1979, London, England, Super8 film format, colour, sound, 75 minutes long.
Ocean in the Sky is the great lost epic fan film. It’s not the earliest documented fan film – that honour goes to Kevin Davies ‘Doctor Hoo’ a three minute animated short from 1977. Before that there’s a rumour of a fan film called ‘Son of Doctor Who’ from the late sixties or early seventies. But Ocean stands out as a milestone for the sheer level of ambition – 75 minutes, as long as a serial or movie feature, and for the ambition of the production, featuring Daleks, monsters, genuine actors, special effects, and as many as fifty people involved in the production. So far as we can determine, it was shown in its entirety, only a single time, in 1979.
The story, what we know of it from personal communication with Marc Sinclair, involved Daleks at a base on Mars, attempting to invade the Earth through a blue portal in space, thus the title ‘Ocean in the Sky.’
A newspaper article posted by Richard Bignell elsewhere refers to multiple ‘blue holes’, and monsters called ‘Ancholi’ and assorted ghouls. Accompanying pictures depict gauze draped ghostly figures attacking or chasing the Doctor. One set of pictures shows the Doctor fleeing a tentacled columnar thing that might have been an Ancholi, or perhaps an Emperor Dalek. The Dalek Mars base was shown, by using, according to Sinclair, “a hospital corridor on a model set.” I’m not sure what that means, but I assume it was a miniature. The ‘stars’ were two Daleks, nicknamed ‘Fred’ and ‘George’. Looking at the available pictures, it’s very hard to say. From what we can see, these Daleks look pretty good. In clips, there is a red one and a black one. In some of the photographs, the black ones silhouette and appearance doesn’t seem right, too narrow around the neck. They look slightly different, as if from different builds. There’s definitely signs of serious wear and tear in some pictures, with collar rings misaligned and the lower skirting along the base of one seems seriously damaged. Who they were, where they came from, we can only guess. Sinclair mentioned that they had a third unit, an Emperor Dalek. If true, it’s possible that this was an third original build, separate from at least one, possibly both. Or it may have been cannibalized or adapted from one of their existing Daleks, perhaps just a bit of ‘dressing up’. As to the ghouls, nothing much stands on them. Steal someone’s gauze curtains, wrap it a round an extra there you go. The Ancholi may have been more ambitious, but we don’t know much about that costume. At the same time that Sinclair obtained at least one of his Daleks, in the early to mid-seventies, he also acquired a Tardis shell. There was apparently a Tardis interior/control room, was constructed by Reg Spillett, costing about three hundred pounds to construct, which shows the scale and ambition of the project.
The Doctor was played by Leo Adams, a local actor with the Manchester Repertory Company, then 69 years of age. He would pass away at the age of 92, having hopefully lived a life as full as it was long. – perhaps fifty people were involved with the production, at various points and in various ways. Adams and Woodley were the only credited cast members known.
The project attracted Mark Ayres, then studying music at Cambridge, for Music. Ayres would ‘go pro’ in the late 1980’s providing musical scoring for serials during the Sylvester McCoy era.
Kevin Davies participated, and seems to have formed a separate second unit/special effects unit who operated on their own, together with David Beasley, Jon Saville and Peter Cox. Davies would go on to direct Shakedown, two episodes of Space Island One, as well as Dalekmania, 30 Years in the Tardis, and numerous Doctor Who themed documentary shorts.
The Grimwade story is an interesting one. Like many of the show’s figures, his career with Doctor Who spans an immense period of time.
His first work on Doctor Who was as a production assistant on Spearhead From Space, with Jon Pertwee. He followed it up with a similar position on The Daemons, also with Pertwee.
From there, he jumped to the Tom Baker Doctor, again, a production assistant and precociously directed the miniature shots for Baker’s first serial, Robot. He was production assistant for Pyramids of Mars, Robots of Death and Horror of Fang Rock, which, if you have to be connected, is a pretty damned good trinity.
In Robots of Death, he achieved a sort of notoriety, when Tom Baker ad libbed ‘Grimwade’s Syndrome’ as the name for a pathological fear of robots.
But he wasn’t just a production assistant. Peter was kind of a jack of all trades. As early as 1969 and 1971, he was getting professional writing credits on productions of Z Cars and Spare the Rod. He was an enthusiastic young man. In the late seventies, he submitted a proposal for a script called Zanedin, which was almost accepted. He took the BBC’s in-house Director’s workshop program.
And he got to know John Nathan Turner, when the two of them were working on All Creatures Great and Small, starring Peter Davison. For Turner, Grimwade was in the sweet spot. Turner wanted to bring new blood into Doctor Who – new writers, new directors, out with the old and in with the new. Sometimes that worked brilliantly, sometimes it was disastrous. But the bottom line, Turner wanted to shake things up. At the same time, Doctor Who was, even then, perhaps especially then, a peculiar thing, not everyone had the hang of it.
With Grimwade, he had a young man who actually had real history of the show, who had worked with Baker and Pertwee on some of their best serials, but was for creative purposes, new blood.
So Grimwade got his first chance to direct: Full Circle, 1980, the first serial in the E-Space trilogy, from Tom Baker’s final season. It’s not bad, it’s a mysterious and moody piece that’s quite well done, though it tends to stand in the shadow of Warrior’s Gate. It’s also known for introducing Adric, as a sort of fish-man evolved to full pseudo-humanity.
That went well enough that he was assigned to direct Logopolis, in 1981, Tom Baker’s final serial. Logopolis was marked by little production crises, the house originally set to be shot in was not available. A police box was in a state of disrepair. Grimwade handled these challenges with aplomb, basically, all that time in the trenches as a production assistant paid off.
In 1982, Grimwade directed Peter Davison’s Kinda, a very unusual story, full of buddhist overtones, with the Doctor and his companions encountering a psychic creature of evil, the Mara, who would possess Tegan. The Mara came back the next year for Snakedance. Personally, didn’t really get into it. But it was both an unusual story and a very well done production.
From there, Grimwade went on to direct Earthshock – and what is there to say about that? Brilliant direction, sterling performances, the surprise return of the Cybermen, it had been seven years since their previous outing with Tom Baker in 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen, and fourteen years since their last story before that, in 1968’s Invasion. It also featured the death of Adric and the extinction of the Dinosaurs. It was a tour de force.
It was also kind of ironic when you think about it. As a Director, Grimwade had helmed Adric and Matthew Waterhouse’s entry into the Doctor Who Universe, in Full Circle, and then ushered him out in Earthshock.
While all this was going on, his script Zanedin was working its way through the bowels of the system, finally being produced as Time-Flight, a somewhat muddled story of a Concorde supersonic passenger jet being kidnapped into the Jurassic by a mysterious alien force which turns out to be the Master.
Okay, I’ve been waiting to say this for years – But if you’re going to throw a story into the Mesozoic era, there’d better be some fracking dinosaurs! Jurassic, people, Jurassic! I’m not fussy, I don’t need T-Rex. Stick a few sauropods, an iguanadon, a pterodactyl, have a stegosaur lumber through the frame. Throw us a bone! And if you’re not going to throw in some dinos… Don’t go their. Set it in the precambrian, or the ‘earth was a lifeless desert’ or the ‘marshes and slime molds’ era. But don’t go Jurassic, and then screw us out of dinosaurs. Really!
