“There’s something to be said for having a proper series of episodes for the McGann Doctor.”
Much of the extended universe of Doctor Who was created with a specific purpose in mind: to fill in the blanks that the main show has left for one reason or another. While that’s led to some of the best storytelling Doctor Who has to offer, an audio drama or comic doesn’t quite scratch the same itch that watching on a screen does. I’ve written in the past about the Action Figure Adventures, which I adore for giving us more adventures for the Eighth Doctor, but there’s one series a bit more elusive than that. The “White Whale” I have searched for throughout my sophomore year of college is known as Season 26B, a truly ambitious project that has managed to create episodes for the Eighth Doctor using footage from, among other things, various films and TV shows that Paul McGann has appeared in.
If you want to get the most enjoyment out of the original series, you’ll have to raise your suspension of disbelief a bit (The Doctor’s hair length fluctuates a lot), but I truly adore what they’ve managed to create. Thankfully, they’ll soon become not only a lot more widely available, but remastered in gloriously higher resolution. No word on the exact date as of yet, but several trailers have been dropped to give you an idea of the stories they’re telling, as well as a website detailing this and many other projects they’ve been working on. An edit of Listen from baby 1st Doctor’s perspective, remastering the webcasts from the 90s, and a feature length adaptation of the proposed 30th anniversary story, Lost in the Dark Dimension, among several others. I’ve actually been lucky enough to get in touch with James Walker, one of the main folks on Season 26B productions, to share with you the following interview:
C: So to start, is James Walker the name you’d like to be credited with in the article? And were there other people involved that you’d like me to mention?
J: Yes, James Walker is the name I can be credited under.
The series was originally the brainchild of Steve Pearson. I came aboard after the first four episodes and coined the title Season 26B which has gone on to become our banner production “company”. Over the years, many people have been involved. Andrew Merkelbach and Wink Taylor have voiced the Eighth Doctor. We’ve also worked with Austin Phillips, Jon Carley & Catherine Curtis who have voiced various characters for us.
C: What was your involvement in the creative process? Did you edit episodes together?
J: Before I came aboard, Steve was using footage from YouTube rips and other sources for the episodes and while the ideas were great, the executions weren’t a hundred percent.
Once I came aboard, I brought with me a few friends who had done voice work for me in the past, notably Austin Phillips who voiced K9 and numerous villains for us. Steve continued to work on the episodes and would supply me with a workprint. Essentially, this would be all the episode edited together from whatever sources he could find, along with a basic framework.
From there, I’d write the additional dialogue for our impersonators that would help the story make sense in the new context and remake the story from the ground up using the best sources available. Often this would be a case of buying DVDs of entire seasons for just a few minutes of footage.
Over the years, my editing techniques have improved and I’m not entirely happy with some of the choices we made, which is why we’re now remastering the stories once again with the many HD sources now available to us.
As the series continued, I got more confident in creating rotoscoped shots, however these were never a hundred percent successful. So for this new remastering, we’ve hired a professional to create these shots for us.
So, to bring things back to your original question, I’d cite myself as producer and editor, but Steve must be given full credit for writing the stories. The way he made some of the footage fit together that was never meant to fit together, is truly something to be proud of.
C: How long have you been editing videos like this?
J: I came aboard with Season 26B in 2007, but have been completing minor editing since 2002.
C: Is there anything special to you about the Eighth Doctor in particular?
J: It’s less about the Eighth Doctor himself, and more about his lack of a visual “era”. Of course we have the Big Finish audios and they are widely appreciated by legions of fans, but there’s something to be said for having a proper series of episodes for the McGann Doctor.
I feel the same way about the War Doctor which is why we’ve started crafting a short season for that Doctor too.
C: How would y’all go about creating the plotlines for each episode?
J: The first thing to identify would be where the core footage is coming from – the core footage that makes up the majority of the episode. Take Daughter of Karn – the core footage comes from Lost in Austen. At the best of times, the core footage will feature Paul McGann but often it won’t.
In those cases, we then add in the Paul McGann footage and decide on our villain. We try to use villains that have heavy make up – this allows us to replace the dialogue for them without too much trouble.
