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Monday, September 12, 2011

Call The Doctor!

Okay, so, yeah, that was a bit of a heart attack.

I opened the PDF for 4x15 Planet of the Dead and it said that it was 88 pages long.

Luckily, two little words saved me from a full-blown coronary: Pink Revisions.

In actuality, the script is 73 pages plus a bunch of tiny add-in pages, so we're looking at around 76 or so pages for the British version of the TV series, with the final, aired, episode clocking in at around 59 mins.

The BBC America version of the show generally clocks in at about 44 - 46 minutes so if I aim for about 60-65 pages, I think I should be fine as far as script-length goes.

One interesting thing that's quickly noticeable in the script is just how much white space is dedicated to things like camera angles, special effects and CUT TO: Transitions.  Especially the CUT TOs.  I bet if I went in there and pulled out all the CUT TOs I could probably shave a good 2-3 pages off of this script.

Anyways, I digress...

Another interesting thing, and potentially my biggest roadblock, is the fact that Doctor Who doesn't have any noticeable division of Acts.  I'm sure they're in there, silently tittering while hiding beneath the covers, but it'll take some work to tease it out. 

One of the most baffling things that I've noticed, specifically about the BBC America series, is that what often seems to happen is that the commercial breaks don't line up with the Act Outs.  Or, what could easily be Act Outs.  Why this is, specifically, I'm not sure yet -- could it be because BBC America shoehorned five Act Breaks into an episode written for four Acts?

Or is it that maybe the episode itself is following a whole other formula?  At this point, I'm not quite sure... yet.


See, one of the things I've been wondering as I read Planet Of The Dead (not a Moffat episode, but, being unable to get a script for a Moffat episode, this had to do) was how this thing was put together.  Specifically, if it following any sort of Act structure, what structure would it be? (3,4 or 5 acts). 

Story-wise, it seems to be pretty easy to sort out, we have the A Plot: Doctor and rag-tag group of bus passengers travel through a wormhole in downtown London and end up in a desert on another planet and have to find their way home before a 'swarm' can get to them and eat them.

There appears to be a sort of small B Plot in that there is another group of aliens called the Tritovore that crash-landed on the planet.  At first they think that the Doctor is responsible for their crash but the Doctor can speak their language and so befriends them (until they die horribly while giving the Doctor an essential piece of the puzzle to get everyone home).

And then instead of a C story there's a weird sort of Runner going on back in London with UNIT, Captain Magambo and Malcolm (the brilliant mind that will help the doctor escape).

All of these stories naturally dovetail into one another with the B folding into the A and then, finally, the Runner catching up to everything as they eventually get the Doctor and his new friends home.

But Act-wise?  That's a whole other kettle of fish.


The easy bit is the Teaser, in the script it was 4 pages comprised of 8 very fast-paced scenes.

But once we get into the action that's where things get hinky.

See there's a spot on Page 10A (page 15 in the PDF) where the character CARMEN reveals, through her creepy low-level psychic abilities that "The Dead.  We are surrounded by the dead."  It's a great, ominous bit of foreshadowing -- but it's too early on in the story, only 6 pages after the intro, can't have an Act Out there. Or can we?

The very next scene (Page 16 in the PDF) after that beat jumps the time forward a certain amount of time, showing three suns blazing overhead (and not immediately killing everyone) and the crew hard at work trying to get the bus moving out in the desert.

So... it certainly feels like we've had an Act Out.  Like we've stepped away from the story for a moment and come back to it.  Weird.

The next 'moment' that feels like an Act Out comes on Page 20 (Page 26 in the PDF).  The Doctor's friends have all started to lose hope, complaining that it's hot and none of their ideas have worked out.  They start to fight amongst one another so the Doctor talks to them all, changes the subject by asking them where they were going, what they were doing... and then, once the mood shifts, he tells them not to give up on that hope.

THE DOCTOR
Just think of them.  Cos that planet
out there, all three suns and
wormholes and alien sand, that
planet is nothing.  D'you hear me?
Nothing, compared to all those
things waiting for you.  Food and
home and people, hold on to that.
Cos we're gonna get there.  I
promise.  I'm gonna get you home.

