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Cover art for the BBC Doctor Who DVD release The Reign of Terror.

Many years since the animation enhanced DVD release of the Patrick Troughton adventure, The Invasion, the recent release of The Reign of Terror again seeks to bring more Doctor Who lost episodes back from the brink, enabling another once incomplete story to be watched again fully on DVD in a readily accessible visual format. But, perhaps predictably, fandom appears decidedly split on the results, with some fans becoming very vocal in their derision indeed…


A few days ago I had the very rare pleasure of watching a classic Doctor Who story that I had never seen before, namely the William Hartnell adventure The Reign of Terror. Sadly, this is one of the many incomplete stories from Doctor Who’s early years, owing the the BBC’s tape wiping policy of the 1970’s. Happily, it has now had it’s two missing episodes reconstructed via animation, only the second story to have been granted such treatment, the previous one being the 1968 Patrick Troughton story The Invasion, which also had its two missing episodes animated way back in 2006. Better still, this week it was also officially announced that William Hartnell’s final story, The Tenth Planet, will also have it’s lone missing episode animated for release later in the year. And there are rumblings that select other titles may follow. Something that I, and many other fans, hope against hope turns out to be true.

“I don’t like your tone!”

So, if that is the case, what am I here to defend? Surely this is a good thing, right? You would think so, but it appears that fandom, being the temperamental beast that it so often is, isn’t quite so easily pleased. In fact, if you were to listen to certain elements within fandom, somehow this latest effort to animate missing episodes is “an insult to fans everywhere”, a “blatant rip off”, and that old fan-rant standby, the “worst animation ever”, or, to perhaps be more accurate, all-too-often written as “the worse ever”. Read into that what you will.

Now, is the Reign of Terror animation perfect? No, it isn’t. Is it okay to say this? Of course it is. Particularly when presenting your thoughts and opinions in a measured, rational way, free from insults and hyperbole. Like something, don’t like it, debate the various pros and cons, it’s all good. My problem comes from certain elements within fandom and their typical tendency to overreact and wildly exaggerate the slightest negative in anything, as if it is somehow a deliberate slight against them personally. Usually without ever giving due thought or consideration to the reasons behind why certain things are the way that they are. Things always seem to be placed into sweeping blanket statements, and even putting aside the rabid hyperbole, and the sheer arrogance of speaking for other fans as if your view is automatically the common and correct view that represents the majority of ‘right thinking’ fans, the unrealistic expectations these people often have, combined with a tendency to never be happy with anything anyway, much less grateful, fuels an attitude of entitlement which frankly reflects poorly on us all.

“The children of my civilisation would be insulted!”

Honestly, given just how commonplace such attitudes appear to be these days, there is good reason why so many people involved with all aspects of both the show itself, and the DVD releases, tend not to interact with fandom online, or when they do their efforts are usually rather short lived. It is because a lot of fandom are, quite simply, assholes. Keyboard warriors who, safe behind a cloak of internet anonymity, somehow think that acting like a reasonable person is no longer required, and that it is perfectly acceptable to now rant and whine and belittle and treat anyone who dares to have an opinion they don’t agree with as contemptuous scum to be textually bullied and assaulted until they either agree, or simply give up and go away. And they do so in such a loud and obnoxious and frequent a manner that they make it appear that the majority of fans act this way, when in reality it is just a very loud, very OCD minority who flood the net with their childish antics in post after obnoxious post. The result? All of fandom looks bad, and most ‘regular’ people understandably want little to do with any of us. And who could blame them? After all, personally I don’t like being in the presence of people with whom things like common courtesy and mutual respect are alien concepts either. So why should we have an expectation that others, such as those who are involved with the show and the DVD releases, should simply put up with such childish idiocy as if it is perfectly normal and reasonable, when it clearly isn’t? Particularly when they have gone out of their way to engage with fandom in the first place.

Fact is, being an asshole isn’t a badge of honour. It doesn’t make you ‘hardcore’. It doesn’t make you a bigger or better or smarter fan. It doesn’t prove your passion. It doesn’t make your points any more valid, or your opinions any more special. It’s just makes you an asshole. And sadly, there is nothing more common place, more tedious, and more predictable within all of fandom than that. The truth is, actually, that most fans aren’t like that at all. However the highly vocal minority often makes us all seem like we are, and that such behaviour is accepted, even encouraged, which in turn makes us all look bad, and overshadows the best of what fandom has to offer. And just like the malignant cancer that it is, I think it is beyond time that we cut it out. Or at least find a way to better manage the problem. Unfortunately though, if you take a wander around online fandom, it only seems to be spreading and getting progressively worse.