From there, we look at the plotlines within the core and additional footage. Any conflict or unfavorable events are usually explained as a manipulation by the villain, building up to a climax in the final ten to twelve minutes where we have a confrontation with the villain
Sometimes, if the villain is a new character, we can expand on this and record narration that binds the entire episode together. I’m thinking of Time Wounds here, and Playing Happy Families.
C: Going through the series, I’ve noticed that you’ve included a handful of characters and references to both the modern series and the expanded universe. Were there any that you were particularly excited to incorporate into an episode?
J: I’ll tell you a secret. Steve came up with the idea of using Jemima Rooper as a companion of the Doctor due to the massive amount of TV work she’s done. It was only later that he discovered that she had also voiced Izzy for Big Finish – naturally he reworked the story before release to ensure she was playing THAT specific character.
I, myself, most loved the appearances of River Song and Grace Holloway.
Taking River first, I thought it was a great connection. We were originally making these in and around 2010 and 2011 when River was turning up all the time so to bring her into our series was quite cool. It was later that she became a recurring character, appearing in both Prisoner of Sontar and Time Wounds. We made a conscious decision only to refer to her as Miss Song to prevent too much familiarity between her and The Doctor but it was the inclusion of the character that we knew we’d have to explain at some point. We had a few different ideas…
Using Grace Holloway was something different altogether. On screen, with the possible exception of Cass, I suppose, Grace is the Doctor’s only companion. So to bring her into the story was really thrilling, albeit very difficult to do. I think it’d be best to describe it as a case of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” Daphne Ashbrook has appeared in a lot of shows and movies but usually as a side character and rarely taking the main role.
We were lucky to track down the mini series “Intruders” which is where the bulk of her scenes originate from. It felt quite exciting to give her another TV story alongside the Eighth Doctor and we concluded that story with quite an open ending. I like to think she joined The Doctor and Izzy in the Tardis for a few trips!
C: Are you making any noteworthy changes to the stories you’re remastering, or is it just being upscaled to HD?
J: Without giving too much away, the remastering process is very involved.
To start with, we’re using the very best footage available. If it a Blu-ray that’s gonna cost a hundred pounds vs a DVD that costs a tenner, we want the Blu-ray. If it’s not the best, it’s not good enough.
We’ve brought aboard a cinematographer, and an FX artist to complete any rotoscoping shots in full HD rather than clumsily trying to complete them ourselves. We’re also working with a number of voice artists to record new dialogue, for Cybermen, The Master, various Doctors and companions, the works.
We’re going back to the drawing board and expanding the definition of each story to widen it out. Occasionally in the early episodes, the core footage would reference events that wouldn’t make sense in the re-edit. Where possible, we’re removing these or editing around them to fit the reference into a new perspective. We’re also re-editing around names. It draws you out of the story if your main character (Grace, for instance), is referred to as Leslie.
While you’ll find the odd episode on DailyMotion or YouTube, we’ve removed the majority of our episodes offline until the remastering process is complete. It’s a lot of work, but if a job’s worth doing…
C: Were there any ideas that you considered, but weren’t able to incorporate into the series for one reason or another?
J: There were a lot of unmade stories and half ideas that never quite got made.
The Second Coming of Fenric would have re-edited The Second Coming and shown that Fenric manipulated the Time War to bring about his return. Untold Tales was going to be a series of short seven-to-ten-minute “what ifs” featuring the first seven Doctors. Neither story really came together though – you can have all the footage you need but if you can’t get the characters to behave like their WHO roles, it’s not worth doing.
Blood Strangers was a TV movie that featured both Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith, so should have been a perfect fit but McGann’s role was just too sidelined – there was no connection with Smith’s part in the story, so it wasn’t worth doing.
I really wanted to use The Hanging Gale somewhere – set in Ireland, if we were to recolour the sky, I had an idea to make it a return to Metebelis III and feature the return of The Great One. Unfortunately, McGann uses an Irish accent in it – it doesn’t fit at all so beyond a couple of shots in other episodes, we skipped that, too.
