Posts Tagged With: ulysses 31

The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part two)

The clock ticks, the politicians dither, and you’re still all stuck inside. But fear not, constant reader: we’re here to entertain you, probably by throwing on a gingham dress and clucking like a chicken. (This will either make sense or it won’t; if it doesn’t I’m not about to explain it.)

There’s a musical theme to today’s collection. That was an accident, a coincidence of scheduling. But I’m not complaining: these are usually arranged solely in the order in which I did them, so it’s nice when they actually have something in common for a change.

Shall we?


1. REMASTERED: The Rings of Akhaten, new score (March 2020)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Ulysses 31 was a big part of my childhood. It didn’t matter that the first time I was encountering the monsters and sailors of the Odyssey was in a futuristic space setting. It didn’t matter that the episode with Chronos terrified the pants off me. It didn’t matter that the robot was annoying. The whole story was so epic in scale and ambition, visiting new universes, weaving complicated narrative threads of morality and free will, and telling a complete tale with a beginning and an ending. I even managed my own mashup of Doctor Who footage to accompany the theme song. It’s the sort of tale that really is ripe for some sort of revisit – I’d originally envisaged a trilogy of films but I now think that a limited run Netflix series would be better. Inevitably, of course, it would have to be updated, presumably by bringing in some sort of Freudian conflict between Ulysses and Telamachus (who was, in the original series, cloyingly loyal), as well as implementing a more contemporary score. Which is a shame, because the original (composed by Ike Egan, Denny Crockett, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy) really is a piece of work, encompassing disco, Focus-esque distorted rock and a full orchestra. Even on its own, it’s worth a listen.

Veteran readers here may remember that, way way back in the day, I had the idea of marrying up some of this music with the Doctor’s speech from ‘The Rings of Akhaten’. It was 2013, and I’d just discovered unscored audio, which exists in abundance if you know where to look – those lovely people who’ve isolated the dialogue and sound effects from Doctor Who stories so you can do what you want with them, chopping and changing bits without having to worry about background music. It made the editing process exponentially more satisfying, but it only works if you have an audio track that matches up with the video file you’re using, and thanks to differering frame rates and quirks of encoding, this isn’t always the case.

So the version I made years ago was, while well-intentioned, a complete mess. Seriously, it was all over the shop. I was chopping and changing and shifting and rearranging and still I could never get it quite right – there are moments where the Doctor’s tongue is somewhere and his voice is somewhere else, like a lagging Zoom call, and then – and then, after I’d torn out most of my hair trying to make it work, the bloody thing wouldn’t sit on YouTube because copyright. So I stuck it on Vimeo where no one ever goes, and consigned it to the bin of Things That Didn’t Quite Work and then tried to learn from the experience.

Years down the line, I had a go at remastering it, and this time I’m happy with it. And more to the point, both Facebook and YouTube are happy to host it. So that’s a win.


2. The Goats of Llandudno (March 2020)

We have kites nesting in the trees next to our garden. You can see them all over this part of Oxfordshire, but we see them a lot. Last weekend I was emptying the bins of an evening when I observed two of them, soaring and swooping in a dazzling aerobatic display, as they squabbled and scrapped over a piece of meat that one of them had collected and the other one wanted. For about a minute and a half. It was hypnotic, and of the moment, and I’m glad I didn’t try to film it.

Anyway, that set me thinking: just what, exactly, do our animals and birds make of this? They must be aware that something is different: that there are fewer people around (or that, at least, certain public areas are now quieter), that they can perhaps be a little bolder, that the air is a little less filled with carbon. That the planes are grounded. What does my cat think, for example, of the fact that we’re now all at home, every day? Certainly she must know something, even if she is happy to keep her opinions to herself – unlike my mother-in-law’s border collie, for example, who has had to adjust to the fact that she now only gets one walk a day.

Not long after they implemented the lockdown, a story broke about a goat infestation in the suddenly deserted streets of Llandudno (that’s in Wales, if you were wondering). I think I’ve been to Llandudno, or at least through it: it is a pretty place, if now a little less safe if you value your garden plants. There they were, hordes of horned beasts, chewing the hedges and kicking at the walls trampling manicured lawns underfoot (I was going to do the “This town is comin’ like a goats town”, but the Guardian got there first).

The Guardian got some great footage, but it was mostly silent, save the ambience. I had the idea of dropping in some of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who score – several things didn’t quite work, but the one that did was the music from ‘Heaven Sent’, notably the discordant, menacing rumble that fills Caerphilly Castle as the Veil casually stalks the Doctor. Matched with images of goats overrunning a village, it loses some of its potency. Still, it works.