“That is the dematerialising control, and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner. Those are the doors. That is a chair with a panda on it. Sheer poetry, dear boy. Now please stop bothering me!”

I suppose what I personally find most frustrating by this kind of attitude, beyond the needless bile, is the rampant level of ingratitude that so commonly goes hand in hand with it all. Honestly, there is not another television show on the planet that has been as well served on DVD over such an extended time as Doctor Who has. Let alone one that has sought to create or re-create content to the degree that the classic Doctor Who range has done within the tight budget allocated for each release. And while some may argue that this is all the BBC’s fault to begin with, given that they scrapped the tapes, and so we are ‘owed’ such things, the reality is the world, much less business, doesn’t work that way. Just the fact that they have tried to piece together lost episodes at all is rather remarkable, even putting aside the painstaking restoration work that has been done for the line, or the sheer amount of extra content that has been created.

No other shows get granted this level of care or attention. There’s no grand Doomwatch restoration project, no one is animating the missing episodes to Callan, or colourising the episodes of The Goodies that now only exist in black and white. Even beloved and still popular shows like Dad’s Army or The Avengers aren’t treated near as well as classic Who has been. Till Death Us Do Part, Not only But Also, the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes series, A for Andromeda, The Frost Report, Adam Adamant Lives!, and a great many other notable pieces of British television history were slaughtered by the idiotic tape wiping policies of the 70’s, and yet no one expects the broadcasters responsible to actively do anything about any of it now. Except us Doctor Who fans. And while it is hoped that episodes may be found, it is widely accepted by fans of those other shows that they are lost, and as sad as that is, and as nice as it would be if those episodes showed up again one day, that is pretty much that. So for Doctor Who to be treated so singularly well should make us fans feel very fortunate indeed, particularly by a current incarnation of the BBC that had nothing to do with the original scrappings and could so easily just wipe their hands of it all. And yet no matter what is done, for some in fandom it is never appreciated, and never enough. To me it is a constant wonder that those who do bend over backwards to try and serve the show and it’s fans as much as they possibly can, within the limitations that they have, haven’t just had enough by now, as it appears like nothing they do ever comes along without a huge dose of online backlash and misplaced derision spewed their way. The ferocity of which seems to only grow year by year.

“As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.”

Which brings us back around to the animation of Doctor Who’s lost episodes. In particular The Reign of Terror, and the animated episodes contained within. I am saddened, yet not shocked, to say that there has been a furore amongst certain parts of fandom about these latest attempts at animating missing Doctor Who episodes. Some have been well reasoned, opinion based, and presented in a calm and rational way, both for and against. But many more have been of the stereotypical fan backlash model, replete with forced indignation and rampant levels of over-exaggeration about how terrible everything is. As you might expect, I have a different view.

As I said above, I had never seen The Reign of Terror prior to the DVD release, despite the fact that four out of the six episodes remained, and as with all missing episodes, the audio still exists in full. In other words, the opportunity to experience the story has always been there, supplemented by a Loose Cannon reconstruction or a BBC audio release of the missing two episodes. But I never went down either path, because the thing is, I just don’t tend to watch ‘orphan’ episodes from incomplete stories. It’s just a personal choice, based on a number of factors. One being that pure audio releases, even ones buffered by narration, just don’t work for me. I miss the visual aspect too much. And even the best telesnap reconstructions fare little better, as they are still basically just audio with knobs on. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into making them by the fans that do them, I just personally don’t enjoy trying to watch the show that way very much, even in knowing that it is the only way to experience those missing episodes. I’ve tried doing so on a few occasions, and it just doesn’t work for me.

So, why not watch the still-existing orphan episodes, at least? Because, frankly, it just depresses me too much. Both on the grounds of not being able to actually watch the whole thing, and also in reflection of how much of early Doctor Who has been lost to time. So, for someone like me, animating lost Doctor Who episodes is a godsend, as it allows me to finally watch a complete story in an active visual format, something that no other option allows me to do. It will never be the missing episodes, and will never make up for their loss, but in my opinion, and certainly for me personally, it is the next best thing.