Time-Flight was initially quite well received, but it hasn’t actually stood the test of time very well. There’s some interesting things going on, the fact that the crew and passengers of the Concorde, trapped in a Jurassic world, are mesmerized into believing they’re at Heathrow, that’s odd and creepy. But there are too many negatives. The script has clearly been in the oven far too long, its been polished too much, too many revisions and alterations, it’s gotten mushy. It also suffers from ‘end of season-itis’ – when the budget is mostly blown and everything has to be done cheap and fast.
For me (…. must…. not… rant… about … dinosaurs… again!), the big problem with Time-Flight is ‘Didn’t we just watch this?” Think about it: Mysterious alien enemy which turns out to be a familiar old foe, a mysterious time warp, a detour to the Mesozoic – it feels like the same key elements. It’s like the way McCoy followed Remembrance of the Daleks with Silver Nemesis.
Davison’s first year had been a good year for Grimwade. Of the seven serials of that season, Grimwade had accounted for three – two directed, one written. Maybe too good a year. This was the John Nathan Turner era, and Turner was… Well, a personality. The Baker years had come to be overshadowed by Tom Baker’s ego. The Turner era would see three different Doctors, but the real dominant personality, the real ego of the series, was Turner – brash, domineering, arrogant, indifferent, Doctor Who was his baby. A lot of the desire to throw out so much of the old was to eliminate rivals, to make the show his and his alone. Basically, Turner didn’t really have room for anyone but Turner. So being too successful, too dynamic, too forceful or regarded as a creative force in the show… Well, jealousy started up.
For the next season, 1983, Grimwade had a second script accepted: Mawydryn Undead, a complex time travel story, featuring the return of the Brigadier, the introduction of Turlough, and a strange and tragic group of lost dutchmen.
Grimwade was also slated to direct the final serial of the year, The Return, to feature the return of the Daleks. Unfortunately, labour troubles intervened. The Return was cancelled, literally two days before shooting was to start. Everyone was out of a job.
To console people, Grimwood took the cast and crew out for lunch. Turner wasn’t invited. The intent, we’re told, is that Grimwade had intended to have Turner out for a private supper. That doesn’t seem implausible. But Turner took it as a deliberate insult, and that was that.
The Return eventually made it onto the third year roster, as Resurrection of the Daleks, directed by someone else.
Eric Saward, the Story Editor, whose relationship with Turner was also deteriorating steadily, tried to bring him back as writer for Planet of Fire, Davison’s second last serial in 1984. Planet of Fire, ironically, saw the departure of Mark Strickson, and his character, Turlough. As with Waterhouse, Grimwade had ushered him in, and ushered him out.
Planet of Fire turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Changing circumstances ensured constant rewrites and very little support. The production was being shot on Lanzerotte in the Canary Islands, but Grimwade was specifically excluded from the junket by Turner. Instead, he was asked to do a location script for a location he wasn’t allowed to visit. Eventually, Grimwade just let Saward rewrite it as he wished.
That was about it. Grimwade submitted one more story, the League of Tancred, which was kicked around for a while, but eventually rejected. But his career and association with Doctor Who was largely over. He wrote novelizations of his three scripts, something Turner had no control over in 1985, but he was largely absent from television, either as a writer or director after 1984.
Peter Grimwade spent most of the rest of his career directing industrial films, which, I suppose pays the bills. But it’s hard to think of it as a preferred career choice. He died of Leukemia at the age of 47 in 1990.
So what did it come down to? Directed four serials with Tom Baker and Peter Davison, wrote three scripts for Peter Davison, wrote three novels based on those scripts, worked production on six of Pertwee’s and Baker’s best serials, and had one unmade script, that’s not a bad career, all things considered. I’m willing to give him a big pass on Time-Flight, it’s a first script, and a lot of what goes wrong doesn’t really fall on his lap. But you have to wonder, he showed a lot of talent as a director and writer, handling very difficult material adeptly, if not for Turner’s ego… What might he have done, what could he have written or directed or contributed to the later floundering seasons of the classic series. But that career was over.
In 1986, Peter Grimwade, revenge came in the form of “The Come-Uppance of Captain Katt.”
Okay – Captain Katt is an incredibly popular space opera on a private television station. The Actor who plays Captain Katt is a beloved celebrity, wildly popular with kids, perpetually in demand for things like supermarket openings, and a gigantic dickhead. Also, someone is trying to kill him. The half hour story switches back and forth between the show and the production of the show, as we find out that just about everyone wants him dead.
“The Come-Uppance of Captain Katt” was written and directed by Peter Grimwade as part of ITV (a rival British network)’s ‘Dramarama’ youth program. Dramarama seems to have been a half hour children’s anthology series – each episode was a stand alone story. “Captain Katt” was the lead episode of series four.
Basically, what Grimwade did was take all his experiences working on Doctor Who, his observations, frustrations, everything, and pour it into ‘Captain Katt’ as a sort of Anti-Valentine. He was pretty honest about it too. If anyone asked him, he’d be quite upfront in admitting he drew on his experiences with Doctor Who.
Is it nasty? Well, there was a limit to how vicious you could be, or how polished. This was a low budget youth oriented one-off program after all, and half an our really doesn’t allow you to develop the characters of a large cast, or really explore the complex premise he sets out. But if you allow for the limitations, it’s definitely got an edge.
There’s no laugh track, instead, you either get the gags or you don’t. Shot as a drama, I think some of the comedy beats are off. Alfred Marks who plays Captain Katt and his alter ego is a human train wreck, utterly self absorbed, insecure, bullying, greedy and grasping, he’s a figure of titanic ego, a man lost in his own imaginary glory. He’s clearly a reflection of Tom Baker in his final year as well as John Nathan Turner. His opposite number is his savage alien companion, Mugwump, played by Ros Simmons, a stand in for hapless companions from K9 to Adric. Watching it, we can’t help but wonder about the rest of the cast and crew, who they represent, what incidents and moments from Doctor Who have been borrowed. It would be great to see an annotated version. It’s a lot of fun.
So check it out….
Story: The Tenant and Smith Doctors end up materializing in at an empty school to solve a mystery and learn a thing or two about life…
Review: This is simply exquisite. Very well acted, great chemistry, well shot, well edited, the writing is terrific, and it captures both the humour and the sweetness that is at the heart of Doctor Who. It is an honest pleasure.
That’s really all the review you need.
Go watch it.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE CONSTANTINESCU BOYS….
WATCH IT HERE
STORY: The Seventh Doctor and Ace are attending a breakfast at an old friends place. The Doctor reminisces about how, the last time he was here, in the 1970’s, things got quite sticky. As he flashes back, we see the Third Doctor, riding Bessie to his next adventure….
REVIEW: All right – I’m going to review this one out of order. Gene Genius is a product of a group or collective that goes by the name ‘The Projection Room’ – they seem to have formed around 1994, the same time as Timebase Productions, probably for the same underlying reasons, and their output is comparable in volume, if not necessarily quality. I assume they started for the same reason – the aborted revival and implosion of 1993. The key person seems to be Chris Hoyle, but really, it’s a collective effort.
Gene Genius is one of their later era productions. Really, I suppose I should be watching and reviewing their stuff in order. Why am I jumping the queu? A couple of reasons. First, it seems to be out of continuity with most of Hoyle’s work – you don’t miss anything by not having watched the previous adventures. It’s a safe stand-alone.
Mostly though, it’s because Sylvester McCoy plays the Doctor and Sophie Aldred reprises Ace in it. That’s right: The real actors are playing their characters in a fan film. WTF?
