31 – The Web of Fear

A confession dear readers. When I first compiled my classic Doctor Who countdown list, The Web of Fear was not even on it. It was the summer of 2013, I had almost finished collecting the entire Doctor Who DVD collection, and I ranked only those stories that had I had watched on VHS or DVD (hence The Invasion and The Tenth Planet were included, but The Moonbase was not). That all got knocked for six in October of that year, when we got what was probably the best present to the fans of all in the 50th anniversary year: the return and release of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear. Even then, I confess I restrained myself for a while – rumours abounded that the still missing episode 3 of Web had been recovered and would be released with the DVD. We have of course now learned that episode 3 was originally found with the other episodes and taken, but long before then I decided there was no sense in depriving myself of a mostly complete adventure.

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Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Abominable Snowmen

In February 2014 I faced a conundrum. The Moonbase had just been released on DVD with its missing episodes animated, but I could not bring myself to buy it. As I was to explain in this post, at that stage fandom was rife with rumours that almost the entire stock of lost classic Doctor Who had been recovered – what is popularly termed the ‘Omnirumour.’ The rumour refuses to die, but in the very least no Doctor Who fan honestly expects the imminent return of every missing episode.

51bskycec2bl-_sy346_This is now, but back then I was a bit at a loss. I’d been patiently building my DVD collection for eight years, and suddenly there was nothing else. At that stage I was reluctant to invest in audios, for much the same reason that I held off buying The Moonbase on DVD – I didn’t want to pay twice if there was the prospect of the episodes being recovered!

My solution was to take advantage of my shiny new Kindle, and to order up the mostly missing Pat Troughton adventure The Abominable Snowmen. At a very reasonable £3, I thought it would be an excellent foray into experiencing lost adventures through the medium of print, without committing to the potentially painful expenditure involved in audio CDs.

My experience with Doctor Who novelisations has proven something of a mixed bag – I couldn’t enjoy Silver Nemesis as a child because it was too different to the TV script, whereas the novelisations of Attack of the Cybermen and The TV Movie managed to make me enjoy and appreciate both a lot better. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started into The Abominable Snowmen.

As it is, I enjoyed the adventure so much that I was compelled to blog not long after that the BBC ought to animate the missing episodes! Terrance Dicks is rightly revered in Doctor Who circles as a wonderful story teller, and he tells this lost tale extremely well. While the action of a six part adventure is (of necessity) rather compacted, the story loses none of its charm or excitement.

While it is more accurate to say that The Web of Fear is the sequel to The Abominable Snowmen, featuring the return of Professor Travers, the Yetis, and The Great Intelligence, for fans like myself who never got to see The Abominable Snowmen when first broadcast it is oddly more appropriate to think of this story as the prequel to The Web of Fear – a Great Intelligence origins story if you like! Knowing what was to come did not really ruin the sense of wonder and exploration as Dicks unpacked the script and told the narrative of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arriving at Detsen monastery in Tibet. The reader gets caught up in the terror of the Yeti menace, and develops empathy with the monks, and with the strange English adventurer Professor Travers.

Obviously, reading The Abominable Snowmen is no comparison to actually watching the episodes, but given that the prints are not meant to be coming back any time soon (or are they? Read my thoughts HERE ...) I found the novelisati0n a more than worthy substitute. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, and enjoyed it so much that I went on to buy the novelisations of The Moonbase and The Crusades. It remains my hope that BBC Worldwide will consider recommissioning eBooks for every missing adventure, enabling those fans born long after the episodes were junked the opportunity to discover these adventures.

Why the BBC should animate … The Abominable Snowmen

My final case for animating the remainder of the missing episodes of Doctor Who takes a different approach to the first two arguments, by focusing on a story that is missing all but one of its episodes – The Abominable Snowmen.

This serial belongs to a select group, which includes Galaxy 4, The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Celestial Toymaker, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, The Wheel in Space, and The Space Pirates. All of these stories have the majority of their episodes missing, and most have only one surviving episode. The phrase ‘orphaned episode’ is most pertinent to this group of stories, where we are able to enjoy a painfully tantalising glimpse of what the full story was like, but the episode is sadly separated from the rest of their family.

In my first two arguments, I sought to demonstrate that you could still recreate the lost episodes to an enjoyable standard even if absolutely no surviving material remained – indeed you could either create a palette that could be reused in other episodes, or use motion capture techniques and physical actors to launch a whole new set of animations. In a strange way, these stories are easier to cater for, because you can hold a steady design standard the whole way through the episode, and it only need remain consistent to the standard the animation team chooses.

The orphaned episodes present a much bigger challenge, because the animators need to account for the inclusion of surviving material, and do so in such a way that it does not jar or seem inconsistent when the action switches to the original 1960s production. This has been an issue in reverse for certain animations released to date – The Reign of Terror for instance felt significantly less smooth compared to The Invasion.

I would contest however that it is precisely that challenge which makes the orphaned episodes a prime candidate for a new wave of animations. If a new animation team can successfully devise an animation style which allows the viewers to enjoy the surviving material without it ‘jarring’ against the style of the animated episodes, it would in turn give the fans confidence that a wholly animated missing story would be worth buying. Let us also embrace the fact that the alternative would be to completely animate these stories, with the orphaned episodes included (at best) as an option instead of the animated version of the episode, or (at worst) a DVD extra. In short, its worth doing.

But why then choose The Abominable Snowman over some of the other stories – perhaps most especially the epic 12 parter that it is The Daleks Master Plan? There are strong arguments in favour of Master Plan – not least that it at least retains 3 full episodes, a full 25% of the story. Against that is that the amount of animation required is colossal and very large for a first project, and that (as I opined in my piece on The Smugglers) it would have to be bundled with the also entirely missing single episode of Mission to the Unknown. Strong candidate though it would be, Master Plan is too large a step for a measure intended to prove this technique is viable.

My choice in essence comes down to two factors – personal taste, and recent enthusiasm. The personal taste stems from the fact that although Evil of the Daleks is the story I would most love to see recovered, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Target Novelisation of The Abominable Snowmen, and would greatly like to see it released too. The added advantage is that one would be able to watch the first five stories of Season 5 in continuous sequence, and that at 6 episodes rather than 7, it is an easier prospect to animate. As regards my allusions to recent enthusiasm – this is a not very subtle reference to both the recovery of The Web of Fear and the return of the Great Intelligence into recent series of Doctor Who. Both mean that there would be substantial interest in the Great Intelligence debut story – and it might also provide an excuse to re-release The Web of Fear with episode 3 properly animated.

Of all the orphaned episodes, it seems most evident that The Abominable Snowman is the best option to demonstrate that substantial animation can sit alongside solitary episodes without disruption the viewing experience. This would be a bold strategy – but I think it would pay off!