“My writing gets worse and worse. Dear, dear, dear, dear, dear…”

The problem is, animation is expensive and time consuming, and the budgets allocated to the niche Doctor Who classic DVD range are, by financial necessity, rather tight. As such, any animation we get is a bit of a triumph in itself, just for managing to squeeze through those particular constraints. Something that is all too often over-looked by the most vehement detractors. Just as they overlook that the Loose Cannon reconstructions and the audio releases are still out there, if they personally prefer those methods for enjoying missing episodes. Even if animation isn’t their thing, which is fine, or for whatever reason they don’t appreciate the end results, why anyone should be so up in arms about the very inclusion of animation to begin with completely eludes me. Especially when you still get the existing episodes lovingly remastered, and a batch of extra content to boot. Yet too many seem to take the reactionary stance that just because they don’t like something, it therefore shouldn’t exist at all.

Now I loved the animation done by the now sadly defunct Cosgrove Hall for The Invasion a few years back. For some it was too cartoony, others couldn’t seem to see past minor alterations and errors that had been made along the way (such as Zoe’s outfit), but for me I loved every minute of it. Imperfect as it may well be, it allowed me to watch two missing episodes. Not just hear them or imagine them, but actually watch them in an active visual format, and thus helped to complete another Patrick Troughton story, of which precious few exist in their entirety, for DVD release. And a pretty damn good one, at that. All of that readily trumped any minor quibbles or stylistic qualms I may have personally had along the way. And generally speaking, it seemed to be pretty well greeted by fandom at the time as well. Unfortunately, for various reasons, not the least of which being financial, it turned out to be a one off, and we would see no further incomplete stories with animation enhanced missing episodes for the next six years or so. Until The Reign of Terror came along. And that release would prove to be very different, both in terms of animation style, as well as overall fan reception.

The animation used for The Reign of Terror has it’s share of faults. Movement can sometimes be a little stiff, the likenesses of some of the actors in question are somewhat variable in accuracy, and it has a certain stylised look that certainly won’t appeal to all tastes. But the most glaring issue, and one that has undoubtedly caused the biggest online ruckus, is the editing. Now if you were to go by what some parties would have you believe, the fast-cut editing is an absolute disaster that utterly ruins everything. To me, the reality is it is nowhere near that bad. In fact, to me, the editing was only really an issue in the first of the two animated episodes, and even there, was only really noticeable, and admittedly a little distracting, during in a couple of short scenes. Now if a couple of scenes containing some overly rapid editing/shot changes is enough to completely spoil your enjoyment, then so be it. However, to me, it was merely a rather perplexing speed-bump along the way, and frankly not much more than that.

“I’m not a half-wit!”

That isn’t to say that it isn’t an issue worthy of debate, but it certainly isn’t worthy of bile spewing over-reaction, which is my main point here. Add to which, if you look at the animation effort as a whole, you can literally see the improvement as the two animated episodes progress, to a point where the second animated episode seems, to me, completely free of any distracting fast-cut editing issues whatsoever. I also think there are several other things to consider here, before raking the animators at Theta-Sigma over the coals.

First off, let us never forget that each Doctor Who DVD release is done to a very tight budget. So much so that usually the only way projects such as animation can be brought to fruition at all is with outside assistance, and assistance that is provided more out of love for Doctor Who than desire for strong financial profit, to boot. The budget allocated for each DVD release also has to be shared across other areas as well, including the standard restoration and production costs, and the creation and/or licensing of additional content for inclusion on each DVD release. On top of that, in the case of the animation for The Reign of Terror, they had to not only create the actual software to be used for the animation process, but also had to design the animation process itself from the ground up. This not only added considerable time and effort, and one would imagine budgetary strain, on the front end of the project, but they lost several months worth of work when their initial efforts didn’t pan out, and they basically had to scrap much of that work and start over.

Which leads me to my next point. To me the couple of scenes of overly fast editing very much appear to be a desperate effort to cover a couple of scenes as cheaply as possible, animation wise. It just strikes me as a compromise that they had to make during the latter stages of the project, when they were forced to re-do much of that first episode’s worth of work, rather than a result they deliberately set out to achieve and were 100% satisfied with. And that it only happened to the extent that it did in a couple of scenes perhaps bares this out. As such, I personally think it is highly likely to merely be an aberration, and not something to be overly concerned about into the future, should there prove to be one. Besides which, if I can overlook the occasional wobbly set, dodgy special effect, flubbed line, or poor make up appliance, I can certainly live with the odd imperfection in an animated reconstruction. Especially when it means completing another story for DVD.

