Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor Gala Event – Sunday 3rd November 2019
By Maria Kalotichou on 14th November, 2019
Reeltime Pictures have been around since 1984 as a producer and distributor of films, whether of its own product or other companies. They have helped to fill the Doctor Who enthusiast shaped hole with documentaries (the Myth Makers video series) interviewing leading actors and people associated with the show. But Reeltime has also created original spinoff dramas by means of incidental characters and monsters licenced to the writers who created them.
Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor is their latest such drama. Unless you have been living in a swamp, within the Sea of Despair and Longing then you will be aware that Sil, the central character, is a mentor. A high level cold-blooded, fish-eating amphibian creature from Thoros Beta. He was last seen in the 1986 story “Mindwarp”, in Crozier’s laboratory as Peri was “killed” and Lord Kiv took over her body. As part of a national launch the London gala premiere of this movie-length project led by Keith Barnfather, founder of Reeltime, also director and producer, was held recently in Marylebone, north west London.
The Rudolph Steiner House Theatre is located within a 5-minute walk from Baker Street underground station (past the cute Sherlock Holmes museum with a large queue ) It is a cosy venue for a first viewing with an on-site café full of delicious looking cakes and teas. This fan of the mentors but a newbie to all things Reeltime joined the excitement to see what has become of the irascible Sil all these years later.
The schedule of the gala was comfortable enough that it gave time to the things you don’t get at bigger events such as talking to the guests. I remember my experience at this year’s London Film and Comic Con where I queued for ages for a picture with Jenna Coleman. She had probably seen hundreds of people before me. For the twenty-five seconds I had with her, she very briefly acknowledged me. My photo shows a glazed expression in her eyes as if she wanted to be anywhere else but there. By contrast after registration as I first entered the Rudolph Steiner autograph area and merchandise area at around 11.30 am, Sakuntala Ramanee who plays Larnier, the Prosecutor, greeted me with a warm cheery smile. Producing a silver pen from a box, she preceded to enthusiastically sign my alternative DVD cover.
I only realised very much later in the day at the group signing that she had also played Shreela, one of the young people transported to the Cat People’s planet in the classic Doctor Who final story “Survival”. When I remembered this Sakuntala revealed that she had enjoyed the opportunity when persuaded by Sophie to work with her friend again.
Sophie Aldred, who of course played Ace, has a significant role in Sil And The Devil Seeds Of Arodor and in a Reeltime double feature, in the morning there was the 1997 appearance from her in the story “Mindgame”. It was an enjoyable slice of an early quirky Reeltime effort done on a shoestring budget, It is implied in that story that Sophie is playing an older Ace employed as a mercenary paid to kill if she has to. It’s a strange feeling watching a spin-off as I found myself wondering do I accept “Mindgame” is canon for Ace? It’s fascinating to try to fit the scenarios that the spin-offs offer into a person’s existing history and probably something for endless discussion amongst us fans.
The main screening was at 1pm and Keith Barnfather as director and producer introduced the gala and came across as an extremely passionate person with a real love for the whole project. He had entire trust in his cast and crew during a hectic few days shoot. As a classic Doctor Who fan there is a great deal in the story to make you comfortable. After the opening shot where we see a few aliens milling around the lunar station, the production is limited to a few simply dressed sets and a maximum number of about eight significant characters. So you appreciate the budgetary constraints and the parallel to classic Who quite quickly.
The production also uses the classic Who four episodes format with the end of episode cliff-hangers to draw you in which is quite fun. Most of the main actors have a previous Doctor Who credit. Christopher Ryan who has been in both classic and new Who as General Staal in The Sontaren Stratagem and The Poison Sky is back as Lord Kiv. Janet Henfrey who was in The Curse of Fenric plays the adjudicator ably withstanding Sil’s attempted charm offensive with an appropriate curt put-down.
The story is written by the original Sil writer, Philip Martin adding an air of authenticity to Sil and the other returning character Lord Kiv. An experienced writer Philip Martin has many tv credits including Z-Cars, Hetty Wainthorpe Investigates, Tandoori Nights, Gangsters as well as Doctor Who. In the production team panel after the screening, Philip Martin revealed he has the copyright for the character only, nothing else, so had to work outside of the usual Doctor Who franchise using his imagination to create a pure story about Sil. He was struck with two ideas, a trial and a planet ruled by birds. Basing the story on the Moon came easily as he had written two scripts for the sci-fi show “Star Cops” years ago which was a series set on Moonbase.
