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Monday, 25 January 2010

Doctor Who-inspired Star Tigers returns as animated fan project

startigers_av21cov.jpgAltered Vistas, an amateur production company dedicated to creating Doctor Who-related features from the "fringes" of the franchise, has just released its twenty-first animated CGI release - the first chapter of an all-new Star Tigers adventure, plucked from the pages of Doctor Who Weekly. It's a fan project written and fully supported by original Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer and Star Tigers creator and writer Steve Moore himself.

Set in the 26th century universe first seen on Doctor Who in Frontier in Space on TV back in the 1970s, Star Tigers was a follow up story published in Doctor Who Weekly to the hugely popular Abslom Daak - Dalek Killer.

The new animated story sees the Daleks' second greatest enemy heading into Draconian space in an attempt to find help for Princess Taiyin. There, he is taken under the wing of Prince Salander, noble of the Draconian royal court, but their association leads them both into a web of intrigue, bribery, corruption and jealousy that will inevitably end in tragedy.

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Steve Moore has also been interviewed by AV for their web site, and has nothing but praise for the Star Tigers project. "I’ve never seen [animator Stuart Palmer] on better form than he is here," he enthuses in a on-site review. "We all know that everything he does is a labour of love, but this is just downright Herculean... The whole thing looks absolutely stunning, and there are some sequences, like the scene where the Killwagon first takes off and heads for space, or the meeting with Vol Mercurius on Dispater, which are just so perfect they make an old fogey like me quite emotional... and that’s to say nothing of the fantastic sets on Draconia and Paradise, where Stuart has picked up the original designs by Steve Dillon and David Lloyd and extended them into wonderful new areas.

"And for all you fans of dead women (!), Taiyin just looks fabulous... what a babe!"

Steve is, perhaps understandably given the passage of time and the sheer volume of material he wrote for various comics back in the 1970s, vague on the origins of Abslom Daak for Doctor Who Weekly. "I’d done a couple of stories about Kroton the Cyberman, and Dez Skinn asked me to come up with a character that would be an independent creation of the magazine, even though it was still set in the Doctor Who universe. Whether it was his idea or mine to include the Daleks, I really can’t remember... it could just have been that it was their 'turn', after we’d worked through some of the other alien races, and so they got included."

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Even today, Moore sites Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer and Star Tigers as some of his favourite creations. "I’d been writing for seven or eight years," he reveals, "and, although I’d come up with characters like Kroton the Cyberman, who was still first and foremost a Cyberman, this was the first time since I’d got some experience behind me that someone actually asked me to create my own character. So in many ways it was a breakthrough strip for me.

"It was also very personal. At the time I was deeply depressed over a broken romance, and a lot of that angst went into the first Daak story... it wasn’t just Daak who was feeling suicidal and betrayed. And as I was still carrying around a lot of grief about the lady in question by the time I began writing Star Tigers, so Daak carried the dead Taiyin round with him too, in hope of reviving their love."

Talking about his attitude to "readership ages" - often a bugbear with modern British comic fans bemoaning the patronising format of some modern comic strip story telling in news stand publications, Moore reveals he never used to think about the readership at all, let alone their age when he wrote his many stories for various comics in the 1970s.

"You know, when you’re up against deadlines, all you think is: ‘Come up with a story that works… and before you go to bed this evening.’", he says, answering questions about the Doctor Who strip "K9's Finest Hour". "Naturally I knew I couldn’t handle adult themes like sex or excess violence, but apart from that all my attention was on the story and just getting it done.

"Looking back, I doubt that K9 would have been my first choice of character, so it may have been suggested to me by Dez that we should do a story about him. And once you’ve decided to do a solo story about a robot dog, it pretty much asks for a more humorous treatment. That may be what made the story different from the others, rather than any intention to write for a younger audience."

Also included in the interview is a synopsis for a ten issue mini-series of an Abslom Daak story, After Dark, written by Steve which would have concluded Daak’s story as Steve wanted to tell it.

First discussed at a time when Dan Abnett was heading up new project development at Marvel UK, Moore describes it as "the most complex plot I’d ever come up with, and the outline was written in minute detail."

Unfortunately, Moore notes, the idea was savaged by another Marvel UK editor, John Freeman...

"[He] asked me to cut the story down from ten issues to four, which was absurd, and to concentrate on 'what Daak does best'.. in other words, he wanted a thug with a chainsaw. I wasn’t prepared to chop After Daak about like that, so I made a compromise offer that we’d put that story to one side and I’d write another outline for a four-issue series, which would concentrate on Daak’s youth and early exploits with Mercurius and Selene, for which I jotted down a couple of paragraphs. If that went well, I suggested, we might do After Daak afterwards. But nothing ever came of that idea either, and everything just sort of fizzled out."

daak2.gifJohn's recollection of events is that both Dan and discussed several ideas for limited series Marvel UK projects. "We shared the same office space at the time," he recalls. "The word came down from Marvel US - probably from either Tom de Falco or Carol Kalish - that ten issue mini series were no longer favoured for costs reasons, and Marvel was seeking to publish four-issue mini series instead to try out new characters. (Proposed projects included a Death's Head revival and a try out for Rourke, a character created by Freeman and Liam Sharp for the Strip comic magazine). The emphasis for these projects also had to be very much on the action, rather than what might have been described as the cereberal."

"Four issues were the minimum Marvel could publish - there was some legal or distribution restriction in the US on publishing three-part mini series, which the company would have preferred."

In the end, neither Steve's ten-part or four-part proposal was ever taken up, although both treatments would almost certainly have been seen by Paul Neary when he took up the reins as Editorial Director at Marvel UK in the 1990s. By that time, Marvel US considered Doctor Who a 'dead' franchise and there was no value to Marvel in seeking to extend a brand they did not themselves own. Instead, Paul developed a range of new characters for the company while also revamping Death's Head, drawn by Liam Sharp.

Daak has, of course, returned to the pages of Doctor Who Magazine several times since his Star Tigers appearance, always to fan enthusiasm.

Unlike other fan groups dedicated to creating additional adventures for the good Doctor, Altered Vistas is dedicated to adapting and bringing to life stories that already exist on the fringes of Who-lore. That covers a broad spectrum of stories, and they're hoping to adapt for the screen as many of them as they can using animated CGI, blended with high quality 2D animation, screen grabs (where appropriate) and high quality stills taken from CGI source, and all assembled against a high quality soundtrack with music, sound effects and the best amateur actors they can get our hands on.

• The second chapter of Star Tigers will be released later in the year. Check out the site www.alteredvistas.co.uk for details of the Star Tigers project and Steve's revealing interview

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