The Revision Thing

I have a minor obsession, and in fandom I don’t think I’m alone in this. There’s a great part of me that, while enjoying past stories and the series’ long and mostly noble on-screen history, can’t resist wondering how it would be if things were ‘tweaked’ a little. By this I don’t mean CG-ing the Menoptra (not really a high priority) or adding a laugh track to Terror of the Vervoids (hmm…), but actually reinventing what we’ve seen and known for years – decades in some examples.


I’m also not talking about change for the sake of change, or as a would-be marketing ploy. I really like the new CG work on the Remastered Star Trek I’ve seen – usually as stills (which for me has never been a forgiving medium for CGI), but I’m aware that some fans have called the move gratuitous and little more than another opportunity to flog stuff die-hards have owned for years. A similar argument was made for the Red Dwarf re-releases. The important thing here is that neither series was greatly changed beyond some cosmetic dabbling. Of course, one might argue that this sort of change isn’t minor at all, and that a story’s looks DO have a bearing on the reception, even in a revisionist sense. Go too far, tweak too much even in defending one’s ‘artistic vision’ and you get the remastered Star Wars trilogy (after which, George Lucas went on to do the reverse of the above and re-release the ‘originals’). Some fans would decry any molestation of a past story to be an affront to its original creators and audience.


Die hard fans get proprietary over the look and feel of the past – in a way we’re as much anchored to it as we are to Billyfluffs and Zarbis colliding with camera equipment. We’ve become so used to them in the early episodes we accepted for years the ‘it was done live!’ defence and forgiven the old series’ shortcomings because some of those same shortcomings have become an essential ingredient of their period. For years Doctor Who was identified by its apparently ‘wobbly sets’ and squeezy bottle spaceships. We’ve become nostalgic for the slightly shoddy, and the new series with its whistles and bells looks strangely uninvolving at times, possibly because it’s too smooth, or doesn’t yet betray these endearingly organic elements. Which brings me to a major observation over the past few years on the late-lamented Restoration Team Forum: namely, what to ‘fix’ and what to leave. For every ‘revisionist’ fan who covets a VidFired Seeds of Death with a nicely silenced Ice Warrior/door lintel head-butt there’s another ‘preservationist’ fan who baulks at those imperfections being airbrushed over and wants to see that boom-mike in shot that they’ve relied on spotting for years. There’s a line between the two, and the RT to my mind do their damnedest to please either side of it – so we get ‘alternative’ CG effects as well as the (often duff and mis-staged) originals. Both the revisionists and the preservationists were on the board vying for the attention of a group of professionals – fans themselves – who just wanted to present old stories in their best light, on a limited budget.


Some fans go even further of course, and take matters into their own hands. Recent history provides memorable examples – negative fan reception to The Phantom Menace begat several versions of The Phantom Edit, a re-cut, retooled version of Lucas’ prequel that removed some of the comedy and exposition (not to mention Midichlorians), reduced baby Anakin’s ‘whoopee’ time and turned Jar-Jar’s patois into believable alien language. Re-edits and ‘corrections’ were also made to Highlander, Matrix and Dune movies. For some time on fans with technical know-how and strong opinions talked of recutting The Lord of the Rings into a narrative that more closely matched that of the book. Budding CG artists have reworked bits of The Five Doctors and some early regeneration scenes and put them on YouTube. Some, regrettably, have been since removed, reminding us that this sort of thing is of course not actually legal, although in the spirit of mash-ups the BBC have largely been understanding over smaller efforts.


So then, I want to save Timelash. I really do. I awaited the new DWM eagerly just to see what this issue’s ‘Fact of Fiction’ covering the story would reveal about it; what was cut from it (and in some cases we could assume, blithely recorded over with Coronation Street by a VHS-recycling JNT), and how the story flows. The answer, although the article is charitable, is that lots was cut in the editing suite and lost forever (seven minutes, but hey they kept the safety belts scene), and there are two endings and neither of them work. The story is flabby in places and its overseas edits had some awful non-cliffhangers fabricated to match a broadcast duration that the BBC wasn’t using itself in 1984. There are duff performances, fragile sets and Santa’s Grotto as a location – but there’s also a story in there I like, and among such small fare as the Colin Baker era, would dearly love to rehabilitate. Timelash isn’t a bad story after all – it’s just a mediocre one written by an amateur, script-edited at gunpoint by a man near the end of his tether, enacted by about fifty-percent of its cast and finally edited in post-production amid some agitation between its director and its producee. Some might say not an atypical Doctor Who story then. My ambitions involve a shorter story, more Herbert, some better modelwork, a topping and tailing of some scenes, perhaps some CGI or lens-flaring on the dreaded box of tinsel, and maybe even a re-score. Lose the seat belts and some of the rebels, tighten the story up. The end result would be not-Timelash, for better or worse. But my question is, to use Timelash purely as a fan exercise – is this sort of thing enough to ‘save’ a story, to ‘improve’ it, or re-tell it in a new and interesting way?


And if not Timelash, then what story would you like to be locked in an editing suite with?
(longer replies may be considered for a follow-up posting!)


