Back in the Dark Times, when Doctor Who was off the air during the period known as ‘the Wilderness Years’ (from 1989 to 2005), fans ended up having to make their own entertainment. Quite literally so, in fact.
While the Doctor was off limits for use, a lot of other characters who had featured in the show, as well as monsters, were still the intellectual property of the writers who’d created them. With that in mind, groups of professional (as well as semi-professional) fans and filmmakers set about creating their own unlicenced video and audio adventures set firmly in the Doctor Who universe, without being able to include the titular Time Lord.
As a result, we had direct-to-video and CD (and later DVD) tales featuring Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT, Sarah Jane Smith, and nasties such as Sontarans, Zygons, Autons, Yeti and Dæmons, to name but a few. During that period when it seemed like the show was never coming back to television, it was releases like this which managed to keep the flame alive, giving fans some new material to enjoy, while at the same time giving writers and crew members the chance to hone their craft.
Since Doctor Who returned, there’s been fewer of these unofficial spin-offs, as well you might expect, as fans have been able to get their collective itches scratched by the series proper. However, it seems that there’s still demand for yet more original yarns set just outside the fringes of BBC copyright, which is where Sil And The Devil Seeds Of Arodor fits in. Reeltime Pictures have produced a fair number of these dramas over the years, and they’re also behind the Myth Makers interview range (some of which are now being re-released as part of The Doctors series of DVDs).
It’s actually quite a timely release, as the lead character – Sil (Nabil Shaban) – was last seen in 1986’s Doctor Who tale ‘The Trial Of A Time Lord’, which has just had its own Blu-ray release as ‘The Collection: Season 23’. Despite having only been in two stories (as well as returning for two Big Finish audios), Sil proved to be one of the most memorable monsters of recent times, so he makes a very welcome return here, in a script penned by his creator, Philip Martin.
The best way to describe Sil, for those who don’t know him, is to say that he’s a greedy, grasping, avaricious, slimy (in every sense) slug-like creature from the planet Thoros Beta; he doesn’t want to take over the universe, but he wouldn’t mind commoditising it, and making a nice, fat profit in the process. Sil’s not actually evil, and despite all his ultra-capitalist ways, he’s one of those villains you actively love to hate, thanks largely to Nabil Shaban’s performance, where he completely inhabits the character, and makes him feel totally credible and believable.
In this four-part drama – which nicely mimics the story format of the era of Doctor Who from which he originated, giving us some good old-fashioned cliffhangers to boot – Sil’s facing legal strife for facilitating the distribution of a drug known as Devil Seed, which – despite claims of it maximising human potential – has started to have seriously harmful effects on anyone who takes it. As a result, Sil’s being held in captivity on a lunar base, and if he’s found guilty, it could cost him his life.
Essentially, this is the Trial Of A Slime Lord, and Sil has to try and mount a legal defence aided by his superior – Lord Kiv (Christopher Ryan) – against the case mounted by Earth prosecutor Larnier (Sakuntala Ramanee), in a hearing presided over by The Adjudicator (Janet Henfrey). One of the hallmarks of these spin-off productions is seeing former Who actors turning up in new rules, such as with Ramanee and Henfrey, and we also have Sophie Aldred (best known as Ace alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor) covered in prosthetics, playing the seductively wicked Mistress Na.
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For those viewers more used to modern Who and other contemporary sci-fi productions, this might seem a little slow-paced in comparison, and lacking in spectacle. However, it’s worth remembering that not all SF has to be chock full of whizz-bang flashiness, and this harkens back to the more theatrical old school Who, where the emphasis was far more on the scripts and characterisation than fast-paced adventure and flashy visuals at the expense of actual storytelling. That’s not to say it doesn’t hold its own in terms of production values, and while it can’t compete in terms of budget, it still manages not to look cheap or unambitious.
The Blu-ray also manages to pack in a surprising amount of extras, covering all aspects from set and costume design, to the creation of the various prosthetics, and the music and sound effects; in fact, it shows up just how poor some of the bonus material is on some of the Doctor Who Blu-ray releases for the current show, which mostly come over as bare minimum, and thrown together in a rather slapdash manner, with little love or care shown, unlike the special features on the classic Who DVDs and Blu-ray collections.
The perfect companion piece to this is The Doctors: More Monsters, a compilation of Myth Makers interviews with six actors who’ve brought to life some classic creatures and aliens across the whole 56-year history of Doctor Who. Appropriately, both Nabil Shaban and Christopher Ryan are front and centre here, with Shaban in particular showing a genuine love for – and protectiveness of – Sil to an intense degree that few actors could match with characters they’ve played. Although Ryan has turned up as more than one alien in the show, it’s disappointing how little he seems to recall about his appearances; however, it’s made up for by his reminiscences of playing Mike in The Young Ones.
It’s also nice to hear from actor Stephen Thorne in what will probably have been his last interview, after he sadly passed away earlier this year. Thorne has some wonderful anecdotes not just about his various turns in the show over the years, but also about his career as a whole; in fact, some of this chat is even more interesting than his tales about working on Who. Terry Molloy – known for playing Davros, both on TV and for Big Finish – also has some great stories about his work as a jobbing actor, including 46 years in The Archers, but his deep and abiding fondness for his portrayal of the creator of the Daleks is clear to see here.
Like Ryan and Thorne, it’s surprising to see how softly spoken Molloy is in real life, and just how much talent is required to convincingly play something truly monstrous when you’re the furthest thing from it. It’s also a delight to hear from actor, monster wrangler and stuntman Stuart Fell, who must surely be one of the very finest cases of nominative determinism in action; Fell has worked on some big Hollywood productions, including various Superman, Janes Bond and Star Wars films, so the trajectory of his working life is fascinating to discover. Rounding out the set is Jon Davey, who’s inhabited a multitude of nasties in the modern incarnation of Who, and his welcome inclusion helps bring us bang up to date.
It seems clear that you couldn’t have Doctor Who without the monsters, and both of these releases show us how much of a part they’ve played in the show’s success over the decades. If you don’t find a place for these two worthy creature features in your collection, then that would be the most monstrous thing of all.