And on the subject of future animations done in this same basic style, now that they have the software done, the difficult birthing pains out of the way, and the experience gained from this release under their belt, I truly do think that future animations will only go from strength to strength, as long as the budget continues to prove sufficient for the work required to make them. And I truly hope that it does, because even with the problems, there was still far more good than bad here. Far more. And for a first release, with all the challenges they faced, I think they have every right to be proud of the end result, even as they strive to better it in future efforts. If I had one piece of advice, it would only be that they shouldn’t be so afraid of holding a shot, or of things appearing still for any length of time, if a scene calls for it, as I think the fear of that static shot has perhaps led them to err a little too far in the other direction at times. But all in all, more please.

“My dear child, haven’t you realised what I’ve done? A few simple tools, a superior brain…”

Ultimately, The Reign of Terror still achieves what is, for me at least, the most important thing. And that is, it allows me to easily, visually, follow the story being told. And succeeding in that completely trumps any other minor issues I may have along the way. And that is also why I think it should be better appreciated and better received than it has been in some quarters of fandom. Not because it is perfect, and not because it should be free from criticism, but because regardless of any complaints it still manages to visually complete a story, and maintain the momentum of the story that is being told. And surely that is the most important thing of all. Even with the issues and nitpicks that I have with the Reign of Terror animation, I would happily accept more of the same if it meant completing more incomplete stories. And despite a very vocal subset of fandom screaming otherwise, I suspect that I am not in the minority on that particular count either. But perhaps we should all stand up to help make that clear to the powers-that-be, lest the opportunity for future Doctor Who animated missing episodes slips through the cracks and out of reach.

Also, in wrapping up, can I just say that despite not having the greatest of reputations, I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Reign of Terror. And yes, that very much includes the animated episodes. In fact, that enjoyment was also in large part because of said animated episodes. Their inclusion here resulted, for me, in a complete and satisfying viewing experience, and at the end of the day, that’s all I ever really want from a Doctor Who DVD release. As such, I now greatly look forward to the animation enhanced The Tenth Planet later this year, and cling to the sincere hope that it won’t turn out to be the last animated Doctor Who release we classic Who fans are fortunate enough to receive.

That’s right, The Ice Warriors, I’m looking at you.


UPDATE¬† – Several days after the posting of this article it was officially confirmed by BBC Worldwide that the incomplete Patrick Troughton story The Ice Warriors would, in fact, have it’s missing two episodes completed via animation for it’s upcoming DVD release. And there was much rejoicing. By me, at least.

Cover art for the BBC Doctor Who DVD release Shada.

Would Shada be held in quite so high a regard if it were stripped of the trappings of being the famously incomplete Douglas Adams Doctor Who story, and was instead just another story from that era?


The DVD release of Shada was always going to be a difficult one.

We are, after all, talking about a story that was never originally completed due to industrial action that struck the BBC during the production of the story. And despite attempts to later remount the story, ultimately it was abandoned after having only been partially filmed. Everyone moved on, and Shada was left on the shelf, incomplete. The televisual embodiment of what might have been.

And unlike the traditional lost stories from the Hartnell and Troughton years, this isn’t a case of whole episodes being lost, but instead it is a case of assorted scenes from throughout the story, across multiple episodes, simply never having been shot. So the process of animating that lost footage would face hurdles that animating complete missing episodes would not. Namely it would mean that individual episodes of the story, in order to be complete, would have to continually switch between the live action footage that was shot, and newly made animated insert footage, and back again, and do so frequently, at the risk of such changes in visual content jarring the viewer. And unlike other lost stories, there would be no audio to work from to act as a backbone in order to create new content around either, instead there would be a need to create brand new audio for all of the missing, never originally filmed, scenes, requiring the participation of members of the original cast, or sound-alikes where that wasn’t possible. Additionally, anything that had not yet been visualised in the existing footage would have to be designed and created from the ground up, prior to animation, presumably based on script notes and whatever else could be scraped up in relation to the ill-fated production. And it would need to do all of this within a relatively minuscule BBC Doctor Who DVD release budget, while still allowing space enough in the budget for all of the other necessities that are a natural part of every Doctor Who DVD release.

