On the 30th May, Emily Cook announced the final Twitter watchalong would be World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls on 6th June. That gave us 7 days to film our own #TARDISshorts finale.
We knew after the last two-parter that we wanted a cliffhanger and that the ending would involve a Timelord taking the TARDIS away from us for the events of Mew Earth … but being a sentimental old fool I didn’t want to end on a sad note, so I decided to sneak in the hint of adventures yet to come.
We worked out pretty quickly we needed to have some Cybermen and that the basic structure would go:
On the run from the Timelords
Hide in a black hole
Something, something cybermen!
Daughter is about to be converted, dad is locked in TARDIS da da dah …
Dad bursts out of TARDIS and rescues daughter
Escape in TARDIS
Get caught by TImelords
TARDIS gets confiscated
Dumped on beach, meet future daughter, receive TARDIS crystal
Which, as you can see, means we had absolutely no idea what the actual cyberman story would be.
But never mind, that’s just details. We can ignore them.
More pressingly we needed a Cyberman, a Timelord and a grown-up daughter.
For the Timelord I contacted a guy (Russell) I know from the (currently defunct) TARDISbuilders.com forum. He lives in Worthing and I’ve never met him, but I’ve seen his TARDIS is in Brighton, we have a vague connection through Kung-Fu and more importantly he has a homemade Timelord costume.
Largely papier-mache but it looks great.
I messaged him and luckily he agreed so we were one third of the way towards our guest cast.
For the grown up daughter we could have used my wife/her mum but she has completely different coloured hair and doesn’t really like being on screen that much, so instead we asked our friend, Robyn, to help out.
Luckily she agreed too.
Which actually presented a new problem – they both needed lines to learn.
I may have explained before, but I’ll do it again anyway – there are no scripts for the TARDISshorts. We just get a vague idea in our heads and then start filming, making it up as we go along. Obviously that doesn’t work when other people are involved. Especially since Russell was going to film his part and send me the video.
So I bashed out a few pages and sent them to the relevant people. Despite being a scriptwriter, this felt very weird. I don’t like writing out of order and I know the first few pages of any script will be trash. I always junk the first ten pages or so when I get to the end of a script because by then I actually know what they need to convey and set up. Writing them cold knowing they’ll be fixed forever is awkward … but there was no other choice.
As it turned out, Russell couldn’t send me the video (technical reasons, no idea why) so he suggested doing it live over Google Hangouts and me recording it my end.
I don’t use Hangouts but I assumed it would be easy to figure it out so I agreed … but then couldn’t work out how to record the chat. In the end I just pointed my phone at the computer screen and recorded him that way. Between the awful lag of my laptop and the atrocious speed of our internet that day … yeah, well … luckily he was on a viewscreen darting in and out of the time vortex or something so the poor quality didn’t really matter.
On Tuesday the 2nd it looked like the beautiful weather was going to be a bit grim for the rest of the week, so Robyn popped down to the beach after work and we shot her scenes first in a suitably socially distant manner.
Hopefully the hair colour, the glasses and the outfits help sell the idea they’re the same person.
Frustratingly none of the audio came out so we had to rerecord it later and it still sounded awful. I tried to hide the weird unbeachlike echoes but ended up burying the dialogue in the mix. The version above is a remixed version, but it’s still barely audible.
I’d also written far too much dialogue for our 140 second running time so it got chopped down a lot. Part of what’s missing is her lamenting my death and telling her younger self to enjoy the time we have left … so, you know, no bad thing having to drop it.
Robyn had already starred in a TARDISshorts episode, by the way:
As herself, named quietly at the end using her real surname. So if you want to get all headcannon-y about it, I guess my daughter grows up to marry one of my best mates sometimes before she’s actually born.
Personally, I try not to think about that.
With the bookends done I just had to get myself a Cyberman.
I toyed briefly with 3D printing a Cyberman head, but the lockdown has left plastic-embarrassed and I just don’t have enough PLA to print anything that size. Besides, a week to print, sand, fill and paint a full head mask is a bit tight. Besides World Enough and Time is about the original (ish) Mondasian Cybermen so why not make that one?
It’s a damn sight easier for a start.
So I delved into the shed of wonders and came up with a pile of plumbing parts and some silver sticky-back plastic.
Chuck a bit of cardboard into the mix and some regular inkjet-printed stickers and I got this:
Add to that a £5 protective suit, some more pipes, a plastic cup, some gaffer tape, silver tape, half a pair of white leggings and a couple of those cap things you fill with washing up liquid and put in the washing machine and we arrived here:
£5, incidentally, is the entire production budget for this “series” of films.
I love the result. It’s shonky and wobbly and clearly made of gaffer tape, but it fits our homemade, zero-budget aesthetic beautifully.
I finished the cyberman at 10.20 on Wednesday evening. At 11.00 I read this on Twitter:
If you’re reading this in the future and don’t know what happened, look up George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and you’ll understand.
World Enough and Time has a black person shot in the chest and killed. When she’s reanimated as a cyberperson she’s not allowed to express her emotions about the event and has to suppress them.
Cancelling the tweetalong was the right thing to do.
Which left me with a bit of a dilemma. Obviously we couldn’t just carry on with our planned homage of an episode which was cancelled for being insensitive.
