Image Credits: John Salway
Image Description: The people behind the reanimation of The Evil of the Daleks are interviewed at the BFI
By Evan Jones
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a fandom lacking possession of all the episodes, must be in want of a full set of animated reconstructions.”
It was a bright and breezy Sunday morning as I walked along the Thames to the BFI Southbank. It’s been a long eighteen months since I had been to see the premiere of a brand-new Doctor Who animation, since The Faceless Ones showing on Saturday 29 February 2020 to be exact. Fortunately for myself, James Ashworth and John Salway, we were able to meet up, hang out with friends and get dizzy with excitement for brand new content – and it was definitely worth the wait.
There were a number of notable differences from my previous visit upon arrival at the BFI Southbank – ticket-holders had to queue outside the building if they arrived more than 45 minutes early, seats were allocated on a first-come first-served basis instead of the usual ticket system, and the room saw a lot more people don face coverings yet also saw a noticeable number of vacant seats. It felt a bit uncanny at first, with these subtle differences nestled among the oh-so-familiar gathering for a Doctor Who screening.
The proceedings began, as always, with a short introduction by BFI hosts Justin Johnson and Dick Fiddy. Regrettably, due to current health and safety practices, there was no pop quiz with prize-giving to start with. Newcomers wouldn’t have noticed anything missing but those who have attended several of these in the past might have felt a tad disappointed to be denied the opportunity to shout “Dick!” with the vain hope they might win some stash.
However, instead what we got was a touching obituary and dedication to Roger Bunce, a BBC cameraman who worked on the original production of The Evil of the Daleks way back in 1967. Bunce had worked on Doctor Who from 1966’s The Massacre in 1966 right up to 1988/89’s The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Bunce was a pioneer of ‘luminous overlay’, the forerunner to ‘colour separation overlay’ now better known as green-screen, and was an active union rep during his time at the BBC. Sadly, Roger Bunce had passed just a few weeks prior to the screening but his family – including his son Robin, a past Varsity Quiz writer – were present to receive an applause of appreciation from all the fans in attendance.
The Evil of the Daleks is the mostly missing seven-part final serial of Season Four, with only Episode Two held in the BBC archives. It saw the end of Patrick Troughton’s first broadcast series as the Doctor, the introduction of new companion Victoria Waterfield, and the final appearance of the Daleks in the 60s, bar the odd cameo. It starts in the then-contemporary setting of London, picking up exactly where The Faceless Ones left off, before whisking us back in time 100 years to a Victorian mansion full of secrets, experiments, and lies. Finally, it takes us back to Skaro, not seen since the original Dalek serial, for a ‘final’ showdown with the Dalek Emperor himself.
It is, quite simply, a mammoth of a story.
I had personally already seen the existing Episode Two as well as telesnap reconstructions of Episodes One, Three and Four. However, I gave up after this point since I found it was such a struggle to follow what was happening in the story. In particular, Episode Four can be quite confusing since it opens with a four-minute fight sequence that is largely free of any dialogue. This meant that, similar to my initial viewing experience of The Faceless Ones, I went in knowing how the story started but no idea how the story concluded. Thankfully, this animated reconstruction of the serial was exactly what I needed to finally access the story in a suitably engaging way.
In my opinion, this is the strongest animated reconstruction of a missing Doctor Who serial to date. Director Anne-Marie Walsh and her team have managed to strike an excellent compromise between being faithful to the source material and taking some creative license with the storytelling. This is most notable in the animated version of the surviving Episode Two, which features a number of shots not present in the original. For instance, in the reprise of Episode One’s cliffhanger we have a shot from inside the safe being opened and can see the Dalek lurking over the shoulder of the poor soul who’s about to get exterminated. Another is a rather breathtaking panoramic establishing shot of a 3D-model of the Victorian mansion. These shots would not have been possible at the time of the original production, but Walsh justified these choices by saying they would have done these things if they had the time, budget and technology to do so.
However, the undisputed highlight of the animation for me were the Daleks. Whether they were jumping out of a cabinet of mirrors, brutally hurling their prisoners to the floor in a display of power, or getting dizzy and playing trains with their old nemesis in an uncharacteristically delightful manner, the Daleks really are the centrepiece of this story. And they also look gorgeous – you could audibly hear the intake of breath around the cinema as the Dalek Emperor was revealed on Skaro. Then, we were all rapt with attention as Daleks exploded left, right, and centre in an action-packed climax to the serial. I find it hard to imagine anyone in attendance was anything less than enthralled by the screening.
Punctuating the main event were two interviews with the people who helped with the animation’s creation. At the half-time break, Dick Fiddy had a short chat with audio maestro Mark Ayres, who worked hard remastering the audio of the late great Graham Strong’s original off-air recordings. Ayres also talked particularly about his difficulties in editing out ‘Paperback Writer’ by The Beatles from the background music in one particular scene, due to the exorbitant cost of copyright. He then managed to edit back in an equivalent pop track of the period, ‘Hold Tight’ by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, just to preserve the authenticity of the 60s coffee bar setting.
Then, after the concluding episode, there was an interview conducted by Justin Johnson with director Anne-Marie Walsh and animators Barry Baker and Tom Bland. Sadly, the audience weren’t able to ask questions this time round, again for health and safety reasons. We learnt the animation team had been given more time to produce this animation, around 18 months or so, and this had allowed more time for pre-production, more in-between frames, and more breakdown drawings for each of the characters. All three seemed to really appreciate the positive response from the audience.
Johnson popped the question as to what might be the next animation from their team but Walsh was evasive about this. But she did say they are looking to complete certain seasons and work with characters they particularly like, so that leads me to suspect they have another Troughton story lined up, perhaps The Abominable Snowmen or The Wheel in Space. Both of these being animated would complete Season Five, the much-beloved ‘monster’ season. It may just be a few short years before we can enjoy a visual representation of every Patrick Troughton episode; the thought of which frankly makes me feel giddy.
Most of the fans headed straight to the nearby bar afterwards for a welcome catch-up with their Doctor Who friends as well as immediately taking to Twitter to disseminate their thoughts on the new animation to the fandom-at-large. I’m sure by the time you are reading, this you would have had plenty of opportunity to purchase the animated episodes on a DVD or Blu-ray of your choosing, enjoying them in either 16:9 colour, as we viewed them on the day, or 4:3 black-and-white if you are more of a traditionalist. The premiere screening may be long gone now, the original broadcast episodes even moreso, but now that this beloved Troughton story has been resurrected in animation form, there will never be a final end for The Evil of the Daleks.