Last night I attended a special showing of a Doctor Who story arc. Normally before I write about a movie I like to see it twice, but this is more of a so you know this exists than a full write up so I thought I’d go ahead and share.
I used to think if you said you were a fan of something and somebody else said they were a fan of something you meant the same thing. I have since learned I was wrong. There are lots of Laura Ingalls Wilder fans who mean a lot less than I do by the term and there are a lot of Star Wars fans that mean a lot more. So with Doctor Who I’d say I’m a medium fan. I don’t go to cons and I haven’t built my own TARDIS, but I’ve been watching faithfully on Iowa Public Television my whole life, I have a sonic screwdriver and used a TARDIS key keychain all the way through high school and years after (I actually wore out a couple of them and they were metal), I had a great sunshade for my car that said TARDIS heatshield, I wore a bring back the Doctor pin on my coat for the entire 18 month shut down after…. well you get the point.
So I have to say while I wasn’t as anxious to see this as the people they interviewed for the Making Of special they showed afterward, the second Doctor is my third favorite Doctor and I was happy that I got a chance to go. This was a country wide release in limited theaters – a much larger pool than the 50th, but still limited for one night only. I was delighted to see on Facebook both before and after many friends around the country were watching “with” me – same time, different place.
Destruction of the Daleks and All the Rest of Doctor Who
If you don’t know, the labor/union movement was stronger in Great Britain than it was here. Early on in the industry people behind the scenes pictured a world where television would be nothing, but repeats or at least mostly repeats so they made a deal with the BBC that required them to pay the salaries of everyone as if they had just reshot the video instead of just replayed it. So with this contract in place showing repeats of older series wasn’t cost efficient. Old films were shipped to a storage facility that was pushed to overflowing. Sometime later a fire marshal inspected was horrified and told the BBC they had to enlarge and update the facility for that number of films. Instead they decided to throw out huge quantities of episodes of old TV shows.
They had a system, but they weren’t very good at it and what is lost is mostly haphazard. Mostly it favored fine art over what they saw as lower class entertainment and for one reason or another destruction of episodes continued until the late 1970s. The haphazard system meant that only single reels of some episodes were lost, in some cases all that were left were black and white copies that had originally been shot in color, and some entire stories were missing. Other copies were shipped off to TV stations around the world that could show the episodes in other countries and forgotten about. Ever since the late 1970s aka when someone with good sense realized this was happening and stopped it, the search for the 152 single episodes that were completely missing was on. Over the years in sometimes strange and mysterious ways 55 of these episodes have been rediscovered leaving 97 undiscovered.
“Never Give Up, Never Surrender!”
OK that title comes from the wrong sci fi fandom, but it describes Doctor Who fans to a T. Back in the pre-VCR days some fans loves their shows so much that they would record the episode on tape so they could at least listen to it again whenever they wanted. Some at least of these recordings have been collected giving someone very smart the idea of “restoring” these episodes. If you can’t find the real thing, you could at least make use of those sound only recordings of the original episodes.
Using knowledge of the characters actions and facial expressions, publicity stills and fragmentary existing footage efforts were put together to fill the gaps in some existing stories creating animated visuals to go with the sound. That’s what the “missing, but animated” notations mean on the list I linked to in the last section.
Movies versus Episodes
Traditionally Doctor Who was broken into story arcs that would stretch over weeks. That was a familiar format on dramatic radio shows where you would follow a storyline for a few weeks before the show moved on to another story. Doctor Who episodes were traditionally shown in 30 minute episodes. A single story might have as few as 1 or as many as 12 week’s episodes. More recent efforts show these arcs of episodes strung together in one big movie. For instance right now PBS stations around the country are showing the Tom Baker “movies.” There’s a bit of pacing problem with that. It swoops to a cliffhanger every 30 minutes instead of having one long arc besides having to deal with the tags. NuWho abandoned this entirely have self-contained or two parters of roughly 50 minutes each.
“The Power of the Daleks” Format
So the big event was the debut on the big screen of the storyline or “movie” of a second Doctor episode that had been entirely lost. Taking a sound track (and either it was exceptionally well recorded on a very high end machine or they did a near miraculous job of cleaning it up) and adding animation for the entire story arc of the six episode “The Power of the Daleks.”
The animation was a little different than what I was expecting. I thought they’d do it in color, but nope it was gray tones all the way through. I also thought they would maybe drop in what footage they had or at least a little preview that showed what the characters really looked like from existing footage. It’s all animation though.
The Daleks themselves are 100% plus spot on. They were just perfect and you couldn’t want more from a Dalek. You saw them using their suckers for something other than helping push doors open. The voice was terrific especially when they tripped themselves up being sneaky “Daleks are bet…different than humans.”
The people while they still looked like themselves were animated in a 1970s comic book style. The backgrounds were great, the clothes and hairstyles reflected publicity stills perfectly, but their movement was marionette like at best. A few more face close up shots when they were moving might have looked better. Their face movements or slight movements when standing talking looked much better.
The First Regeneration and Reflecting Backward
This was the first episode of the second Doctor and shows the very first regeneration of the Doctor. This brilliant idea kept the series going, but it was a new idea to viewers and the writers don’t have the details we know about the process done yet. They do a very nice analysis of how they did this.
I also think they reflected back some of what has been developed in the meantime. For example the look of the Dalek creature inside the case is what has been established in nuWho not what we’d seen before. Also, the look of the effect of the Dalek ray is from more modern Who.
Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down
If you are Doctor Who fan enough to have watched some of the black and white episodes with the second Doctor, you’ll enjoy this. It does take a bit to get used to the style of animation of the people, but it’s definitely worth watching. If you don’t already know the second Doctor’s facial expressions and how he moves I think you can safely give this a miss. I’m looking forward to seeing it come out on DVD, especially to hear the commentary tracks which looked really good in the Making of special.
Let me know what you think.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.