Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Professor What? - A look at BBVs definitely "Not-Doctor Who" Straight to video offerings.

Even though the BBC decided in 1989 that they weren't interested in making anything Doctor Who related any more, fans and enthusiasts still wanted more.

Thanks to the miracle invention of the video camera, along with fairly cheap video editing consoles, a number of private, low budget film makers could indulge the fans fantasies for more Who related stuff, and make a bit of money to boot.

However, Who fans would not get to see the Doctor himself travelling through time in the TARDIS, being as the BBC held on to the licence for it with a tight fist, despite supposedly not being interested in it any more, and neither would fans get to see Daleks exterminating anything in sight, because Terry Nations estate has proven itself notoriously difficult to work with whenever the subject of the angry intergalactic pepper pots shows up.

Instead, BBV (Bill & Ben Video, named after owner Bill Baggs and his wife Helen, whose nickname is 'Ben') had to make do with stuff that was similar, but not copyright infringing enough to make stories from, although they did manage to get the odd one or two licences for "canon" stuff, simply by paying the original creators directly.

Although many of their productions featured people who had previously starred in Doctor Who in some fashion, no references at all were ever directly made to the famous TV show by name, even though it was dead obvious that they were, in some cases (*coughthestrangercough*) thinly veilled copies.
BBV also produced a couple of "one off" productions, with no connection to the Whoniverse, but made "in the style of", even occasionally dabbling in more adult oriented productions.

BBV eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2008, and since then all of the video and audio productions have gone out of print.

P.R.O.B.E 1994 - 1996  (4 "Episodes" - Created by Mark Gatiss)

Consisting of 4 "feature length" episodes, varying between 45 and 90 minutes in length, P.R.O.B.E follows the further adventures of former UNIT scientific advisor Liz Shaw, who now works for the "Preternatural Research Bureau" (don't worry, try as i might, i cant get it to say "P.R.O.B.E" either).
The first episode (The Zero Imperative) sees Liz investigating mysterious deaths at a mental hospital, the second episode (The Devil of Winterbourne) sees Liz investigating what appears to be a Devil worshipping cult. The third episode (Unnatural selection) sees Liz investigating a secret project that has gone a bit wrong and the final episode (Ghosts of Winterbourne) sees Liz return to Winterbourne to finish the job started in episode 2.

The series is notable for starring not only Caroline John as Liz Shaw, but also featuring Sylvester McCoy, Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker, Peter Davidson, Sophie Aldred and Louise Jameson, all playng different characters to their original appearance.
The series also features Mark Gatiss somewhere in every episode, and oddly, Linda Lusardi.

Mark Gatiss, although the creator, writer and cameo star of the series, has expressed his dislike for it in recent years, however, the series was given a limited release on DVD in 2012.

Having watched the series, I must personally say that I agree with Mark Gatiss, the series is a bit crap. Poor storylines, bad acting and el cheapo filming and editing make this series a bit painful to watch, it was an achievement for its time, however in this day and age, you can see better quality films made by college students on digital cameras on youtube.

Auton 1997 - 1999 (3 films - Created by Nicholas Briggs)

Essentially a 3 part story arc, the Auton series of films sees UNIT operatives tangling with a resurgence of the Nestene consciousness left over from the 3rd Doctor era.
None of the original actors appear in the Auton films, and no original series characters are really mentioned in these stand alone stories.

The series itself isn't too bad, its much higher in entertainment quality than P.R.O.B.E was, but its still nothing spectacular.
All 3 Auton films have been released on DVD, the third film includes a bonus film spoofing the concept of the entire series, which is actually quite good.

The Airzone Solution 1993 (Standalone story - Created by Nicholas Briggs)

One of the first films made by BBV, this "Drama" (its single 60 minute episode doesn't really count as being a film)  is a completely new and original concept unrelated to Doctor Who in any way.
Starring (in order of screen time) Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant (speaking in her normal accent) , Sylvester McCoy, a very young looking Alan Cumming, Peter Davison and Jon Pertwee, as well as a bit of a cameo appearance by Nicholas Briggs and a few other people ive never heard of.
The story takes place in the near future, where Britains skies are so polluted that people have to wear filter masks when outside or they risk suffocation, and where weather reports centre more on areas of toxic gas build up than the actual weather. The government awards a large sum of money to the Airzone company who claim they are able to clean the toxic pollutants up, however a TV weatherman and his girlfriend find that Airzone are not exactly being truthful about their intentions.
The Airzone solution is a sci-fi mystery thriller, and is surprisingly good considering the obviously very, very low production values and a somewhat confusing in places plot.
People watching this and expecting to get all nostalgic about classic era Doctor Who might be in for a bit of a shock when the 5th,6th and 7th Doctors all start swearing, and when the 6th Doctor takes Peri to his bed.

Yeah, this is quite good really, probably one of the best offerings from the BBV catalogue.

The Stranger 1991-1995 (6 Episodes)

The Stranger series centres around a man, who may or may not be the 6th Doctor (although he looks a lot like him) and his assistant Miss Brown (who definitely isn't called Peri) turning up and helping solve problems throughout a multi dimensional universe etc etc and so on.

This was BBVs first production, entirely shot using a single VHS video camera and starring the usual stable of ex-Doctor Who actors & actresses (except Tom Baker, who told them to bugger off).
Each episode is a thinly veiled Doctor Who style story which changes just enough of the history and dialogue so as not to infringe on anyones copyrights.
The series is highly regarded by some, personally though I just don't like it as it looks like a cheap and tacky knock off, which is exactly what it is.
Nevertheless, the series has been released on DVD.

Cyberon 2000 (Standalone story)

Another "set in the near future" story, Cyberon deals with an American pharmaceutical researcher testing out a new drug.
The drug, called "Cyberon" is said to be a synthetic silicon based intelligent gene therapy, which when injected directly into the brain of a human, will begin to regenerate damaged brain and nervous tissues. The drug itself though proves to be far more dangerous as the material not only cures brain and nerve damage, it also begins a process of "uprgrading" the user.

This story is definitely NOT (coughbullshitcough) a thinly veiled Cyberman story, oh no, definitely not, and it definitely doesnt feature a creature which looks like a Cyberman either.
Other than that, this is a pretty boring dialogue heavy film which tries and fails to have an intelligent discussion about mankinds relationship with both drugs and technology. 

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