Some things, like Queen of the Damned and a TV movie called If I Had You, we’ve held back for use in 26C. The story isn’t entirely written yet but will revolve around the Eighth Doctor being stalked by the Great Intelligence, who is in turn being stalked by the War Doctor for…something.
I’d have quite liked to use Alien 3, too, maybe the Xenomorphs are being bred by the Time Lords to fight the Daleks. But the problem with big budget movies is…they’re big budget movies. They don’t fit the style of Doctor Who and I’m very wary about pushing things too far into that direction.
There were two alternate versions of The Girl That Time Forgot, both different from the final released version feature Kate Stewart. One featured the Brigadier, the other featured Sgt Benton. The first used footage from Downtime, the second from Wartime. We eventually went with using Kate from Daemos Rising simply because – at the time – it was the only footage that was available on DVD. And as I’ve already said, we wanted the best quality possible.
A story that got much further in the creative process was Man on the Moon that would have featured the return of Chang Lee, and a sentient moon that had escaped from the Time War. I spent months trying to make the footage work, but in the end, it just wasn’t happening. Instead, we incorporated those Chang Lee scenes into Prisoner of Sontar and scrapped the episode.
Finally, I really wanted to do something with the British cop show The Bill. It had featured so many Doctor Who stars. Off the top of my head, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Liz Sladen, Louise Jameson, Alex Kingston, David Tennant, Catherine Tate. The list goes on. The plan was to try and put it together as a Dimensions in Time 2, with the sets and the characters getting old and younger throughout. But again, there just wasn’t enough plot to pull all these disparate sources together.
That said, the idea of focusing on a location for a story was incorporated into Time Wounds, set mostly in a hospital. It allowed us to use scenes of Izzy from Sinchronicity and Hex, the Brigadier from Casualty, and in the remastered version, we hope to use both Kate Stewart and the Eighth Doctor from Holby City.
To answer your question, yes. Tons and tons of ideas that never quite got used.
C: Are there any other projects you’d like people to know about?
J: We’ve done a lot of projects over the years of varying quality. Most recently, a re-edit of Listen from the First Doctor’s perspective, and a re-edit of The Power of the Daleks animation retold from the Fourth Doctor’s perspective using the 1992 narrated soundtrack.
Because of the amount of copyrighted footage we use in our work, a lot of these edits are difficult to come by. They’re “out there” but you won’t find them on YouTube at the moment. We’re looking at releasing trailers for our work on YouTube and then using those trailers to point towards a download location. It’s a bit up in the air at the moment.
Other earlier projects include:
Presently, my team is working on remastering Death Comes to Time in HD. While the original story was presented to be watched on a tiny screen, the artwork easily stands up to a full 1080p presentation. We’re working on recreating each individual still, syncing them with the existing audio track and then recreating that audio track using the CDs to provide the best audio quality.
It is our hope that once this is completed, it can be presented to the BBC for use in their “The Collection” Blu-ray range.
C: My last question would be, how did you first get into Doctor Who?
J: I was born at the very beginning of the Wilderness Years, so I never actually got to see any of the Classic Series airing. My parents were casual fans though and introduced me to it through an old tired VHS of The Five Doctors. Not the best story to start with. I mean, how are all these blokes the same person?
But I enjoyed it all the same and didn’t question it. I was only about six or seven. They say they’re all The Doctor. Fine. Whatever. My Granddad started taking me to the library to borrow various tapes. The Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Cybermen, Remembrance of the Daleks. A few others too.
I was too young to watch the TV Movie when it aired, so the first new Doctor Who I watched as it went out was…The Curse of Fatal Death! I loved it and it renewed my passion for the series. When the series returned in 2005, I was sat there every night to watch it!
Regardless of what kind of fan you are, you’ll definitely find something to enjoy about the work done by Season 26B Productions. Here’s hoping they keep up the good work!
Do you wield a Sonic Quill? We're calling all Whovian Scribes who have a voice and are keen to get their ideas out there. Perhaps you write Doctor Who Fan Fiction, essays on the most obscure facets of the Whoniverse, or maybe you want to review the local stage adaptation of 'Blink'. Either way, if you'd like to join the ranks of our WBW Correspondents, get in touch and we'll chat.