BAM.  No, seriously, if that's not an Act Out... I mean, come on.  They even follow that up by jumping out to the C plot, dealing with the arrival of UNIT back in London.

After that, on Page 42 (Page 50 in the script) we end up with another possible Act Out moment.  Following the Doctor and his friend's meetup with and subsequent capture by the Tritovore race, the Doctor is able to discern not only their location (they're on the other side of the Universe) but that all the sand on the planet got there in just over a year.  The sand is the remnants of the planet's population, sucked dry of all their moisture.  The stakes are further raised in that we learn that the wormhole is growing in size, 4 miles straight up now.  They've stopped all airplane traffic back in London just to be safe.

And then, after all of this, the alien probe finally reaches the storm and sends back images described as such:

EXT. PLANET, FX SHOT - DAY
FX SHOT (x2, LONG DURATION!): CU on the dot-of-light PROBE, against blue sky - then it swoops down - INTO A SWARM!  A blizzard of STINGRAY-LIKE CREATURES in flight.  They're
grey but with a metallic exo-skeleton glinting in the sun. 

BOLTS OF LIGHTNING shoot through the swarm, like it's generating electricity.
FX SHOT: CU on a STINGRAY.  Snapping red O-shaped mouth. 
CUT TO:

INT. TRITOVORE SHIP, CONTROL ROOM - DAY
THE DOCTOR, CHRISTINA, TRITOVORES staring.
FX SHOT: 54.2 FX projected in the air.
CHRISTINA
It's a swarm.  Millions of them...
THE DOCTOR
Billions.

Okay.  Again... that reads to me like another perfect Act Out moment.  Maybe I'm just noticing these 'cause I'm looking for them, but in the context of the story so far, they seem legit to me.. has anyone else noticed this?

After this we jump out to an FX shot of the metallic swarm of stingrays sweeping across the surface of the planet and it jumps back into the story proper.  Could be a great moment to return from a commercial break...?  Just sayin'...

So following this reveal we learn that these creatures eat metal and extrude it into a type of exoskeleton and fly around the planet in mass numbers, faster and faster until they rip a hole in space, which the creatures use to go to the next planet and drain it dry of its resources.  (wow)

This last one... I'm really on the fence about -- primarily because, well, the Act Out would fall on a C story -- but at a moment that directly effects the A plot... so I don't know.

Take a look and tell me what you think:  By page 60/61 (Pages 71/72 in the PDF) the Doctor and his friend has survived an encounter with the alien stingrays (which killed the two Tritovores), escaped with some MacGuffin which will allow the bus to somehow escape back through the wormhole.  We learn that the wormhole is still getting bigger but now Malcolm has figured out a way to close it.  The Doctor races back to the bus and the waiting passengers, gets it all geared up and ready to go.  Meanwhile, in London, Captain Magambo orders Malcolm to close the wormhole immediately.  Malcolm objects, saying that it would trap the Doctor and everyone on the other side.  The captain pulls a gun and puts it to Malcolm's head, saying she knows how to shut down the wormhole herself.  Malcolm stands his ground:

Magambo pulls her gun out.  Aims it right at Malcolm.
CAPTAIN MAGAMBO
Right now, soldier.

MALCOLM
(terrified)
No, cos...  You need me.  You don't
even know which button.

CAPTAIN MAGAMBO
Transmit, F8.

Malcolm picks up his keyboard, holds it behind his back.
MALCOLM
Well, then.  To get to that button.
You'll have to shoot me.

CLOSE on her; hating this, but her finger on the trigger...

My main problem is that it breaks up the momentum that had been building -- the Doctor, right after that scene, uses the alien technology to fly the bus out of the sand dunes and, with the stingrays hot on their tale, fly it back through the wormhole.

The other problem is that, other than this moment, I can't really find any other moments where things pause in any way shape or form... other than that moment, after the 'Act Out' on page 42 it seems like a pretty solid run toward the finish line.

So... I don't know, maybe I'm only seeing what I want to see here... but those other moments, they're pretty compelling.  Could this script be harboring a silent Teaser/5 Act structure?

More and more I feel myself wanting to say 'yes' but... I don't know.

What do you think?

Cheers,
Brandon

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