What does the Shada animation mean for #missingepisodes?

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.

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#MissingEpisodesMonday: How Rogue One points to the future of classic Doctor Who

2017 has not started well for those fans hoping that Philip Morris and/or A.N.Other missing episode collector would be backing up a massive truck to BBC HQ with 97 cannisters of 16mm film cans. The animation of Power of the Daleks, combined with certain acerbic assertions made by Paul Vanezis (a reliable if untrusted source) on GallifreyBase, have persuaded those following the omnirumour that it was just that – a rumour.

More on that to come in due course – but for this week’s post I have decided to revisit a post I wrote two years ago, when Doctor Who fandom had lost all of the pent up optimism that followed the release of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear. I decided that it was time to stop waiting for Philip Morris to bring the rumoured shipping container filled with cans of missing episodes to the BBC, and to instead press on with recreating what was lost; I wrote a letter to this effect in October 2015, launching the #MissingEpisodesMonday hashtag (not, I confess, one of my more successful ideas!) and hoping to pester BBC Worldwide into keeping the classic DVD range alive. We have already had the first fruits of that, with the wildly successful release of The Power of the Daleks fully animated.

I think there is a pointer to where the BBC can go next provided by another creation that looked to recreate something lost. I delayed this post for a month, giving readers plenty of time to watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (should they be that way inclined) without spoiling anything. I’m assuming a full month after release that if you have not watched it by now, you will not be troubled by a minor spoiler – but if you would be, this is your last chance to look away!

Rogue One, which is set just before the events of the very first Star Wars movie, caused a great deal of debate and discussion – not just for the storyline (good but grim) but also for a brave and contentious decision to recreate Peter Cushing’s character of Grand Moff Tarkin, and to create a Princess Leia who looked as the late Carrie Fisher did in 1977. The video below shows what sort of process was involved to do this – essentially, it required near lookalikes to portay and speak the roles, and then for CGI to be overlaid over the actor.

Of course the first question that has been raised in all of this relates to the ethics of recreating long deceased actors. This article by the Guardian focuses specifically on the ethics of it, and includes the following helpful remarks:

“This was done in consultation and cooperation with his estate. So we wouldn’t do this if the estate had objected or didn’t feel comfortable with this idea.

(For additional debate, you also may want to read this article by Max Farrow and this article by Dave Ehrlich)

While I know some readers will want to debate the ethics involved, I’m purposefully side-stepping the debate for this post as it merits an entire post to itself, and is being explored much more thoroughly and knowledgeably elsewhere on the internet! Instead, I’d like to focus on what this develop does mean – for better or for worse, we are rapidly approaching the point at which CGI renderings will be comparable to real life actors. We absolutely need to land on a humane and sensible agreement in terms of what is acceptable and what is unethical – but we also won’t be able to avoid for long the question of how this applies to missing episodes of Doctor Who.

This idea is not exactly new – I speculated in May 2015 that the BBC could recreate Marco Polo using an entirely new cast as a reference point for the animators, the driving factor there being the proliferation of motion capture in computer games. Rogue One has demonstrated that movies are quickly catching up, and that television or on-demand viewing cannot be far behind. Yes, in 2017 it is probably prohibitively expensive to map William Hartnell’s CGI created expression on to David Bradley. But it is not impossible – and it was not that long ago that we were warned that animating a completely missing episode of Doctor Who was financially impossible.

This being the case, then suddenly the BBC have a lot of questions in front of them, in terms of productions, values and ethics – never mind the business decisions! Even if BBC Worldwide could bring together a cast to re-make Marco Polo, and wanted to do so, how far should their creative freedom go? The animators of The Power of the Daleks have already faced questions on the decisions they took when animating the adventure. Imagine having to decide whether Marco Polo: Reimagined should be recorded in widescreen colour HD, or instead as close to the orginal as possible? Should all of the original cast be faithfully recreated, or only the recurring cast? Should the original soundtrack be used? And especially given contemporary debates about cultural appropriation, would the BBC have to ensure that Chinese actors portrayed Chinese roles?

