Behind the scenes of Doctor WHeasel: The Audio Adventures

It might have escaped most people’s notice, but for the past five months I’ve been cranking out weekly adventures of everyone’s favourite time-travelling weasel.  For 9 (!) years I’ve been cranking out puppet videos, a lot of which have been reviews of one of my all time most beloved shows (Doctor Who).  But of late I’d been finding it hard to balance the time it takes to write, record and produce them, with real life.  Not to mention where once I could freely film in our under-renovation house, now we’ve finished most renovations I can’t really go sticking stuff all over the walls any more.  One day I may go back and film again, one day.

But over Christmas a new/old friend of mine (Elliot) and long time weasel fan kept on nagging me to do more stuff.  To perhaps branch out into new adventures of the Time-Weasel, and if filming was too much work – why not audio adventures.  Oh and hey, I could play them on my weekly radio show.  I wasn’t convinced at first, as I’d rather lost the creative spark thanks to ploughing on with the PhD.  Yet, as I sat over the holiday period suffering my annual Christmas flu (every. bloody. year) the idea continued to tickle my creative gland (cf. Pratchett) and I produced what I thought was a rough cut episode with an unspecified incarnation of the good Doctor, and a new companion Advick Goose.

And stab me vitals, if Elliot didn’t run with it.  The audio is somewhat shonky to say the least as I thought I was using a stereo mic, but hand’t realised Audacity had defaulted to using my webcam’s mic.  It’s not a bad mic for conversations over the net but it leaves a lot to be desired.

Anyway, the weeks went on and I kept cranking out the episodes.  Finding the time can be a challenge some weeks, but having the weekly deadline hanging over my head does rather motivate me.  Clearly my creative muse needs deadlines to function I’ve discovered.  I also invested in a new condensing mic, which has significantly improved the audio quality.  It can’t do anything about the acting quality but just compare later episodes and you’ll find everything’s a lot crisper these days!

From the second story onward I’ve been working on developing the soundscape.  Telling a story in audio only narrative is interesting as you need to cram a lot more exposition into the character’s dialogue, and I can’t just rely on a funny visual gag to move the plot along.  Sound effects and background sounds though can fill in that gap, to keep the story moving and explain what’s going on in the characters’ world(s) without everyone stopping every few minutes for lines like “Look at that line of robots coming slowly down that gravel hill, shooting at people!”

Well, maybe not every time – but it does help.  Stylistically I’ve made a few changes as well as the series has progressed (we’re hitting episode 15 this week – 1 more than Doctor Who cranks out in a good year, or 14 more than they can manage in 2016).  A lot of the earlier episodes have my best ‘Radio 4’ voice introducing them, as though they were part of a more mainline radio station than Radio Wandsworth.  I began to run out of witty things for him to say, so in the most recent couple of stories I dropped the idea.  It was also for reasons of timing – I aim for around a 5-6 minute adventure, but recently that’s expanded a bit to around 8-9 minutes for some episodes.  So, losing the extra introduction gave me back 30 seconds to use on storylines.

I am keeping the narrator though, as sometimes I need scene setting that character voices alone can’t do, but also it allows me to add a slight meta-narrative to the whole thing by commenting on my own (weak) plotting and (half-baked) dialogue.  In this week’s episode though (The Empty Hive pt 1) I’ve dropped him at one point where he’d normally appear, as it made enough sense tonically through sound effects and dialogue not to use him.  Seems to work on listening to it myself, and doubtless my millions** of listeners  will be able to work it out.

Doctor WHeasel’s most recently completed adventure introduced another new concept – guest actors.  I’ve tried using guest voices in the past on my videos, but it’s never really worked that well.  Certainly Mrs Llama has made her feelings on the subject clear “I CAN’T act!” she’s cried on many occasions, batting away the proffered script and microphone with uncharacteristically vehement aggression.  I don’t claim to be able to act myself either (I make daft voices), but thankfully I did manage to find not one, but three willing volunteers among my friends to record lines.  It was fantastic to hear my scripts being brought to life by other people – as they took a very different approach to the characters than I’d anticipated.  In fact one character totally changed inside my head, and ended up being written rather differently in later episodes as a consequence of the actor’s interpretation.  Hopefully, future adventures will have more guest cast too – although the practicalities of getting them to re-record a line that didn’t quite work when I’m editing an adventure on a Saturday morning can be…challenging.

Last week I took one final step into the media tart world, by appearing live on Elliot’s weekly show.  I had fun (although the 8hrs of travelling to get there an back…was a bit knackering).  Hopefully I can do more appearances later this year, although don’t ask me to do the weasel live – there are bits where I have coughing fits doing the voice that are – tastefully – edited out of the finished shows.  I may write a bit more about the creative process in a future post.

For now though, don’t forget you can listen weekly just after 3pm on Wandsworth Radio (via the Interwebs) to the further adventures of Doctor WHeasel and Advick Goose.  And of course via SoundCloud soon after the show.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do putting them together.  And if you don’t…why have you read this far down this blog?

*Don’t ask. I’m working on it, and stressed as hell.

**Elliot said his show got around 4,000 listeners.  I’ve no idea if that’s still true!

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