Following the release of ‘The Abominable Snowmen,’ fans have been wondering if they have seen the last of the Doctor Who animations.
The Doctor Who animations – for those of you who don’t know – are cartoon recreations of Doctor Who missing episodes that accompany the original soundtracks. We have the audio to these missing slices of Doctor Who history due to the dedication of early fans, who literally captured the episodes’ soundtracks on transmission.
And with 97 episodes currently missing from the BBC archive, animation has proven to be an effective and enjoyable way of breathing new life into lost classics. The most recent of these landed in September 2022 with the release of ‘The Abominable Snowmen,’ a memorable Second Doctor adventure that introduced the Yeti and the Great Intelligence.
But it seems – at least for now – that ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ may be the last of the Doctor Who animations. Speaking recently at the BFI, the series producer Gary Russell said: “From Big Finish’s point of view, this is it for us – I’m just very glad that we went out on one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time and we got the chance to animate that.”
Big Finish, as you probably know, is the popular audio production company that has been making radio adventures of Doctor Who since the late 90s, and has more recently become involved in the Doctor Who animations, most notably in the recreation of ‘The Web of Fear‘ episode three, which also featured the fearsome Yeti.
But why would the Doctor Who animations come to an end when there is still such a high demand? The reasons are complicated and are best left to Google, but at the same time there is no reason to lose heart. As Russell went on to say at the BFI: “‘The Invasion’ was 2006, there was a long gap, and then there was another little flurry as they did ‘The Tenth Planet‘ and ‘The Reign of Terror’ and ‘The Moonbase’… and then there was a gap, and then there was ‘Power of the Daleks,’ and then there was [another] gap, and then there’s six that we’ve just done. So these things are cyclic.”
And Gary Russell has a point. At the time of writing, the Doctor Who animations have been slowly appearing over a 16 year period, with many notable gaps, and indeed some important releases like the partly-missing ‘The Underwater Menace’ and the original ‘The Web of Fear’ were put out without any animation at all, relying instead on basic telesnap reconstructions (i.e. still images accompanying the original soundtracks.) So Doctor Who fans have been through ‘animation droughts’ before, and this may just be another one.
To date, some 42 of the 97 missing Doctor Who episodes have been animated, which is a staggering amount and fills a fair number of gaps in people’s DVD collections, particularly for the Second Doctor. ‘The Power of the Daleks’ is perhaps one of the biggest and most memorable, such was its faithfulness to the original sets and camerawork. Plus, this was the fist of the Doctor Who animations to be released in both black and white and colour, and received a special re-release in 2020 with improved visuals.
‘The Macra Terror,’ meanwhile, broke new ground as it used more ‘artistic license’ and gave the serial a more cinematic feel, recognising the fact that animation allowed for more lavish sets and wide alien vistas that could never have been achieved in the 1960s (at least, not on Doctor Who‘s budget.) This was a trend that subsequent Doctor Who animations followed, with ‘The Faceless Ones’ and ‘Fury from the Deep‘ being distinctly grander in scale than their broadcast originals.
But Doctor Who animations have not just been used to recreate missing episodes; some Doctor Who animations have breathed life into episodes which were never even broadcast. One of these is the fourth part of the First Doctor story ‘Planet of Giants,’ which ended up on the cutting room floor back in 1964. Basically, the production team felt the serial was too long and decided to merge episodes three and four together, meaning that episode four effectively became another (partly) missing Doctor Who episode, even if it isn’t counted among the usual 97.
But in terms of Doctor Who animations, this recreation was altogether different, relying on a combination of basic CGI and footage from elsewhere in the story to recreate the missing segments – plus, of course, new audio from the surviving actors and William Hartnell impersonator John Guilor.
Another one of the more unique Doctor Who animations was the recreation of the unfinished Fourth Doctor story ‘Shada,’ which was abandoned midway through production due to a strike at the BBC. And there were several attempts to bring this story to life through animation, the first being in 2003, where the story was repurposed for the (then) current Doctor Paul McGann.
More recently, though, the serial was completed properly using high-end animation and a soundtrack that was provided by the surviving cast members. The original release packaged the story as a feature-length adventure, but the Blu-ray re-release (included as part of the Season 17 box set) finally broke the serial down into its original six episode format.
So as you can see, Doctor Who animations have come in all shapes and sizes over the years, and even though there have been some long gaps between releases, it’s a format that has never completely died out. So whilst we can’t say with any certainty that there will be more Doctor Who animations in the future (as we, sadly, don’t have our own TARDIS) it would be surprising if somebody, somewhere, didn’t take up in the mantle one day.
Which Doctor Who animations would you like to add to your DVD collection? And which has been your favourite of the animations so far? Let me know in the comments below.
Cybermen Doctor Who scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!