Against all of these challenges however, I would like to present a positive case. Unless the episodes show up (and optimism is at an all time low) we have 97 gaps in the classic catalogue, of which only fifteen have been satisfactorily plugged. The Power of the Daleks animation was great, but also lacked fluidity – you had to get past the realisation of the human characters. There is definitely a case for using motion capture to improve the quality of future animations – the question seems not to be if we should use motion capture, but rather the extent to which we should use motion capture and CGI.

It is not just missing episodes at stake here. If a convincing William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton could be re-created, why not a convincing Peter Davison or Colin Baker? Take Big Finish’s excellent audio drama Spare Parts (available to buy online here) – the clip below shows a test animation attempted by a fan (there are four on youtube in total):

While Cybermen (like Daleks) are easy to animate, humans are unsurprisingly somewhat more difficult. Given the pace at which technology is advancing however, we may not be far from the point that we can produce so much more than missing episodes – we would be able to turn audio dramas into reasonably realistic animations. Of course – this would instantly put fandom into a schism inducing uproar – certain fans would refuse to accept ‘non-canon’ stories, while even those who accepted it would be divided in terms of whether these new adventures would be welcomed into the ‘classic’ DVD range, or should be a stand alone range.

Plainly there remains a lot to debate, and absolutely no easy answers. But the future for classic Doctor Who is nevertheless extremely exciting, and persuades me that regardless of whether further material is found, Doctor Who fans can eventually look forward to a day when the missing episodes have been recreated in some form, and we can enjoy the classic era in its entirety.

Probably the best Doctor Who EVER: My review of The Power of the Daleks

As long term readers of the blog will recall, Power was one of the three stories I was most keen to see recovered, for the reasons I set out in this blog post. Indeed, so curious was I to sample Patrick Troughton’s sadly missing first adventure that I eventually gave in and watched the Loose Cannon recon – and it only increased my excitement for the animated release when BBC Store confirmed the animation project.

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Who’s Next? Why I think the BBC are going to animate The Abominable Snowmen

It is widely recognised in fan circles that The Power of the Daleks animation is a gamechanger – the first classic adventure of Doctor Who to be entirely animated. It could have flopped, but instead it was a magnificent success. We must recognise this is partially due to the strength of the story itself, and not least of Pat Troughton’s marvellous debut performance, but the animation team showed that it is possible to reconstruct the lost stories in a credible and watchable format, and for fans to enjoy them. The question has now become a case of ‘What next?’, rather than whether more are coming.

In my last blog post I shared the responses of Doctor Who fans to which current missing episodes they most wanted to see animated. The moral of the story is that there were not many surprises – the Dalek stories were at the top, along with other predictable big hitters such as Fury from the Deep.

Of course, the BBC are not going to choose the next animation based only upon what fans want – though they will almost certainly take popular interest and demand into account. Most probably, they will be driven by the profit margin – which is fair enough, given that the BBC owes us nothing, and they are hardly going to invest in a programme with a negative return!

That being the case, I am prepared to make a confident guess that (possible returns notwithstanding) the BBC will probably choose The Abominable Snowmen as their next animation project.

So let us begin by reviewing what is missing:

The Entirely Missing Serials

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The Orphaned Episodes

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The Mostly Missing Serials

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As you can see, the remaining stories can be classified three ways – a large number that, like Power of the Daleks, are completely missing. In a sense, these are the best prospects for the BBC in that they do not have to incorporate existing material, and so the animation team can start with a clean slate and imagine the serial however they want. There are also some highly anticipated stories in the mix, not least Marco PoloThe Macra Terror, and Fury from the Deep. The danger however, is that there are also several adventures in there that are less than hotly anticipated. Would it be a worthwhile risk for a second animation?

Meanwhile, the opposite problem exists for mostly missing serials. Unlike the orphans, which to all intents and purposes are basically missing, a substantial amount of content survives. With The Crusades and The Underwater Menace we have the comparable release of The Moonbase to demonstrate that combining animation with existing footage can work – but not necessarily easily. To put it another way – a release of The Wheel in Space with 66% of it animated might prove a risk.

