Friday, 8 May 2020

The Stolen Web - Behind The Scenes


It's 2020. Coronavirus has the world in lockdown with no sign of it shifting just yet.
But Doctor Who fans are nothing if not creative and very early on Emily Cook embarked on a series of weekly Twitter watch-alongs kicking off with Day of the Doctor. So high profile that showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat join in, chipping in new mini-online chapters including the glorious Farewell Sarah Jane. Even current incumbent Chris Chibnal penned a new story for the 13th Doctor.
 For me, the lockdown has been a strange transition period but to cut a long story short, I found myself with some extra time. I cast my mind back the Action Figure Theatre and wondered if it might be possible to produce something short and fun to keep the spirits up, do my bit for the war effort, if you like.

I knew I didn't want to write anything totally new. I'm currently busy coming up with new and exciting TV ideas, I didn't have time to devote fully to AFT like the old days. Fortunately there are a few places I could turn to.
I'd been writing Doctor Who fan fiction pretty much solidly since I was 14. Granted, a lot of it was awful, but I did have a look back at some of the later stories to see if it was worth doing a kind of 'young Phil presents' adventure. There are a couple of good and imaginative 7th Doctor stories but to do them justice really needed some specific customs - something else I didn't have time for.
Then I remembered Slitheenia, a story I'd written and planned to make in 2014 for the 9th Doctor, Rose and Mickey v the Slitheen. It was exactly what I needed.
I considered other Doctors but settled quite quickly on making it a 13th Doctor story, the only Doctor (bar the War Doctor) not to have a proper AFT outing.


Ian Midlane from Revenge of the Slitheen.
Wait, I know what you're thinking. Why Slitheenia? Everyone knows their home planet is Raxacoricofallapatorius.
In late 2007, just as the Sarah Jane Adventures Revenge of the Slitheen had aired, I met Ian Midlane (one of the Slitheen in said story) who regaled me with an anecdote that between takes, he and fellow Slitheen actor Greg Blakeman used to raucously sing the Slitheen national anthem, made up by them and dubbed Slitheenia. Reader, the name stuck in my head.




The original idea hasn't changed that much, it's just been stripped down. Reading the script just six years later, it's already dated with its use of modems. To save the day, the Doctor gets Mickey to send a ping down the line to disrupt the internet.
The revised storyline and script were both completed on 25th April 2020.
The original title of Slitheenia had to be nixed so as not to give away the surprise monster. I gave it working title of The World Shaper (very imaginative!) but then settled on the slightly more obscure The Stolen Web.




To make it viable, it had to have a simple cast. Obviously the Doctor, Graham and the Slitheen were covered. For Tina, I raided my customs drawer for a Primeval Jenny with a Helen Cutter head.
The pilot of the Worldshaper was another proposition. I considered a few options, including the Hoix, Weevils from Torchwood, the Primeval Mer creature but I settled on the Primeval future predator - partly because of the machine on top of its head but also because I'd been wanting to get them into an AFT story since forever! (I'd forgotten I'd used one in our last adventure with Sarah Jane - Homefront)




There are only 46 frames so I managed to shoot the whole thing on the morning of Sunday 26th April starting with the trickiest of sets: the Worldshaper Pilot's chamber, then redressing for the atrium where the TARDIS lands and then the corridor that Graham hides in.
The set for this is based on the prison ship in Resurrection of the Daleks and was previously used in AFT's Apocalypse Dawns.
Next up was Tina's place using walls that were last seen as Sarah Jane Smith's house. The laptop is from a Buffy The Vampire Slayer accessory pack.
Then we moved to Graham's house, using other walls from Sarah Jane. I make no apology for the fact that this bears no relation to any room in Graham's house as seen on TV.
It's while taking the pictures for this that I dropped Graham's phone (actually Sherlock Holmes' blackberry). It's lost for now, sorry Sherlock. Sharp eyed readers will notice that for a few frames, Graham's phone becomes a Primeval communicator.
The final picture to be taken for the story was the exterior of the Worldshaper which uses a home-made model that resembles an alien xenomorph's head. It was used by Thadius Torchwood back in Cradle Will Fall.
Later that day, I took a photo of the 13th Doctor against the sky as a promo image for the story.



This is where everything could've ground to a halt. I no longer have Photoshop. Instead I use the online Pixlr X which has similar functions but is very different. Fortunately, there aren't many effects shots in this story so editing wasn't as arduous as it could've been. 
Editing began on 26th April with part one and most of part two completed on the 27th.
The remaining 'special effects' frames of the Pilot befuddled by the internet and the Doctor sonicing Tina's laptop were completed on the 28th. I handily discovered Photopea, a program that opens photoshop files so I was able to resurrect my old sonic screwdriver 'sound' effect. 





The brand new story was announced on Sunday 26th April and immediately had its thunder stolen with the announcement of Time Lord Victorious. Ha ha!
Undeterred, it was heralded by two posts on the AFT Facebook page with the title being revealed on Weds 29th April.
Part one went live online as promised on 1st May 2020 with part one following the week later, 8th May.
The cover image was made on 27th April, a departure from the AFT style. With hindsight, I should've found a less happy picture of Graham.
Having found that Photopea, I opened up a 13th Doctor AFT style cover I'd made back in 2018 but I stuck with the new cover.


This story doesn't make reference to any others so it could slot in anywhere, but I'd put it late series 12 given that Graham is even remotely considering going out with Tina from number 38. Yaz and Ryan are out at a concert - obviously because we don't have figures of them yet. 

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