Aldred and McCoy are basically there for a framing sequence. They’re visiting for breakfast at some friends, and McCoy starts to reminisce about some adventure they had the last time they were there, back in the 1970’s. Cue flashback. At the end of the serial, the story returns to them, and they’re back again, to join the action and help wrap things up.
In the main body of the story, doing most of the heavy lifting, we have John Field playing Jon Pertwee, playing the Third Doctor. I had no idea who John Field was, but I googled he was known for dressing up as the Third Doctor, for the Doctor Who Experience in Llangollen.
I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up. It turns out that the Doctor Who Experience in Llangollen was one of the largest exhibition of original props from the series, covering 6000 square feet. Open year round from 1995 to 2003, it averaged about 50,000.00 visitors a year.
So I imagine that John Field was dressing up as the Doctor because at least part of his work was as a host for the Exhibition. It was an actual paying gig – so he has some credit as a semi-professional Third Doctor. John’s connection to the Experience might explain some of the props seen in Gene Genius. By all accounts, he seems to be a charming fellow, nice guy and longtime fan……………..
Between 1995 and 1992, Timebase Productions, a fan collective in Eastern England, produced five Doctor Who adventure serials, across twelve episodes. The equivalent of a full season. The serials featured the Rupert Booth Doctor, and constitute a body of work of singular quality, almost indistinguisable from the classic series. The next few reviews will cover these serials.
The Story: An Extradimensional Entity has invaded the Tardis. Forced to make a forced landing on Earth and flee his vehicle, the Doctor ended up in a mental institution. Meanwhile, the entity has been making plans to take over the world. The story starts…. Now!
Review: Regenesis comes out in 1994. Why 1994? Is there something special about that year?
Because I think it followed on the final failure of Doctor Who. Here’s how it worked. The show was cancelled in 1989. Definitely cancelled. Only the BBC wouldn’t say that. They’d gone through such a gauntlet of fire back in 1985-86 over the last attempted cancellation, that they were gun shy. So they just refused to admit they’d cancelled. They’d get evasive. “The show’s not cancelled, it’s just having a little lie down, that’s all.” “Cancelled? No, it’s just taken a trip out to a farm where it can play with other cats and dogs and telly shows for a while, maybe it will come back.” “Cancelled? What? No of course not… Hey, would you look at that? I think the Space Shuttle just exploded!”
That sort of worked for a while. For the next few years, Doctor Who was off the air, but in some fuzzy nebulous half-life existence, where it might return any day now, there might be a big budget movie, an independent production company was going to buy the rights, anything could happen.
But 1993 was the 30th Anniversary. If the series was going to be revived, this was going to be it. There was a lot of anticipation. Everyone was excited, there was a palpable sense that the show was returning. There was talk, there were celebrations, nostalgia, there was all sorts of anticipation. There was going to be a major revival – the Dark Dimensions, a full length project which would unite all five surviving Doctors, including Tom Baker. And from there… Who knows? This was going to be it!
Then it fizzled. We got something out of it, the thirteen minute long ‘Dimensions in Time’ special for Children in Need, John Pertwee’s two radio plays, a documentary ‘Thirty Years in the Tardis.’ But the big, eagerly awaited epic – ‘Dark Dimensions’ had fallen apart, and despite amazing ratings for ‘Dimensions in Time,’ there wasn’t going to be a new series. 1993 was the big moment, and …. nothing. It’s hard to carry the torch after that.
So really, in the year following, I can sort of see enthusiastic groups of fans going ‘well this sucks, we’re going to make our own.’ Or maybe they caught the bug, back in 1993, when it seemed like it was going to go big, and in failing to materialize… that was like a permission to do it yourself.
I think a lot of fans came to that point in one way or another, during this peculiar era of uncertainty and disappointment. You had Reeltime Productions, the BBV, the Audio Visuals who became Big Finish, fan made audio series… You had Timebase Productions.
Based in eastern England, Timebase Productions was a uniquely talented, uniquely dedicated group of fans. Led by Rupert Booth and David Ferry, the egalitarian crew consisted of perhaps a dozen people Philip Robinson, Ian Johnson, Lisa Gledhill, Graeme Nattress, Neil Johnson, Deborah Reilley, Christine Potter, Steven Palace and a few others, sharing a multitude of acting and production roles, who collectively between 1994 and 2002, produced a staggering twelve, half hour episodes, divided up into five serials, plus an infamous ‘lost’ serial. This is literally equivalent to an entire season of Doctor Who.
It felt exactly like Doctor Who. In terms of quality of production, performance, writing, you name it, it was on a par with the classic series. They did an amazing job replicating the look, the style of the original series. Whatever intangible quality made Doctor Who, they had it. You could literally slip it in there, and it would fit. It would fit perfectly.
So, Regenesis… Am I ever going to get to the actual review? Well, sure, just bear with me.
When I watch Regenesis, I’m struck by two things. One is the fidelity to the show, this feels so much like BBC Classic Doctor Who it’s surreal. The other is, my gosh, one good decision after another. These guys almost never put a foot wrong – the whole serial, their whole oevre is all about things that seem cunning and well thought out, there’s nothing sloppy or casual.
So bear with me, I’m going to talk about a few of those really sharp decisions that get made and what they add up to:
Format – Regenesis is a two part serial, with a strict 25 minutes per part. That’s the first thing it has going for it – it’s structured just like the classic series. This is something that gets overlooked a lot. But how you structure a story really defines who it feels and flows. That’s why a lot of Hollywood movies feel so uniform – standard three act story structure. The old pulps had a headlong energy – why, short chapters and cliff hangers and plot twists at the end of every chapter. Doctor Who? Serial format – 25 minute episodes, plot twists, cliff hangers, etc.
It’s not just the mechanics of the structure either. As an audience, we get used to it, we incorporate it into our appreciation and expectations. Growing up, we’ve unconsciously imbibed a set of rules and expectations in terms of how long things are the pacing that happens in them – we know and expect the 24 minute television half hour, the 55 minute television hour, the 90 to 120 minute movie length. The thing is, if we watch something that doesn’t fit those formats… Something odd, a 15 or 18 minute short, or a 70 or 75 minute piece… it doesn’t feel right, it’s both too long and too short, the pacing is wrong, the ‘beats’ of the arc happen in the wrong places.
Believe me, it’s real, try it out sometime. But a lot of fan film makers miss that. But the point is, that if you are disciplined enough to work in those formats – if you’re doing your Doctor Who as a serial consisting of 25 minute episodes… that feels right, it feels natural, it feels like authentic Doctor Who, because for the classic series, we’ve incorporated that 25 minute time unit into our basic appreciation or expectations.
Doctor Who did a few two part serials – Hartnell’s ‘Edge of Destruction’, Baker’s ‘Sontaran Experiment’, Davison’s ‘King’s Demons’ and ‘Black Orchid.’ The modern Sarah Jane Adventures were all two part serials. It’s really quite remarkable how much Regenesis and Timebase’s other two-parters really have the feel, the rhythm of these episodes down. A big part is that working in that 25 minute serial, format forces them to use the same kind of pacing and structure, and also because to us as an audience, it feels authentic to Doctor Who.
By the way, I’m sure they worked this out themselves, way back then, because every single episode fits this model.
Opening – We start with a subversive cold open – in media res. There’s no origin story here, no regeneration, no Tardis. We don’t start at the beginning of the story, but rather, the middle.
