Mission to the Unknown

My apologies for the delay in this fourth installment of my Who fan film column – a couple of topics I’ve been preparing aren’t quite ready for publication just yet, but more importantly, the new season of “real” Doctor Who has recently debuted on the BBC (and BBC-America) after quite a long hiatus, bringing with it a whole new set of lead actors, new production team, and lots of other bits and pieces that have got the rabid fanboys (like me) all distracted and excited. As a result, I have let my duties here slide a bit, but resolve to keep such distractions to a minimum in the future!

Taking a cue from Mr. Christopher Moshier himself, I thought I’d do a piece on some of the more notable “unfinished” or lost Who fan films – some of these titles are legendary among fans, while others are relatively unknown. But all were intriguing enough for one reason or another that you can’t help but wish they’d gotten finished, one way or another.

5. DEPTHS (Broken Biscuit Productions) – The only fan film I’m aware of to use the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston in the BBC series), this appeared only as a trailer, which featured only a small amount of actual footage, a brief clip of the Doctor (Matthew J. Watts) emerging from the TARDIS. The trailer bore a release slated of Autumn 2006, but it never materialized. It was planned as a six-part adventure, and publicity photos released at the time also featured a very attractive companion, played by Emily Brown. But apparently there were multiple problems with planned locations, and only a portion of the video was ever filmed. A pity, as the full-sized TARDIS prop was impressive, and it would have been lovely to actually have a Ninth Doctor fan film — the advent of Tennant soon became the permanent iconography of the series, and no one bothered to emulate the Eccleston Doctor once DT had taken over the role.

4. TIME AND THE DOCTORS (DAM Productions) – The usually quite prolific team of David Nagel and Matthew Chambers aren’t the type of fan filmmakers to let a production go unfinished; in addition to their amusing Chimera, they’ve also produced dozens of Who-related audio plays, and the delightful charity video Pudsai which brought together many fan-Doctors in the same production. But Time and the Doctors was the one that got away — a lyrical and cosmic story of the regeneration from the Nagel Doctor to the Chambers version, this was also planned to be the debut of Miss Samantha Thornley as the companion Sammy. Young Sammy has since gone on to become Mrs. Nagel, and has appeared in a couple of DAM audio productions. According to David Nagel: “The real reason it was abandoned was because I wasn’t happy with how short the film was; filming was a difficult process, the noise levels were atrocious, as we filmed next to a main road (of all places) and I wanted a sound dub that never happened. Plus, I never got around to filming Sammy (as Time in the void) until recently and it still didn’t turn out quite as I expected. So now the film is in a semi-complete state, special effects for the cosmic chest pains, the regeneration etc and a green-screen void sequence.” Nagel also suggests that he will one day assemble the footage and post it online as an archive piece, and stresses that he no longer considers this “canon” for the Nagel/Chambers regeneration. “TatD has been replaced by a bigger, better, more substantial plot, but only involving the one Doctor, until the regeneration.” The evocative black-and-white trailer features a lovely and haunting piano arrangement of the famous theme tune (by Anthony Perry), and some nifty phase-shifting effects, but is available only as a low-res file from the early days of the century.

3. THE CHURCHTOWN INCIDENT (Timebase Productions) – Timebase is one of the most respected names in Doctor Who fan filmdom, but their last two productions bear the stigma of never having been formally released. The Hidden Face, at least, was largely completed and a rough assembly played at several conventions in the early 2000s. But The Churchtown Incident remains legendary as the great “lost” Timebase film. It told the story of an idyllic semi-industrial planet being invaded by the war-like Sontarans, who are using the natives as guinea pigs for alien implants. Featuring Rupert Booth and Deborah Reilly as the Doctor and Amaryllis, only half of the feature was ever shot. But, this footage was used to compile a very impressive-looking trailer which displayed not only a full Sontaran costume and mask, but the interior of a Sontaran spaceship, and some good-looking futuristic weapons. Although some close to the production have claimed some reservations about the actual script, The Churchtown Incident is probably among the most widely-seen “unfinished” trailers, and one many fans would love to have a chance to see.

2. TIME STALKERS (Mendicant Productions) – The fabled followup to Time and Again seemed doomed from the very beginning. There were personality conflicts that led to the replacing of lead actor Dennis Kuhn with Paul Christopher (making this the first fan film in which the Doctor and the Master were played by the same actor, an intriguing notion that never quite came to fruition), and logistical problems exacerbated by director Ryan Thorson’s imminent entry into the military. As with Churchtown, only about half of the script was ever filmed, and the video’s renown is based on production photos, artwork, and a brief trailer that was featured on the long-since-vanished website. The forthcoming Special Edition DVD of Time and Again also features a couple of brief clips from Time Stalkers, but like Churchtown, there’s very little hope of this one ever being completed, and the project remains a sore spot for just about everyone involved.

1.DEVIOUS – (Devious Productions) Easily the most famous and infamous “unfinished” Doctor Who vid, the Devious gang still maintain that the epic fan video will be finished someday soon, even though it has been in production for more than fifteen years at this point. Patterned after the old six-part serials, this tells of an “interim” Doctor set between the second and third incarnations, who is sent to an isolated planet to undergo a series of tests, but is soon pursued by the Daleks, via impressive full-scale working models that were built especially for the production. Though the project is notable in many ways, the most important and obvious of these is the appearance of Jon Pertwee, who played the Third Doctor in the BBC series, and makes a brief appearance at the conclusion of the story; this footage was in fact recently included on an official BBC DVD of “The War Games,” and constituted Pertwee’s last acting work before his untimely death in 1996. Also of note is the fact that both the full-size Daleks and the impressive TARDIS control room were borrowed by the BBC for the Comic Relief charity spoof The Curse of Fatal Death, written by current show-runner Steven Moffat, and starring Rowan Atkinson, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, and Hugh Grant, all playing various incarnations of the Doctor. Devious has long been on the forefront of fan anticipation, and tons of photographs, a trailer, and a fairly detailed website have been pored over by Who-geeks for years. But progress on the project has been worse than glacial, and many believe it will simply never be finished. Even if it is, the producers have hinted that they may not even release it for public consumption, and keep it for their own private viewing. This would be a shame, of course, but would also probably preserve its status as the #1 “unseen” Who fan vid of all time.

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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