Talking to the writers behind Big Finish’s ‘The Eighth of March’ for #IWD

By Beth Axford

The 8th of March marked International Women’s Day – a time to celebrate women everywhere and highlight the ongoing movement to achieve equal rights. To celebrate, we’ve teamed up with Big Finish to bring you a look at their new The Eighth of March audio boxset, written exclusively by women and starring our favourite female characters from Doctor Who. We’ve also partnered with The Who Shelf and contributed a post on how women are written in the exciting new set.

Consisting of four standalone stories, The Eighth of March features previous companions River Song, Leela and Ace as well as Big Finish companion Bernice Summerfield. The Paternoster gang and the ladies from UNIT also feature, making it the ultimate celebration of the women of Doctor Who!

Lisa McMullin, writer of Emancipation

How did you become a part of The Eighth of March boxset?
Matt Fitton (script editor) knew I’d been wanting to have a go at a River story and approached me with the idea of pairing her with a classic companion. I immediately loved the idea of River with Leela – they are such contrasting characters – so I pitched a story idea for the two of them and away we went.

What was the process of writing the story like? How were the characters, plots and themes chosen?
I always start with character. The joy (and challenge) of writing for Who characters is that they have already been drawn so brilliantly. So you’ve got River, a wonderfully erudite character and Leela, a thoroughly instinctive character – one woman who uses her head, the other who follows her heart. What if they have to work together? I wanted River to know everything about Leela but for Leela not to trust River as far as she could throw her. It’s a classic ‘odd couple’ set up. And from then you think about what sort of situation might bring them together – what might they have to face that would reveal the things which unite them rather than divide them? And the story then reveals the themes – sacrifice, oppression, emancipation. The idea of religion as oppressor is something which recurs in Who a lot and I’m interested in the way religions (all religions) treat women – and River and Leela can both connect personally to this.


What was your favourite part of the project?
I loved it all – but I did get a bit giddy at the recording. As a writer, to be there whilst these fantastic actors are making your script sound SO much better than you could have hoped, is thrilling. They originated these characters and know them better than anyone and watching them perform was joyous. I was a fan long before I thought I’d be a writer – you can’t imagine how exciting it is to write for Big Finish.

Who is your favourite female character from Doctor Who?
I’m not choosing. There are too many. But River and Leela are right up there.

There are themes of the importance of female relationships in Emancipation – was this something you purposely added in, or was it a natural progression of the characters?
A bit of both. But mostly everything stems from character and situation – for me, anyway, the way the characters respond to the situations reveals the themes. I realised right at the end that one of the main themes is about identity and having the autonomy to define yourself. Both River and Leela are quite unique in that they have both made conscious efforts to forge lives for themselves outside of their connection to The Doctor. For International Women’s Day, that’s a message I’d like to promote – don’t be defined by your relationship to anybody else – you are important in your own right.

 

Sarah Grochala, writer of Narcissus

There are themes regarding self-love, conventional beauty standards and how women are perceived in society throughout Narcissus, why did you feel it was important to portray this in The Eighth of March boxset?
I was interested in a comment that was made in the TV series about how Osgood’s sister was prettier than her. It implied that Osgood was a little insecure about her appearance. This seemed in stark contrast to how the character is presented in other moments as independent, self-sufficient and incredibly sure of herself in terms of her intelligence. I wanted to explore this potential vulnerability in Osgood a little more. When the other members around UNIT can clearly see Osgood’s value regardless of her appearance, it was interesting to me that she should be insecure about this one more superficial aspect of herself. I was also interested in the world of elite dating sites. Online dating is always a little bit like shopping, you’re selling yourself as a product and you’re judging potential partners on a range of personal qualities almost like you would if you were purchasing a car or a piece of furniture. The elite dating sites take this a step further as you have to be validated by the site as a special person in order to join. I was interested in the level of vanity and/or insecurity that the existence of these elite sites point to and how a malign force might take advantage of this.

How did you become a part of The Eighth of March boxset?
I heard that they were looking for women to write for Big Finish so I got in touch. I’ve been a fan of Dr Who since I was a child so it seemed like a great opportunity.

What was the process of writing the story like? How were the characters, plots and themes chosen?
I was given a pretty free rein. I was allocated the UNIT characters, which I was really thrilled about. There were a few basic parameters. The story had to take place eon the 8 March and, obviously, being UNIT it had to be modern day earth. I then suggested a number of plot lines and the Narcissus one was chosen. I then rewatched all the TV UNIT appearances and listened or read all the Big Finish stories so that I got a clear sense of how the characters’ stories were developing. I wrote a couple of drafts of the script and got a few notes from my script editor, which I then incorporated into the piece.


What was your favourite part of the project?
Probably having a chance to be at the recording and hear the whole piece coming together. The cast and the crew were absolutely brilliant and really brought the whole piece to life.

Who is your favourite female character from Doctor Who and why?
As a child it was definitely Romana. It’s difficult to remember exactly why my 7 year old self liked her so much but I suspect it was because she felt more of the Doctor’s equal than other companions had been. In the new series, it’s River Song, for similar reasons.

You can purchase The Eighth of March from Big Finish Productions here.
Read Beth’s review of The Eighth of March on our favourite blog for Doctor Who books – The Who Shelf!

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