The beginning of the story is that the Doctor is futzing around in his Tardis, an alien interdimensional entity invades. He has to land on Earth. Then, while looking for help, he ends up in a mental institution…. That’s linear story telling for you. It’s okay. It’s obvious. It’s just there’s other ways to do that.
So instead, what they do is they start off in the mental institution. They start half way through the story. That’s interesting – provocative. How does he end up there, what happened? That’s what we’re asking. From that point on, the story is moving in two directions at once – backwards, explaining what happened, and forwards showing how it gets sorted out. That’s some nice sleight of hand.
The other counterintuitive thing they do is say, with a voice of considerable authority – this is all Tosh! There’s no Gallifrey, there’s no Tardis, no Time Lords, nothing. It both asserts and refutes the familiar Doctor Who universe simultaneously, that creates a dramatic tension that intrigues: ‘What’s going on here?’
That’s where we first see Rupert Booth’s character – clearly a mental patient, pleasantly going along with the ride. No scarf, no attitude.
Then there’s the casting of an older, professorial man in these opening scenes is brilliant. A lot of fan films, the cast is unfortunately young. Sometimes it’s like pre-teen world. That sort of thing, the narrow and often young age range makes it very hard often-times to take it seriously.
So here, right at the start, they’re bringing out an older actor who, by his presence, gives a lot of gravity and credibility to the scene. It makes it feel professional, it sets the tone right at the start, and we won’t really notice that every other character from that point on is twentysomething. That counts. I’ve written previously about how hard it can be to recover, if your first step is a wrong one. But the converse is true, if your first move is brilliant, then really, it sets the tone, it makes it easier to ignore weaker spots, further on.
Now, imagine if the psychologist had been too young to shave…
This is virtuoso storytelling, done by smart people who know what they’re doing, who know how to create tension, to set a tone.
The Great Escape – The next set piece shows Rupert Booth’s character escaping from the mental institution, barefoot in institution drabs no less! He does this by ingeniously collecting a whole bunch of odds and ends, just meaningless bric a brac, and then cunningly using it to subvert the insitution’s security systems. There’s a fascinating, rube goldberg ingeniousness to it.
And not a word of dialogue! It’s all silent, and it lays out the character beautifully. Whoever this guy is, he’s crazy smart. But more than that, he’s a cunning improviser, a planner, he’s clever and adaptable. He stays out of the way, there’s no confrontations, no fights, he’s nonviolent. Without a word of dialogue, we learn a lot about who this guy is, who seems to know all about Gallifrey. When, later on, he finally tells someone he’s the Doctor… we buy it, because he’s shown us the qualities of the Doctor.
See what I mean? These are smart people, and they’re making very smart, very well thought out decisions. They know how to work visual elements as well as dialogue, and they know how to make a story work.
The Companion – Every Doctor needs a companion. At the very least, the Doctor needs someone to ask questions and to explain things to, so he doesn’t look like an idiot talking to himself all the time. The Doctor needs someone to care about, to look out for. He also needs someone to look out for, and someone to do things that he can’t or won’t.
This time around, it’s Leslie, played by Christine Potter. She gets involved when an escaped mental patient stops her car, and somehow, talks her into not only giving him a ride, but getting his clothes for him from a railway station.
Okay, this could have gone so horribly wrong – it could have become just a ridiculously implausible cipher of a character. Personally, if an escaped mental patient steps in front of my car, I’m hitting the gas pedal, I’m sorry, that’s just how I am.
But Leslie sells it – despite this, she comes across as a believable, even an engaging character. We buy that she’s someone that would help the Doctor out, out of fundamental decency, and out of enjoyment because this man in her car who needs her help to get his clothes is a small adventure and she’s entertained, and also someone that the Doctor would develop a fondness for.
The thing with Leslie is that she’s smart, and sweet and has no real sense of her own mortality or vulnerability. She’s glib, she’s got a sort of hipster detachment that she uses to protect herself. Basically, she’s gone through life, and she’s never encountered a situation that she couldn’t get out of with a friendly smile and a smart remark. She’s a person, whose automatic default is not ‘that’s dangerous’ but ‘that’s interesting.’ And in some ways, when she is in a dangerous situation, there’s some part of her that doesn’t quite believe it. Leslie is pitch perfect – here’s an ordinary girl, a complete smart ass, glib and sarcastic – and in short order she meets a man who turns out to be an alien, plus a genuine alien monster – when she’s not actually in danger, you can tell she’s tickled pink by the whole thing.
The Doctor is interesting, he’s entertaining, and that’s why she goes out of her way for him, why she trusts him. That’s why we believe it. So we get a very deftly drawn, very likeable, very pretty character. One who can rescue a stranger who turns out to be the Doctor, or listen patiently and sympathetically while a villain rambles on about a dog he had as a child, or toss off a funny and cutting remark without being hurtful.
I kind of get the impression at points, that as an actress, Potter, may have been somewhat limited. Not a professional. But that’s okay. A good actor is versatile and can work within any character in any script. But if you can’t have that, then the best bet is to recognize what the actor can do, and write for that. They’ve done that here.
She’s not the best companion ever, she doesn’t have physical and verbal chemistry, the back and forth of a really great companion, as with Randy Rogel’s carl in the Benedetti stories, or with Sarah Jane or Romana or Donna from the old or new series. But she’s engaging.
The Monster – Years ago I played a lizard man for a short film. It was hot, stuffy, the mask allowed visibility only through a couple of small pinholes, so I was literally blind. You don’t move much, and you don’t move fast when you’re in a suit like that. Too easy to fall over, or trip, and when you’re grabbing, you can’t really see what you’re attacking. So mostly, you get all looming and lumbering. That’s why so many old movie monsters moved so slowly and carefully – the costumes are difficult to move in, and difficult to see in, and just difficult to wear. So the script of ‘It: Terror From Beyond Space’ might have called for a leopard fast predator, but what it got was a lumbering goon. This is true of Doctor Who, the Myrka and Mandrels are particularly horrible examples, but in fact the Silurians, the Sea Devils, a great many others…. It gets problematic. What you really want is a suit that you can actually see well out of and which can move well.
Which brings us to the Tribus monster. The Tribus monster is conceptually terrific – it’s a transdimensional beings misguided effort to create a human body, but of course, since it’s not used to working in only three dimensions, what it gets is an awful distortion. This is realized brilliantly in an assymetric monstrosity. The face of the Tribus is smeared, recognizeably human, yet distorted and inhuman. There’s a large mishappen claw on one hand, the other is out of sight, but the suggestion is that it’s shrivelled. The body is covered in nondescript robes, but the lurching gait and posture suggests that it’s equally mishappen. In short, a very good concept, very well realized.
Most beautifully, it gives the Tribus one good eyehole. It’s a mask that allows the actor full visibility, and when you’ve worn these things, when you’ve seen these things, that’s so important. Compare that with the Silurian costumes for instance, and you’ll see that the Tribus for all its deformity is far more fluid and expressive. So basically, well thought out, conceptually and practically.
Even in professional productions, there’s a lot of costumes or suits that just don’t come off, that go horribly wrong. Where there’s a gap between what’s on the printed page and what can be achieved in the shop. Or that get handicapped for one reason or another. But here… smart, they thought it through, every step of the process, from imagination, to execution, to actually wearing the thing and moving in it. I keep saying it, smart people making smart decisions.
The Doctor – I’ll be blunt. I think Rupert Booth is the best fan Doctor ever, in terms of really grasping and expressing the essence of the character. Only Benedetti comes close to him, and her body of work is not nearly as large or as good as his.
