Howdy Who fans and welcome to the fifth installment of my little corner of Fan Film Follies. This is the first of a two-part column in which I’ll review some fan film productions that have recently come to my attention, and are worthy of your time. If you have a DW fan film you’d like reviewed, contact me via this website, with the only caveat being that, except in special circumstances, we will only review completed productions.
IN THE PIPELINE (2009)
Written / Edited / Directed by – Tony Coburn
A young woman, Amy Lavell (Jo Baker), is awoken by strange noises coming from the pipes in her house. But never fear — the TARDIS has appeared in her back yard, and a strange man who initially calls himself John Smith, aka the Doctor (Tony Coburn) is already investigating. The Doctor deduces that a wayward gaseous alien has taken up refuge in Amy’s plumbing, and he initiates a plan to get the creature back home. But the forces of Torchwood, U.N.I.T., and a new organization (“Another ‘Dad’s Army!” the Doctor barks) are also investigating the extraterrestrial visitation.
Tony Coburn is a professional actor (he was to appear briefly in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as young Lucius Malfoy, but his scene ended up being cut) and prolific Doctor Who fan filmmaker who has built a large and loyal following on YouTube. After a few years of mostly male companions, “In the Pipeline” was his first fanvid to feature a female in the sidekick role, his then-girlfriend Jo Baker (they have since split up) as aspiring actress Amy Lavell. Coburn’s years of experience producing Who fan films gives much of “In the Pipeline” a fairly professional feel, with the most impressive aspect being the creative and energetic editing. At 40 minutes, the film is slightly overlong, but not grievously so, and the cutting (by Coburn, of course) keeps the pace crisp and mobile; there’s even a funny editing-based homage to Shaun of the Dead in the first few minutes. Many fan filmmakers should take a lesson from how story-driven and professional this editing job is.
However, Coburn’s habit of cranking out as much material as possible (visit his YT page at http://www.youtube.com/user/timelordfromhell to see just how much stuff he’s produced in a few short years) means that some aspects of the production — mainly the greenscreen work, which represents the last third or so of the film — feel sloppy and underdeveloped. I don’t know if Coburn lacks the proper tools, or the patience — or perhaps some combination of both — to make the greenscreen work look as professional as the rest of the video, but setting so much of the last act in artificial environments (the TARDIS control room and an alien planet, all of which require computer compositing and rotoscoping) really takes the viewer out of the story. The perspectives are often wonky, the backgrounds often bleed through the actors faces, the meshing of foreground and background rarely seems realistic, and in the final scenes set on the alien planet, we often see shadows cast on the greenscreen background hovering in mid-air.
There are other technical issues as well: in one scene of the Doctor and Amy walking along a road early on, the shadow of the cameraman is clearly visible on their clothes, and one female extra ( a Torchwood grunt, supposedly) keeps grinning through every scene, as if she’s thinking, “I’m in a film!!” (I realize the filmmakers were trying to make Torchwood’s numbers look more impressive, but really, the presence of this baby-faced, completely unthreatening young girl does more harm than good.) There’s a scene near the end where the TARDIS has landed in a park, only to disappear a few minutes later. And the entire production looks as though it was filmed in 4×3 and then digitally “stretched” out to letterbox format, which makes everyone look a bit short and dumpy.
Even so, “In the Pipeline” has much to recommend it. Coburn is a natural actor, and makes for a fairly effortlessly endearing Doctor; if I had any comment to make it would be that he tends to lean a bit too heavily on David Tennant’s interpretation (probably not surprising as he has done much work impersonating Tennant in various comedy skits), but is clearly not playing the same incarnation. But he’s a commanding figure fully capable of carrying the story. I like his more Edwardian costume a lot as well. Jo Baker isn’t quite as good, but she does manage to avoid the trap of being whiny and annoying (like the current new series Amy… oops, did I say that out loud?), and has some good moments here and there, as well as adding a healthy dose of sex appeal to the proceedings. The rest of the cast are surprisingly adequate in their brief roles, and it’s nice to see our always-entertaining old chum Matthew Chambers (in a walk-on as a Torchwood operative) in any fan film. Christopher Thomson, in devil-red makeup, makes for an agreeably unnerving alien life form. The script isn’t anything to write home about, and the ending is pure cheese, but the story moves at a nice pace, and holds interest in a way that most fan films struggle with. Clearly, Coburn has talent, and I especially like the fact that he used the classic series Who theme in the opening titles rather than one of the various new-series versions; it gives the film a sense of history.
For all its rough edges, “In the Pipeline” is generally well-directed, slick at times, and fairly impressive. It gets a thumbs-up from me. Tony Coburn has apparently recently made a decision to stop producing Who fan films and concentrate on other projects, and that’s a bit of a shame, as he’s pretty good at it. Still, he’s got a pretty large back-catalog to explore, and he might even change his mind in the future. Time, as they say, will tell.
Aboard the military research starship HMS Archer, the crew is under attack by malevolent xenomorphic alien creatures, while the Doctor (Ryan Hendrick) is in the process of regenerating, as a result of an encounter with one of the creatures. In the care of Dr. Lydia (Jennifer Byrne) and hard-ass soldier Lt. Ryder (Frankie MacEachen), he manages to recover enough to lead them deeper into the ship while formulating a plan to deal with the alien attacks.
This short film (12 minutes) was shot in Scotland and is, according to the filmmakers, a “teaser” for a full-length video currently in production. It’s an intriguing idea: the Doctor vs. the memorable monsters from the Alien franchise, in a claustrophobic spaceship environment, with the Doc in the process of regenerating after having encountered one of the creatures. All with Scottish accents.
In some ways “Besieged” reminds me of the classic Batman fan film Dead End, both because of its open-ended conclusion and the fact that it features the fearsome critters from the beloved Ridley Scott/James Cameron films. “Besieged” isn’t as slick as Dead End, but it’s a worthy production that hints at something greater. What’s here so far is a bit unsatisfying, but the longer production, if done with similar care, could be an all-time classic.
If I have any small gripes with the film they would be the over-use of new-series musical cues which we’ve heard in far too many fan films already (as well as their re-use in the actual series; hopefully the full-length “Besieged” will have an original score) and the too-dark cinematography. I realize that director Stuart Cadenhead was going for “dark-and-scary,” but there are too many scenes here where you simply can’t tell what’s happening, especially during the sequence where the Doctor and the two ladies move from one location to the next; despite having watched the film several times on different kinds of monitors (and even on TV), there are still multiple shots where I just don’t understand what it is I’m supposed to be seeing. And when the viewer is confused, they stop caring. My advice for the full-length production would be to sacrifice some of the mystery of the dark in favor of better clarity of storytelling; it’s difficult to realize, for instance, that we are even seeing the classic Alien monster designs at first. And this isn’t really a story so much as a vignette, basically an extended trailer, which is fine for promotional purposes; hopefully the extended feature will have more to the plot than just running up and down corridors.
Still, “Besieged” is a very promising production with some really fun elements. The acting is terrific, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing more of Ryan Hendrick’s Doctor, who seems to have regenerated from the David Tennant iteration, bypassing Matt Smith entirely. There are some excellent CG spaceship shots, and, from what I can tell, the Alien costumes are outstanding. The use of colored lights and gels is very effective, and the use of locations to suggest the interior of a spaceship is surprisingly convincing. Overall, the video looks outstanding, and is well worth checking out. Here’s hoping they can continue building a bigger, better version of “Besieged,” and we’ll be happy to promote the finished production whenever it is released.
NEXT TIME: Plastic Treachery, Mission to the Unknown, The Other Side, and more.
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.