Orphaned episodes on the other hand are an interesting case. The Power of the Daleks was the first animation to be produced in widescreen, taking advantage of the otherwise lamentable fact that no footage survives to be incorporated into the story. Presuming that future animations would follow this trend, it would be extremely tempting for orphaned episodes to animate the entire story, releasing the orphaned episode with the animation as a bonus.

My theory, for what it is worth, is that the BBC will be very tempted to release an animation that features an orphaned episode as their next venture. Power of the Daleks demonstrated that you could animate an entire adventure and make it work. I think the next theory that the BBC will want to test will be whether the animators would be able to lift aspects of the existing footage to incorporate into animated footage. Not being an animator, I have no idea if what I am proposing is impossible – though I am tempted to think not, given the extent to which The Moonbase animation incorporated existing footage from surviving episodes and The Tomb of the Cybermen. If the BBC could successfully incorporate (for example) the footage from episode 2 of Evil of the Daleks into a brand new animation of episode 2, it would demonstrate that the process could be successfully replicated for other orphaned adventures, and potentially even for mostly missing adventures.

That being the case, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘Which orphaned adventure would the BBC choose?’ Almost immediately, I am minded to discount three adventures – Galaxy 4, The Celestial Toymaker, and The Space Pirates. None of them are highly regarded, so why would the BBC take a risk on an adventure that might flop like a lead balloon? That leaves us with two adventures: Evil of the Daleks and The Abominable Snowmen. Notwithstanding my own conviction that The Abominable Snowmen has been found, I think the BBC would be jolly tempted to choose the debut of the Great Intelligence for their next release. While Daleks are guaranteed sellers, and Evil is a very hotly anticipated release, I think that’s rather the point – they know Evil will sell well, even if it follows up a less well received release, so they lose nothing by delaying it.

This is supposition on my part – the BBC may equally be thinking that a colour version of Marco Polo is the obvious next step, or to release The Wheel in Space animated in a similar style to The Moonbase. But if I were sitting in BBC Worldwide right this moment, and had nothing to indicate any more material was returning, I think I would be tasking my animators to bring the second adventure of Season 5 back to life.

Addendum

Next week I’ll be breaking down the animations type by type, and giving my thoughts on how quickly the BBC is likely to animate these adventures.

Where next for #missingepisodes animations?

Like most Doctor Who fans, I have been absolutely blown away by the outstanding job the BBC have done on the Power of the Daleks animation. The quality of the animation has been so good, and the reaction so uniformly positive, that fans are positively clamouring for the BBC to press ahead and animate the remainder of the missing back catalogue – the best of good news!

When the Power animation was announced, I did a reader survey asking respondents on their preference order for animations – all the way from their first choice to their 19th. What this uniquely reveals is the extent to which fans really want a classic adventure returned – some stories you would expect to do well are still highly ranked, but are lower because not every fan rates the story that highly.

Below are the results – the number represents the average score for the story, so if (for example) a story was ranked 2nd by everybody, then the score would be exactly 2.0.

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Unsurprisingly the two Dalek stories top the poll – even if they are not necessarily everyone’s first choice, it is clear everyone would want both Evil of the Daleks and The Daleks Master Plan animated fairly quickly! Of greater interest is the relatively low performance of Marco Polo, and especially of The Massacre – the latter even more baffling, as the absence of telesnaps would make an animated reconstruction extremely helpful to fans! Conversely, nobody will be surprised that The Underwater Menace has finished bottom of the pile, given the rather lacklustre DVD release. You can also see that there does not appear to be much difference between completely missing adventures (in orange) and partially missing adventures (in green).

If you want to delve deeper still, the bar chart below shows how many respondents gave different values for each story:

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Again, it comes as no big surprise that 80% of respondents have put Evil of the Daleks in their top three. What is truly fascinating is that every story had at least one fan – even The Underwater Menace! The 60 odd responses I received showed that fandom remains as varied as ever in its classic Doctor Who tastes – and that while different fans want different stories, there is a clear appetite to see all of these stories released in some format. If nothing else, the prospect of a complete Doctor Who catalogue is something worth celebrating!

Some notes on the survey:

There were 67 responses to the survey. Some respondents did not use all 19 ranking options, and some ranked the stories as either ‘1’ or ‘2’, as forced ranking was not possible through the survey design.

Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Power of the Daleks

Back in the summer, in the heady days before the now infamous leak of the Power of the Daleks animation footage, there was only ever one candidate when I decided I wanted to sample a Loose Cannon reconstruction, and that was Patrick Troughton’s first adventure. Right from the very start of this blog I made no secret that, like most fans, I really wanted to experience the disconcerting sensation of watching Patrick Troughton make his mark on a role that, until that point, had been solely defined by William Hartnell.

So that was my plan. Until we had some confirmation I would watch the Loose Cannon reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks. Then this showed up:

That put me in a bit of quandary. Should I press ahead with my commentary on the Power of the Daleks given that we were about to experience a much fuller reconstruction of the lost episodes? In the end, as evidenced by your reading of these words, I thought it gave even more reason to write the blog. There are some fans out there that prefer Loose Cannon recons to the official animations. This post gives the chance to share my impressions of these reconstructions, and then (in just over a week – how exciting!) to compare it to the new animation.

So let me begin with an explanatory note for those unfamiliar with what Loose Cannon recons are. As noted in previous posts, and especially my post on The Macra Terror, there are two principal ways that missing footage has nevertheless survived – off air fan recordings of the audio, and tele-snaps taken of the live footage. A company known as Loose Cannon (for more details, read here) took it upon themselves to combine audio and tele-snaps to produce a rough approximation of what the on screen action would have been like. While their website is now sadly missing, their videos are still available on sites like youtube and daily motion.

I am already familiar with what it is like to watch such a reconstruction as part of a largely complete episode. When The Tenth Planet was released on VHS it featured a recon of the missing episode 4 that was a combination of telesnaps and audio, and a similar recon was used for The Web of Fear episode 3, and (rather less successfully) for episodes 1 and 4 of The Underwater Menace. I did wonder however what it would be like to watch a completely missing story made up of just tele-snaps.

I have to say, I absolutely loved it, and it was a joy to experience The Power of the Daleks in this way. Undoubtedly the strength of the story itself contributed to that, being a gripping and clever tale that built the tension wonderfully across the six episodes. Even more than that though, I felt the presentation was a reasonable substitute given the absence of the original episodes, never once feeling like I couldn’t understand what was going on. In contrast to just listening to The Macra Terror I found it significantly easier to picture what was happening, and fill in the gaps between the different shots.

The recon also, tantalisingly, includes such surviving footage as exists, including a few pitifully brief shots of Troughton in episode 1, filmed by an amateur viewer pointing a cine camera at his television during the broadcast. It makes watching Doctor Who in his way arguably even more painful, as you are able to get a glimpse of what it would have been like, piquing one’s desire for the original prints to somehow, miraculously, be found. It also pointed out all of the little quirks and mannerisms in Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor, sadly lost when his episodes were wiped. If the animations truly mean that Phil Morris will never find the original prints of The Power of the Daleks, then it is a huge loss for British TV heritage.

The bottom line is that I could very easily see myself dipping into the Loose Cannon range in future for other missing stories. Alongside novelisations, they are an excellent way to reimagine lost classics. As we are about to discover on Saturday however, I still suspect that the very best way to enjoy currently missing Doctor Who is through animations.

But all that will come in my forthcoming review of the Power of the Daleks animation!

Don’t forget – Power of the Daleks is set to be released at 5:50pm GMT on Saturday 5th November, 50 years to the day after the original broadcast on BBC One.

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Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Moonbase

Ladies and gentleman – I began writing this post in late August, with the intention of doing a full week of missing episode recreation content. As we know now, the BBC have made this somewhat superfluous by announcing that they are animating The Power of the Daleks to be released this November! Nevertheless, I am still publishing this post (more or less) as originally penned, which is still an accurate reflection of my enthusiasm for animating those episodes sadly missing from our DVD collections.

Of the (currently) 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who, nine have been recreated through the efforts of studio animators: episodes 4 and 5 of The Reign of Terror, episode 4 of The Tenth Planet, episodes 1 and 3 of The Moonbase, episodes 2 and 3 of The Ice Warriors, and episodes 1 and 4 of The Invasion. The animators have taken advantage of the unique enthusiasm fans had for Doctor Who, which led dedicated fans to record the audio of episodes as they were broadcast. An excellent feature explaining what this looked like is available as an extra on The Invasion DVD, and is well worth the watch – not least to demonstrate the varying quality between different bootleg home recordings!