It’s hard to play the Doctor. Even professional actors struggle with it – look at Peter Cushing’s Doctor in the movies, or Richard E. Grant’s Doctor in Scream of the Shalka. There’s a peculiar mix of brilliance and eccentricity, arrogance and compassion, humour and grandiosity, that runs through all the Doctors. For the Doctor, it’s go big, or go home.
Most fans tend to ape their favourite doctor, dressing up in a long scarf or a cricket outfit. Even really polished fan productions have trouble picking up on the subtle flavour. But Booth gets it, right out of the starting gate.
He’s not derivative. He creates his own persona – a young/old Doctor. Booth appears to have started playing the Doctor in his mid-twenties, at about the same age as Matt Smith, so definitely a young man. There’s interesting overlaps with Smith. The Booth Doctor wears a bow tie, says Geronimo and likes hats, all coincidental, the result of an intersection of a very young man playing someone deeply old and eccentric.
The Booth Doctor’s costume is a tuxedo, just slightly ill fitting, the darkness giving the character gravitas, a certain old fashioned quality, while the slightly off fit conveys a certain eccentricity. Booth doesn’t have the booming presence of a Baker (either) or a Pertwee, or Tenant or Smith. He’s just not a massive guy. Rather, he uses his relative slenderness to disarm his opponents, by refusing to be a threat, he defuses them. His version of the Doctor seems more like Davison or Troughton, more cunning but gentle. Booth’s Doctor is almost gaunt, he’s got very good facial structure, he has striking eyes and eyebrows, which he uses effectively, his face and voice are very expressive. He’s one of those people who can convey their thought processes clearly with a shift of expression.
His character maintains the Doctor’s dry wit, steady composure in the face of monsters, quick mood shifts, and fundamental decency. The second episode of the serial begins with Booth’s Doctor confronting the monster… and having a civil conversation with it – a classic Doctorism. No shock, no panic, no anger or threats, no fear. Just ‘Hello, I see you’re a monster, how are you doing?’
He’s got a really fine comic touch. Later in the episode, after the alien menace has temporarily been defeated, the Doctor and Leslie take a henchman back to her home. The Doctor begins to work on a machine to flush the extradimensional entity out of his Tardis, while Leslie sympathetically listens to the henchman rambling on about his dog. The Doctor ends up constantly interrupting them as he borrows doodads for his machine. It’s sly and funny, just a touch of Marx brothers.
Yet, he’s serious when he needs to be. You can see wariness or dejection, or slyness, when the moment calls for it. None of it seems artificial or staged, he plays it as if he’s feeling it at the moment, that this is the moment it occurs to him to feel it. Rupert Booth is a very capable actor, and he’s got the role down. He’s simply The Doctor.
Bottom line – It’s not perfect, of course. There’s some problems with the sound mix here and there, levels are too low, or there’s too much ambient sound. The voice of the Tribus is over-processed to the point it’s hard to understand.
Paul Ferry’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ inspired performance as Voltere doesn’t quite come off – it’s not bad, on further viewing it was clear that his character was a guy trying to be a badass, and not quite up to it, physically or emotionally, and needs to be both comic and a little sad and dangerous. Hell, that would be tough for anyone to pull off. So…. some technical stuff, some small stuff.
But then again, if you’re going to watch fan films, you need to carry a certain amount of forgiveness. Hell, with Doctor Who, sometimes you have to carry a certain amount of forgiveness.
Regenesis feels like classic Doctor Who. Indeed, it feels like excellent classic Doctor Who. It stands quite well with any of the two parters of the classic series, and better than several of them.
Check it out.
CAST: Rupert Booth – The Doctor; Christine Potter – Leslie; Paul Ferry – Voltere; Malcolm Herron – Harry; Peter Booth – Consultant; Graeme Nattress – Bev; Chris Allen – Larry; Neil Johnson – Doctor; Jeff Watson – Security Guard; Philip T. Robinson – Tribus Monster; Tribus Voices – Malcolm Herron, Rupert Booth, Graeme Nattress
CREW: Paul Ferry – Writer, costumes; Chris Allen – Production Manager, sound, camera; Graeme Nattress – Incidental music, lighting, sound, camera, visual effects, costumes, assistant editor, special sound, video effects, title sequence; Philip T Robinson – director, lighting, camera, visual effects, transport, designer, title sequence; Rupert Booth – lighting, sound, camera, visual effects, transport, costumes, makeup artist, VT Editor, video effects, producer, title sequence; Peter Nattress – sound, transport; John Pattinson – transport; Peter Booth – catering; Malcolm Herron – catering, title sequence; Gavin Chilverss – title sequence
WATCH IT HERE
Part 1 (26 minutes)
Part 2 (21 minutes)
Synopsis: On the planet far, far away, two medieval Kingdoms, Desarn are attempting to seal a peace treaty with a royal marriage between Prince Germain and Princess Aldriana. It’s not working out well, the Princess is kind of butch, the Prince definitely isn’t. Things go wrong when the evil Wizard Utomu’s henchman, Formor, breaks in and kidnaps the Prince. The Doctor is enlisted to rescue the Prince, with the aid of some song and dance…
Review: Visions of Utomu trades a lot on the goodwill of Wrath of Eukor. Eukor is so well done, that we’ve built up an affection for the characters, we’re willing to be forgiving. If Utomu had come first, I’m not sure that it would have worked as well. Or maybe it might have worked better. Eukor casts a shadow, without it, maybe the flaws and faults of Utomu wouldn’t have been so glaring in comparison. As it is, Utomu suffers a bit from little brother syndrome, it’s always going to be seen as the lesser work.
Utomu, in terms of performance, production values and cinematography is simply a less polished work. Sometimes a lot less polished. I think it’s because they got ambitious here, and their ambition dramatically outran their money and abilities. Utomu had several key swerves from Eukor that, I think, undermined it. It switched from 16 mm film to 3/4 commercial videotape, for instance. That saved a lot of money on lab and processing costs, but perhaps lost a bit in image quality. They also decided to shift from a location backed story to a set-based production, and building sets, building good sets is hard. The cast is larger, there’s a lot of extras but often not used well, they play with a lot more ideas.
In terms of the fandom splash, the female Doctor was making, Utomu’s timing was on. Filmed November, 1985, and released January, 1986, the future of the Doctor was still up in the air. The hiatus would not end, and Trial of a Time Lord would not begin until September, 1986.
Let’s just tag our way through the good and the bad.
The Bad: Those sets! Ouch! What it looks like is a handful of flats, painted in a stylized manner to suggest brick work, with some styrofoam blocks thrown on here and there. What it reminds me most of is a theatrical set, stylized, lightweight, moveable and designed for a stage, and a more forgiving stage audience.
Except that we aren’t a stage audience, and we’re expecting a higher degree of cinematic realism. The artificiality of the flats really is jarring, its like biting on tinfoil. To make matters worse, initially, they shoot it in the worst possible way, just glaring lighting, flat and bright, that really makes it impossible to see it as anything but fake and artificial. It’s heartbreaking to think of how hard they must have worked to make something that looks so crap.
It’s particularly damning because this is actually the sort of sets or locations that the BBC was good at. England is lousy with castles and immense brickwork monstrosities, so they have a lot to choose from, and even when they’re shooting in studio, they have enough experience with how they look and how to shoot them effectively, that they carry it off. So they’re falling afoul of our subconscious expectations, as much as if they accidentally painted the Tardis orange.
