The Rings of Akhaten

There are some fan edits that are fairly straightforward to do and some that are a bit more complicated to pull together. Like this one. I first tackled it four years ago, yeah you read that right. Four years ago. But try as I might, I just couldn’t find a way to fix it the way I wanted to. Best thing to do in those situations is to walk away and come back later when you’ve thought of a way to make the story work. So when I did finally came up with a way to make Rings work, it was time to revisit the edit of the story.

I’ve never consciously fan edited Doctor Who in any particular order, I just work on whichever one I feel like doing at the time. Sometimes the impetus for that can be an idea about how to tackle a particular problem in an edit, like getting rid of Kalid in Time Shite, I mean Time-flight.

It’s no surprise that this story came so low in the recent DWM 50 Years Poll, it’s not exactly the most dramatic plotline is it? Dr Who And The Planet of The Sing Song People has probably the most dull and undramatic premise ever seen in the show to date – sing the monster to sleep or it’ll wake up. Seriously?

As if having a plot as weak as that wasn’t bad enough, they then make things worse by not having the bloke in the glass case being the real monster! It’s a planet with a face! The ghost of Douglas Adams lives!

As a variation on the “dormant evil awakens” trope it could have worked but the emphasis is all wrong. There’s no tension at all in the build up to the monster waking up, no stress on how important it is that they stop it from waking and, worst of all, no Dr & Clara inadvertently being responsible for waking it up. Instead we get tuneless sub-operatic intergalactic lullabies, an ungrateful brat soloist and Chorister Risbeth Iznet, who is well too Welsh for credibility, which is already stretched to breaking point.

There haven’t been that many clunkers in New Who but this is definitely one of them. So what to do with it? An ordinary cut down version probably wouldn’t work as I’d already tried that once, so clearly we would need to do something different with it. But what? Before I tell you the answer, let’s go on the How I Got There journey first. It all starts with Giorgio Moroder and Metropolis

I remember seeing Metropolis in the Glasgow Film Theatre when it came out in 1984 and loving it. If you haven’t seen it then you really should. It’s brilliantly bonkers, a combination of a “colourised” silent movie with an eighties synth soundtrack. I liked it so much I bought the Soundtrack LP back in the day and when it finally came out on DVD I got the Steelbook, as well as the “restored” version of the 1927 Fritz Lang original.

And then, deep inside my Fan Brain, there percolated the notion of replacing the movie’s Giorgio Moroder soundtrack with a Murray Gold one. Now I don’t know about you but that idea has “win” written all over it for me. That particular project remains one of my post-Who possible edit projects but I still like the idea of Murray Gold’s Metropolis! And the idea of replacing the music with other music gave me the key to cracking this most problematic of fan edits, one I first tackled about two years ago…

When this episode proved frustratingly unworkable as a “normal” edit, it suddenly came to me that here was an opportunity to do something I’d never yet attempted – Doctor Who As A Silent Movie. There have been fan edits of Star Wars that have done the movies as silents but nobody has yet done it with Who that I know of, so here was another opportunity for a Fan Edit First!

One of the really fun things about Fan Editing is that you can do almost anything you like with the source material. I’ve done a few edits now that are a bit different to a straight forward Cut Down Version, like doing The Two Doctors in Black & White as a Troughton story, or The Mysterious Planet as four, ten-minute episodes, or doing Time And The Rani as Dr Who On Helium. So why not a Silent Movie? And of all the stories you could possibly do that with, what could be better than one that makes music such a central part of it’s sadly rather dull story!

The success of The Artist showed that the silent movie can still be a valid art form, and in that instance it was certainly the most appropriate medium in which to tell the story. Would the decline and fall of George Valentin and the rise of Peppy Miller have been half as engaging if it had been a sound movie? I doubt it.

So the idea was to take Rings and make it into a Silent Movie with all the attendant tropes thereof – Black & White, 4:3 in a 16:9 frame, slightly speeded up action, caption cards and an almost continuous soundtrack.

The first thing to do was to greyscale the footage and then apply the Old Film effect in Movieplus, and adjust the settings of the individual elements so the picture wasn’t too obscured by them. Having already done something similar with Ghost Light, which I also fan edited with an old film effect applied, I knew you need to play around with the settings until you get the right “feel” for the footage you’re working with.

As well as the obvious damage to the picture, the other thing that sets apart silent movies is the speed and jerkiness of the picture. By upping the playing speed of the footage to 1.3, I managed to achieve something like the authentic feel of a hand-cranked silent movie. It also had the advantage of reducing the running time of a story I would otherwise probably never watch again outside of the fan edit version.

But the fan edit version of this story as a Silent Movie isn’t the one that I ended up doing.

RINGS CD FRONT

For one thing I couldn’t source an alternate music cue to replace the naff “Lay Down” song and the longer it took me to find one the more frustrating this edit became. And that was before I’d even got very far with the dialogue captions. The damn thing had been festering away on my hard drive for four years and I knew that I had to get this particular monkey off my back.

In the end I did manage to knock together the usual cut down edit, which makes twice that this story has got away from me. But at least this time, third time around, I finally nailed the bloody thing and could scratch it from my ever shrinking Doctor Who To Do List at last.

As I’ve often done before, I started at the end of the edit, removing the bit where Clara remembers that she saw the Doctor at her mother’s grave for no good reason. It’s a contrived moment and never convinced me. Removing it also has the benefit of not having the Doctor be a space/time stalker!

But the big change was to remove the climax of the story as transmitted, where it’s Clara who saves the day and not the Doctor. For one thing I’m not convinced by all that nonsense about an infinity of possibilities since the mortal Ellie Oswald, even had she lived past 45, would have a finite possible future, a future in which certain outcomes would be much more likely than others.

For another I dislike stories where it’s the companion who ends up saving the day instead of the Doctor since this diminishes him as a hero. And I don’t like the underlying misandry that will eventually break cover in Kill The Moon either. So in this version it’s Eleven’s humongous multitude of memories that does for the big space face planet, not some stupid bloody leaf.

Since you can’t cut the chat between Clara & Merry I cut it back to the minimum, something helped by taking out the music track until the Vigil turn up, and then only reinstating it again when the Space Songs of Praise stuff starts up. All of which brings this awful episode in at just 30m 38s.

Although I didn’t end up doing the silent movie I’d wanted to with this edit, I still think that Murray Gold’s Metropolis would work, but that’s another edit for another time…!

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