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Doctor Who - Mission: Accomplished

PrintE-mail Written by David Busch and J.R. Southall Saturday, 24 September 2011

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In all the recent fuss about the Ian Levine-sponsored completion of the abandoned 1980 Doctor Who story Shada, another project that was also close to Ian’s heart seems to have all but been forgotten about. There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which being the excitement that surrounds the Shada project: the story never having existed in what many would think of as a satisfactorily complete state, it is therefore a much greater ‘Holy Grail’ to the average classic series fan than an episode that did once exist, and still does exist as a complete soundtrack (albeit that these are Holy enough Grails in and of themselves). The other reason is simply this: if 2|entertain were interested in buying and releasing this other recently completed animation, just exactly what would they do with it?

But I’ll come back to all of that.

The chief animator on this project was David Busch, and he takes up the story:

In 2008, I was working for an animation studio in Hollywood called Titmouse, Inc. While there, I was the production manager for Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, and a producer and voice artist on Marvel’s Black Panther animated series. The Invasion had been released on DVD, with the two missing episodes completed with Flash animation, and was considered a great creative success. However, it seemed at the time that 2|Entertain were not going to be able to complete more missing episodes in this way, as the cost was too high for the DVD budget to allow.

As it happens, the exchange rate between the US and the UK that year was such that a production like The Invasion could be done in the States for considerably less money than in the UK, relatively speaking. This coincided with a period of downtime for some of my artists at Titmouse, so with the blessing of the studio’s owners, I decided to use that downtime to produce a pitch to get us the job of animating some (or all) of the missing episodes. I edited together a rough animatic of audio clips from missing episodes, using the telesnaps and bits of existing footage as reference, and we created an animated ‘trailer’ for a series of episodes, with scenes animated from The Power of the Daleks, The Moonbase, The Macra Terror, The Web of Fear, and Fury From the Deep.

I then showed this presentation piece to Dan Hall at 2|Entertain, and also gave him a budget breakdown for various numbers of episodes. (If I remember rightly, it was the costs involved for packages of one, two, four, and six episodes.) Dan gave me positive feedback on the animated trailer, but declined to give us a commission, on the grounds that what we proposed was still outside of the budget available. I then pursued a few other avenues to try and get the project off the ground, including talking to BBC Worldwide about purchasing a license to produce these animations ourselves, but it ended up amounting to nothing. After a year or so of trying to get the project commissioned, it seemed clear that it was not going to happen, so I moved on to other things, and posted the trailer on YouTube for fans to see.

In the autumn of 2010, Ian Levine saw the presentation piece on YouTube, and contacted me. He was impressed by it, and offered to raise some money to finance the animation of an entire episode in this style – the ultimate goal being to show 2|Entertain that we could do a full episode to professional standards on a reasonable budget, and hopefully get an official commission to do more episodes. As I was no longer working at a studio at this time, I felt I would be able to produce the episode myself on a freelance basis at a much lower cost than I had previously quoted to Dan, and we agreed upon a minimum amount of funding that would enable me to complete one episode. Ian’s idea was to do Mission to the Unknown as the test episode, for a variety of reasons that I agreed with:

1. It was a single, largely self-contained episode, which can be watched in isolation without any other context. (The only other ‘single’ missing episode is The Tenth Planet Episode 4, and Ian reasoned that if any episode would be likely to have been commissioned already for the animated treatment, it would be that one, so we might be duplicating work already in progress.)

2. It has a fairly small amount of characters and locations, which would keep the design budget low.

3. While there are no telesnaps for this story, there are excellent photos of the set designs and alien delegates (who differ somewhat from their later appearance in The Daleks’ Master Plan).

4. It features the Daleks. This was appealing for obvious reasons!

5. If successful, some of the designs created could later be used to animate missing episodes of The Daleks’ Master Plan, of which Mission to the Unknown is the prequel.

My first step was to contact some artists that I knew, and get to work on character designs and backgrounds. The incomparable Melissa Levengood had done some work on the original pitch piece, so I hired her to design all of the characters in Mission to the Unknown. Pam Friend is another fantastic artist who had worked on the initial presentation, so I recruited her to work on the backgrounds. Derek Handley provided us with as much photographic reference as exists for the episode, and Ian sent me copies of the hand-written notes which he had taken down upon the original transmission. We produced a 90-second animated demo featuring most of the characters of the episode, which Ian used to secure investors for the project. Once he had done this and raised the agreed-upon amount, I started work on the full episode.

Using the Loose Cannon reconstruction as a guide, I broke the episode down into roughly 250 individual shots, and started laying out the camera angles and character poses. I brought more artists onboard now that I could pay them, and got the backgrounds finished while starting on the animation. I animated approximately half of the episode myself, and split the other half out to 9 other animators. Once each shot was completed in animation, I did all of the digital compositing, adding lighting effects, mist, camera moves, etc. The final render of each shot would then be cut in over the rough edit, and soon I had whole sequences finished and sent off to Ian for his review.