Assessing all that would be required then, from an objective point of view, it is frankly little surprise that it didn’t happen. As even putting aside the aesthetic and creative challenges, on a purely budgetary and resource management side of things, it appears nigh on impossible to achieve all of that with such limitations in place. And with an end result that would likely be extremely divisive amongst fans and customers, given the way in which animation and live action would have to be forcibly blended and continually alternate throughout the story, as well as taking into account the limitations on the type and quality of animation that can even be achieved on such low budgets to begin with, it was perhaps wise to play it safe and try to make the best Shada release package as they could, short of actually creating the new animated linking scenes within each of the six episodes that would be required. Add to which, it is also important to note that, at best, only about half of the six episode serial of Shada exists, so that would mean the equivalent of three episodes worth of animation would be required in order to cover the missing footage throughout the story. And given that it has recently been said that producing two episodes of animated material for a release is stretching the budget of a DVD release to it’s limits, expecting three episodes worth, plus all new audio and design work, all edited as seamlessly as possible into existing live action footage, was always going to be a hill too far for the Doctor Who DVD range, given current budgetary limitations. They even appear to have intentionally left Shada’s release as late as they could in the hope that some miracle might come along. But when it didn’t, one can hardly blame them for releasing what they had in as best a manner as they could reasonably do.

“Was it to do with the voices?”

Which brings us to Ian Levine.

Levine has long been a divisive personality amongst Doctor Who fandom. So perhaps expectedly, when it was reported that he was undertaking his own Shada animation project before the DVD release had even been announced, it was bound to make a few waves. Not to mention raise a few expectations, perhaps even outright assumptions, in relation to just why it was being made, and where it would end up. And to his credit, he did complete his part animated Shada project, even managing to hire many of the key cast to record brand new audio for the animated scenes, Lalla Ward and John Leeson (replacing the late David Brierley) amongst them. Though arguably the most important voice, that belonging to Tom Baker, chose not to take part, and would be replaced in the animated sequences by someone doing a Tom Baker impersonation.

How good is Ian Levine’s Shada? Well, unless you are on the short-list of those that have seen it personally, that is rather impossible to judge at this point. The only review that we have is from an ardent and long-time Ian Levine supporter, so while interesting, said ‘review’ can hardly be called a credible or objective source by which to make any kind of informed or rational judgement by. Those in the pro camp tend to say it is great, those in the con camp tend to say it is a bit of a mess, and most of the rest of us will likely never know. But why won’t we know, I hear you ask. Didn’t Ian Levine offer the Shada animation for free to the producers of the Doctor Who DVD range? So he tells us, yes. And that is where the Shada DVD outrage and controversy amongst fandom truly kicked in.

As best as us mere mortals on the outside looking in can tell, it basically went down like this. Ian Levine met with the key stakeholders in charge of the classic Doctor Who DVD range in regards to them possibly using the animated Shada scenes that he had created, with the intention of adding them into the eventual Shada DVD release. They ultimately declined, for reasons we haven’t been made privy to. Ian Levine came out and publicly said he offered it for free, and inferred that they basically passed on his Shada animation out of nothing but sheer spite. Fandom went into standard meltdown mode, with a great many acting as if they had been robbed of something, without even having any idea of the actual worth of what it was that they had been apparently denied. And the Shada release, no matter what form it now took, was never going to be able to please a large proportion of now outraged classic Doctor Who fans, due to missing something it was unlikely to have ever had to begin with.

“If you will not give me the information voluntarily, I will deduct it from you. I am sure there is much else in your mind that will interest me.”

But why didn’t they use Levine’s Shada? After all, he apparently offered it for free!

Well, I doubt we’ll ever have an absolute and definitive, unbiased answer on that one. However I will say that Ian Levine’s claims that he offered it for free, and so it wouldn’t have cost them anything to include, and thus intimating that they only chose not to do so out of some kind of petty personal spite, is all a bit of a fan-baiting smoke and mirrors act, really. I mean let’s run down just a few points to consider, shall we?

Tom Baker would only record his voice for Ian Levine’s Shada project for an eight grand up front fee, and that was at the time when this was still being advertised to all involved parties as a strictly personal non commercial project. Levine passed, and got a sound-alike, who even most in the pro-Levine camp admit isn’t altogether convincing. One would imagine that Tom Baker’s fee to BBC Worldwide in order to record dialogue for a worldwide commercial DVD release of Shada would be considerably higher than the fee requested of Levine for what had been billed to him as a personal pet project. Plus, even if they didn’t get Baker to loop the missing dialogue – which could potentially raise its own share of legal and rights issues – they would still, at the very least, have to get Baker’s permission and pay Baker an agreed upon fee for using his likeness in the animation, and possibly also for the rights to even use a sound-alike, due to the complicated ins and outs of how BBC licensing works in regards to Doctor Who. In the case of the latter they could potentially also open themselves up to possible legal action on the grounds of misrepresentation as well, unless the Shada DVD clearly and explicitly stated that the animated sections were being voiced by another party that was not Tom Baker. And that’s just Baker’s voice. There are all sorts of little legal mines all over doing partial audio reconstruction that would need to be addressed and taken care of legally and contractually, and usually before such a project was even attempted, rather than after the fact.

