As Big Finish’s Space: 1999 lands for a third box set of audio adventures, we talk to Mark Bonnar about the show and his love of audio.
The latest volume of Big Finish’s Space: 1999 is out today. The audio drama sees Mark Bonnar star as Commander John Koenig, reimagining the drama of the original television show. As well as adapting episodes, it also creates new adventures for the stranded crew of Moonbase Alpha.
Volume 3 features a take on the famously terrifying television episode ‘Dragon’s Domain’. It also provides two new adventures, ‘Skull in the Sky’ and ‘The Godhead Interrogative’.
CultBox joined a roundtable interview with Mark Bonnar to discuss the series and his other audio work.
Mark explains how he got involved with the show. First, he was asked if he could do an American accent, then later submitted an audition at which point his “… inner ten-year-old leapt for joy!”
“So I did it for them, I read the scene, and weeks and weeks went by much to my chagrin, and the next time I was doing an Eleven, with Sylvester McCoy, whoever was directing said ‘Oh, you’ll be getting a call soon about Space: 1999’ and I said ‘aha, I’m presuming that’s good news!’ So yeah, I auditioned for it, is the long and short. But obviously they know me fairly well, over the years, and it was an absolute immense joy. Still is!”
He has memories of watching the show in the 1970s:
“I remember a fair but of it, actually not as much as I thought when I went back to watch some, because obviously I was seven, but from our most recent release, ‘Dragon’s Domain’ gave me one of the worst nightmares I ever had as child. It stuck with me for years, very very vivid, and from what people have said on Twitter, when I tweeted a silly picture of myself with my little toy [Eagle] spacecraft, they said ‘Oh, Dragon’s Domain’, that was the one that always really terrified me. I think it really captured people’s imagination, you know?”
A fantastic idea
Mark considers Space: 1999‘s enduring popularity, and how it continues to attract fans:
“Because it’s a fantastic idea and in fact I read something last week that the Moon is moving away from the Earth at three centimetres a year, so there you go, and I suddenly began to think, because I often think about the Earth that’s left behind… I think it would be good to explore that at Big Finish, because if you remove the Moon from our planet all the tides go, and if the tides go, what happens?”
And whether he would be a calm, collected John Koenig type if thrust into a massive, pressured situation?
“It depends what the situation was, I think! If it’s family emergencies I’m usually okay, I can usually jump in the car and get us to A&E or remove a bee sting from a foot. You go into survival mode. As far as decisions that affected hundreds of lives, I’m not sure… I’d be a damn sight better than [former Health Secretary] Matt Hancock!”
Asked to pitch Space: 1999 in a high-concept Hollywood style for those who’ve never encountered it, Mark provides:
“The Moon is torn from its orbit and plunged into deep space… with some folk on it. It’s going to be terrifying. Join us, on BBC Two!”
Mark also plays the Eleven, a fractured Time Lord who’s faced various Doctors, companions and the UNIT team. He was asked how exhausting that performance is?
“Yeah, he is exhausting. I wasn’t quite aware of it physically until Paul McGann pointed it out – he said, ‘I watch you writhing in the booth and I’m amazed you can get anything to come out of your mouth!’ It’s physically quite taxing, as well as vocally obviously, but I always makes sure I warm up – like a good voice actor should.”
He contrasts his two characters’ personalities, starting with John Koenig:
“He’s very calm under pressure and he’s very considered. He doesn’t lose his temper, hardly at all, but when he does there’s a good reason for it, whereas, you know, The Eleven is the complete opposite really. He’s a law unto himself. So yes, there’s a big difference between the two and you have to keep a lid on it when you’re playing Koenig – sometimes through gritted teeth depending on who your scenes are with. But the writing’s so good, you know, it helps immensely with that.”
But when asked to choose between them he colourfully swerves the question:
“…I love both of them so much for completely different reasons, but there is just no way I could ever choose – I just can’t envisage the circumstances. Unless they cancelled one and then I’d be forced but no, I love them both, dearly. Martin Landau had such a special place in my heart, it was such a privilege to be able to rejuvenate something that he originated in my youth, and The Eleven is just the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a bit of an actor’s workout but to be able to do scenes with yourself is quite extraordinary and to be a baddie – to be a baddie is great fun!”
The medium of audio
Is there another Big Finish series he wants to be involved with? Or a show he’d like to revive on audio?
“Oh, I think I’d be pushing my luck to be honest. I’m already in two as couple of very different big hitters shall we say, parts wise, I think I’d be pushing my luck to be in any more!”
He went on to praise the medium, saying:
“I mean I’d love to, I’d quite happily to do this every day for the rest of my life if I could. This is why they’re so good, the folk at Big Finish, because they have a way of discovering these (shows), because I couldn’t think of anything! The Avengers, Doctor Who, Space: 1999, and they’ve even done Blakes’ 7 – all these things lend themselves so well to the audio medium!”
Mark also considers the differences between acting for audio rather than television:
“Well, it’s a physical thing. You’ve got half an eye or half your brain on the physical side of yourself. You have to play close attention to what your face is doing because you’ve got a camera up close sometimes. So you have to be very, very mindful of your expressions and your physicality and you don’t in audio and that’s a very freeing – I think I’ve said before – a very freeing side of that particular part of the job.”
And what keeps bringing him back:
“I’ve been doing audio since I left drama school, I won the Carlton Hobbs [Bursary Award] in 1996 so I spent six months on the radio rep and I met every famous actor… my first radio was with Joss Ackland! He came into the green room in a purple fedora and a cape, and I was like ‘this is going to be amazing!’ It is, and it’s never stopped being amazing, I love doing audio work because you know that it doesn’t matter – you can take away the visuals, and we’re all very self-conscious sometimes, but it’s a great purporter of truth, you know, you have to hit the truth button, albeit when you’re The Eleven it might be a slightly over-exaggerated truth. He’s like an actor!”
Many thanks Big Finish for organising the interview, and especially to Mark for his time.