An Unearthly Column


“We are not of this Earth. We are wanderers in the fourth dimensions of Space and Time – cut off from our own planet and our own people, by eons and universes that are far beyond the reach of your most advanced sciences!”

It is with very great pleasure that I inaugurate this brand new corner of Fan Film Follies, devoted to amateur productions based on my all-time favorite television show, Doctor Who. Like most other fan films, Who vids are the product of an undying enthusiasm for the source material, and also like most other fan films, they run the gamut from crude and unwatchable, to incredibly cool.

If you’ve made it to this site, and even further to this column, I’m going to assume that you don’t need any schooling on what constitutes a “fan film,” why they’re interesting, and why people make them; basically, I’m going to take it as read that I’m preaching to the choir, at least in terms of the basic format. Ditto for trying to explain Doctor Who. If you don’t already know the series, there are a million places on the interwebz better suited to familiarizing you with this fantastic, long-running show. I urge you to check them out.

I will, however, start out with my own personal philosophy, one that is probably shared by most fan film fans: these kinds of videos are entitled to somewhat gentle treatment, no matter what their intrinsic merits as “entertainment” prove to be. Given that they are created by people with no budgets, using limited resources, and scraping by without even the most basic allowances that even the lowest budget film takes for granted, it’s frankly a miracle they get created at all. So, while I will not hesitate to give a bad review to a fan film that can’t muster even the most basic entertainment elements, I’m not going to harp on every questionable performance, cheap prop or inappropriate location. These are things that fan film fans can and should take in stride. It is, however, sometimes a bit of a balancing act, but I’ve been a fan of this particular sub-genre for many years, and I think you’ll find me pretty fair-minded overall.

Anyway, a little bit about me: I’m a forty-something guy living in the Dallas, Texas area (but originally from Southern Illinois) who works in data entry and is married to a lovely lady named Barbara, for going on eighteen years. I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction, comic books, monster movies – basically anything with a little bit of the fantastic about it. I love ‘em all. Probably my first real passion (beyond Saturday morning cartoons) was the Planet of the Apes series of films in the ‘70s, and I was also a fairly hard-core Trekker, back in days when there was only one Star Trek, and there were no VCRs, so you had to re-watch the UHF reruns a million times if you wanted to stay ingrained. And I did. I didn’t discover Doctor Who until it debuted on PBS Channel 9 out of St. Louis in 1983, with Tom Baker as the Doctor. I was immediately hooked, and the mania has only grown since them. I’m a moderate fan of the new updated series, but that’s a whole other discussion.

I’ve taken a couple of stabs at self-publishing my own comics, and have had non-fiction published in magazines like Films in Review, Filmfax, and Imagi-Movies. Currently I write film and DVD reviews for the media website Pop Syndicate. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m currently creatively involved in Doctor Who: An Unofficial Fan Series, an ambitious series of fanvids that aspires to be to Doctor Who fandom what Phase II is to Star Trek fandom. I’m serving as a writer and assistant script editor – but don’t worry, I won’t be abusing my new position here at Fan Film Follies to throw too much spotlight onto my own gig. This is an equal-opportunity column.

Oh, and the name’s Jeff, by the way. I adopted “J.E.” back in my comic book days, because there was already a famous comic book artist named Jeff Smith. For better or worse, it has stuck as my “professional” name. So call me Jeff, for heaven’s sake. It weirds me out when people call me “J.E.”

Whew, that was a lot of intro. It won’t always be like this, promise.

So – what will The Doctor is IN entail? Well, I’m going to try and keep things pretty broad, and not overly structured. There will certainly be news of upcoming projects and other developments, and reviews of fan vids as they are released. There will be interviews with filmmakers, and other items of interest. I will certainly be highlighting some of the great Who fan films of the past and I’ve been contemplating an essay or two. The only rule is there are no rules, but I will strive to keep this column lively and interesting. It will also reflect my own personality and writing style: while there will be some measure of objectivity, I see this column, in the broadest sense, more as an editorial – if you don’t want to hear strong opinions, you might want to look elsewhere. I have no problem speaking my mind. That said, and in keeping with my philosophy stated above, there won’t be a whole lot of bloodshed here; I’d rather celebrate than assassinate. But keep in mind that, like Cole Porter says: anything goes.

For the time being, I will be assimilating a lot of information from my usual hangout, the Fan Video and Audio section of the excellent website Gallifrey Base, but I encourage everyone to contact me directly with press releases, information, and especially visual material – I find that the best way to get people excited about your project is to show them pictures, and I’d like this to be a picturesque column. You can e-mail me at complexcity@hotmail.com.

Seeing as this installment is a bit top-heavy with set-up (think of it as the first hour of a superhero movie where you have to get the origin story out of the way), I’ll keep the rest of the content fairly brief. Onward…

NEWS: Anyone familiar with Doctor Who fan films will know the name “The Federation.” One of the most prolific fan groups of all time, they produced a steady stream of spoofs and other comedy-related videos all through the 1980s and early ‘90s – that golden age when videos were usually edited deck-to-deck, and everything was distributed via VHS tapes because, hello, there was no such thing as the internet. The Feds took a few years off, returning in 1999 with their first dramatic video Realitywarp, followed by Traumaturge (2000) and Shadowcast (2002). The Federation’s own Sixth Doctor, Steve Hill, has taken a bold step into the 21st century with the launch of the Federation Files Warehouse.  This new venture will allow fans to bypass the traditional snail mail content delivery system and download full-res Federation content directly. The initial offerings are modest, and include a raw AVI file for their 1986 spoof Doctor Who and the Holy Grail, and a full-DVD ISO file for Shadowcast (in five chunks) – reviews of both projects in a forthcoming column – along with Rob Warnock’s soundtrack CD for Realitywarp and The Reign of Turner. A site like this is exactly what Federation fans need, as many have been frustrated over the last few years by the closure of the ordering page on the Federation’s web site; it has been nearly impossible of late to acquire any Fed content directly from the source. Of course, you will need some serious downloading power to grab these very large files (the Shadowcast chunks are about a gig each) and trying this with dial-up is not advised. But it beats the bit-torrent route, and is a good way to acquire DVD-quality copies of these fine productions. I’ve personally test-driven the Shadowcast DL, and was able to quite easily extract the ISO file and burn a DVD that is (as far as I can tell) identical to the physical DVD I bought from the Feds several years ago.

COMING SOON: Reviews of the new Special Edition DVDs of The Other Side, The Millennium Trap, and (hopefully!) Time and Again, plus, an interview with Doctor Who: AUFS director Greg Sisco, and much more!

Finally, here are five links you should click, and watch cool stuff:

The Dalek Invasion of Skaro (full movie)
Doctor Who: Victimsight (full movie)
Guardian of the Solar System (full trailer)
Doctor Who: A Survivor’s Triangle (teaser trailer)
Doctor Who: Pudsai (Children in Need) (full film)

See you next time!

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