First things first. Is this re-creation of Patrick Troughton’s debut story (cruelly missing from the BBC archive) any good? Well, yes. Resoundingly, yes, if the two episodes shown at this week's press launch in London are anything to go by. If you approach this animation with an open mind and don’t expect the modern polish of Disney or Pixar – it’s been produced on a BBC Worldwide budget – you should find it rather enthralling. A long-lost 1960s classic lives again.
I’ve always been in two minds about animated Doctor Who. The Time Lord doesn’t exist in my imagination as a cartoon; I haven’t read his adventures in comic-strip form since childhood. To date, nine random 60s episodes have been animated and married with the surviving soundtracks – with variable success. And I must confess I’d half hoped this trumpeted animation was an elaborate smokescreen masking the fact that actual film prints had been secretly returned to the BBC. Alas, no.
The press release avers: “The original tapes were destroyed and no copies exist.” Well, that still rankles. But could film prints for The Power of the Daleks still survive somewhere in the world? I believe it’s likely. Will they ever be returned to the BBC? Mmm, less likely. While fans cling on to a pathetic, fading glimmer of hope, the BBC is making amends for having junked The Power of the Daleks decades ago. Or rather, BBC Worldwide has now seen a profitable way to sell fans an animated version of the missing six-parter, releasing it daily online – a ploy to draw new users to BBC Store – then later putting it out on DVD. And first there’ll be a black-and-white version, then, somewhat cynically, a few months later another in full colour. So the real die-hards might shell out for this several times over.
We still haven’t (quite) got our Power but this is the best next thing. Hours of love, craft and attention to detail have been poured into this release. Producer/director Charles Norton has worked very close to the wire – he was clearly exhausted at the press launch, poor chap. The character designs are by comic-book artists Martin Geraghty and Adrian Salmon. It looks beautiful, and has a quirky, imperfect charm – in much the same fashion as the 1966 production. Wisely they’ve eschewed the original 4:3 ratio for widescreen because that is how most viewers will watch it – be it on TV, online or on a cinema screen.
While the colour treatment will throw up all sorts of anomalies for fans to grumble about (should the Daleks really have blue balls?), the monochrome version (sets, costumes and props) has the ring of authenticity. Daleks and craggy-faced senior actors lend themselves well to cartoon representation. Younger, prettier actors less so; the likenesses of Anneke Wills and Michael Craze (companions Polly and Ben) are harder to capture. As for Troughton, though… it’s as if the whimsical second Doctor were back in the room.
A handful of surviving clips, off-screen stills and on-set photos (some from Radio Times) have helped inform the look of this restoration, but the project has only been possible because of the dedication of fans. Without the original soundtrack, it would have been a non-starter.
I first listened to a bootleg recording of Power in the early 80s, which sounded like it had been taped at the bottom of a well in the Dark Ages. So huge thank-yous to Graham Strong, the man who made a high-quality audio recording when the serial aired in 1966, and to Mark Ayres for an aural restoration that is, quite frankly, astonishing. He’s produced versions in the original mono, in stereo and a 5:1 surround-sound mix, enhancing Tristram Cary’s eerie electronic music and Brian Hodgson’s Radiophonic sound effects. The dialogue is clear and the performances sing out.
So many of the people who crafted this classic in 1966 are no longer alive: producer Innes Lloyd, script editor Gerry Davis, director Christopher Barry… The writer David Whitaker, one of my DW heroes, died so long ago, in 1980. aged just 51. Most of the cast are dead too. Michael Craze died in 1998, the wonderful Troughton in 1987. In a strange way this work helps them live again. I’d like to think they’d be proud of this re-creation of their labours.
What I’m most chuffed about is how rewarding this release is for the radiant Anneke Wills (below).