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Animating Doctor Who: Wonky Walking and Completing Seasons!

When it comes to animating the missing episodes of the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras, first, we of course should just be grateful we get anything. We get old stories in both black and white and a colour version. It’s not necessary but it’s a nice option to have, as some adventures work a bit better in black and white, some better in colour. When they animate episode 3 of The Web of Fear, I’m hoping they only go black and white, because that story screams monochrome — plus, all the other existing episodes are in their natural black and white. 

And yes, the animation is a bit on the cheap side, and in full body action sequences, sometimes downright wonky. Having just watched Fury from the Deep, there’s a scene where Mrs. Harris, full body, wide shot, walks down a hall. Not sure why they even attempted that, as it looked bad. 

I know they want to try and stay as true to the original camera shots as possible, but sometimes, you have to get a bit creative in presentation. There’s a similar scene early in The Power of the Daleks where they go with a wide shot showing Ben and Polly creeping down a hall. Hopefully that was all corrected in the special edition.

They do a consistently nice job on the faces and expressions though. I think they might just be in need of some visual editing. But I’m not even sure how big an operation the animation studio is. 

Seemingly, they’ve finally settled on one studio to do all the stories — BBC Studios — although they do so apparently alongside others like Sun & Moon Studios. For instance, in The Faceless Ones, there’s a little visual gag in the background of an airport security office that has a Wanted poster of Roger Delgado’s Master. Cute little subtle Easter egg. But then they run the joke into the ground switching it out later with the Sacha Dhawan version. Then, in Fury, they pull the same gimmick in the gas refinery, but this time it wasn’t subtle, nor did it make any sense. But this chicanery at least means they’re enjoying themselves. Or quietly protesting something. 

I quite liked the animation for Troughton’s The Invasion. True, it was only two episodes out of eight, but they did it with style. They even used photos of the actual backgrounds and often focused on faces. But, when necessary, showed full body shots and movements skillfully, even mapping out Troughton’s movements in one scene faithfully, seemingly via rotoscope.

They did a decent job on the title villains in The Ice Warriors, although it was a shame they couldn’t add some solid blacks to give the creatures more “weight”. But again, a minor complaint.

The animation for two parts of Hartnell’s The Reign of Terror was quite different, with a very stark, heavily toned look. Complex enough that I’m guessing it proved financially unwieldy to do much more. Planet 55 then worked on The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase. Haven’t really seen the style since.

Some folks want nothing to do with these animated stories, because the animation is not of Disney quality. Well, no, it’s not. I suppose if the Beeb were willing to spend 10 times or 100 times the budget and we were willing to wait six years for a four part story or 10 years for a six parter, or 15 years for, ahem, a nine parter to complete a story… well, sure, we’d be set, but that isn’t going to happen. Although, if there was one story that really deserves the Disney treatment, it would be Marco Polo. I can dream.

In the meantime, by and large, these aren’t bad. It’s at least of higher quality than Scream of the Shalka. The animation team did a very nice job on the Macra, I must say. That was the kind of visual upgrade the original producers would have loved to have had back in the day. 

From month to month, we seem to get mixed signals on the future of animated missing stories. There’re unconfirmed reports that Evil of the Daleks and The Abominable Snowman are being animated. So, are they now doing two at a time? 

I speculated before that perhaps producing animated stories in this COVID world is actually easier to do remotely and possibly a better money maker now. Kind of like Big Finish quadrupling their Tennant output since he’s stuck at home. Take advantage! 

But then, of course, we hear that it’s too hard, costly, whatever, to do all the people in period costumes for Marco Polo and The Crusades and The Highlanders because of the Tartan. Tartan!

All I can say is, maybe if you’re the animation studio, maybe tone down the Tartan and see if the Beeb isn’t willing to spend a bit more money now during lockdown. Take advantage! Also, remember the Blu-ray collections…

And as promised, this is all Simon’s fault. He’s the one got me thinking about the animated stories again, with the Evil and Abominable Snowmen speculation. More to the point, how they’re slowly closing in on completing Seasons 1 (only missing Marco Polo), 2 (The Crusades), 5 (The Wheel in Space), and 6 (The Space Pirates). 

Agonizingly slowly.

You’d think the potential high end Blu-ray collection sales would spur them on to at least focus on just finishing off one of those seasons. The most coveted story to be animated is likely Marco Polo and the most coveted season to be collected might just be Season 1, yet, for the last few years, it’s been all Troughton. 

So far, as collections go, we’ve got two Jon Pertwees, three Tom Bakers, two Peter Davisons, one Colin Baker, and two Sylvester McCoys. 

Pick an early season and please finish it, BBC. 

Rick Lundeen

Animating Doctor Who: Wonky Walking and Completing Seasons!

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 4 min
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