Doctor Who Fan Films: A Primer

The sheer volume of fan films – in any genre – can often be daunting in this everything-on-the-internet age. Having recently re-acquainted myself with the Star Wars fan film universe, I popped over to and faced pages and pages of links and wondered to myself, “Which are the good ones? How many of these do I have to watch to find the best ones?”

The same is true of virtually any genre of fan film, although not all subsets have the sheer overwhelming numbers of the SW set. And really: Doctor Who fan films have a perceived advantage over other styles; elaborate special effects are optional, and even the character himself, with his seemingly endless regenerations, is open to a wide range of interpretation. You don’t even have to painstakingly recreate a TV costume (although many do) to embody this iconic character. You just need a good script, some decent actors, and a sense of wonder, and DW fan film fans will likely go along for the ride.

In that spirit, for our third installment, I offer a primer for Doctor Who fan films: listed below are six flicks that will give you a good overview of some of the better offerings this subsection has to offer. This is not necessarily an “all time best” list, though many of these would certainly belong on such a roll call. In fact, some of the very best DW fan films are still not available on the web, while others are only available as downloads. Still others are important enough that I plan to devote an entire column to them in the future. But these vids represent titles that anyone interested in exploring this world should start with.

Broken Doors (1987) – Seattle filmmaker Ryan K. Johnson made four Doctor Who fan films in the 1980s, and was quite possibly the very first director to cast a female in the role of the Doctor. This, the fourth and final of his Who fan vids, is distinctly the best, a surreal story set in a dangerous netherworld in which the Doctor and her faithful companion Carl try to make their way through a series of tests.

Victimsight (2009) – An excellent example of a new breed of higher-gloss/high-aspiration Who fan film, this Canadian production has strong echoes of the recent BBC series, but retains a distinct identity and is sharply directed by Eldon Letkeman. Shot in hi-def, Victimsight is colorful and engaging.

The Schrödinger Effect (2008) – No list of this sort would be complete without mention of Chris Hoyle, a Leeds-UK-based vid-maker who has been churning out enthusiastic Who fan films since the early 1990s. His most recent production is also his most polished, with Hoyle’s classic Doctor revisiting his old friend, Charlotte (the charming Emma Bone), who then find themselves pursued by hostile forces. With outstanding SFX by Shivering Cactus, and a guest-appearance by a rather “big name” in Who circles, Schrödinger is way cool.

Deconstruction (2005) – A rare beast: a Doctor Who fan film that doesn’t feature the Doctor. Deconstruction is the product of the prolific Westlake Films fan group in the UK, and features an almost dialogue-free story about a Cyberman invasion of an isolated asteroid. Kevin Hiley provides eye-popping special effects, while John Isles contributes a haunting performance as the last man alive on the rock.

Time and Again (1999) – A recut/revamped Special Edition of this fan-classic is on the horizon, but there’s still plenty of reason to check out the original version of a fan film that has truly made its mark. A rare feature-length production that holds interest throughout, this boasts notable performances by Dennis Kuhn as the Doctor and Paul Christopher as his arch-enemy the Master. A must-see.

Fire and Ice (2009) – Making quite a splash in the DW fan film community, the first episode of Doctor Who: An Unofficial Fan Series aspires to be the Star Trek: New Voyages of the Who set. Strong performances (especially Jennifer Richman as Alice) and finely-tuned CG effects make this about as much like the “real” series as you could ask for. And, if all turns out well, there’ll eventually be twelve more just like it.

JE Smith is a forty-something guy living in the wilds of Texas, USA, who loves Doctor Who and loves fan films. He is currently a writer of film and DVD reviews for the media website Pop Syndicate, and is contemplating making his own DW fan film in the near future.

About JE Smith