Oddly, as the episode goes on, they seem to get better at it. They play with the lighting, darkening the flats, focusing on foreground characters and blurring the background, filming action to emphasize movement. It’s as if we’re watching them learn how to shoot these flats. The sets, for the most part, stop being disconcerting and jarring. Possibly we’ve been beaten into submission. Or more likely, they’re just doing it better – shooting and lighting them properly and focusing better on the story and characters, so that it’s generally stronger later on. But still, getting better later on only buys you so much, when you set your foot badly wrong on your first step, its hard to recover from.
That’s how it is when you’re working with sets. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. Doctor Who has had its share of stylized or tosh sets. Sometimes you can dress them up, sometimes you can work around them, sometimes they just don’t work that well, but you have to forgive them. In this case, it slipped by them. It’s a medieval setting – back in those days, no central heating, people were always hanging curtains and tapestries and drapes off the wall, tarting things up by hanging weapons and clothes and tools. They could have tried that, but they didn’t. So I’ll tell you right now, be ready to dip into the pocket of forgiveness on this point.
To be really fair – remember that mostly, this was being shown on mid-1980’s, 12 to 24 inch colour television sets, not high def or high resolution, and often being shown in crowded rooms at gatherings of fans. So it may not have been as jarring back then. There’s a lot of stuff that looked okay on the old scan line/cathode ray televisions that is now pretty blatant on higher resolutions and higher definition.
What else? Randy Rogel’s choreography… Just not up to the job. Sorry. It’s one of those things where they bite off more than they can chew, when what carries in the script can’t carry in real. What hurts is that Randy wanted to do it. He was pushing to do a song and dance number. Kind of a mistake there.
Again, inexperience kind of hurts. Kinetic stuff, fight scenes, dance numbers, they’re tricky to shoot. You can’t actually just have the camera sitting there. It has to almost be a character, and the dancer or the fighter has to play to it as much as they simply do their stuff. From what I understand of the shooting, they didn’t really have the time or resources to do it right, and frankly, I don’t think they understood what they were getting into. Time to dip into that pocket of forgiveness again.
So that’s a pair of really harsh flaws to get caught between, and you really have to make the decision to let them slide in order to enjoy the story.
Beyond that, the acting is variable. Some of the performances and direction seem appropriate to a high school play, there’s some awkward blocking. There’s problems with the sound quality – there’s a point for instance, where Utomo’s voice seems patchy. In an early scene, they’ve got a crowd running around in panic – it’s just harsh.
I dunno though, maybe I’m too critical. I could see some people not even noticing these things, just delving right into the story and grooving to the light, breezy touch.
With a little forgiveness, Visions of Utomu is actually quite good. A major strength: The costumes and props. We got medieval stuff coming on strong here. Initially, I looked at the great costumes and the fake set flats, and thought maybe he’d hooked up with some kind of stage company that had done a medieval or shakespearean production.
But no, Johnson managed to link up with the Society for Creative Anachronism, so the result is that we’ve got some very sharp, nice quality costumes, and an impressively large cast of extras that, sadly are not used to full effect.
As I’ve said, the cinematography does pick up as we go along, with increasingly effective use of light and shadows. The production overall, seems uneven. There’s shots and scenes and transitions that are amazingly good – the zoom in on the henchman as Carl does his dance routine, shows us a man being captivated – that’s beautifully done. Or almost every scene or shot where Rice is playing the villainous Utomu. The first scene between the Prince and Utomu, there’s a wind sound foleyed in, it’s subtle, but chilling. The background music is well used, never so loud as to call attention to itself, and almost always just right for whatever they want to convey in the moment.
The script is equal parts witty and convoluted. But it works, and on the whole, I think it works a lot more often than it doesn’t. Does it transcend its flaws? That’s a judgement call.
For the most part, the actors acquit their roles nicely. Benedetti and Rogel as the Doctor and Carl have some really nice chemistry going on. It’s amazing to see how well they work together, putting in all these little visual gags and witticisms. That really is the consistent highlight of the whole series. Benedetti is one of the best fan Doctors. I don’t think she’s the best, that goes to Rupert Booth. But the Doctor/Companion thing she has going on with Rogel, that’s unparalleled.
Wesley Rice as the evil wizard Utomu is also a standout, he manages to convey intelligence and menace, and he’s got some very nice bits of stagecraft going on, despite not moving around too much. That’s the lovely thing with stage actors. They know how to work business.
There’s a nice bit of gender role reversal – the Prince, played by Robert Eustace, is in the essentially feminine role, he’s quiet, bookish, all about feelings, physically tentative and is the one who gets kidnapped. The Princess, played by Stasia Johnson, is active, joins in the rescue and is a bit of a hellion. The performance of Jim Dean as the King is a mirror opposite of Rice’s – he’s doing a light comedy character with a very deft touch. Jim Dean, by the way, played the survivalist/vietnam Vet, Grant, in Eukor.
There’s a strong sense of fun – people are dressing up and going in disguises, and seeing through each other’s disguises. Everyone’s got a smart line they’re tossing off, there’s double takes, and ‘oh whoops’ moments, and a whole series of visual gags. What can you say when the plot hinges on sneaking into the Wizard’s castle disguised as a song and dance duo? This is Bob Hope and Bing Crosby territory.
Thats saves Utomu, what makes it work for me. Its tongue is firmly in its cheek. It’s a light comedy, good hearted, with a wink and a smile. Eukor was a serious story with a few comic touches – let’s face it half the cast dies and the story is about a body snatching alien menace. Utomu, in contrast, is light – the opening scene is a clip from Singing in the Rain, it’s full of comic touches, and the climactic battle is outright slapstick. It’s got just enough darkness, in the form of the wizard Utomu to keep it grounded and moving, otherwise it might have floated away on its own lightness.
Visions of Utomu finishes up as a pretty good Doctor Who story. On its own merits it has real strengths. It’s imminently watchable. Utomu doesn’t do everything well, but it does a lot well. What it comes down to, do we notice and work to the terrific costumes and performances, or do we dwell on those awful faux walls, or the flubs in the sound or an awkward edit? Take your pick. For me, the cheerful amiability rules, it’s a Gene Kelly sort of story. Eukor you appreciate, but somehow it’s Utomu that puts a smile on your face.
Statistics: 32 minutes. 3/4″ videotape. Filmed November 1985, released January 1986.
Cast. . . Barbara Benedetti as The Doctor, Randy Rogel as Carl Evans, Wesley Rice as Utomu, Stasia Johnson (no relation) as Princess Aldraina, Robert Eustace as Prince Germain, Jim Dean as the King, Randy Dixon as the M.C., Joseph McCarthy as Formore, and an orange. Written, Produced and Directed by Ryan K. Johnson.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
THE WRATH OF EUKOR
Synopsis: Early 20th Century, Carl, a cockney ‘chimney sweep’ is walking home on the fog shrouded streets of London. Suddenly, a figure in a hideously mismatching coat looms out of the darkness at him, babbling incoherently about getting back to their ship. Dragging Carl back to a police box, she announces that she is the Doctor. Cut to, a verdant forest and a trio of vietnam vets are threatening a photojournalist, while unknown to all an alien menace gathers in the woods…
Review: The Wrath of Eukor is a landmark for Doctor Who fan films. It wasn’t the first fan film, but it was one of, if not the first professional looking one – one that featured real performances, real actors and locations, that ran long enough to tell a coherent story.