I like the fact that Philip Martin continues to strike a political note in his writing here having a drug that initially helped people but then made them addicts as a strong premise to embroil Sil in. The themes of big corporation and corruption are as relevant today as in the future as is that someone should be taking accountability. Having Sil caught up in a justice system he will not recognise creates a conflict where he has to use all his wits to survive the claims made that he is a drug dealer. Sakuntala Ramanee plays the prosecutor and her role is a difficult one to entirely sympathise with. Her character and that of her son played by Jay Ramanee-Murphy are somewhat underwritten I think in favour of Sil. Consequently, both performances feel more slight than they should.
The appeal of Sil is the little child within us – Philip Martin
Nabil Shaban however totally relishes the opportunity to expand what we know about envoy Sil. As we don’t have the Doctor ready to bounce in as a protagonist Sil rightly moves centre stage to the story. I get a sense Nabil Shaban is a quiet man away from the camera but as Sil he brings great energy to the role. Begonia F Martin, who did the makeup for Sil and Sophie revealed the early starts from 5am for makeup and the 12 hour days in costume that the actor had to endure which he did without complaint. Nabil in the actor panel spoke of his previous experience doing stories for Big Finish where the only limitation was being in a recording box. He admitted that he was nervous to play Sil again but eventually felt able to do so due to the strong scriptwriting from Philip Martin.
Hurry hurry if you want the money- Sil
It is partly in the wonderful writing from Philip Martin that he shines but Nabil’s performance is full of surprises as we truly get a multi-faceted version of Sil. It struck me that Sil is probably one of the greatest characters created for Doctor Who. Nabil Shaban gives Sil, his usual deviousness to manipulate and extricate himself but he also imbues him with a fun charm. It’s a curious thing I thought that he only loves money for itself, not the luxuries it buys. Still, I can’t help loving Sil especially for the vanity within his frequent outbursts. I like the twist of the trial of the appearance of Mistress Na and the sacrifice plot. In episode three there is also a lovely soliloquy from Nabil which gives Sil what Philip Martin describes as a “dark night of the soul”.
There is a touch of Shakespeare style here seeing Sil in torment. He wrestles with the knowledge that he is wanted dead and the dilemma as to the motives of his mentor Lord Kiv and his love interest Mistress Na. Talking of lurve who guessed I would ever discover or be interested that Sil has feelings or a heart? Both Christopher Ryan and Sophie Aldred ably compliment Nabil Shaban’s performance and Christopher Ryan is luckily spared having to wear all the prosthetics and mentor costume that he had in “Mindwarp”
Some of the costumes from the production and prosthetics shown at the gala
But Christopher Ryan slips back into Lord Kiv with such ease it feels effortless between himself and Nabil and that is where the strengths of the production are so evident. Lord Kiv is no-one’s fool and will protect their employer the UMF at any cost. His voice haunts you coming out of the body of a corrupt human lawyer. Christopher Ryan conveys complete with a suitably crumpled suit how immoral and seedy he really is. In the production team panel Phil Newman, who designed the settings and principal costumes explained Lord Kiv’s somewhat shabby appearance was designed to show the result of all the brain transplants he has had to go through but he looks like third rate Columbo without his morals.
Sophie Aldred is almost unrecognisable as Mistress Na but plays her part of a half reptilian half-human seductress of Sil, a future Mata Hari, with some conviction. Her sweet words are music to Sil’s ears but I wonder if anyone else will find the gurgles of delight she elicits from him as she bathes his skin rather intrusive.I say get a room you two! In the actor panel, Sophie Aldred revealed that years ago she had always admired actors and prosthetics. She always wanted a role with the make-up so when she was asked by her friend Keith Barnfather she couldn’t say no.
The final events of the afternoon were two auction segments. Alaistair Pearson, the artist and illustrator were there for the auction segment selling an illustration. Keith Barnfather delved into a box to pull out props from the story to bid for, including a laser pistol belonging to one of the guards, moon-base area signs, a production script and other goodies. All the proceeds went to charity. The gala’s final flourish was a group signing session where all the principal actors were happy to sign autographs and chat amicably with fans. It was lovely to spend the day with this dedicated team and show our appreciation for all the hard work they have put in. As spin-offs go Sil And The Devil Seeds Of Arodor is certainly a worthy addition to the Doctor Who universe. Its at times like this I feel truly blessed to be a girl geek about town.
Maria is a 4th and 5th Doctor fan who grew up through the JNT classic era years. Her favourite classic stories are Robots of Death and Earthshock, well probably, but don’t make her have to choose only one. In her grown-up life, she currently works in HR.