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.

512woyzhmml

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:

91aoqptjkdl-_sl1500_

 

48 – The Tenth Planet

This review really needs no introduction. To long-time fans of Doctor Who, this is quite possibly the most important surviving story, even surpassing An Unearthly Child or The Daleks. While these first two stories ensured that Doctor Who even became the hit that it did, The Tenth Planet was the means by which Doctor Who ensured it could continue to be a family favourite for decades to come.

The story behind The Tenth Planet is best represented in the 50th Anniversary docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time. It shows how Doctor Who had become a massive success, but the health of lead actor William Hartnell was growing increasingly frail. At this point, the producers had a dilemma – while they had successfully replaced the supporting cast twice over (with new companions Ben and Polly replacing the Season 3 pairing of Steven and Vikki/Dodo) could they really replace the lead actor?

It came to a head in Season 4. While the season began with (currently missing) The Smugglers, this had in fact been recorded in the Season 3 block, and held over until the new season, making The Tenth Planet the effective first story in Season 4. The producers meanwhile took the bold decision not only to recast the role of the Doctor, but to completely change his character. Hartnell, to his infinite credit, consented to appear in one more recorded story before passing the baton on to Patrick Troughton, an actor who would interpret the role completely differently to Hartnell before him.

All of this would have been for naught but for a great story – and The Tenth Planet is indeed a great story. Fans of the Troughton era will recognise the genesis of the ‘Base-Under-Seige’ style stories that would typify Seasons 4 and 5, but at the time this was a relatively new development. The story also benefits from the introduction of a foe who would go on to rival the Daleks for popularity – the eerie and unnerving Cybermen. While appearing in a guise that would not be resurrected for their return in The Moonbase, the Cybermen very quickly establish themselves as a significant menace, and many fans deem these Cybermen most scary for their distinct similarity to mankind.

The story sees the Doctor, Ben and Polly arrive at Snow Cap Base at the South Pole just as a new planet appears in Earth’s orbit, that bears a striking resemblance to earth. The inhabitants of the titular Tenth Planet (back in the days when Pluto was still a planet …) are the Cybermen, who explain that their planet of Mondas went on a journey into space and has returned. In the interim, they sacrificed their humanity by replacing all of their essential body parts with plastic and metallic alternatives, and have now returned to make Earth like Mondas.

The story is superbly paced and a crescendo of suspense and tension with neat flourishes of action. It all builds to a head in the final (sadly missing) episode, in which the Cybermen are defeated when Mondas absorbs too much energy and explodes, depriving the Cybermen of the power sources they rely upon for survival. The most significant moment however, is when the increasingly frail Doctor collapses upon the floor of the TARDIS at the end of episode 4, and his features transform into those of a younger man. It is this scene, more than anything else, that makes The Tenth Planet so crucial for Doctor Who. This first regeneration paved the way for an actor to serve as the Doctor, and then pass the torch on to the next Doctor. It paved the way for the show to be continuously re-imagined, re-thought, and re-created. Put simply – without The Tenth Planet, Doctor Who would not be around today.

The Tenth Planet is not just a crucial story in Doctor Who’s history, but also a personal favourite – one I was very glad to watch on VHS when it first came out, even if I was somewhat confused when it changed to tele-snaps for the final episode! Indeed, that is my only regret for this story – that we are not able to see the original part four, nor able to see Pat Troughton take his first steps in the following serial, The Power of the Daleks.

67 – Revenge of the Cybermen

Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor was simply stellar. Not merely a breath of fresh air after Jon Pertwee had spent five years in the role, Baker was blessed with excellent companions in Sarah-Jane and Harry, and a strong set of stories.

The season concluded with this four-part story, which revisited the sets used for the second story from that Season, Ark in Space – mostly as a BBC cost-saving measure. This is a rare instance of the practice working well, as the TARDIS team arrive fresh from their adventures in Genesis of the Daleks to participate in a story that harks back to the base-under-seige style stories of the Troughton era.

Space Station Nerva is apparently afflicted with a plague, leaving only four crew surviving. In actual fact, there is a subtle game going on whereby the villianous Professor Kellman has the appearance of helping the Cybermen to destroy the Planet Volga – the fabled ‘planet of gold.’ In actual fact, Kellman is working for a faction of the Volgans, under the superbly aloof David Collings as Vorus, who aim to lure the last surviving Cybermen to the beacon and then destroy them with a rocket.

Into this predictably chaotic situation step the Doctor, Harry and Sarah – who as with much of the season become victims of circumstance and are involved because they have no choice – having arrived by Time Ring (a necessary plot device for the preceding story) they have to wait for the TARDIS to show up so that they can escape. Which turns out not to be so easy when Kellman tries to use a Cybermat to kill Sarah. Or when the Cybermen show up and attach a bomb of substantive power to the Doctor’s back.