It’s also significant for timing, its release at a critical period of Doctor Who history. Timing is a big thing. This came out in August of 1984. Now, there’s some historical context we need to explore.
Doctor Who in America has its own history. The show started appearing on American television screens in 1978, mostly on public television stations, and had slowly built up a cult audience. Originally driven by Tom Baker’s formidable body of work, it paved the way for other Doctors, past and present, picking up momentum into the 1980’s. By the mid-eighties, the show was at the height of its American popularity, a peak it wouldn’t surpass until the new series. It had a major cult following.
Colin Baker had only become the Doctor in March, of 1984, starting off with the badly received Twin Dilemma. Colin’s tenure was rocky, and in March of 1985, BBC Comptroller Michael Grade cancelled the series. The outcry was so loud, Grade had to backpeddle, leading to an 18 month hiatus, where the show was literally up in the air. No one knew what was going on, particularly for American fans, but this looked like the end.
So basically, from March, 1985 to September 1986 – fans were starving. They were looking at the end of Who. No more new Who, no more new episodes or adventures. They wanted more. They wanted more stories, new stories, they wanted news and things to talk about. There was a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum. It was the perfect time for a really well done, polished production to rush into that void and make a huge splash.
The Wrath of Eukor had actually been released and aired in September, 1994, at the World Fantasy Convention for that year, but it hadn’t made much of an impact. Well received, but no big deal. Not until…
“Thus it went for the next six months or so, the film passed into obscurity until a screening at Norwescon in March 1985. The audience went nuts and I was immediately asked if I was going to make a sequel….” Ryan Johnson.
And it had something more: A female Doctor.
Believe it or not, a female Doctor had been talked about publicly as early as 1979, when Tom Baker speculated on television that his successor might be a woman. Later on in the 1980’s, when Sidney Newman was brought back for his ideas to save the show, he too suggested that the Doctor could become a woman. Then of course, there’s Joanna Lumley in Curse of Fatal Death in 1999. In the new series, the speculation that some future incarnation might be a woman is a running bugaboo.
But here we are in 1984-1985, the classic series is in turmoil, on the edge of the abyss, there’s this very good fan film making the rounds, and it’s got a female Doctor! Ah, but this is the most important thing – she’s a good Doctor. She’s got that combination of wit and charm and presence that makes the Doctor a force. Benedetti was a trained actress working in the local Seattle community, and she’s able to carry it off. Say what you like, that really puts it over the edge, catapults it to something more.
So of course, there has to be another one – the sequel Visions of Utomu comes out in January of 1986, during the hiatus, and it’s another strong, if flawed story. So now it’s not a one off, but the female Doctor is a body of work.
That’s followed up by Pentagon West in May 1987, and Broken Doors in March, 1988. And at this point, you have a series. It’s not a huge series: The whole body of work is four stories and maybe two hours, or the length of one regular serial. But it’s a group of four genuine half hour stories, stories with production values, stories with beginnings, middles and ends, with real actors, with the singular characters of the Doctor and Carl running through it.
Now, I’m not sure if this had ever been done before. Making a film, even a fan film, is an exhausting and expensive proposition. Wrath of Eukor probably cost somewhere between $3000 and $10,000 – it was shot on 16 mm film, that’s not cheap, and neither is processing and lab costs. The IMDB listing shows about fifteen people working behind the camera. Figuring sweat equity, you’re looking at anywhere between $35,000 and $50,000 as the real price of the production. That’s for the Wrath of Eukor alone. That’s stunning.
Even some crappy shot on Super-8 will probably end up costing a few hundred dollars and a lot of time and effort. Remember, back in those days, it was all by hand – no computers involved. So making one, particularly back in the day, that’s reasonably impressive. Making four – making a coherent series… That’s incredible, and it’s significant.
Finally, it was lucky to squeak into an era where it would find distribution. A copy of the first two stories made its way to Seattle Public Access TV, and ran there regularly until 1995, in the Pacific Northwest. Other copies seem to have made their way to other Public Access channels. So in a number of American markets, you could actually turn on the television looking for Doctor Who and end up watching episodes of the female Doctor. Meanwhile, Ryan Johnson played and premiered at conventions, including the World Science Fiction Convention and NorWesCon
This was the era when VCR’s were coming into their own – both Beta and VHS. Fans were taping their episodes, trading back and forth. Ryan Johnson was incredibly generous in that anyone who asked, and sent him a blank VHS could get their own copy. Of course, those copies would make the rounds, shown at Conventions, shown at Fan club meetings, copied and traded.
Now, it certainly wasn’t seen nearly as much as the real Doctor Who on television and VHS. This was still mostly underground. But the female Doctor got around, and the circulated to Doctor Who fan groups, in ways and to numbers that simply hadn’t been possible or even imaginable even a few years previously
All of which combines to give us something unique and special in the history of Doctor Who. Literally, for a brief window of time, when Colin Baker’s tenure of the Doctor seemed to have come to an ignominious end, when the show was on ice, it’s future uncertain, when a generation of American fans had discovered the show… just in time to lose it.
For that strange sideways moment in history, in a very real way, Barbara Benedetti was The Doctor.
So what about the Wrath of Eukor itself? I’ll be honest, I was reluctant to watch this again after a couple of decades distance. The things that you enjoy in a younger day… sometimes they’re embarrassing when you go back. All those flaws and mistakes you overlooked or were disappointed by, suddenly, they loom large, and the whole thing gets painful.
I’m glad to say, that wasn’t the case. Watching it again, I’m thrilled by how well it stands up, how polished and effective it is. Trust me, I don’t enjoy watching amateurish dreck, I wade through it, seaching for the gems.
First up, the visual quality is exemplary. It’s shot on real film, 16 mm, I would guess. The image is sharp, pristine, the sound mix is professional, and the editing is sharp, the composition of shots, lighting, you name it. On a purely technical level, it stands up very nicely, it plays like a real production.
The performers are all real actors, they say their lines and hit their marks, when they speak, it comes across as spontaneous and natural, as if they’re saying what they’ve just thought in that instant, rather than reciting a line that they’ve rehearsed. They’re mature adults. There’s no sense of kids in the back yard playing grown up. Wallace the photojournalist, played by Tom Lance, really does come across as a photojournalist snooping around, someone cosmopolitan and observant on the hunt for a story. The vietnam vets/survivalists, lead by Jim Dean as Grant, convincingly portray veterans with a chip on their shoulder, hanging out in the woods playing war games, because they just can’t fit in. The characters bounce off each other in a natural way, basically, how they react to and interact with each other is direct outgrowth of here they are. There isn’t really a bad performance or a bad characterization in the bunch, except possibly ‘Eukor’ in villain mode. But villains always come with a slice of ham. It benefits from a very strong supporting cast, and very well drawn supporting characters.
Of course, what really comes alive is Barbara Benedetti’s performance as the Doctor, and Randy Rogel’s turn as the newest companion, Carl. They don’t get to be natural characters. They’re the outliers – they aren’t playing the people you could meet on the streetcorner, and so they have sell it even harder. It’s the Doctor, she has to be larger than life. She is. Barbara Benedetti, thirty-two, at the time was a well known and well respected stage actress in the Seattle cultural community. She wasn’t a Doctor Who fan, had arguably never heard of it. She was a working professional, she knew her stuff, and she gives a marvelous performance as the Doctor, mercurial, brilliant, sardonic, witty and eccentric. She is “The Doctor,” and if there’s any doubts as to whether a woman can handle the role, she puts them to rest immediately. We enjoy watching her.
