Have we found out why animations are on hold?

Fans who frequent this blog for ongoing missing episodes updates will probably have already seen this very interesting post by the BBC last week, released to coincide with BBC Store releasing the animation of lost Dad’s Army story ‘A Stripe for Frazer.’ The article features an interview with the team responsible for the animation, and makes explicit reference to lost episodes of Doctor Who that were animated for release – in particular, Patrick Troughton adventure The Invasion.

Some sentences in the article do stand out, and merit further attention. This section below for example, is very enlightening as to why animations may well have dried up:

Rumours had begun percolating through various bits of the BBC that some previously lost 1960s television programmes had been re-discovered somewhere in a film vault in central Africa. However, cards were (with some justification) having to be played very close to people’s chests […] Given the uncertainty, the whole Dad’s Army animation project was quite sensibly put on hiatus – until everyone could be sure what had happened […] There still remained a good deal of secrecy about what other material (if any) may have also been found at the same time […] finally, in March 2014, I phoned Philip Morris directly to ask if he was yet in a position to confirm one way or the other. There were perfectly reasonable limitations on what he felt able to talk about with regards to ongoing negotiations with other archives. However, after a short discussion of our situation, he was able to confirm that no Dad’s Army had been found in any form.

What is quite interesting about this is that the animation team took the decision to press pause, before finally taking the commercial decision to pester Philip Morris. It confirms some ideas we have already heard, and leads me to make the following inferences:

  1. The BBC (and animation teams) are not going to risk animating episodes where there is a prospect of it turning up. What we cannot be certain about is whether The Tenth Planet episode 4 or The Moonbase were released on DVD in the full knowledge that they are definitely missing, or because the animation work was so far along that the BBC felt they had no choice. My own instinct is that we cannot rule out the latter – the BBC animations had been commissioned in house rather than offered by an outside body.
  2. There must be a reasonable prospect that a number of episodes are viable in some shape or form – and I am inclined to believe that The Underwater Menace may be one of them. While it is possible that sales of The Moonbase deterred further DVD releases and made BBC Worldwide reluctant to continue with the release of The Underwater Menace on DVD, it is more consistent with the article to presume that the BBC weren’t prepared to risk resources on an animation when they had some chance of getting back the original.
  3. The search appears to be ongoing – in whatever form that is. Whether this is following up good leads, or carefully negotiating the release of film canisters from a known location, it certainly seems that in 2014 Philip Morris had not concluded that the well was dry. Whether this is in any way related to his experience of having The Web of Fear episode 3 pinched from under his nose, we can only guess. We can also only guess whether the search is still ongoing, and what phase it is in.
  4. There must be more material out there – otherwise why was Philip Morris negotiating in 2014? If so, it may explain why he’s been so keen to fly under the radar since the 2013 reveal – publicity is not his friend when he just wants to get episodes out of the hands of archives and back to Auntie. It also raises the painful prospect that we may have been better off if Enemy of the World and Web of Fear had not been rush released back in 2013 – perhaps less publicity would have hastened the release of other material in known locations.

We also have learned that circumstances have seemingly changed at BBC Worldwide:

I went back […] and the project was put back on the desk of the commissioners at BBC 2. Sadly however, it seemed we had missed the boat. There had been a number of changes since we’d rested the project and for various reasons, the decision was made not to take things any further.

I have speculated before that A Stripe for Frazer was to be the precursor to assessing if animated Doctor Who could be a success on BBC Store. This little nugget rather suggests that internal changes at the BBC may also have been a contributing factor – and does make one wonder what the changes were that made them decide against the release. Regardless of the ‘various reasons’, is this good news or bad news for a complete Doctor Who catalogue?

One thing that we can definitely be encouraged by is the skill of the animators, who managed to turn around the animation in the almost incredible deadline of 3 months. The skill set, to say nothing of the ever improving technology, exists should the BBC wish to re-create missing Doctor Who, or indeed to animate some Big Finish adventures. We just have to hope that the delay is only due to the prospect of more material being returned … and that it is not too long before Philip Morris is able to release the animators to fill whatever gaps remain.

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2 thoughts on “Have we found out why animations are on hold?

  1. Pingback: #MissingEpisodesMonday – is this the truth behind the #omnirumour? |

  2. Pingback: #MissingEpisodesMonday: Why the BBC should animate Shada |

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