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No More Animated Patrick Troughton? It’s a War Crime!

The War Games, the final Doctor Who serial featuring Patrick Troughton, materialises on DVD today. I haven’t seen it (I’ll probably pick it up from HMV today if the price is right), but reviews seem to state it’s one of the show’s few ten-parters that doesn’t feel padded… well as padded. Anyway, I’m a big fan of Troughton’s Doctor (whose one-adjective-summation would be “loveable” – in the same way that Tom Baker’s would be “dramatic” or Eccleston’s would be “human” or Hartnell’s would be “bratty” and so on), but we’re nearing the end of Troughton serials available for release. Which is a damned shame. Is animation the next step forward?

The "Reanimated" Cybermen...

The "Reanimated" Cybermen...

I love 2Entertain’s DVD releases of classic Who on DVD. Each frame is lovingly restored, commentaries are guaranteed and there are comprehensive extras up the ying-yang. They’re probably a very good reason why optical media isn’t going anywhere and a niche market that really should be the envy of niche markets everywhere. There are routine enhancements (5.1 Surround Mix; Special Effects Upgrades) made to the serials, but most of them can be activated and deactivated at will, allowing the real enthusiast to watch as nature intended, but not depriving those just looking for good storytelling of a treat now and then. The releases have really stepped up in terms of quality over the past year or so (we’re getting two releases this month and at least two more boxsets), so it can’t be long before the entirity of what is available in the archives is on DVD.

All of Colin Baker’s run as the Doctor is available on DVD. I’m not sure why you’d want it, but it’s there. After today’s release, there are only two more completed Patrick Troughton serials that can be made available – The Dominators and The Krotons (neither are classics). There are fifteen serials involving Troughton which are incomplete or completely missing. Sure, we can hold out hope of a fantastic treasure trove of footage being recovered (as the lost The Tomb of the Cybermen was found in Hong Kong over a decade ago), but it grows ever more unlikely.

The black and white era of the show is full of these blanks and lulls, which were left when the BBC simply blanked and recorded over the tapes. Yep, it sounds like a sitcom, but it really, really isn’t. In fairness, who was to know that those first six years would be the begining of a fifty-year-plus franchise? The first actor in the role, William Hartnell, suffered some losses to be sure, but it was Troughton who suffered worst of all. And what makes it worse – some of those missing are bona fide classics (The Power of the Daleks and The Evil of the Daleks spring to mind, as does The Web of Fear). Still, all is not entirely lost. Animation may be the key to resurrection – or “reanimating”, sorry, couldn’t resist – this incarnation of the character.

This is how we imagine Troughton would look reacting to the news...

Patrick Troughton is less than pleased with his treatment on DVD...

All of the lost episodes exist as sound recordings at least (thanks to the world’s oldest, nerdiest fanbase – beating Star Trek by a few years – recording the audio of the episodes). There are also stills available. The BBC, in conjunction with an animation studio Cosgrove Hall, has experimented with animating lost episodes before. The 2006 DVD release The Invasion released a 75% complete eight-part serial, with two fully animated episodes constructed using the actual audio from the original airings. I own the DVD and can assure you it works like a charm. However, despite the enthusiastic reception that the release garnered, the BBC has announced that there will be no similar efforts made for quite some time.

“Unfortunately these things have to be paid for, and animations are very expensive. The Invasion … was a co-venture that was majority-funded by the BBC, and they’ve decided not to invest in them any further. I would love to do another animation. It’s just a matter of finding a way that it can be done affordably. It’s nowhere near affordable, and it’s not one of those things where you can … just make a smaller profit on it.”

-Dan Hall, Commissioning Editor of the DVD Range

I’m not really sure why they can’t make a profit on it – at least not looking at it holistically. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that all individual aspects of a franchise need to turn a profit – if that was the case, why both to show any affection to the Colin Baker era when you know that the Tom Baker releases will sell so much better. The BBC has always loved animating Doctor Who, and not necessarily for profit. At one stage a web-based animation (starring Richard E. Grant!) was considered as a way of keeping the show alive during its long hiatus (The Scream of the Shalka, written by Paul Cornell, is still available for free download from the BBC site). The current incarnation of the show will feature two full-length animated episodes starring David Tennant (The Infinite Quest was released a few years back and Dreamland will be released soon). These are undoubtedly where the profit lies, but still… I don’t see why the BBC could not produce re-animated versions of classic serials in the same manner for even less – they don’t even have to pay the vocal talent! I understand if they’re prioritising live action serials, but there is some real dreck in there to be released (the early Sylvester McCoy era, for example). Alternating with remastered classic releases would seem the logical way to go, and might even make the inevitable Time and the Rani release somewhat bearable.

I don’t know. I’m very much looking forward to The War Games, and will probably enjoy it a lot more knowing it’s the last good classic Troughton we’re likely to see for quite some time.

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