3. Twin Peaks characters dancing to the Doctor Who theme (April 2020)

Oh, this is just a bit of fun. And the idiot on Facebook who said “Can’t you make something better?” can piss off. Seriously, piss off.

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The Inevitable Doctor Who / Ulysses 31 mashup

I’ve talked about Ulysses 31 more than once. It’s a show I’ve loved since the 1980s – ever since the Chronos episode gave me recurring nightmares; ever since I was able to gloat that I’d seen the final episode when Matt Brady had missed it; ever since Philip Schofield did a memorable lipdub in the Children’s BBC Broom Cupboard on an otherwise nondescript Thursday afternoon. When Josh started studying Greek mythology as his school topic I insisted we watch the entire run together, and that’s exactly what we did. Some of the visual effects are rather dated, the characterisation is often paper thin (was any son so sickeningly worthy as Telemachus?) and the Everybody Laughs ending is used with alarming frequency. But by and large it stands up. There is, as yet, no big screen adaptation – but we do have the live action version, which I’m hesitant even to link to, given that it puts my own paltry efforts utterly to shame.

Still, you find stuff. My admiration for the programme – its mythology, its grand design, its fantastic score – is what prompted me to construct a redub of the closing monologue from the much-derided ‘Rings of Akhaten’, scored to ‘Vengeance of the Gods’. It was round about the time I first discovered the unscored audio tracks that lurk around the internet, which make seamless transitions much easier to do. It largely works, although – as I’ve recently had pointed out – you’d struggle to find a scene that wasn’t improved by the inclusion of the Ulysses 31 soundtrack. Some of it’s a little disco, but that’s by no means a bad thing. If it’s good enough for the Bee Gees…

It was while I was sharing this on Facebook, for no reason other than oh-it’s-Thursday-and-I-haven’t-posted-in-a-while, that someone suggested they’d rather see a full title sequence. It was an utterly insane idea and as such it was something I couldn’t really not do. The smallerpictures venture is all about experimenting with the insane to see if it bears fruit. In this case the fruit is lumpy and harbours the occasional worm. It’s organic. Don’t mess with it; you’ll be sorry when the bees are gone. And my goodness, this one was a faff. There are zooms and reverses and all sorts of trickery. Look, anyone can make a title sequence. There’s an art to doing it well, but it’s a fairly trivial endeavour. Far more fun, surely, to try and find existing footage that matches the original? At least that’s a bit quirky. That’s what I did with Magnum P.I., and that got picked up by BBC America, of all things.

So that’s what this is. I’d not expect you to be sufficiently familiar with the original to be aware that this is an attempt at shot-for-shot, which is why I did a comparison, which you can see below. Some parts are more successful than others. I am particularly proud of the ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ footage that pervades the closing moments – you’ll know it when you see it. Gareth said “Do a Classic Who version!” And I might, at some point. But this has wiped me out. Of course, it’s not as good as the live action version. But then, what is?




Episodes used in order of first chronological appearance were:

The Rings of Akhaten
Death in Heaven
The End of Time (part one)
The Waters of Mars
The Runaway Bride
Curse of the Black Spot
The Big Bang
Smith and Jones
The Girl Who Died
Vincent and the Doctor
The Woman Who Lived
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Face The Raven
Partners in Crime
Journey’s End
Fear Her
Doctor Who Titles (series 7 part 1 edition)
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
The Poison Sky
Deep Breath
A Good Man Goes To War
Voyage of the Damned
The Zygon Invasion
Parting of the Ways
The Empty Child
The Day of the Doctor
Hell Bent
The Doctor Dances
Doctor Who Titles – Series 8

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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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Ulysses 31 Redux

There are many reasons to love Ulysses 31. There’s its sense of genuine narrative progression – a series of standalone adventures that formed a coherent arc way before Doctor Who started on such things (and no, the Key to Time stuff doesn’t count). There’s its interesting and varied character roster and comparative faithfulness to The Odyssey. There’s the fantastic episode where Ulysses travels back in time and meets up with the original Ulysses, bending the bow in the banqueting hall in front of Penelope’s suitors. There’s the story with Sisyphus, who ventures beneath the hill upon which he resides only to discover the entire planet is just one massive factory producing more boulders for him to push. There’s the one with Chronos, in which the sleeping companions begin to age in the midst of their cryogenic slumber – an episode which gave me nightmares for years. There’s the dazzling soundtrack. There’s the sense of scale, and the hope – the vain hope – that one day it might be revisited, preferably in feature film format, in a trilogy starring Brad Pitt, with Brian Blessed as the voice of Poseidon.

Until that day, we’ll have to be content with this, and as far as reasons to love Ulysses 31 actually go, this might just be the icing on a very rich cake.

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