Often this is not the best loved serial of Season 12 – indeed it is felt to be the weakest in the season, not least as the Cybermen don’t quite carry the same cold calculating menace that they had in previous serials (it certainly ruined it for me to learn that the Cyber Leader was portrated by Christopher Robbie, the chap who played the Karkus in The Mind Robber). I disagree on the whole, not just because I don’t really rate The Sontaran Experiment, but also because I think Revenge of the Cybermen is a largely fun and harmless jaunt, provided one overlooks the obvious plot-holes. It ticks along at a steady pace, with good incidental music, and a cast you have great empathy for.

This was a story I adored watching as a child on VHS, and still enjoy on DVD as a grown up. It may not be the greatest story in the world, but on the whole I think it deserves a better reputation than fans have credited it with!

Villain Countdown No. 1 – The Cybermen

As readers will have worked out by logical deduction (very fitting for this particular foe) there can only be one candidate for top villain in my countdown – the villainous silver menaces from Mondas. Immediately of course we step into a wave of controversy. Unlike the Daleks who (bar the horrific but mercifully short-lived ‘new-paradigm’) have largely remained the same, the Cybermen have constantly evolved during their time on the show – in truth partly due to the fact that it’s significantly easier to create more modern designs with modern modern materials! The consequence however is that fans tend to only like ‘their’ Cybermen – whether the incarnation they first encountered, or the incarnation they most like.

So let’s start with the abstract rather than the specific. The Cybermen are genuinely frightening – unlike the Daleks, who are a little pantomime with their battle cries and pedantic in their reasoning, the Cybermen are usually portrayed as coldly logical – Daleks are motivated by hate, where Cybermen are motivated by reason, devoid of any kind of emotion. They frighten us because it is so shockingly unhuman, and yet so eerily akin to what humans become when they suppress any kind of emotion or moral conscience. As humanity progresses even further in technical skill, it is not difficult to imagine humanity choosing to upgrade itself – Rise of the Cybermen was scarily accurate in that regard.

The pity is, that they ought to be unstoppable – in actual fact, I greatly enjoyed Nightmare in Silver because it returned that sense of ominous doom to Cybermen. In a weird way, we do not feel afraid of an utter madman, however powerful, because being unhinged there is the possibility they might do something foolish. The coldly rational Cybermen do everything with a reason, and will not do something without a reason – which will include killing you if there is no need to keep you alive.

The last reason is personal to myself, but I would be curious to see if it is true for anybody else. None of the other villains in Doctor Who give me nightmares – and that includes some pretty bad-ass dudes like Sutekh the Destroyer. One of my occasional recurring nightmares is to be caught in Tomb of the Cybermen – not necessarily in the ice tombs of Telos, but certainly in an enclosed environment, with no means of escape, and the Cybermen slowly but purposefully coming after those trapped inside. Is my preference for this enemy coloured by my appreciation of that serial? Perhaps, but I was equally thrilled by The Tenth Planet, and The Moonbase, and The Invasion. Even the slightly unhinged Cybermen from Revenge of the Cybermen onwards still evoke a strong sense of dread. Properly used, there is no recurring enemy to beat them.

76 – The Five Doctors

I really don’t know where to begin in describing this simply extraordinary story. Back in the days of yore the BBC would include other videos for sale on the inside of their VHS covers. From this I learned there was a story with all five doctors (I think in my vibrant youth Six and Seven didn’t count …), the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master! I had to get my hands on it! In fact, so desperate was I for the serial that I had a proper huff with my dad when he joked that he hadn’t bought it, when in actual fact he had.

So … I was actually somewhat underwhelmed by the story as a youth. Because my Doctor wasn’t in it! Not really – he got gobbled up in some reused footage from the unfinished serial Shada. And it wasn’t the real first Doctor, Bill Hartnell having sadly passed away several years before. As for the Daleks, the story features exactly one (very easily confused) Dalek, and a host of easily betrayed Cybermen. The young man was not impressed.

The older me however could not help but enjoy the story. Yes they had to account for Tom Baker refusing to show up. Yes Richard Hurndall isn’t quite the same as William Hartnell. But the story is still jolly good fun! It was always going to be a thankless task to try to incorporate that many doctors, companions and foes into one coherent storyline – and the fact is that John Nathan Turner deserves credit for doing a more than respectable job of it. Credit also to Terrance Dicks for introducing an enemy well worth bringing back – the Raston Warrior Robot. Utterly deadly in taking out a troop of Cybermen, it would be a more than worthy adversary to bring into modern Doctor Who.

