I had joked before disappearing on a (relatively) internet-free holiday that there was bound to be some sort of animation/recovery announcement while I wasn’t around to hear about it. Sure enough, news broke last week that the BBC are preparing a new animated release of the incomplete Tom Baker adventure Shada, the story originally scheduled to conclude Season 17, and cancelled due to industrial action.
Predictably, this has had a bit of a mixed reaction from fans. The original VHS release included the original scripts for the complete serial and linking narration from Tom Baker between the existing footage; a flash-motion animation featuring Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor was produced by Big Finish in 2003, and released alongside the original VHS footage in the official BBC DVD release. Moreover, long-term Doctor Who fan Ian Levine commissioned his own animation of the show, which managed to find its way onto the Internet not long ago. There is a sense that Shada has basically been done to death.
As fans will discover with my forthcoming review of the existing material, I am not feeling so downbeat – I really enjoy what we already have, loved Gareth Roberts’ novelisation of the work, and would love to see what a complete version might look like. I’m intrigued by some of the presently unanswered questions:
- Will we have a full six-part adventure, or will it be a reduced storyline?
- Will it be a completely animated adventure, rotoscoping existing footage, or will there be a blend of old and new?
It doesn’t bother me to wait for answers, and I will be interested to see what the BBC do!
What is more interesting is the implications for the wider debate on the animation and recovery of missing episodes. Some of the fan discontent about the Shada release reflects annoyance that we are getting a new release of something we can already watch, where many stellar episodes (Evil of the Daleks being a prime example) do not have a full release, and would be greatly enjoyed if they were produced. Can we determine anything new from the BBC’s choice to animate a story with incomplete material, rather than a story that is partially or wholly missing?
At the most basic level, there may be nothing to learn at all about missing episodes. While fans pretend that Tom Baker is going to live forever, in our heart of hearts we know it isn’t so, and that it is better to gain his voice performance for a release of Shada while we are still able to. Even aside of this macabre thought, it may even be wholly commercially driven, with Tom’s fourth Doctor still the most easily recognised Doctor Who around the world. A ‘new’ Tom Baker adventure might be thought of as a better commerical bet.
One interesting note of speculation would be whether this project is a test case for animating Big Finish adventures in future. I speculated after watching Rogue One that the BBC might well consider highly regarded stories like Spare Parts as a potential source of income – and there would be a wealth of back stories in the Big Finish range should the BBC find a large enough fanbase willing to buy animated ‘classic’ adventures. If this informs the BBC’s thinking, it doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the recovery of classic adventures – but there would be a positive and a negative interpretation.
Let’s suppose then, regardless of the above, we can learn some lessons about missing episodes from the Shada release. A positive interpretation would be as follows: more material is coming back, so the BBC are not animating any more lost episodes … yet. This would be joyous news in the short-term, and horrific news if it endures for long. The prospect that the BBC won’t animate Evil of the Daleks because Phil Morris (or A.N.Other) has hinted they have recovered it should of course give cause for celebration! But if the BBC is holding off animation indefinitely due to these rumours, and the finds never materialise, then we are left with the worst of both worlds – no actual episodes, nor animations!
A negative interpretation of Shada release meanwhile would run like this: the BBC aren’t going to bother animating any of the lost adventures. On balance, I am slightly minded to discount this absolute worst case scenario – it does not make sense for the BBC to pursue animation of (say) Big Finish adventures, when they have the library of missing adventures sitting at hand that require no more work to animate than a Big Finish adventure.
Which means, on balance, I think the Shada animation is good news for fans of classic Doctor Who.
While it may well prove to have no bearing on recovery of missing episodes, my suspicion is that the Shada animation reflects uncertainty within BBC Worldwide as to which classic Doctor Who material has either been recovered, or has the potential to be recovered. If my suspicion is correct, it means we can take away one encouraging headline: there is more classic Doctor Who material that could be recovered and released.
I will finish my musing with a reflection on my recent speculations regarding The Tenth Planet. The trailer for the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Twice Upon A Time is now available online, in which David Bradley’s first Doctor is seen with a new actress portraying Polly:
The Radio Times speculates that we may well see the first regeneration re-shot, with a new actor to portray Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor (read the article at this link) – all of which seems to confirm that they are not going to rely upon recovered original footage. It’s not entirely surprising if they do pursue this route – Steven Moffat has tended to pay homage to the original series run, without dogmatically ensuring everything is a perfect reflection of what went before. That (sadly) probably means that they aren’t sneakily planning to release Tenth Planet episode 4 and Planet of the Daleks episode 1 as a Christmas present – although given how some of Doctor Who’s oldest fans feel about the 13th Doctor, it mightn’t be a bad way to distract them!
So, until more details emerge – keep hoping, and expect the unexpected!