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Comes the Stranger

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He looks like a time lord, but he's more than merely "pseudo-Doctor Who."


A few years ago, to fill the void left by the lack of new Doctor Who, Bill Baggs, then a video editor for England's BBC, came up with the idea of doing original stories about the famous time lord for direct video sale to the public. A Doctor Who fan. Baggs also had aspirations about becoming a director and producer. This, coupled with fan impatience for new material, made it seem an idea whose time had come.

However. BBC Enterprises, the marketing arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which produces Doctor Who, wasn't interested. So, Baggs decided to go ahead with a story in the same vein as Doctor Who, employing veteran Who actors, but not using any of the BBC-copyrighted names or characters. "This is where The Stranger and Miss Brown was born." he states.

A script by Christian Darkin of Audio/Visuals (an amateur group created by Baggs, which writes, performs, records and distributes original Doctor Who stories on audiotape) was chosen as the story, which eventually became Summo ed by Shadows.

Nicola Bryant's Miss Brown, the Stranger's companion. is attached to an all-too-surreal party in the series' first story, "Summoned by Shadows."


"In a way, Christian had as much to do with setting this project up as I did," says Baggs. "Although, as producer and director, I was the driving force, financially."

Stranger than Life

Summoned by Shadows follows the Stranger (Colin Baker) to a desolate planet, where after many wanderings in time and space, he now ekes out a solitary existence in a wasteland. Meanwhile, there are macabre happenings in the nearest village marketplace, where the circus tricks of a strangely-familiar clown (Michael Wisher) possess the souls of the living. This leads a young mute man to undertake a perilous journey to seek the Stranger's help to save his friend.

The Stranger's companion, Miss Brown (Nicola Bryant). plans to leave the wasteland. She's taken in by the all-too-genial host of an eerily surreal party. where the games sometimes turn deadly and no one may leave. Eventually, Earth's fate hangs in the balance as the Stranger confronts the sinister Shadow in his labyrinth.

It took nearly a year to set up Summoned by Shadows, the first in a series. Baggs partially financed it himself, but couldn't do a really first-class production with his own funds. Nobody in Doctor Who fandom wanted to become involved, though this may have been due to the fact that, at that point, Colin Baker (Doctor #6) and Nicola Bryant (Peri) weren't yet firmly committed.

Finally, the BBC Film Club was convinced to adopt the project, providing Baggs with £1,000 and video equipment. Baggs was then able to approach Baker and Bryant about filming dates.

Of his first directorial effort. Baggs enthuses, "It was fun and exciting. There I was, [essentially] directing Doctor Who; I couldn't believe it was happening. I'm most pleased with the development of the Stranger. I've worked hard to keep Colin's performance subdued. Consequently. our audience has responded by saying, 'This is how we would like to have seen the sixth Doctor progress.'

Baggs says, "I had chosen Colin and Nicola—although at this stage, I would have taken anyone from the show—because I knew there was a feeling among fans that Colin's Doctor had been short-changed," he notes. "I felt Colin was accessible and easy to work with, and I was right.

"I enjoy working with Colin very much. We developed an excellent working relationship. It wasn't something that I was led to expect, with me being a beginner and him being quite an established actor, but he's a very trusting person. If you make sense and you've obviously sorted it through, he'll listen and take that on board. That's what I found most exciting."

It is Baker's style, Baggs notes, to "give you too much, and it's your position to say, 'Bring it down.' Colin did. I knew he could. He really enjoyed doing [Summoned by Shadows] because it reminded him a lot of what he would have liked to have done. He's very devoted to what he's doing. It seems a very simple show, Summoned by Shadows, but there's a lot in there."

Of Bryant, Baggs says, "Nicola is also a very devoted person to work with; not necessarily the easiest person to work with, but very devoted, which is ultimately important, and she gives good results."

Due to shooting schedule conflicts (both Baker and Bryant were touring in plays during the planned filming time), the characters they played weren't actually present in the first story as much as Baggs would have liked. "That was deliberate," he remembers. "I thought if I could keep their filming days to a minimum, they would be more likely to get involved. I've since discovered that they would both prefer to do as much as possible. You can't win."

Stranger in Paradise

The sequel, entitled More Than a Messiah and written by Nigel Fairs, added Sophie Aldred (Ace in Doctor Who) to the cast, playing a character called Girl. Released in April 1992 in England, More Than a Messiah takes place on Majus 17, a paradise world where interplanetary tourists are encouraged to commune with nature by living in simple, wooden cabins, surrounded by friendly wildlife and a serene ocean nearby. While the Stranger snoozes on the beach, Miss Brown is embroiled in an encounter with dark forces at work around them. Boating tourists are swallowed by an angry sea, decaying bodies are partially buried in the gloomy forest. Some of the wildlife is far from friendly, while one of the tourists is becoming more than eccentric.

Since the release of Summoned by Shadows in fall 1991, fan interest has grown steadily, but Baggs says, "People don't know how to look upon it. Is it Doctor Who? No, obviously it can't be, but it's designed to appeal to Doctor Who fans.