Update: and we have an addition already! Here’s Al:


Rewatching Invasion of time recently I couldn’t help but notice that there are a few scenes during Leela and Rodan’s sojourn to outer Gallifrey which are just crying out for that lovely Mill Capitol to be plonked in the background. When the girls first appear on a quarry ridge line there’s acres of empty sky behind them for the duration of a lengthy scene – and similar matte-friendly shots later on as Leela leads the charge back to the Capitol.

Of course, there’s much more to re-editing than just adding a special effect. My own pick for an extensive rework would be ‘The Mutants’ – I’ve always felt that there’s a good story here, buried under a couple of surplus episodes worth of padding.



11 Responses to “The Revision Thing”

  1. the_other_dave Says:

    No comments on the movie cut Curse of Fenric…. anyone?

  2. Peter A Says:

    I think it was a good set up and would love to hear what story you would like to be locked in an editing suite with.

  3. Paul Scoones Says:

    I’ve been studying the camera scripts for The Caves of Androzani lately and I’m convinced that there’s an even better version of the story there that we didn’t get to see. But I doubt that much of that missing material was even recorded, let alone survives, so being locked in an editing suite with this story perhaps wouldn’t do much good.

    I think Warriors of the Deep could be cut down by at least an episode, removing the Myrka and reducing some of the base personnel scenes. If, through technical wizardry the harsh lighting could be turned right down so it looks more like the gloomy, run-down environment the writer originally envisaged, that might do wonders for the story’s reputation.

  4. Peter A Says:

    Warriors is a good example actually, and I agree about the lighting levels (actually I think everyone agrees about the lighting levels!). Maybe the picture could be graded to bring the tones down? And the Myrka might be a little more threatening in the dark with the eyes glowing… can the story work without the Myrka? I can’t remember. Would it be necessary to fabricate a new climactic threat, or is there one I’m missing, like the countdown?

    I have to say, I was surprised the rather nice CG models they used for the seabase were used only in the behind the scenes doco.

  5. Alden Says:

    I’ve always thought The Dominators would be vastly improved by cutting it down to four, or even three episodes.

  6. jpreddle Says:

    I’d re-edit The Trial of A Time Lord by removing all the trial stuff from each of the ‘matrix’ stories, so we gt three much better paced stories uninterrupted by the Stackyard, etc.

  7. Peter A Says:

    More good suggestions! Dominators does drag, even with the censor’s cuts :/

    ‘Trial’ reminds me that someone did suggest it as an option on the RT board and got cut down rather along the lines of ‘what would be the point?’. But I’d be keen to know if it could work. I think if memory serves Mindwarp would be the hardest, but you could make a fist of Mysterious Planet and Vervoids – possibly. I guess at the least the old story of having to rescore where the cuts show would reappear…

    And for God’s sake someone could CG that black hole effect and Hyperion model!

  8. rtpeditor Says:

    Nightmare of Eden is just begging for a good going over. Planet of the Spiders could easily zip along if all of episode 2 was lopped out along with a lot of other stuff like the extended recap in episode 6.

  9. the_other_dave Says:

    I have to be honest – I never felt the urge to re-edit any of the old series stuff, possibly because I got so used to it when I was young and these ideas on the Interwebnetthingee were just creative puffs in imaginative minds. I have to agree about the Dominators though. I always really liked the story when it only existed as Ian Marter’s fact paced gritty novelisation (it has been at least (quick count on fingers) twenty odd years since I last read it, so that memory may be cheating too – but it seemed pacy). If it could ever be recut with the novelisation as a guide that could be nifty.

    The only time I’ve ever had the urge to re-edit Who though was with Next Doctor. I know RTD made a point of explaining why he wrote it the way he did, but I always thought the Christmas Special had the potential to be the festive disaster thriller that it’s predecessor wanted to be. Icy Cybermen lurking in the snowy mists, proto cyber-creatures stalking the horsechestnutted night, and forget the titular misdirection, the character attention should be focused on is Hartigan. Excellent casting, facinating character, the stories Doc’s Egg Machine…er…

    Anyway, I doubt the scenes were filmed that would’ve allowed the story to be put together the way I wanted, but it does raise the interesting question. When you think about it Doctor Who has all the classic makings of a “steampunk” story. It even predates the sticky label used to define the genre, should we say Wellsian/Vernian classic. It has the quittisential Britishness, the old series Edwardian embellishments, quirky science, and budget constraint that would’ve suggested whimsical old school victoriana may have been more achievable than sleek futurism, and yet the concept was never really embraced (yet there were others out there, Wild wild west, Q.E.D.). Any thoughts why not?

  10. Peter A Says:

    Thanks to Al for his addition – don’t forget to scroll up to the article to read this and see his rather nice work on the pictures!

  11. Thad Ritchards Says:

    Does re-editing Mawdryn Undead to revert the Brig into Ian Chesterton count?

    And there was the image I had in mind of how the TARDIS was pulled out of the sand/walls in Frontios that was completely not done in the actual show, although it was entirely an 80s level effect shot…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.