Why Doctor Who should go animated to create new stories

As Power of the Daleks’ remake gets remastered and an animated Jodie Whittaker is nominated for an Emmy, could a cartoon Who be a good way to keep the franchise alive?

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Doctor Who faces some difficult choices in the months and years ahead. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, can the series’ usual 10-month shoot realistically go ahead? Can sets be kept safe with the usual rolling cast, settings and monsters, or will things have to be drastically simplified? And could the cast even be expected to isolate from their families for long enough to make the series?

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Whether the series ends up delaying its planned shooting, cutting back on episodes or simplifying their stories remains to be seen – but if there is a need to hold back or water down the usual Who content, we have an idea for how to keep the wider brand alive in the meantime.

Introducing… the animated adventures of Jodie Whittaker.

In other words, we’re thinking the BBC should create short-form cartoon or computer-generated stories featuring voice performances from the current cast, possibly running alongside the already-planned live-action stories.

There’s plenty of precedent for this within Doctor Who, after all – “lost” classic episodes like Power of the Daleks (recently re-released), Shada and Fury from the Deep have all been brought back to life using animation and the original audio tracks over the last few years, while fully-animated stories like Scream of the Shalka were important releases at the time.

And then there’s the long-running Doctor Who comic strips published in Doctor Who Magazine and as separate releases, or the books, or Big Finish, telling separate or prequel stories to the main series without undermining them – really, they just enhance them, like an animated series could.

A promotional image from the animated Macra Terror recreation (BBC)
A promotional image from the animated Macra Terror recreation (BBC)

In practical terms, the advantages of animation speak for themselves. Unlike live-action TV animation can more easily be created or worked on from home or isolated offices, with actors able to record from their houses or socially distanced studios and animators able to work in their own space. And within the stories themselves you don’t have to worry about transmission rates, rising budgets, props, crowd scenes or make-up – it’s all just created from imagination.

Now, we know what you’re thinking. Would Doctor Who really create an animated miniseries separate from the main drama, telling an entirely different story and airing around the same time? Well, yes – because while it sounds unlikely, it’s actually been done before.

In fact, while David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was at the helm of the TARDIS Who went animated twice, once for 2007’s cartoon The Infinite Quest (which starred Tennant, Freema Agyeman, Anthony Head and Liza Tarbuck among others) and 2009’s Dreamland, which again starred Tennant in a computer-generated Roswell adventure.

While largely present on spin-off TV shows and online outlets like BBC iPlayer, both these outings also got airtime on main BBC channels, sometimes when the main show was running as well. If it could be done then, why not now?

After all, Doctor Who’s first-ever Emmy nomination this week comes from an animated Jodie Whittaker adventure – VR story The Runaway (main image), where fans help the Doctor with an alien threat while inside the TARDIS – and the continuing popularity of both the official and unofficial animated adaptations of classic episodes suggests that there’s an appetite for telling Doctor Who stories in this way.

Within the walls of the BBC, apparently it’s been suggested as well, with Charles Norton – the man behind many of the recent animated reconstructions of classic episodes including The Macra Terror – noting that nothing was off the table when a fan asked if animated versions of the current series could be made.

A fan-created opening credits for a Doctor Who cartoon

“BBC Studios is very well aware that there is a demand, that there is a constant interest in the archive series, and they’re constantly looking at doing things to promote that and continue to exploit it,” Norton said at a screening.

“As a part of that, there’s an awful lot of brainstorming that goes on, and essentially pretty much any question you could ask [in terms] of ‘Have they thought about doing this?’ the answer is probably yes. At some point, it’s probably been discussed.

“Every story, every possible permutation of what you might do has been discussed, and nine times out of 10, the answer comes back, ‘We can’t really do that – it’s not practical’. But they’re constantly looking at ways of doing different things.”

Look, obviously nothing could replace primetime, live-action Doctor Who in our hearts – but as the world of TV production changes, it’d be good to know that we were getting easier-to-produce, safer adventures as well even if they were in a different format.

In short, more Doctor Who is always a good thing. We just might need to get a little more creative with where we get it from.

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Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks comes to BBC One in late 2020/early 2021 – check out what else is on with our TV Guide