We will return to the recordings for my review of The Macra Terror, but for now we will focus on the most recent animated release, Season Four adventure The Moonbase. This animation was certainly a leap into the unknown for BBC Worldwide. Until this point they had only released animated content where the vast majority of the story already existed – both The Reign of Terror and The Ice Warriors required one third of their episodes to be animated.

On paper The Moonbase is no different to previous animation projects, requiring only (!) two episodes in order to plug the gaps. In practice this was a significant jump, given that fully half the adventure was missing. The unspoken question was whether a release that was fifty percent animated would prove just as enjoyable to watch?

I must confess to two biases that influenced my judgement of the story. The first is that I have a particular fondness for the iteration of the Cybermen that featured in Tomb of the Cybermen, making this a story I have wanted to watch ever since Tomb was recovered in 1992. Secondly, before taking the plunge to buy the DVD, I permitted myself to buy the Kindle version of the Target novel Doctor Who and the Cybermen, which is a largely faithful recreation of the Moonbase.

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The cover for the TARGET novelisation of The Moonbase – click the picture to read an online sample via Amazon!

You can look forward to my views on novelisations when I review The Abominable Snowmen, but suffice to say reading the novel of The Moonbase made me impatient to watch it! Indeed, despite my earlier reservations that I’d risk having to buy the story again if the BBC had indeed recovered the missing episodes, I enjoyed the story so much I took the plunge and bought the DVD.

Caveats noted, I have no hesitation in saying that I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Moonbase and did not feel at all that the animation detracted from the story-telling. While it makes one sad that the originals are lost, it nevertheless enables you to appreciate what is a rather good adventure. The Cybermen live up to every inch of their imagined menace, and it’s not hard to imagine viewers of the time being completely enraptured by the episode 3 cliffhanger, which the BBC have kindly shared on youtube:

This particular scene benefited from being able to lift several scenes directly from episode four, and you can see similar tricks elsewhere – most notably that any time a Cyberman is killed by the ‘Polly Cocktail’ (a mixture of different solvents that cause the Cybermen’s plastic organs to dissolve) the animators have lifted the death throes of the Cyberman killed by Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen episode 4. That can be forgiven however for enabling the story to be told, and it certainly progresses at a good rate of knots, enabling one to enjoy the story despite the absent episodes. The regular TARDIS crew are on top form, and you are able to see what Anneke Wills means when she explains that this was the first story in which you see Patrick Troughton learn to be the ‘serious Doctor’, after thoroughly clowning around in the preceding adventure The Underwater Menace. They are complemented by a stellar supporting cast, giving me no hesitation in saying that a complete Moonbase would easily be one of my favourite adventures.

I am still inclined to the view that the animation from The Invasion is the best that has been done in the classic series release – but The Moonbase isn’t at all far behind, and demonstrates that even when a story is 50 per cent animated it can work really well at plugging the gaps. It begs the question of why The Crusades and The Underwater Menace have not been animated, as they also fulfill the twofold criteria of only lacking half their material, and only requiring two animated episodes. It is an even more striking question given that the BBC have made the not insignificant investment to animate all six missing episodes of The Power of the Daleks – a much more substantial investment than a mere two, and a brave step to release a serial with no surviving content.

I therefore return to an observation I made in my very first post relating to the Moonbase – that we need closure on the omnirumour sooner rather than later, so that fans can be freed up to re-create those episodes which will never be found. The uncertainty surrounding the fate of those episodes lives us in limbo, when The Moonbase DVD demonstrates that we now have the capacity to get a feel for what these episodes must once have been like.

In summary: I have really enjoyed the animations of missing episodes thus far, and each story I have watched to date has been enhanced by them. If many of the 97 episodes are indeed lost for all time, I for one would welcome either the BBC or a dedicated group of fans animating the lost material.

The Moonbase is available to buy on DVD from Amazon by clicking on the image below:

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