An in-depth profile of the fan audio production company, Beyond Traditional Recognition
- Audio Dramas
- Audio Shorts
- Short Films
- Dr. Who
- Blake’s 7
BTR (Beyond Traditional Recognition) Productions is by no means the first fan production company I’ve experienced. There is however an amazing dichotomy in their productions (which I’ll get to later) that gave me the idea of wanting to write about them first. They have a huge library of works across multiple formats. They’ve been in production for a very long time, and thus it’s been nice to listen to their early stories and watch them mature over the years.
BTR has some of the best writing in the fan realm. Don’t get me wrong, there are often plot holes, structure problems, and repetitive spurts of exposition, but most characters are incredibly realized. Dialog is often top quality, and averages well above the norm. BTR writers can create a finely detailed and interesting world with just a few sentences, and consistently sets a mood that will envelope its listeners. Their later productions especially are wrought with diverse and useful sound effects, and they almost always manage to get the perfect music for the moment. Finally of mention is the acting, which is not perfect, but again, well above average. Combine this with some great premises, and you’ve got a group with something special.
BTR has major problems with audio at times. Their sound effects and music will drown out their dialog on average twice a story, often more. It is an area which they have yet to improve. I would also point out some issues with their plot lines. Whereas BTR excels in character development and mood, they often fall equally on the other side of the bar; with logic and continuity. Parts of their stories often just don’t add up. Some stories contain dropped sub-plots, others show characters making stupid decisions simply to advance the plot. There are other matters of convenience that sometimes lead to very welcome and amusing, and often laugh-out-loud moments, but other times just come off as lazy. Perhaps the worst issue with BTR though is their tendency to leave gaps in their information from story to story. After listening to the adventures from beginning to end without skipping, I would often say to myself “when did that happen?” or “where did this major plot device come from that has supposedly been around forever”? While some of these are minor, others are just downright unacceptable. Now it is possible that these ideas come from some other Dr Who serial that I don’t follow, like the comic strips perhaps. If that’s the case though, then the source should at very least be mentioned somewhere on their site.
Since writing these reviews I have learned more of this company. First, Matthew Kopelke was the driving force behind BTR productions, and is responsible for most of the scripts, the overall arcs, and his share of the acting. Second, there are indeed missing stories that would have filled in some of these missing plot points. Many of the productions were produced out of order, an unfortunately some that were planned were never completed. Also of note is that they are no longer producing audio dramas preferring to, you know, have a real life as well. They were extremely young when they started and produced an amazing quality and quantity of content. Sadly, however (and yet understandably), time marches on and greater responsibilities call. They also no longer have a dedicated website. There is however a well-developed wiki site where listeners can still hear their works, and learn more about the behind the scenes. Unfortunately there’s little information about what would have happened in the missing episodes.
BTR has attempted to integrate major continuing story arcs throughout multiple stories on at least two occasions, similar to the “Key to Time” or “Trial of a Timelord” series. It is a tremendous and commendable undertaking, and while I have issues with some of its established devices (or gaps therein, as I mentioned above), it adds a flavor to the stories that just leave the listener begging for more.
They have also ventured very successfully into the realm of “bargain basement” video production, where again the characters, acting, and mood for the most part really shine. There’s often comedy as well as drama, and a nice balance of genres. They do tend to re-use the same few bad guys over and over. There are many references from the TV series (which are usually both accurate and obscure, yet for the most part, not in-your-face) and tribute throw away lines to other well known works.
Were they still creating content, I’d say that what I would like to see from BTR in the future is very cut and dry. First, I would love to see them expand to fill out their portfolio. I’m anxious to see what they could do with a written story. Let’s see text-based stories, novels, poetry, whatever. They’ve done the script thing, done video, done audio, let’s get a short story in text. Perhaps while they’re at it, they could create short two paragraph links to help smooth out their continuity issues. Which leads me to my next wish.
I consider it essential that BTR account in some way for the missing information in their story arcs. It brings down their production value as a whole. I would love for them to update their wikipedia site with at least a sentence or two describing what would have happened during the missing stories, it would really make my world a more complete place to live.
Technically, greater attention to overall production and post-production quality would be beneficial. They are [were] in dire need of a multitrack recording system, so the characters can better play off each other and dialog can better overlap without ruining the quality of any one track. They also need to spend more time on the sound mix. Since one can find superior quality low to no-cost software, their mastering issues are all but inexcusable at this point.
In their Dr Who productions, I would hope BTR continues with its bold steps, with original villains, and intricate storylines. Though I would like for them to re-visit some of the old tv series stories in some way. I’m curious to see how they could pick up an old story and continue it. For Blake’s 7, I would love to see something lead somewhere. I would also like to see some one-off episodes with a beginning, middle, climax and end. The mood is right, but the series needs to be less stagnant.
I hope they pay more attention to the logical issues. Perhaps a script doctor would help them from time to time. What is really needed for each script is a fresh pair of eyes, not to re-write, but to pick up on the obvious, and to point out and help develop what was neglected or left behind.
I would like to see BTR make better use of sound effects for transitions, identifying locations, and to advance the story instead of relying on dialog. I would also like to see them shy away from the repetitiveness their dialog tends to fall into when pushing exposition.
There is a big difference between what the production team knows and discusses, and what the audience knows based on what is presented. BTR has a tendency to forget this. I would like to see them approach the scripts for the first time after they are finished, with no pre-conceived notions about “given” information. Because that is how the audience approaches it. If we didn’t hear it, it didn’t happen. I would like them to pay particular attention to this in the future.
In the video department, I could wish that they get something better than a camera mic for audio. I also think the directors, while adequate, could use a short course, seminar or book in editing and camera angles. In an ideal world, I would love to see what they could do with a budget, I think it would be great… but I don’t expect that, and don’t fault them for it. They should however look into some green-screen and other simple effects.
Most of all, I would like to see BTR continue what it is doing. I can’t wait for the next release.
BTR’s Doctor Who productions pick up the Doctor sometime after the events of the TV movie. Their early works tended to play it safe. They re-used the same baddies over and over, and would seemingly often drop a plot or even an entire story if they became bored or rushed with production. (Don’t skip them all though, there’s some real good ones there). They also lacked diverse sound effects at first. Their later stories are much more bold, with newly invented baddies, and effects that actually replace dialog to tell the story at times, a hurdle essential to good audio dramas and one most fan productions never overcome.
I should mention that their Dr Who productions and their Blake’s 7 productions are quite different in stylistically, and each series has its own quirks and high marks. They all have the same great tendency for mood and dialog though.
Because of its flaws, which at times can be disastrous, BTR for me, holds the dubious distinction of making a few of the biggest letdowns in fan made Dr Who productions ever. On the other hand, I also have to present them with the award for some of the best Dr Who fan made productions I’ve ever heard. Overall, they fly effortlessly through hoops that most fan productions don’t even attempt to reach for. While not perfect, I always manage to enjoy at least something in every story, and for the most part they constantly stay true to the elements that made the original TV series they tribute so appealing. Combine this with their long history, and diverse portfolio and you’ve got some great works from a great team. If you listen to any fan made Dr who episodes, you really must listen to BTR. When it comes to freely available Dr. Who productions, to date, they are as a whole, the best of the best.
You can read more about BTR Productions on their wiki here.