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.
Before venturing into this post, I must warn that this article contains SPOILERS about the end of Series 10 of Doctor Who. While I am fairly confident what I am about to comment is widely known, this is your last chance to look away now if you are still to watch The Doctor Falls.
As covered in last week’s blog, Doctor Who was headed towards an uncertain future in 1969. The show’s popularity had been waning over time, and lead actor Patrick Troughton was giving firm indications that he had little desire to stay on board for a fourth season as the Doctor. Into this mix, the decision was taken to trial a style of adventure that was to shape the next five seasons of Doctor Who; an adventure set not in the far reaches of space, the past, or the future, but on contemporary earth.
It has been a while since my last post on missing episodes, principally because there has been little by way of substantive rumour to report. Earlier this year there were rumblings that a number of William Hartnell episodes from Season 3 had been recovered, but nothing more substantive than rumour, and absolutely nothing relating to the supposed activities (or lack thereof) of Philip Morris.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Orphaned Episodes
The Mostly Missing Serials
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 Polo, The 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.
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.