure too”, but it’s life on Earth as a thirty-year-old, rather than a fifteen-year-old. So it’s not dealing with GCSEs, it’s dealing with jobs. It’s still dealing with parents, but once you hit thirty the parents sort of become like children – well, that was always the case with Gita!

It’s doing a lot of things, and it’s hopefully doing them quite well. I think it’s going to be a really good series. I’m very lucky – I was desperate to do it, so I was so pleased they asked me, because it was just the happiest time of my life working on Sarah Jane. But Emily [Cook, producer] and Matt [Fitton, script editor] are two brilliant people who are so passionate and caring about the… drama. I was going to say ‘product’, but that’s precisely the wrong word. They don’t see it as a product, they see it as we’re creating audio drama. It’s not just a TV tie-in thing, this is audio drama. What’s the character, what’s the motivation, what’s it about, how can we push these stories further, how can we allow the writer to tell it in their own voices… mine is very much in my own voice. It’s not generic – love it or hate it, it’s me. Emily and Matt are two of my absolute favourites. I’d worked with Matt before, so I knew he was great, but I hadn’t worked with Emily before, and she’s just so on it. She’s really clever but also very supportive. Matt helped me out a lot in the early stages when I was struggling with it a bit. He was also very supportive. And they’ve got Sam Watts back to do the music!

It really is the sequel series to The Sarah Jane Adventures which is such an exciting thing for Big Finish, because often Big Finish is doing ‘The Ongoing Adventures of Somebody’ or ‘The Missing Adventures of Somebody’ or whatever, but this is one of the few times they’re doing something that is explicitly a sequel series.

How easily did the characters come back to you, given that they’re at a very different point in their lives now?

I’m fifteen years older than Clyde and Rani. So they are the age I was when I was writing The Sarah Jane Adventures. For me, that feels like yesterday, and I know that when I wrote it, being fifteen felt like yesterday. I don’t think you change. You might increase your confidence or whatever, but their voices were so easy to write for, because Danny [Anthony, playing Clyde] and Anjli [Mohindra, playing Rani] are both so good and were so good. They were very young when they did it, but they were both so good. Their comic timing was amazing, and it was really a joy to write for them. You really knew what their voices were. It was the same when we came back for this series. I don’t think I rewrote a single line of dialogue for them, because I just knew what Clyde and Rani would say. It was very easy to recapture their voices because they’re great characters and actors.

If you had the opportunity to write anything of your choice for Big Finish, what would you choose?

I would love to do more Rani. Bring back more characters, bring back Rani’s dad, and Clyde’s mum. If anyone from Big Finish is reading this, I would love to do more Rani.

Finally, can you give a brief tease for the episode?

There’s a conversation about a house that will make you cry.

Many thanks to Joe for his time. Rani Takes on the World: Beyond Bannerman Road is set for release on 20th April, and can be pre-ordered now from, along with many of Joe’s other works.


One response to “INTERVIEW | Joseph Lidster”

  1. […] Check out our interview with boxset writer Joseph Lidster here! […]


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