Doctor Who fans are hugely fortunate. Thanks to the intervention of Ian Levine, the series first three serials were rescued hours before they would have been lost forever. While fans can get caught up in The Beginning DVD boxset, a jarring note hits the viewer as The Edge of Destruction fades to a close, and viewers are forced to the horrified realisation that we cannot see what happens next.
Universally recognised as the story that transformed Doctor Who into a nationwide hit, The Daleks is much, much more than a mere introduction story to the alien race that would go on to become the Doctor’s deadliest enemies. The series’ second story is a fantastic sci-fi adventure that stands up well more than 50 years after its initial broadcast, and is superb television, nevermind superb Doctor Who.
In my second of three proposals for Doctor Who missing episodes the BBC ought to animate, I am completely changing tack to my previous proposal – which as you may recall involved taking a simple four-part story with the capacity to reuse the characters in other stories.
As with The Smugglers, I suggest that we should animate an entirely missing story from scratch – but instead of the careful investment proposed for that serial, I am proposing that the BBC could make a grand gesture, really push the boat out, and release not simply an animation, but a recreation – a re-animation if you will! And for that, there can be no better opportunity than that most eagerly desired and sought after of stories, Marco Polo.
Since I started drafting this post, another similar idea has cropped up on the web – which I think demonstrates that there is enthusiasm not simply to use animation to plug the missing episodes gaps, but to breathe new life into the Classic Series range. I think Marco Polo would be an excellent launchpad to demonstrate that this could be done really well, and to a fantastically high standard.
What then would the animation look like? Well, if The Smugglers is meant to be relatively cheap and cheerful, I propose exactly the opposite for Marco Polo. One of the biggest trends in video game production is the use of actors to map expressions on video game characters – which has especially come to my attention through Kiefer Sutherland playing Snake in the latest installment of the Metal Gear Solid series. Marco Polo would be a continuation of that theme – employing a Hartnell-esque lookalike to provide reference points for the animators.
Naturally this is a much bigger budget than anything done until this point – but in this scenario we are purposefully choosing to ignore the issue of cost, and instead embracing two ideas:
1. As the episodes are completely missing anyway, and need to be replaced, there is absolutely no harm in producing a high-quality reimagination that might appeal outside the ‘core’ audience.
2. If successful, the format would potentially serve as the prelude to animate other stories that (until now) have been non-canon – not least Big FInish productions such as Colin Baker’s originally intended Season 23.
The technology definitely exists – and I am pretty confident that the demand exists as well. And as technology becomes faster and more powerful, the capacity to take on such a massive project is quickly becoming more and more feasible. As I said for The Smugglers – the only good reason not to animate Marco Polo is if there’s a reasonable chance we might get the real thing …
There is a certain charm and mystery about the very first story of Doctor Who. There was no indication of what the show would become in future years, or even that there would be future years. Indeed, when one watches the 50th anniversary tribute, An Adventure in Space and Time, one appreciates just how fragile Doctor Who was until the series achieved audience breakthrough with The Daleks. At this point viewers knew nothing of this mysterious person simply identified as ‘The Doctor.’ Indeed by the end of episode one, the viewers’ sympathies would be largely with his unwilling first companions, schoolteachers Ian and Barbara, and perhaps for his granddaughter Susan, who seems much more gentle than the old man, but also somewhat under his thumb.
Following on from historical (and sadly
supposedly missing) epic Marco Polo, this six part adventure was a firm indication that Sydney Newman’s “No bug-eyed monsters” policy had been torn up. From here on, the Doctor and his companions would alternate (approximately) between a historical adventure and a sci-fi adventure, until finally deciding to scrap historicals in Season 4. At this stage however, the producers seemed to have revelled in the prospect of creating as many outlandish scenarios as they could reasonably get away with.
We resume the countdown with a two-part adventure from Season One. The Edge of Destruction was written to fill the block between The Daleks and Marco Polo while having to accommodate not having the budget for a major storyline. This apparent weakness actually led to a story that probably helped the show in the long run by giving two episodes only featuring the TARDIS crew, and focused entirely on their relationship with each other – and not least the relationship of Ian and Barbara to the still unpredictable character of the Doctor.
I have no hesitation in saying that this is my most controversial post to date. When fans of the Hartnell era talk of his episodes, The Aztecs is almost universally acclaimed as an excellent example of early Doctor Who – it is a strong candidate for best Hartnell episode for many fans, and yet it doesn’t make my top 100.