Why the BBC should animate … The Abominable Snowmen

My final case for animating the remainder of the missing episodes of Doctor Who takes a different approach to the first two arguments, by focusing on a story that is missing all but one of its episodes – The Abominable Snowmen.

This serial belongs to a select group, which includes Galaxy 4, The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Celestial Toymaker, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, The Wheel in Space, and The Space Pirates. All of these stories have the majority of their episodes missing, and most have only one surviving episode. The phrase ‘orphaned episode’ is most pertinent to this group of stories, where we are able to enjoy a painfully tantalising glimpse of what the full story was like, but the episode is sadly separated from the rest of their family.

In my first two arguments, I sought to demonstrate that you could still recreate the lost episodes to an enjoyable standard even if absolutely no surviving material remained – indeed you could either create a palette that could be reused in other episodes, or use motion capture techniques and physical actors to launch a whole new set of animations. In a strange way, these stories are easier to cater for, because you can hold a steady design standard the whole way through the episode, and it only need remain consistent to the standard the animation team chooses.

The orphaned episodes present a much bigger challenge, because the animators need to account for the inclusion of surviving material, and do so in such a way that it does not jar or seem inconsistent when the action switches to the original 1960s production. This has been an issue in reverse for certain animations released to date – The Reign of Terror for instance felt significantly less smooth compared to The Invasion.

I would contest however that it is precisely that challenge which makes the orphaned episodes a prime candidate for a new wave of animations. If a new animation team can successfully devise an animation style which allows the viewers to enjoy the surviving material without it ‘jarring’ against the style of the animated episodes, it would in turn give the fans confidence that a wholly animated missing story would be worth buying. Let us also embrace the fact that the alternative would be to completely animate these stories, with the orphaned episodes included (at best) as an option instead of the animated version of the episode, or (at worst) a DVD extra. In short, its worth doing.

But why then choose The Abominable Snowman over some of the other stories – perhaps most especially the epic 12 parter that it is The Daleks Master Plan? There are strong arguments in favour of Master Plan – not least that it at least retains 3 full episodes, a full 25% of the story. Against that is that the amount of animation required is colossal and very large for a first project, and that (as I opined in my piece on The Smugglers) it would have to be bundled with the also entirely missing single episode of Mission to the Unknown. Strong candidate though it would be, Master Plan is too large a step for a measure intended to prove this technique is viable.

My choice in essence comes down to two factors – personal taste, and recent enthusiasm. The personal taste stems from the fact that although Evil of the Daleks is the story I would most love to see recovered, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Target Novelisation of The Abominable Snowmen, and would greatly like to see it released too. The added advantage is that one would be able to watch the first five stories of Season 5 in continuous sequence, and that at 6 episodes rather than 7, it is an easier prospect to animate. As regards my allusions to recent enthusiasm – this is a not very subtle reference to both the recovery of The Web of Fear and the return of the Great Intelligence into recent series of Doctor Who. Both mean that there would be substantial interest in the Great Intelligence debut story – and it might also provide an excuse to re-release The Web of Fear with episode 3 properly animated.

Of all the orphaned episodes, it seems most evident that The Abominable Snowman is the best option to demonstrate that substantial animation can sit alongside solitary episodes without disruption the viewing experience. This would be a bold strategy – but I think it would pay off!

Why the BBC should animate … Marco Polo

In my second of three proposals for Doctor Who missing episodes the BBC ought to animate, I am completely changing tack to my previous proposal – which as you may recall involved taking a simple four-part story with the capacity to reuse the characters in other stories.

As with The Smugglers, I suggest that we should animate an entirely missing story from scratch – but instead of the careful investment proposed for that serial, I am proposing that the BBC could make a grand gesture, really push the boat out, and release not simply an animation, but a recreation – a re-animation if you will! And for that, there can be no better opportunity than that most eagerly desired and sought after of stories, Marco Polo.

