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.