From start to finish, the project took about eight months to complete and deliver. It was produced and composed in 16x9 widescreen HD, although since Ian preferred to see it in the 4x3 ratio that the original episode would have been made in, the version I sent to him was cropped on either side. I know that Ian has hopes for the episode to receive an official release on DVD, and if that happens, I would provide 2|Entertain with an uncompressed master of the widescreen version, and they could choose to release it in whichever format they wished (or both, potentially). We strove to make the episode as accurate as we could to what the original probably looked like, but as Mission to the Unknown is pretty much a stand-alone story, I personally feel that there is no reason not to make it in 16x9. But I understand that there are many fans who feel the exact opposite! I have no idea if such a release is going to happen, but I am hopeful that it will, or if not, that the episode will be made available to fans eventually in some other way. In any event, I am very proud of the finished episode, and I cannot give enough praise to the team of artists who worked on it with me.

So that’s the story of how a fully-animated version of the single-episode, 1965 Doctor Who story Mission to the Unknown (famously, the only episode of the entire television canon not to feature an appearance by either the Doctor or any of his companions) came into being.

And David Busch (and co)’s animation of Mission to the Unknown is lovely. Perhaps not as sophisticated as Theta-Sigma’s forthcoming recreation of the two missing episodes of The Reign of Terror is likely to be (if a recently escaped-to-YouTube trailer from Australia is anything to go by), but close, and undoubtedly less expensive. But more imaginative than the Shada animation (which is hindered by being a recreation of only the studio-bound sequences from recording blocks 2 and 3), and perhaps more consistent to boot. Again, without the resources to create something as refined as someone with the financial clout of a Disney Corporation would have been capable of, what we have instead is a more-than-serviceable alternative way of viewing the episode, which brings all of the main elements to life without compromising their credibility. It’s a joy to watch an episode that had previously (via soundtrack married to telesnaps) seemed a pretty worthless affair (no Doctor, no companions, and overall nothing much more going on, than being an extended prologue to a story that stands perfectly well on its own anyway), and to discover (for the first time, really) that it’s actually quite a moody and interesting piece, setting up the themes and atmospheres of The Daleks’ Master Plan while at the same time telling an admittedly rather slight story of its own. Of course, you can get all of this from the soundtrack or a Recon, but here, with the animation, the episode seems so much more immediate, and so much easier to follow. It’s quite beautiful, too, the opening shots setting the template to ‘special’ and the rest of the episode making good on that. If you know Mission to the Unknown well enough, you’ll be on the edge of your seat waiting for the alien delegates to turn up – and it’s in no way a disappointment when they do.

Now, until or unless 2|entertain should come to an agreement with Ian Levine over the release of the episode, then there’s precious little chance of the average fan-in-the-street being able to see it. But here’s a link to David Busch’s aforementioned ‘presentation piece’ on YouTube, where you can at least get a flavour of what the new Mission might look like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABuiYhIilUg

The big question is, of course, what to do with the episode?

One answer that is by no means as obvious as it sounds, would be to release it on its own. It is, after all, technically a standalone story in its own right, but while many fans wouldn’t balk at the thought of buying a single, 25-minute instalment of Doctor Who (at a reduced recommended retail price, presumably), there would no doubt be many who would – and Joe Public might find it surprising to have parted with his hard-earned only to discover a single, 25-minute instalment of Doctor Who on the disc, apparently leading into a story which is neither included in the package nor available separately.

Another possibility is to include Mission to the Unknown as an extra on the DVD of Death to the Daleks, the last as-yet-unreleased Dalek story from the classic series. But Mission, being as it is an entire story in its own right, would make for very unusual (and probably rather more expensive than is generally the case) Value Added Material on a story from another era of the programme entirely – although its inclusion might make up somewhat for the fact that Elisabeth Sladen is sadly no longer around to either commentate upon or talk about one of her favourite adventures. Including the episode with The Tenth Planet (the final William Hartnell story, and the debut for the Cybermen) might be just as, if not more, appropriate. But The Tenth Planet is an adventure that also includes a missing episode, that will almost certainly be included as an animated reconstruction, and there’s only so much budget to go around. Animating Episode 4 of the story and paying for the Mission animation might be just too far out for the boat to be pushed.

So the most sensible solution is probably also the least likely. On grounds of cost, appending Mission to the Unknown to a release of a completed Daleks’ Master Plan is akin to asking the impossible. For although as much exists of this epic first Doctor story as does of his swansong, with a total of nine episodes missing and in need of animating, recreating the adventure would be an undertaking almost as vast as its original production. And as happily as I or many other fans would be to pay double the usual asking price for a chance to own such an object on DVD, there would be many others who would scratch their head at such a thought and move on.

