Sometimes you wonder what it is that attracts you to Fan Edit certain stories. In this case, I`m still not sure what it was. Maybe it was RTD`s Production Notes in DWM, maybe it was just a case of there being no point in putting it off any longer. Either way, Underworld is a dreadful clunker of a story that I had as little enthusiasm for editing as I did for viewing.
This is the second time I’ve tackled the story, and there were two reasons for that. The first was that I simply felt I could do a better job of covering the editing points [something my earlier, less experienced fan editing self didn’t always manage] and the second was to finally fix the annoyingly inconsistent viewscreen onboard the Minyan ship. First time around I had neither the time, energy or enthusiasm to fix the glaring continuity errors in the early part of part one.
Sometimes it’s black outside, sometimes it’s green, and you can’t help but wonder how and why they botched it since the actual screen used for the CSO is blue! Fixing the error seemed like the obvious thing to do but I soon realised that the amount of work involved would mean too much pain for too little gain. But it always annoyed me that it got away from me and this time, with the fan editing of the Classic Series completed, I was determined to take the opportunity to go back, do a “Special Edition” and finally nail the bugger!
Greek Mythology tends not to be a good basis for a Doctor Who story, at least not if this and The Horns of Nimon are anything to go by. For some reason that type of story template doesn’t translate that well to the show’s format. Quite why I’m not sure, it’s not as if those Greek myths are lacking in incident. Perhaps it’s the very fact that there are Gods involved, maybe that’s why Doctor Who stories involving those sorts of characters tend not to work. Think about all the God-like characters the show has had down through the years. I can’t think of one that has made for an interesting villain or, as a result, an interesting story. Sutekh is about the only one I can think of who “works” and that’s only really because he’s glued to his chair for almost all of Pyramids of Mars, and thus forced to work through his human agent, Scarman.
I think the problem with stories about the Doctor meeting God-like beings is that the show works best when the Doctor is the cleverest, and by extension, the most powerful character in the story. Putting in a character who is even more powerful than the Doctor diminishes him as a narrative force. Look at the finale of The War Games. Once the God-like Time Lords turn up, the Doctor becomes a bystander as the story trundles on without him. The only real storytelling solution is to undermine the Gods of the story by showing them to either be nothing more than a little man hiding behind a curtain, as in The Wizard of Oz, or, as here, nothing more than computer with delusions of grandeur. As far as storytelling in Doctor Who is concerned, if its a choice between Gods and Monsters, let’s just stick to the monsters.
Of course, one thing you do with monsters is run away from them, and this is the ultimate “running around in corridors” story, although in this case the corridors are caves. Very dodgy CSO caves. But hey, you`ve got to admire their ingenuity and guts in even trying, even if it does fail miserably and results in a static story in more ways than one. Most of the eps are just a runaround with not a lot actually happening, and the story, such as it is, moves forward at a snail’s pace, with not nearly enough incident to help fill up the four episodes it’s got to play with.
With this mk2 version I started from scratch, deleting the previous edit before I started so as to avoid the temptation to look at what I’d done before, and I ran into problems right at the start of part one. This was a complete pain in the arse to edit, and it took several attempts before I got a sequence of scenes that I was happy with. All the problems were caused by that bloody inconsistent viewscreen. I managed to get rid of all the Non-CSO shots except for two, only one of which involved a frame-by-frame fix, the other a static mask.
The biggest problem with fixing the missing CSO frame-by-frame is that, no matter how you try, you just cannot get a static edge around Jackson as he moves in front of the window. The edges bounce around like a puppy on a trampoline but it’s still preferable to the alternative. The only way to do it was to duplicate the shot, use the chromakey tool on the top layer and put a black intermediate layer in between, giving you three video layers. The next step was to get the gravity whirlpool in there for consistency with the other shots in the opening scenes on the bridge.
To do that I had to make up a reel of all the shots of the gravity whirlpool with the Tardis or the Minyan ship masked out. Knowing that was all the material I had to work with, I was then able to use those one of those clean shots as an insert behind the viewscreen. Using the Chromakey tool in my editing software on the top video layer left a lot of gaps where the intermediate black layer was showing through, so to finish off the fix all I had to do was grab both video layers and then erase the missing sections frame-by-frame to give a frame with Jackson in front of a black screen instead of a green one. And it only took 780 frames to do it!
But my viewscreen troubles weren’t over yet. When Tom & Leela turn up, the bloody thing goes from whirlpool to black and then back to whirlpool again. To make matters worse the shots with the black screen in aren’t static, making it impossible to key in the whirlpool. So the only solution was to have Orfe turn the viewscreen off by having it fade to black thanks to a simple mask, accompanied by a shortened version of the Tardis scanner sound effect. Since the Time Lords influenced the Minyan civlisation, and they know what a Relative Continuum Stabiliser sounds like, it seemed appropriate for their screen to make the same sound as that of their Gods!
