Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Mastermind Review

By Shannon Lush

Long before the BBC took matters into their own corporate hands to provide fans of the good Doctor with fresh material, a small yet exuberant group from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, created the next best thing; their own adventures.

Cutting their creative teeth with a film called "The Overseers", the AYUDWFCON, or As-Yet-Unnamed-Doctor-Who-Fan-
Club-Of-Newfoundland, found they enjoyed the experience well enough to embark upon a second. Under the auspices of the group's audio/visual wing, Eleventh Hour Productions, (formed originally for "The Overseers"), the group wrote and produced the follow-up, entitled "Mastermind", in 1993.

If "The Overseers" had been a study in minimalism, in order to accommodate the low budget, "Mastermind" was a visual breath of fresh air. Where the former had been content to verbally suggest the existence of sets, such as the console room, the latter actually depicted them. This became a personal milestone for the members of the group dedicated to stretching the limits of their imaginations as well as their wallets!

"Mastermind", like it's predecessor, once again followed the adventures of the Doctor, as played by club member Blair Gaulton, and his companions, Simon, played by eventual fanzine editor and Outpost Gallifrey contributor Shannon Patrick Sullivan, and Imric, played by Jason Cantwell.

The story follows on from events depicted in "The Overseers". In the earlier tale, it was established that this Doctor is, indeed, the regeneration following Sylvester McCoy, and therefore the "Eighth" (I wonder what Christopher Eccleston was doing 'round about the summer of 1993?). Having rescued the pickpocket, Imric, from the sterile world of Vanestra, the Doctor is faced with getting to know the lad, as well as patiently acting as a sounding board for Simon, who still holds a torch for a young woman he encountered in a previous adventure.

It was this independent, renegade quality of Eleventh Hour Productions that initially attracted my interest in the creative wing of the fan club. Instead of merely creating adventures to entertain and share with other fans, EHP were making strides towards establishing new myths! From blithely inserting references to stories of "our" Doctor published in our fanzine, "The Whostorian Quarterly", to presenting not an unofficial, "what if?"-type Doctor but a full-fledged regeneration following on from the actual incarnation of the series (in our minds, anyway), EHP were intent to create our own saga. What began as a humble attempt to pay homage to our favourite defunct television series quickly began to take on epic proportions. Taking it all together, and bearing in mind the "Doctor Who" landscape of the early to mid-1990's was a darn sight more barren and windswept than our home province ever will be, it was a proud accomplishment, almost qualifying as "seasons" of a fan-generated series.

I got into the act rather quickly. First, I suggested that our fan films ought to link up with those of another group's, and a line uttered by the "Seventh" Doctor in the excellent Johnathon Blum fan flick "Time Rift" was referenced by our own "Seventh" Doctor in another of our films, "The Oracle Of Time". I was later made aware that such an occurrence, it was believed, was unprecedented. I embraced the spirit of enthusiasm as we all forged ahead with what we felt sure would be the ultimate future of our hero, in the hands of the very fans that the original series had cultivated.

The Doctor of "Mastermind" is an idealistic crusader, young and witty. His companion Simon is a rather more morose fellow, and this is explained both in print (in our fanzine) and in the later film as being due to his parents being captured by the Daleks. I did not write or contribute to the creative development of the first two films (though I would go on to co-write the third and pen my own "Eighth" Doctor stories for the fanzine), but I could appreciate the intricate layers of character and plot development that went into the overall creative output of our happy little fan club. And when it came time to conceive of a third film, I was pleased that those seeds had been sown, and their existence made my job significantly easier!

As for Imric, the streetwise new companion, a curtain was drawn across his character in the form of the Master (well, the title was "Mastermind", an obvious signpost if there ever was one!). The Master appears once more to plague The Doctor, having escaped the Cheetah people planet, (we left the details intentionally vague, if I recall, though it is explained fully in the third film), and is now using the telepathic Doradan Ambassador, Medulla, for his own evil ends. Taking the body of Imric was a definite nod to his methods in "The Keeper Of Traken", and continuing the wink-wink familiarity by killing Imric off, (the names Imric and Adric are very similar, aren't they...?), I was again startled by the ingenuity and imagination of the group I had wisely joined. It is not every fan club that intentionally inserts such a downbeat resolution to their fan film! It was brave and ambitious, and it was this that convinced me I had to become more creatively involved in future projects.

Ah, Medulla. The character of Medulla is really nothing more than a cipher to explain to the viewers the sometimes convoluted scheme of the disembodied Master, but that didn't stop me; I had to dive right in! Even when the costume was unveiled to me, and it stood revealed as a heavy black robe, complete with itchy cardboard shoulder piece and vision-obscuring, fishbowl-shaped helmet, I didn't hesitate. These people were on the forefront of something magical, and I wanted in.