Ian Levine didn’t pay for all of this out of his own pocket, as it is often made to sound like, but instead he took money and other contributions from other Doctor Who fans in order to create and complete his Shada animation project. Even more critically, he sought absolutely no rights for doing any of this ahead of time, from either the BBC or from Douglas Adams estate, but instead produced it by himself on the grounds of it being a purely non-profit, non commercial and private fan project.

Levine did not have the contracted clearances from all those involved in order to sell and distribute the work as part of a commercial entity and on a worldwide, or even domestic UK, basis. Therefore
every single person involved who were initially hired on a work-for-hire, or even voluntary basis, and again, for what they likely believed to have been a private, non commercial fan project, would now need to sign brand new clearances and be officially re-contracted. A rather expensive process, even in the unlikely event that no one actually wanted additional money for the use of the fruits of their individual participation. And if a single person couldn’t be contracted for any reason whatsoever then all of their work would be rendered legally unable to be used in said project. The after the fact fees associated with tracking down everyone involved, attaining all of the required rights, clearance issues, contracts, and so forth would hardly be anywhere approaching cheap, again, even if all the people involved didn’t want any (extra) money. And if you think that the likes of
John Leeson and Lalla Ward wouldn’t want to be properly paid for their part in a (now suddenly) commercial for-profit official release, well, you’re a far more optimistic person than I am.

Ian Levine reportedly made the creative decision to match certain things to the original script, rather than what was actually shot, as confirmed by certain people who have seen the Shada animation. Therefore there are parts of the animation that would likely be needed to be (slightly?) reworked to limit such discrepancies, as well as in order to make the apparently already somewhat jarring transitions between live action and animation more fluid, and attempt to have them better sit into the live action material in general. From all accounts, Levine allegedly refused to allow any such changes when the viability of using the animated Shada footage was under discussion, taking his usual my-way-or-the-highway bull in a china-shop approach. Plus, unlike traditional animated reconstructions, where each episode presented has an overall sense of consistency, here, as mentioned previously, you have individual episodes that would switch frequently between live action and animation and back again, which even in the absolute best case scenario, has to be at least somewhat jarring to the viewing experience.

And then we come to the real crux of the matter, the overall quality of the animation that has been produced. I’m not just talking about does it look good enough, though there is always that question, I’m talking more along the lines of has it been created in such a way as to allow for it to be transferred in optimum quality at appropriate size and ratio to the DVD format. Because fixing animation content after the fact to release quality standards and requirements can be a very tricky and expensive thing to do, sometimes even nigh on impossible. As a quick aside, I was once tangentially involved in a low budget animation project that screwed that up, and it was going to cost so much to fix it that the entire project was ultimately shelved instead, as that was the only truly viable option. Now in regards to Ian Levine’s Shada, I don’t know the answer to this one, having not seen the footage myself, and I don’t mean to cast aspersions here, but it is yet another consideration that could, once again, add considerable cost to the project.

Let us also consider the fact that each DVD release has a set, and rather tight, budget, and that any money that was spent on the animation in order to address any of the above mentioned, or any other such issues, would have to come from somewhere, and that is before even taking into account just how difficult a person Ian Levine is to work with, and how many bridges he has burnt in regards to the BBC, BBC Worldwide, Big Finish, Theta Sigma, and the Restoration Team, to name but a few current or potential stakeholders. And I also mention that because things tend to get more costly, and budgets tend to blow out even wider, when working stakeholder relationships are so difficult, and potentially even adversarial in nature.

So my main point is that implying that Ian Levine’s Shada animation would cost the producers of the classic Doctor Who DVD range nothing, or even very little, and so they have no real or legitimate excuse for not including it on the DVD release, other than the personal, is, frankly, at best extremely misleading, and at worst, a blatant miss-truth on Ian Levine’s part. Fact is, even with what Levine created provided for free, because of the way that he did things, the cost to try and use any of that on a commercial worldwide release now would likely be a pretty huge chunk of the budget, or conceivably, still potentially price it outside of the budgetary range altogether, and that is even before giving due consideration and budget allocations to other extant and/or newly created material for the release in question.