In the end I had to make a slight adjustment to the finished fx shot, redoing the whirlpool to keep it as far away from Jackson’s shoulder as possible and darkening the shot slightly to help obscure the jumping edges of the animation. . Apart from the dodgy CSO, Underworld is infamous for two other things. Jackson’s helmet[!] and the Oracle’s robots. They are both ridiculous but it seems that the story’s Designer isn’t entirely to blame, though he is as guilty as anyone of not taking things seriously. It would appear he took his inspiration from a strangely familiar 1925 invention called The Isolator…
And speaking of things that just look ridiculous, RTD is right about the robots’noses, they make them look a little bit too cute. Picturing them without the nose, or at least holding your finger over it so you can’t see it, didn’t make it seem that its loss would make them any less daft than they already look. Of course masking them out would be an even bigger pain in the arse to do than blacking out the Minyan viewscreen but I did a test shot just to check he was right. And he was!
I deleted the original version before starting work on this one so that I wouldn’t be influenced by it. Although I no longer have that first version to refer to, I know for a fact that there are scenes in this version that weren’t in its predecessor, and there are scenes in the previous version that aren’t in this one. Your editing tastes change over time, but one thing that hasn’t changed is my opinion of the story, which is low on incident and high on run-around. That counts for its reduced running time of less than thirty-five minutes with this version yet, despite having a slightly different combination of scenes in them, both edits of Underworld have come out at more or less the same running time.
For example, the mk1 version didn’t have the opening TARDIS scene but the mk2 does. Similarly, the mk1 version had the nose robots but this version loses them. Not only are they a rubbish token monster their unveiling is nonsense. Why on earth would they take their hoods off just to show Herrik, or Eric as I always want to call him, that they are robots with noses? It’s on a par with the similar moment in The Android Invasion, and is an example of bad writing and poorly constructed plotting. If anything the reveal should have come about like the unmasking of Greel by Leela in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, with someone else pulling their hoods off, wanting to know who they are. If there isn’t a story reason to for a “shock” reveal then don’t show us it, particularly when they fact that they are robots has no effect on the plot or contribution to its resolution. And anyway, it’s not a shock moment, like having a Zygon attack Sarah when she’s on the phone, it’s weak and undermined by the fact that their appearance is laughable.
RTD was right when he wrote in DWM that they would work better without their noses and I did briefly toy with the idea of trying to remove them. But the actors don’t stay still enough for masking them out to be practical. Not only that, having slogged my way through the 700-odd frames needed to fix the green screen shot at the start, that was the last thing I wanted to put myself through.
I did do another couple of quick fixes though. When Leela shoots the guard to rescue the Doctor at the end, there’s no beam from the gun, so I’ve added one in for consistency. They either forgot about it during the fx session in post production or they ran out of time. And when Eric gets shot on the bridge, the initial few beams go behind the uprights, as you would expect them to given where the guards are firing from, but then the last few shots go in front of the uprights. It looks wrong because Eric never changes the direction he’s looking or firing in to take account of being attacked from a different position. The whole sequence is completely inconsistent as far as the guns’ beams are concerned but once again to fix it would have been more trouble than it’s worth. The solution to the inconsistency was to use the uprights on the rope bridge as a mask. Laying that mask over the shots of Eric being shot meant all the shots that were now fired at him from inside the rope bridge. It wasn’t strictly necessary but to my mind having them all being fired from the same place looks a lot better.
On TV the rope bridge scene was followed by the abortive attempt to infiltrate the citadel via the rock crusher. Given that this forms the cliffhanger to part three and results in them ending up back where they started, a perfect example of a Classic Series Story Loop, it gets ditched as it doesn’t move the story forward. The consequence of losing the loop was that its loss was made obvious by the fact that the klaxon blaring in the background fades out in the part three scene only to suddenly reappear in the next scene from part four. In order to cover the join I had to make up a loop of the klaxon and lay that under both scenes so we could get from one to the other.
Aside from the rubbish robots, there are other inconsistencies and puzzling plot holes in the script that are never properly explained. Like why the P7E is carrying two explosive cylinders that look exactly like the ones that contain the race bank. Obviously the Oracle never thought the one would get mistaken for the other! And why has the Oracle, the P7E’s ship’s computer, gone all Xoanon anyway? How did she manage to knock up the nose robots given the low level of technology on display? Why are there only two of them? Why was the R1C dispatched in the first place to find the P7E? It’s never explained how the latter got lost or why there were two ship that left Minyos, but only one of them has a race bank onboard. Wouldn’t it have been safer to have a race bank onboard both ships, just in case? Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket!
Why doesn’t the R1C have a ship’s computer? Is it Hoods On or Hoods off for the guards? No-one seems to know from one scene to the other. Where did the sword come from? And, perhaps most important of all, was it deliberate that Minyans sounds like Minions? One thing’s for sure, if the little yellow fellows from Despicable Me were running around those CSO tunnels instead of The Jackson Four, this story would have been a lot more fun than it is!