I thought about cancelling our finale too, but in the end decided to pivot away from World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls and towards The Tenth Planet/Twice Upon a Time.
If you’re not fluent in Doctor Who that’s the final episode of the first Doctor, William Hartnell and the final episode of the Twelfth, Peter Capaldi. The Tenth Planet is the debut of the Cybermen and takes place in Antartica in 1986, Twice Upon a Time (although filmed over 50 years later) slots into the final five minutes of that 1966 episode.
Because we hadn’t filmed (or even thought of) anything to do with the Cybermen yet it was really easy to change the black hole location to the South Pole.
And they even rhyme.
On Thursday the 4th June we filmed the TARDIS interior shots for the last time … and messed them up.
In order to get the lights on the console bright and the roundels lit up nicely I kept the room lights off. This caused two problems:
- It was too dark and the phone camera had to work hard to compensate, the resulting footage being very grainy.
- The light outside was so bright it washed out the green towel over the window making it very, very difficult to chroma key Russell in later.
So … yeah … those scenes look awful.
For the shots of people stepping out of the TARDIS we threw up the green towels across the right hand post:
Layered those shots on top of the now familiar model shot:
And then replaced the green towel background with a static shot of the Antarctic. Or maybe the Arctic? Who knows?
That all done it was time for my favourite moment from any of the TARDISshorts. Like I say, originally I had no idea why I was left in the TARDIS while my daughter was taken for cyber-conversion nor how I was going to escape and rescue her.
She would normally rescue me, because I play the idiot in most of these episodes … but if I was the Cyberman and the one being converted … well that’s tricky to pull off.
Initially I thought they might have left me behind because I was too old or too ginger or something … but ultimately settled for what you see, me staying inside. There wasn’t enough time for an outdoor adventure anyway.
My first thought was I’d strap on my DL-44 (Han Solo’s blaster) holster and fight my way out gunslinger style …
… but then I thought about this being the last TARDISshorts episode and all the toys I never got to play with, the lightsabers, the proton pack, the myriad of Kung Fu weapons … oh and then there’s this guy:
Built for a friend’s kid’s birthday party five years ago, Iron Man has stood proudly in my office ever since, decaying slowly since he’s just cardboard. I have 3D printed myself a new suit … but it’s not assembled or painted so the old cardboard version stands guard.
I spent most of Tuesday reinforcing his groinal injury with cardboard and hotglue, changing batteries, polishing off the dust and generally bringing him back to wearable condition.
I love the juxtaposition of Iron Man and Cybermen – both are cybernetically enhanced, but Iron Man is a removable option whereas cyber-conversion is permanent. This to me sets off the episode’s theme of running around in a TARDIS being great fun … until you can no longer go home. Temporary is brilliant, permanent … not so much.
So we filmed Iron Man bursting out of the TARDIS and then went outside to our improvised green screen studio:
A tarpaulin slung over the washing line.
Although, due to the green being very dark and my daughter’s only winter coat being a dark blue it seemed better to flip it over and use the blue side:
Hence the neighbours looking down on this scene:
And then, after a quick costume change and a bit of TARDIS guarding cyber-action:
… we subjected them to a bit of this sort of thing:
These two shots show the limitations of our chroma key technology. In the first one, upstairs against a green towel, The Cyberman’s headpiece is just level with the top of the towel. This means a half step forward puts the headpiece above the line and it gets cropped out of the shot.
If I were doing this on anything more sophisticated than a phone I could probably draw around that bit … but I’m not, so I can’t.
Outside, against the blue screen we have a similar height problem. You can see my left hand goes above the level of the washing line and would have disappeared if I hadn’t had the bright idea of using chroma key to replace the green leaves with a close up of the same blue tarp.
This only barely works.
The angle of the washing line on a single central prop isn’t much fun to crop around either. It seemed like a good idea when I was in bare feet and just a t-shirt, but in boots with a cup on my head I was perilously close to the top at all times.
Because we still didn’t know what was going to happen between Iron Man blasting a few Cybermen and my daughter escaping her conversion, we shot loads of this sort of thing:
With the opposite reactions from the Cybermen thinking it might cut together into some sort of running Iron Man/sonic screwdriver/Cybermen battle as we fought our way back towards the TARDIS.
Ultimately, with only 140 seconds to get out of the TARDIS, rescue my daughter, get caught by the Timelords, get abandoned on a beach and meet her future self … well, there wasn’t time.
Besides, one of the many, many downsides of being a two-person team (with the occasional wardrobe help from my wife) is there’s no one behind the camera while I’m wrapped in cardboard or tin foil. There’s no one to spot when we wave our arms outside the green (or blue) screen or when your daughter undoes her dark blue coat to reveal shorts the same colour as the backdrop or when Iron Man’s abs rotate 90 degrees to the left … so most of the footage was unusable.
Despite the last minute change of story and the technical issues of filming yourself fighting yourself in two different costumes, I’m so proud of our final TARDISshorts episodes.
If I achieve nothing else in my life beyond Iron Man emerging from a TARDIS to shoot Cybermen then I’ll die happy.
Except, of course, this isn’t going to be our swansong.
It was going to be, but … hey, we’ve got nothing else to do so …
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