Also, let us not forget that part of the reason why BBC Worldwide can now potentially stretch to include animation for a couple of missing episodes is because not only do they already have all of the audio owned and available to them to use, but everyone involved and anything newly created is paid for and contracted appropriately before the project kicks off. So they know the exact cost breakdowns and can analyse what can be done and what can’t ahead of time. Ian Levine on the other hand tried to do everything backwards and very much his way, and in turn ended up doing it in, unfortunately, about the least commercially friendly and viable way humanly possible. And if you have the intention of ever trying to turn that kind of fan produced material into a commercial project, then sadly that just wasn’t a very smart way to go about such things. So, regardless of the quality or lack thereof that the Shada animation may itself represent, the fact that it all kind of blew up and wasn’t viable to use as part of the official Shada DVD release is really no one’s fault but Levine’s own due to just how he went about things. And that will remain true regardless of what spin he tries to put on it all, or how much fan outrage he tries to spark.

“I told you you’d got the time wrong, Doctor.”

Now with all that said, sure, I still would have liked to see it, despite the fact that the constant switch between animation and live action during episodes I still believe would be pretty jarring to watch. And even though I think he goes about things the wrong way far too often, I do give props to Ian Levine for actually being passionate enough to try stuff like this. I just think it is a great shame that his own nature, and certain extreme personality traits, as well as a refusal to work co-operatively with other people, so often gets in the way and messes such things up. It often seems to me that he’d be a great ally to Who fandom if only he could take his ego out of the equation a little bit, and stop blaming everyone else for his own mistakes.

Thing is, I suppose I just have enough faith to believe that if it was in any way viable to include the animation on the Shada DVD, then it would have been included. And I simply don’t buy into Ian Levine’s conspiracy theories as to why it wasn’t, especially as there are a great many legitimate reasons as to why it may not have been practical, or even possible, to do so. And as far as the actual Shada DVD release we did get, I sincerely believe that the producers of the classic Doctor Who DVD range have done themselves pretty proud all in all. It is not a perfect release, but it’s Shada, so no matter what they did it was never going to be a perfect release.

However for the price of a standard Doctor Who DVD we got the entire Legacy boxed set, which is three discs worth of material, with two of those discs dedicated to Shada itself. We received the 90’s VHS version of Shada with linking Tom Baker narration cleaned up to the usual Restoration Team standards, and which, pre-Levine animation, is all that most fans would have reasonably expected for us to get. We also got some pretty comprehensive extras detailing the tortured history of Shada. Plus the More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS documentary on it’s own disc, and a fair smattering of other assorted extras to boot. And while this release will certainly appeal more to hardcore fans, rather than casual viewers, just by it’s very nature, it’s still nothing to sneeze at.

Because Shada itself is always going to be an incomplete story, it may not feel like the most satisfying release, but I still contend that it has been done about as well as we could reasonably expect, and actually represents quite good value for money on a pure content basis, even if some of that content may seem a touch random. If I had one bugbear it’s that I would have liked the flash animated McGann Shada to be DVD playable, rather than merely being a DVD-Rom extra on the disc, but given the limited nature of the animation itself that may not have been possible to achieve to DVD quality standards. After all, as we have discussed, animations not specifically designed for TV/DVD standards can be tricky beasts at times. Oh, and a commentary track would have been nice, too.

Still, call me crazy, but rather than bemoaning a version of Shada of indeterminate quality that, for whatever reasons, we seemed destined never to have anyway, I instead choose to enjoy the version of Shada that we did actually receive on DVD, in all it’s imperfections. And while Levine’s animation enhanced Shada might have been a nice curiosity, it is this version of Shada that reflects most accurately the history of Douglas Adams ill-fated script and it’s abortive journey towards our screens. Which, to me, is surely the whole point in having the original production of Shada on DVD to begin with.

No, it isn’t perfect. But then, that’s Shada for you.

Cover art for the BBC Doctor Who DVD release Timelash.

Yes, I own this on DVD. Yes, I have watched it more than once. Yes, I actually admit to liking it. And yes, I am now going to stand before you all and shamelessly defend it…


What can I say? I like it. Yep, I like Timelash.

I get why a lot of folks don’t like this story, or find it mediocre. I don’t quite get the rampant level of bile that it so often gets showered with however, nor it always being placed so high on fans “worst ever” lists. For example, in the 2009 Doctor Who Monthly fan poll of all episodes made up until that point, Timelash placed 199th out of 200, with only The Twin Dilemma being judged as worse. But hey, I guess that will just have to remain a mystery to me, fan who actually likes Timelash that I am.