I would hesitate to recommend the story as an introduction to Doctor Who – compared to his outing in The Three Doctors, Patrick Troughton does not get quite the same space to shine in this story, and the same applies to Jon Pertwee. I also admit that my impression of the First Doctor was rather ruined by Hurndall – the opportunity lost here was to persuade Baker to come back and to find some way of using archive footage of Hartnell. Now that would have been a worthy anniversary story! As it is – I’m thankful for what we have got, and it makes for a very enjoyable hour of television.

Colourisation of Black & White Doctor Who

I am a huge fan of black and white footage and firmly believe it should be used more as a medium in its own right. I’m also persuaded that certain stories would lose certain of their potency and fear factor if they were in colour – Tomb of the Cybermen being the first example that springs to mind. So to date I have not been persuaded that reproducing any of the first six seasons of Doctor Who in colour would be a good idea.

Today however I came across this archive photograph on Twitter and was astounded. My initial reaction was that it didn’t quite scan to see that generation of Cybermen in colour – but the more I looked at the picture, the more I nodded in approval. It looked good – it looked like what I imagined a Pertwee era serial to feature the Cybermen would have looked like.

And that got me thinking – why not colourise The Invasion? Although the U.N.I.T. era has its root in much earlier stories – The War Machines, The Faceless Ones and The Web of Fear being the obvious instances – there is no doubt that The Invasion was the building block for Season 7 and the creation of the U.N.I.T. family, and has a better claim than any other story from the first six seasons for continuity with the Pertwee era. While the Black & White version must of course remain to be enjoyed ‘as is’, I realised to my surprise that I actually wanted to watch The Invasion in colour – I have joined the lunatic ranks of Doctor Who fans begging the BBC to take my money! But I think that this story has the potential to be awesome in colour, and act as a wonderful bridge between Seasons 6 and 7. Of course, if they wanted to do the same for the other three serials I have mentioned, I would have no objections either!

There are of course two important caveats to this request:

1. It has to be done well to be worth the investment. Otherwise you end up resenting a poorly executed product and contrasting it unfavourably to the original, rather than appreciating a new expression of a classic story. In practice, that probably means improving the colourisation standards on stories such as The Ambassadors of Death or The Mind of Evil first before taking on a story that was never even filmed in colour to begin with.

2. The BBC need to find or animate the currently missing episodes first. I think I speak for all fans when we say that we want to be able to watch all of the classic episodes in some format before they go changing the ones we’ve already got!

89 – Attack of the Cybermen

There are no words for how disappointed I was when I watched Attack of the Cybermen on VHS. I had loved The Tomb of the Cybermen and enjoyed The Tenth Planet, and having read that this story brought elements of these two stories together (and included the return of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cyber Controller) I really wanted to see this story. My disappointment was reflected in the fact that it does not do the least justice to the older serials, and especially Tomb.

Fast forwarding several years, my dad bought me the novelisation on paperback. Initially unimpressed (“Why did you buy this exactly?”) I read it one night when unable to sleep – and loved it! Enjoying the story on its own merits and with the back story properly explained, Attack of the Cybermen becomes a much better story, and it meant the DVD received a much more sympathetic viewing than it may otherwise have done.

The plot is relatively straightforward – the Cybermen are trying to travel in time to prevent their home planet of Mondas from being destroyed, as seen in The Tenth Planet. At the same time a former Dalek mercenary, Lytton (who previously appeared in Resurrection of the Daleks), is working with the inhabitants of the planet Telos, who have been driven underground by the Cybermen taking over their planet – his aim is to stop the Cybermen making use of the time vessel the Cybermen have stolen. The Doctor is not sure why he is drawn in, but eventually realises that the Timelords engineered his arrival.

Straightforward plot – but overly complicated realisation, hence why the story worked better as a novel than as a televised episode! As the first episode in Colin Baker’s first full season as the Doctor, it was perhaps ill-advised to begin with a convoluted storyline, that is gruesomely violent in places, and involves a backstory few fans would actually get. I don’t think it contributed to the decision to put the show on hiatus, but it certainly didn’t help get Baker off on the strongest foot. Peri similarly does not shine in this story, and her attire does little to discourage the perception the producers chose her primarily for her sex appeal – given that where given the opportunity Nicola Bryant does an excellent job, it makes one wonder what could have been if Peri had been allowed to tone down the costume, and play less of the damsel-in-distress.

Don’t get me wrong – it will take a couple of viewings to make sense, but Attack of the Cybermen will grow on you. You just end up with the feeling that it would have been better to have dropped the convoluted backstory and told a simple and straightforward adventure.