Randy Rogel’s Carl Evans, a cockney fish out of water keeps up with her nicely. I suspect that his ‘cockney accent’ is probably pretty crap, but I don’t really care. British actors have butchered a lot of American accents over the years. What counts is the performance. They make a terrific team, bouncing off of each with an understated comic timing. Their chemistry is unforced and a pleasure to watch. In fact, they’d co-starred together on stage just before this production.
Both came from a stage tradition, and it shows. One of the things you get with stage actors is business. Basically, if you’re doing a lot of television or film, it’s about hitting your mark, standing in the right lighting, and basically not strolling around out of frame or doing anything that’s not specifically called for in the script. So one of the things is that the foreground characters they tend not to be spontaneous, and the background characters tend not to do anything – no one wants a shot ruined by an extra who comes up with a funny bit of business.
Stage actors though, they’re often stuck on stage for quite a bit of time, the audience sees them, watches them, even if they’re not foreground. You have to hold that attention, both with words and actions. So stage actors, good ones, will tend to be physically expressive and interesting. They do ‘business’ – throwaway bits that are just meant to keep them going onstage. We see a lot of that between Benedetti and Rogel through their episodes, they play off each other, not just verbally, but physically as well. Benedetti and Rogel are simply the best Doctor/Companion duos I’ve found in fan films.
The story, I was prepared to dismiss as standard fare. Basically – alien menace poses a threat, but the Doctor sorts it out. On rewatching it, I was pleasantly surprised. There’s actually a lot of plot going on – the initial conflict between the Vietnam Vets and the Photojournalist sets up nicely, allows us to deliver exposition, and then neatly blindsides us when the Photojournalist dies and the real menace arrives onscreen. Characters that start out as bad guys turn into good guys, characters move and countermove. We get surprised. You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. Eukor as a disembodied energy being on the hunt even has a bit of a swerve going, when the Doctor frustrates his original plan, he adapts and tries to steal the Tardis. That’s nice, most villains/monsters aren’t so flexible.
One of the things I love about classic Doctor Who is its storytelling. The serial format meant that you couldn’t do a simplistic three act structure, but you had to have multiple storylines weaving in and out of each other, coming to resolutions, taking surprising turns. The Wrath of Eukor has a very good grasp of that wonderful twistiness that is a hallmark of Doctor Who.
It’s witty. The story is full of fun moments, both visual gags and clever lines in exactly the right places and delivered the right way. The scene where the Doctor confronts a group of angry survivalists and simply defeats them with the force of her personality is brilliant. Later, after a trip through time and space, the Tardis materializes outside a power station, smoke pours out, and Carl and the Vet angrily complain that the Doctor can’t drive the thing, about all those Indians and while they argue, the Doctor casually plucks an arrow from the Tardis shell and flicks it away.
It’s is a vital thing. Often, wit is a make or break quality for fan films. The Doctor is witty, the Doctor is fun, that’s the most essential thing about the Doctor. There are serious turns, of course, but wit is one of the key defining aspects of Doctor Who. The sly lines, the moments of subtle or unsubtle comedy, the straightfaced lunacy of the situations. If you don’t have that, you really don’t have Doctor Who. The Wrath of Eukor has it, and more importantly Benedetti’s Doctor and Rogel’s Carl have it.
A key but subtle strength of Wrath of Eukor is in the settings. Again, that’s something that separates the unwatchable amateur from the near professional. Locations, settings, they bring the visual quality to the story, they drive and define a story. We focus on what’s in the foreground, but it’s the background that often shapes the experience for us. A good location or set make the story come alive. A dull one can suck the life out of the story. That’s why James Bond never goes to Cleveland.
No sets were built for Eukor. They built a pretty respectable Tardis shell. But mostly, they shot outdoors on locations. In the opening scenes, old Seattle makes a nice double for turn of the century london, and they’re smart enough to shoot at night, using shadows and a fog machine to cover up any flaws. The result is really nice production values, it’s very gothic, almost archaic, it makes for a very strong visual opening for the actors to work in. Shadows and darkness are used to excellent effect.
It’s when the action shifts out of the city that it really gets going visually. Seattle is in a rain forest belt, and you don’t really get what that means until you’ve been in one. There’s ordinary forests, we’ve all seen them. Some places in Washington state average as much as 150 inches of rainfall a year, that’s a lot of water, and the green goes into overdrive.
A lot of the Wrath of Eukor takes place in the temperate rain forest outside Seattle, and it’s practically a character in itself. A rain forest isn’t just some woods or meadow. Or to put it this way, a rain forest to an english woods is like a bengal tiger to a beagle. There’s just an overwhelming lushness to the green, a proliferation of shades and plant species, crowding into every inch of the frame. It gives a real vibrancy and intensity to the story, at once familiar and alien.
The final location, the power station, is forbidding industrial gothic, a shift from the organic lushness, to angles, transformers and machinery. Wisely, the production doesn’t spend much time indoors – I think there’s only one interior shot in the whole thing.
The consequence of that is that we’re mostly seeing stuff that’s not familiar or dull looking, and that has it’s own life. Amateur film makers take note – a good location is its own production value.
It’s amazing how well it holds up some thirty years later. It’s not surprising at all that some of the fans back in the 1980’s could mistake it for the real show, or that it could attract a cult following as a worthy successor series.
Is it perfect. Of course not. If you want to be a nit picker, look at the windows on the Tardis. Carl’s ‘cockney accent’, pretty bad I suppose. The opening scene in 1911 – Police boxes hadn’t been invented. Eukor’s little pyramid? Pretty tosh stuff there. When Eukor possesses one of the Vietnam vets, all talent leaves his body. The lightning bolts, the explosion effects…. hmm. Honest to god though, look at the classic series – there’s no shortage flaws and foibles to overlook there. We forgive the classic Doctor Who because so much of the rest of it is so well done. We are obliged to forgive Fan Films even more. But surprisingly, there’s not that much that we really need to forgive here.
So here’s the secret of the female Doctor. It’s simply well done, and well done in almost every way. As I’ve said, quite possibly the very best Doctor Who fanfilm up to that time, very nearly professional, with a groundbreaking concept in the female Doctor and a solid performer in Barbara Benedetti. It came along at the perfect time to break into fan consciousness at a critical point in the show’s history, and at a key point where technology and networking allowed it to be distributed more widely than its predecessors.
Cast: Barbara Benedetti as The Doctor, Randy Rogel as Carl Evans, Tom Lance as Wallace, Jim Dean as Grant, Kevin McCauley as Harris, Michael Smith as Tate, George Catalano as Francis, Mark Schelleberg and Karl Krogstad as bound workman.
Crew: Producer/Director – Ryan K. Johnson; Writer – Cheryl Read (credited), Ryan Johnson, Deb Walsh, Linda Bushyager; Production Manager -Mark Schellberg
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It was happening again. The sound wasn’t so much a weeping, as a moaning or a wailing.
A keen feeling of sadness was all-pervading.
There was a weird stench in the air. The sky was brown but burning, perhaps reflecting the lava-featured landscape surrounding the valley.
The battlefield hadn’t been cleared of the dead. It had been converted into an enormous graveyard.
The burials already stretched as far as the eye could see, with their distinctive headstones.
Even the unknown soldiers were afforded the luxury of a lead-lined coffin.
The services were being conducted by the Shansheeth, Intergalactic Undertakers who looked like priestly vultures.