The Rings of Akhtanen – Ulysses 31 edit

You know, I’m probably about the only person on the planet who freely admits to thoroughly enjoying ‘The Rings of Akhtanen’. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, the singing is overdone and the little girl is mildly annoying. Yes, the ending is drawn out, the Doctor’s speech is melodramatic and the bit with the leaf defies all logic. But that bazaar scene is wonderful. Smith is terrific. Even the Mummy, though ultimately pointless, is reasonably scary. It’s no classic, for certain, but next to ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, it’s BAFTA material.

Anyway. Some clever clogs has taken it upon themselves to publish score-free versions of Doctor Who episodes online: in other words, downloadable MP3 files containing dialogue. From a layman’s perspective this is unnecessarily geeky and fundamentally pointless. For someone like me, it’s an absolute goldmine. I’ve mentioned before the problems I’ve had pasting dialogue into things with score, having to rely on downloaded music tracks that don’t always contain the bit you want, or (in the case of Darth Gene) bits you do want, but in a different key because of the PAL / NTSC thing. It’s a classic 80/20 distribution of work, where actually finding clips and assembling them in order takes no time at all, before I then have to spend many sleepless nights tearing out my hair during post-production.

So the opportunity to grab dialogue from New Who episodes without having Murray Gold’s intrusive, overwrought score was one I couldn’t pass up, and what results here is a bit of an experiment. It came about largely because Joshua and Daniel and I have – this week! – finally completed our run of Ulysses 31 episodes, some eight or nine months after starting them in October last year. It’s been a long haul, with lots of gaps between viewing sessions, but by the end they were all anxious to see the Odyssey get home (and I thought Joshua was going to cry, or at least sniff loudly and with abandon, when it looked like Ulysses was going to remain in Hades for eternity). Certainly for me it’s been wonderful to see it again: the effects are dated, and there are a few two many Everybody Laughs endings, but thematically it remains as fresh as it did over thirty years ago. The proposed film version has thankfully languished in development hell where it belongs (structurally it simply wouldn’t work) but the series itself is still TV gold.

If you’re familiar with Ulysses 31 you will probably be familiar with the music I’ve used here – mostly known as ‘The Curse of the Gods’, it’s a dramatic, striding piece, used when something dramatic (and usually bad) is happening on-screen. It was employed with particularly memorable effect in the episode where Ulysses encounters Cronus, Father of Time, and pushes back the hands of the universal clock to de-age his decaying companions. That episode gave me recurring nightmares for years, and as much of it was as due to the score as anything else – so when it came to putting this together, using it somewhere was an obvious choice. I briefly considered using the remixed and re-recorded version by Parallax, but when I stuck it in the video it sounded artificial (largely because the orchestration, crisp and clear as it is, was synthesized).

Of course, there’s a problem: the audio recordings appear to be very slightly out of sync with the DVDs I ripped (a matter of a few frames, but enough to tell the difference). So this was another 80/20 ratio, where I spent comparatively little time editing the Doctor’s final speech, and far more time than I’d have liked trying to get the audio to match. Even now it’s not perfect, although it must be said that the results in my final copy seem to be a little better than the embedded version above. Still, them’s the breaks.

Owing to the extravagant amount of unedited footage I included from ‘Rings’, this was automatically blocked on YouTube – a state I would have contested under fair use if I’d cared more about this, but there’s always the risk you’ll lose and it’s not worth the suspension of my account. So on Vimeo it goes. And there it will stay, in relative obscurity. This didn’t completely gel, but in terms of using the ripped audio it was a good start. I believe in starts. Once you have a start, the rest is inevitable.

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