Doctor Who: Death Takes A Holiday

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Wendy Padbury & Nicholas Courtney

Colin Baker & Frazer HinesIt had been 15 years since I worked on a Doctor Who fan video, but in December 2003 I participated in a week long Caribbean Sci-Fi Cruise. The theme was to have a video workshop, and to that end, make a fan video on board the ship using the guests. Since we were going to be visiting two Mayan temples (in Belize and Mexico) we decided the plot should be the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) being sent by the Doctor (Colin Baker) to retrieve a crystal from on top of the Mayan pyramid. Conveniently, footage had already been shot a week before at the Chicago TARDIS convention of Colin and Frazer Hines (as Jamie) setting up the plot, and we even came up with a plot contrivance to explain why everyone looked 30 years older than in the series.

Once we had come up with a basic plot, three people were assigned as writers, another as story editor, Paul Scott Aldred of United Fan Con as director, and myself as cameraman. In one of our meetings, former Doctor Who story editor Terrance Dicks said off-hand that the plot we had sounded about right for a ten minute movie. This was taken as Gospel by many of us to mean it had to be exactly 10 minutes, no more or no less, which lead to a funny scene afterwards when he realized in horror that we had taken it so seriously when he had mentioned it merely as a rough guide (ironically the finished video would clock in at 17 minutes!).

Nick & WendyThe movie begins with the Brigadier writing his memoirs and recalling his first 73rd birthday which had occurred prematurely due to a TARDIS malfunction and aged everyone 30 years. Thus, the Doctor and Jamie send him and Zoe off to Mexico to retrieve a Zybanium crystal from atop the huge pyramid at Chichen-Itza. However, the Brig and Zoe are unaware they are being followed by sinister figures aboard ship who also want the crystal. This becomes clear when a giant goon (Mike Leahy) comes after Zoe, only to find himself thrown overboard by the resourceful woman. Later on, Zoe's stateroom is broken into by the creepy henchman (Ron Daniels) who plants a listening device to discover their plans. The Brig and Zoe are shadowed closely as they travel by bus to Chichen-Itza. Arriving there, Zoe uses the Doctor's pocketwatch to home in on the crystal and they discover they must climb the steep stairs to the top of the pyramid. The henchman follows them up. At the top they discover the crystal is hidden behind a secret door covered in Mayan hieroglyphs. The Brig decides to let Zoe decipher them and has a nearby sitdown next to another tourist as the henchman keeps close watch. Meanwhile, Zoe meets two archeologists who tell her about the symbols and she works out that they need to spill the blood of a warrior first. The Brig volunteers but the henchman steps out to confront him and kills the tourist. Thinking on his feet, the Brig kicks a rock at the henchman who is knocked out and bleeding. To the amazement of the archeologists, the secret door opens and Zoe quickly grabs the crystal. They make a hasty departure off the pyramid before too many questions can be asked. Back at the ship everything seems resolved when yet one more threat is revealed.

Location shooting at Altun-Ha in BelizeShooting began on the various shipboard scenes and then at the first Mayan ruins at Altun Ha to simulate the top of the pyramid (even though we were all standing on solid ground -- see photo at left). With only 90 minutes to shoot before our tour bus left to return the to cruise ship, we managed to get everything we needed in the can. Terrance even met an eager Doctor Who fan -- one of the Belize guides at the park who was thrilled to meet him!

Shooting at Chichen-ItzaAfter more shooting aboard the ship, the next day would be our trickiest sequence: getting everything we needed in two and half hours while at Chichen-Itza. The last time the Sci-Fi Cruise has visited that site, it had poured rain. But luckily we had beautiful weather throughout the trip, and fairly warm even for December. After a one hour ferry from Cozemel to the mainland and then another five hour bus ride we finally reached the site. We were told that video cameras had to be registered and they might not like the look of our professional looking camera. This proved to bite us on the ass a bit later. As quick as we could, we began filming around the pyramid (Nick and Wendy never actually climbed the stairs, we filmed them just taking the first few steps and faked the rest). As we continued to shoot some park guides took an interest in what we were doing and realized we were more than just tourists and trying to make a movie, strictly against the rules. Shooting on the shipThey wanted to confiscate our video camera! We quickly swapped out the tapes and then let the producer take the video camera and sort this out at the park office while we continued to shoot on a back up consumer camcorder. Incredibly, you can't tell the difference in the finished footage what was shot with which camera! Eventually the producer returned having promised not to use the pro camera, and we just continued to shoot with the other one. Once we had finished all the material with Wendy and Nick, I was able to haul our henchman (Ron Daniels) up to the top of the pyramid and get some footage from there. I'd be lying if I didn't say it was scary up there, the sides are very steep and there are no rails on the sides to keep from falling off. But we got all the footage and returned to the bus for our long journey back to the ship for yet one more day of shooting.

Shooting on deckEventually it was a wrap and I was given the footage to take back home to Seattle and edit it, hopefully in time for Gallifrey One over President's Day weekend in February. I was stunned when I assembled the rough cut and realized how long the finished movie would be. It was quite a lot of footage to shoot in three and a half days, if I say so myself. Incredibly, no scenes were edited out, just some tightening up here and there as I sent copies to the producer in Florida and the director in Massachusetts for their input. The most difficult task was spending 10 hours doing frame-by-frame rotoscope animation for a sequence when the villain dies -- all for 10 seconds of finished footage! For music, I wanted to evoke an old-style Doctor Who story, and got my hands on a CD of Dudley Simpson music from the early Tom Baker era, and using scores from "Pyramids of Mars," "Brain of Morbius," and "Ark In Space" was able to add some much-needed music (unlike "real" movies where generally musically speaking "less is more," in Doctor Who you almost have to "wallpaper" the music throughout the entire thing to help establish the mood). Paul's friend Burt Hazard was able to generate an amazing CGI credit sequence for us at the last minute which really helped put a professional touch on the movie. Copies were distributed to the relevant parties and the official World Premiere was held at Gallifrey One on February 14, 2004, attended by many of the cruise participants.


Doctor Who: Death Takes A Holiday
17 minutes, Mini-DV video, filmed December 2003, released February 2004.
Cast... Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, Wendy Padbury as Zoe, Holly Swift as the Boss, Ron Daniels as the Henchman, Mike Leahy as the Goon, Dan Murphy and Jennifer Lowden as the Archeologists, Anne Sedell as the old boss, Brian Stearns as the Unlucky Tourist. Special Appearance by Colin Baker as the Doctor and Frazer Hines as Jamie MacCrimmon.
Written by Ron & Priscilla Daniels & Jennifer Lowden, Produced by Dan Harris, Cinematography and Editing by Ryan K. Johnson, Directed by Paul Scott Aldred.

How to get copies?

This movie is available directly from Ryan K. Johnson in either NTSC (American video standard), or PAL (ask for this specifically in your letter) if you send him a blank VHS tape and postage money (within the United States: $2, foreign requests add much more). All tapes are recorded at SP speed (2 hour mode).

UK residents who want copies in PAL can send a blank tape and 75p in stamps to his agent there.

For mailing instructions or more information, e-mail Ryan at Please specify which movies you are interested in, and your country (if not USA).

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March 16, 2004