Perhaps the marketing of a Mission to the Unknown/The Daleks’ Master Plan release ought to take a priority, then. For with a broadcast span as great as that of an entire series of twenty-first century Doctor Who, it mightn’t be a bad idea to release the story as a boxed set across a number of discs, each in their own dedicated Amaray case and splitting the story up along similar lines to those in which Target books successfully released their novelisation 22 years ago. With Mission to the Unknown (and extra features) taking up disc one, discs two and three (and maybe even four) could be dedicated to the “Daleks’ Master Plan Saga”, with individual titles for the segments lifted from the episodes themselves. Target went with The Mutation of Time; to that you could add The Nightmare Begins for starters.

The additional resources that would become available should The Daleks’ Master Plan be released in this manner might make all the difference to the viability of animating the whole story, because even with the economies of scale involved in recreating nine episodes of the same adventure, there’s no question that it would be unaffordable on the usual budget. And even if the animation involved were of the relatively ‘cheap and cheerful’ variety, it would certainly make for a more complete viewing experience than the alternative (the three extant episodes have already been released as part of the Lost in Time DVD).

If 2|entertain are to keep their Doctor Who DVD range going beyond the spring of 2013, then it’s going to take a little lateral thinking on their behalf to devise ways of making the recreation of missing stories a viable and ongoing concern. Ian Levine and David Busch have shown, with their Mission to the Unknown, that it needn’t be so expensive as to be unaffordable, and that even with a lower budget magic can still be made. We know plans are afoot elsewhere to complete a six-episode Reign of Terror, and there is at least one other animated story in the pipeline too. So there’s a desire on the part of the producers to ‘fill in the blanks’ that – given that they too are for the large part fans of the series – must be almost equal to that of the fans who wish to see those 108 missing episodes somehow ‘returned’. Well, here is an episode that stands currently as complete as it is ever likely to be; all it needs now is a home.

Just like Shada, a lot of time and effort – and money (and love!) – has been spent on animating Mission to the Unknown, and it would be an enormous shame if the results were never to be made public. But unlike Shada, it is going to require more than merely the wherewithal to bring Mission to the Unknown to a wider audience to get it released; it’s going to take either some substantial reinvestment in creating a home for it, or an effort in lateral thinking in finding for it a home that already exists. Either way, and Grand Folly or no, Mission to the Unknown is an exercise in alchemy, and the result is simple and elegant and begging to be seen.


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Comments  

 
+3 #6 B Crewe 2013-03-22 22:32
I realize this piece is a couple years old now but has anyone considered crowdfunidng, like the recent Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, as a way to finance the completion of Doctor Who's remaining missing episodes? I believe there are 106 episodes missing. 8 of those have been animated, if you include Mission Into The Unknown - 2 from The Invasion, 2 from Reign of Terror, 1 from the Tenth Planet, 2 from the Ice Warriors. That leaves 98 to go. If a budget was created as indicated in this article a kickstarter campaign should be possible.
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-1 #5 J. R. Southall 2011-10-05 19:06
Quoting Robin Pierce:
Speaking of the old classic episodes, would it kill the BBC to release full season sets (as far as they can, allowing for missing episodes, which can now be completed so there's no excuse) from the Hartnell era onward? Surely it'd make more sense than the present release pattern - which absolutely sucks.


I expect that's something that will happen once the current release pattern is concluded; probably starting in November 2013, I'd imagine!
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-2 #4 Robin Pierce 2011-10-05 18:34
Speaking of the old classic episodes, would it kill the BBC to release full season sets (as far as they can, allowing for missing episodes, which can now be completed so there's no excuse) from the Hartnell era onward? Surely it'd make more sense than the present release pattern - which absolutely sucks.
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0 #3 Antonio Spinozzi 2011-10-04 08:50
I wonder if a deal could be arranged whereby the animator's are paid with a percentage of a DVD's profits.
A fascinating article. Breaking news just like in the good ol days of Starburst. Reign of Terror... Shada... and now this bodes well for potentially releasing more and more stories in animated form. I am also sure that costs will continue to decrease in the production of them, thereby making them more viable.
I live in hope.
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+1 #2 Robin Pierce 2011-09-25 14:52
Gah! I'm trying to stay away from purchasing classic Dr Who stories on DVD because once I start with the old material - where do I stop? (Yeah, probably in a divorce court). Announcements like this just aren't making it any easier to resist the temptation. I live in fear of something like Evil of the Daleks or Power of the Daleks (both of which I just barely remember seeing when they were broadcast) being released with animated bridging scenes to reconstruct the missing episodes. Then, the flood gates will open and I'll be buying Who DVDs like an addict.
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+3 #1 James Bond 2011-09-24 19:11
This is really great stuff! Give us more! I would love to see an animated Dr. Who series! Why teh BBC has never thought about it is beyond me! We could see all the Doctors together from the past and the present!
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