Contrary to rumours that may suggest otherwise, I’m not blind. Or crazy. Well, I’m not blind. There is admittedly a lot here that you could take aim at, and so if you want nits to pick then you’ll admittedly have a few to choose from. But at the end of the day, for me, it all boils down to the very simple fact that I just find it all rather fun. I love Paul Darrow’s much maligned performance. Yes it’s hammy, but it’s delightfully hammy, not obtrusively so. And while his acting choices may seem bat-shit crazy, he fully commits to it, and for me it just works. Plus he’s wearing a cape. For no conceivable reason at all, and against all other perceivable fashion on the planet. But he doesn’t care, because fuck them all, he has a cape, and it is awesome. And it makes me smile.

I also think that while Nicola Bryant is woefully underused in this story, and just plain poorly treated even when she does have some screen time, Colin Baker is actually quite superb here, and I just really enjoy his blustering Doctor, who for my money was often far better than the scripts he was often lumbered with. And in this regard, Timelash is no different. Once again Colin Baker gives it his all. And while the script could be called, if you were in a particularly generous mood, ‘patchy’, when Baker is on screen he manages to make it work, or at least help make you not care too much about any of the rougher edges. Also, despite Timelash’s shoddy reputation, there’s actually some decent support here as well. Robert Ashby as The Borad was more than solid, as was the late, great Denis Carey as his human image, and Eric Deacon as Mycros. And again, though not a particularly popular opinion, I rather enjoyed David Chandler’s enthusiastic performance as ‘Herbert’ as well. The rest of the cast however range from merely serviceable, to, well, let’s face it, not even that, so probably best to just move swiftly along at this point.

Which brings us to the oft-ridiculed production design. But once again, I honestly don’t find it notably awful compared against where Doctor Who was at the time. Especially when you consider that these were the lowest budgeted episodes of an already ridiculously low budgeted show from an era where they had now endured years of ever slimming budgets versus ever increasing basic expenses. Yes, the Timelash chamber is very naff, and the use of tinsel never did anything any favours whenever it showed it’s shiny face in an episode of Doctor Who. And yes, while the cavern beastie isn’t very convincing at all, I’d argue that the head was actually decently sculpted at least, so if they had smoked up the caves a bit and lit darker it might have had a bit more impact…or not. But hey, at least it’s not The Myrka. And sure, I admit that the blue faced android rates quite high on the cheese factor as well. In fact it may well spend most of it’s off hours living on top of a cracker. But again, the actor in question was at least fully committed…or maybe he should have been. But regardless, for some crazy reason these things just don’t bother me all that much in Timelash for whatever reason. They’re all just part of the crazy. And I guess it rings true as my kind of crazy. Besides, I’d argue that the Borad make-up was actually quite good, by any classic Who standards. The snake-head ambassador puppets, yeah, okay, I’ll concede the point on that one, and once again just swiftly move along.

Let us face facts, the real problem here is the script. It’s unfocussed, very padded, and pretty flatly directed for the most part to boot. It also has more holes than a sieve with extra holes in it, if you’re mad enough to examine it too closely. But again, even knowing that, it doesn’t really bother me too much, outside of the under use and, frankly, plain poorly written treatment given to Nicola Bryant’s Peri, who as I already stated above definitely deserved better than she was granted here. That, more than anything, is my one major and lasting bugbear with this show. Most of the rest I can go with. And some of it, as I’ve explained, I can actually and truly do crazily enjoy, but the tied and screaming Peri factor is a legitimate and lasting complaint against the whole proceedings, and one deserving of no defence from me whatsoever.

As to the ending, which so many fans seem to hate, and even positively take offence at, I always found it kind of funny to be honest. To dismiss the importance of exactly what happened, by way of a throwaway joke line, well, that just always seemed like a very Sixth Doctor thing to say and do. And so for me, it works. Which is ultimately all that matters, really. And any behind-the-scenes machinations that led to such a, shall we say non-traditional, ending is, to me, largely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

Look, I’m not arguing that Timelash is some lost and abused classic here, but the worst of Classic era Who? No, I’m sorry, but that I simply can not let stand unchallenged. Even with it’s flaws, it’s not even close to being the nadir of the classic Who catalogue.

In fact, I quite like Timelash. And a lot of it just makes me smile.

And sometimes, that’s enough.