"I think what we've been able to do is recreate the characters from the series. Of course, they are similar. But on a practical note, they aren't the same.

"There were many ways people would like to have seen any particular persona of the Doctor and his companion developed. We've been very fortunate in our first two stories and, particularly with the third one, we've been able to expand into those areas that people have said they would like to see them progress.

"As a director, I'm very interested in relationships, whereas I think the series wasn't necessarily oriented that way," he continues. "When you devise your scripts, it's something you can specifically ask for that you know isn't going to cost much money. What I'm pleased with is that we delved a little deeper behind each particular character."

Baggs feels that "with the stories we've been able to do, the Stranger comes across as much more interesting and with much more depth [than the Doctor]. That's something that I've really tried to push. Take that, add a companion and ask, 'How do these two people relate?'"

Baggs points out a scene at the end of Summoned by Shadows, in which the Stranger takes Miss Brown's hand as they walk together. He also notes. "Colin and Nicola are split up very early on in More Than a Messiah, and they try to get back together. When they finally do, there's a nice scene—not romantic, but affectionate—and you begin to see they're very attached to each other. That's something you would never have seen in Doctor Who, yet it meant so much. There are little things like that which you can bring out. and Colin and Nicola are very amenable to exploring these things."

Surprisingly, there haven't been any problems with the BBC over similarities to Doctor Who. "Quite the contrary," Baggs explains. "I've been in touch with BBC Enterprises, because they're obviously the best people to expand the projects. I proposed to them that to occasionally release a new [Doctor Who] story would help in the long term with what they're trying to do. They've seen copies of the projects, and actually said they're good, but they're quite happy and content releasing back [i.e. past] episodes of Doctor Who. That's making them enough money right now. They're not interested in anything more."

Stranger than Fiction

The third video was complicated by Baggs moving to Los Angeles for several months. However, he's back in England now and continuing work on the video series. "I've been generally surprised by how popular the first two have been," he admits. "The first one is making some money now. Certainly not big bucks yet, but it's profitable enough to think it's worth continuing. There was an article recently in a British genre magazine. They were very positive and said that it would be interesting to see what we could come up with if the BBC were to give us a budget, which was very nice.

"I have the third story already in production. The provisional title is In Memory Alone. It's a very simple script in terms of locations and it has only three characters. The story marks more of a step away from Doctor Who. I'm just pushing the boundaries.

"Summoned by Shadows was a bit of an experiment, obviously, as was More Than a Messiah. I think they work for what they are. But, as a director, I know I can do better. In Memory Alone is an opportunity to consolidate what we've done and prove that we can do something very solid and strong. If I have any self-criticism of what we've done with the first two, it's probably the structure of the pieces. I think they're very appealing to Doctor Who fans."

Baggs sees the Stranger videos as an opportunity "to get experience for myself and the other people involved. I know there's a market for them. There's nothing wrong with producing something for a given market that isn't necessarily limited, but focused. I didn't really make them to make money; I did them because I knew people would be interested and I would learn a lot from doing them, which was the main motivation. I'm very keen to do more. The more I do, the more popular they become."

Future plans include a fourth story, provisionally titled Hookwire. Baggs describes it as "connected, but not really part of the same series: It will have the same people in it, but it will be a proper, full-length film project, if it comes off. It'll move more away from the Doctor Who side of things. The script isn't completed yet, but the idea is all there and the characters are all set. It certainly should appeal to Doctor Who fans in the same way as the videos. Whereas the series really is, if you like, pseudo-Doctor Who, it won't be in quite the same vein."

New production of Doctor Who is still not on the immediate horizon, but Bill Baggs philosophizes, "You hear all sorts of weird and wonderful stories about who's taking Doctor Who over and all that. Meanwhile, it's good news for me."

VICTORIA SELANDER is a Portland, Oregon-based writer. This is her first article for STARLOG.


Captions:

Colin Baker takes on a new form in The Stranger and Miss Brown, a Doctor Who substitute series created by Bill Baggs.

There are similarities between Baker's Who and the Stranger, as well as Aldred's Ace and Girl. but they aren't the same," says Baggs.

Bryant, Baggs notes. "is a very devoted person to work with."

Giving insight into More Than a Messiah," Baggs instructs Baker and Sophie Aldred (Who's Ace), introduced as Girl in this series.

As eccentric tourist Bernard Darton in "Messiah." Peter Miles learns that some of the wildlife on Majus 17 are extremely wild.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Selander, Victoria (number 188 (March 1993)). Comes the Stranger. Starlog p. 75.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Selander, Victoria. "Comes the Stranger." Starlog [add city] number 188 (March 1993), 75. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Selander, Victoria. "Comes the Stranger." Starlog, edition, sec., number 188 (March 1993)
  • Turabian: Selander, Victoria. "Comes the Stranger." Starlog, number 188 (March 1993), section, 75 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Comes the Stranger | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Comes_the_Stranger | work=Starlog | pages=75 | date=number 188 (March 1993) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 January 2020 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Comes the Stranger | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Comes_the_Stranger | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 January 2020}}</ref>