The console room was an actual room in the basement of Phil McCausland's house. Phil was the originator of everything to do with local "Doctor Who", and had previously played a major role in the first film. Using the chimney pipe as a base (and a Time Rotor), we built our very own console. Consisting of fanciful drawings, old computer keyboards, and other bits of vaguely futuristic bric-a-brac, we added a little piece of "Doctor Who" to Phil's basement. I felt a kinship to all those that had worked on the actual series. Like those under-funded, brilliant designers, we too had faced the seemingly insurmountable task of taking tape, common household items, and our own imagination and weaving a working universe around them, a universe that was supposed to look as if it had depth and resonance. I think we succeeded admirably, but of course that's just my opinion. I could have been giddy from the heat of so many lights, so many bodies in a confined space, and a helmet that I couldn't see out of!

Despite the sultry, sweaty heat of those August days and evenings, despite the inexplicable and all-too-frequent power outages that particular summer (one of which provided the group with the opportunity to record a humorous "bonus" episode, "Absence Of The Daleks", in Phil's backyard), and despite missed cues, retakes, and even prop flops, we eventually finished the second fan film effort of EHP.

With the actual live action work done, we then had to insert appropriate props and FX. We were approached by an amateur model maker named Bob Power, who had appeared as a corpse, (with his leg inexplicably defying gravity, despite his character's predicament!), in "The Overseers", and offered to build and allow to be filmed a couple of ships. One of those ships was a real beauty, and was used as Medulla's transport. The ship's captain, Mandaris, portrayed by Jonathon Stack, sneers wickedly at Simon when the latter finds himself transported aboard unexpectedly (after the TARDIS fused with the ship; "Nightmare Of Eden", wink, wink....!) Clearly, Mandaris is proud of his ship, and perhaps the reason was that he, and us all, ohhhed and awwwed over the physical prop when Bob brought it to show us.

As for the TARDIS, we were very keen on capturing the "feel" of the original series. Nothing could be better in our minds than to actually depict that famous blue box spinning along through the time vortex. Somebody, perhaps Shannon Patrick Sullivan, suggested we place a model TARDIS on a turntable, tilt the camera appropriately, and light the scene with a minimum of source light. It worked like a charm, and I actually prefer that brief scene of our trusty, battered Police Box model to it's much more elegant (and far more expensive) counterpart in the Paul McGann film! I don't know who owned the particular model that we used, though it could have been several people; it was rather a point of pride to possess "Doctor Who" merchandise in such an out-of-the-way place like Newfoundland.

As for FX, we used the various effects available to us at the editing facility that was lent out to us for a day, Jabba Videomakers. It's owner was more accustomed to producing wedding and graduation videos, and probably never dreamt that a simple little video effect he may have used many times to enhance shots of happy, smiling newlyweds would become a sinister time wave distortion effect in our hands!

I actually spent that day there waiting to re-record lines that I spoke "on stage" as Medulla. The nature of the costume made my voice sound exactly like it was supposed to; a heavy smoker under a heavy helmet in heavy, warm weather! It was always intended that I would re-record the lines later, in order to give them a proper eerie, echoing quality as befits the galaxy's foremost telepath (I had plenty of time to formulate a complete back story for Medulla during rehearsals, and thus came to believe he was far more powerful and influential than anybody else had thought!). In the end, though, a combination of time constraints and lack of proper technical training ("push that button there"...."YOU push that button, I'm not getting in trouble for breaking studio equipment...!") conspired to immortalize my muffled, winded voice forever. But there's always the Special Edition DVD! (A fond, fond dream!)

Another aspect to our fan films which I enjoyed immensely is that we emulated the original series as much as possible, from plot elements to props, effects to enthusiasm. One of "Doctor Who"'s most distinctive elements has always been it's incidental music. Every episode took on a new dimension when that wonderful, ethereal music aurally painted the scenes, and we wanted to do the same. To that end, our very talented group member Stephen Winsor, who later co-wrote and directed and produced the third film, contributed a fantastic soundtrack. Eleven years later, and I still listen to the tracks he composed especially for "Mastermind", they are that unique and dear to my heart.

So, that, my friends, is my recollection of not only the fan film "Mastermind", but of wonderful days spent in the company of wonderful people, doing nothing other than tossing our collective creative efforts into that vast and ever-growing mini-universe of fan creations.

And, if not for "Doctor Who", I would not now have these memories, these words to contribute to this site, to hopefully be read by other fans who, just perhaps, have their very own special connection to the legacy of this "cult" British series!

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