Since I started drafting this post, another similar idea has cropped up on the web – which I think demonstrates that there is enthusiasm not simply to use animation to plug the missing episodes gaps, but to breathe new life into the Classic Series range. I think Marco Polo would be an excellent launchpad to demonstrate that this could be done really well, and to a fantastically high standard.

What then would the animation look like? Well, if The Smugglers is meant to be relatively cheap and cheerful, I propose exactly the opposite for Marco Polo. One of the biggest trends in video game production is the use of actors to map expressions on video game characters – which has especially come to my attention through Kiefer Sutherland playing Snake in the latest installment of the Metal Gear Solid series. Marco Polo would be a continuation of that theme – employing a Hartnell-esque lookalike to provide reference points for the animators.

Naturally this is a much bigger budget than anything done until this point – but in this scenario we are purposefully choosing to ignore the issue of cost, and instead embracing two ideas:

1. As the episodes are completely missing anyway, and need to be replaced, there is absolutely no harm in producing a high-quality reimagination that might appeal outside the ‘core’ audience.
2. If successful, the format would potentially serve as the prelude to animate other stories that (until now) have been non-canon – not least Big FInish productions such as Colin Baker’s originally intended Season 23.

The technology definitely exists – and I am pretty confident that the demand exists as well. And as technology becomes faster and more powerful, the capacity to take on such a massive project is quickly becoming more and more feasible. As I said for The Smugglers – the only good reason not to animate Marco Polo is if there’s a reasonable chance we might get the real thing …

Why the BBC should animate … The Smugglers

After my short break from updating the blog, the only thing that has changed is that the political geography of the United Kingdom has changed somewhat (for readers outside the UK, that means there is a Conservative majority nationally, but a majority for the Scottish Nationalists in Scotland – interesting times ahead …). In matters pertaining to missing episodes the crusade goes on (but sadly not the Season 2 adventure) and the fans remain clueless as to what is going on.

I have not completely lost hope that more missingepisodes remain to be discovered, but while we are waiting it is entirely legitimate to suggest to Auntie Beeb that they explore animating those episodes we’re currently not able to enjoy in their original glories. So over the next week I am going to make the case for three possible ways forward to take a big step and begin animating the back catalogue of missing material. And this week, I propose that the BBC should make Season 4 opener The Smugglers the first episode to animate from scratch.

The first reason I have chosen this episode is simple – to date the restoration team have (with good reason) concentrated on stories that were mostly complete, and only required at most two episodes to be animated. This would be a brave step to assert that a Doctor Who story lost in its entirety could be re-created from scratch, and still prove popular with the fanbase. This means choosing a story that has no extant material whatsoever.

But when then The Smugglers? Nine other stories satisfy the criteria of being wholly missing – of which Mission to the Unknown can be immediately discounted – not only does it not feature the main cast, it does not make sense to release the adventure unless it forms part of a Dalek Master Plan boxset. The Smugglers however possesses two distinct advantages.

Firstly, it is only four parts. While Marco PoloPower of the Daleks and Fury from the Deep are presumably more sought after by fans, they run to at least six episodes. For a brave first venture, animating a four part adventure is a much more feasible undertaking than a full six or seven parts.

Secondly, many of the characters can be re-used – most of Ben and Polly’s adventures are completely missing, as is a significant proportion of Season 3 featuring William Hartnell. This makes The Smugglers the ideal crossover point to demonstrate how these characters could be re-used for further animations in their respective seasons. While it could be argued that The Macra Terror and The Highlanders also fulfill this requirement, no other story spans both eras in the same way that The Smugglers does.

Suffice to say, this type of animation would be similar to styles we have seen used so far in The Invasion, The Moonbase, The Ice Warriors and The Reign of Terror – and that we would hope to see in The Underwater Menace and The Crusades! The aim would be to pile costs in up front on character templates that could be easily redeployed to other adventures – making the project a launchpad for animating the other 93 missing episodes (note – technically 81 allowing for the other animations …)

Of course, The Smugglers is also one of those adventures it is rumoured has been found – so an added bonus to agitating for it to be animated is that it might force those in the know to reveal their hand – which I concede is somewhat wishful thinking on my part!