Financial issues have led to the suspension of the BBC’s ongoing animated reconstructions of missing (or largely missing) 1960s Doctor Who serials and on the evidence of this final release, 1967’s The Abominable Snowmen, perhaps it’s just as well. The problem has always been that these stories were never meant to be animated; they were live-action productions and as a result the budget-price animation often lacks pace and energy and…well, a sense of animation. The occasional previous release – Evil of the Daleks, for example – manages to overcome many of these problems thanks to a genuinely good, well-structured script. The Abominable Snowmen is very probably a decent enough story too but across these six animated episodes it’s stodgy, laboured, repetitive and actually a bit dull.
The TARDIS lands in the foothills of the Himalayas in 1935 (the famous location filming in Snowdonia replaced in animation by more accurate but rather generic snowy mountains and landscapes) and the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) seizes the opportunity to return to the nearby Det-Sen monastery a holy relic he was entrusted with on his last (off-screen) visit. But all is not well; the local, previously-gentle Yeti are besieging the monastery and a strange alien being is working in the shadows, planning its conquest of the planet.
There’s not really enough story here to pad out six episodes. Once the setting is established, the characters introduced (Jack Watling, father of Deborah Watling who appears in the serial as the Doctor’s companion Victoria, is good value as a brusque explorer in search of the Yeti) and the threat manifested, there’s really not much going on here. On TV, the Yeti (actually robot servants of the alien Great Intelligence… although we’re not quite sure why it really needed robot servants) looked big and cuddly as they bounced around the slopes on location but they still looked vaguely threatening. In animated form, they’re just big brown splodges that move about occasionally and don’t really do very much. Once again the performance of the expressive Patrick Troughton is not best served by the very rudimentary animation and there are a number of dialogue-free scenes where the extremely good quality audio leaves the animators baffled as to what might have been going on so we’re left with a number of scenes of characters wandering about aimlessly like avatars in an early 1980s computer game.
The Abominable Snowmen is often regarded as one of the true classics of the Troughton era and it’s quite possible, certainly on the evidence of the surviving second episode, nicely scrubbed up and included on this new three-disc release, that it actually is. But it doesn’t really work in animated form and “creative reimaginings” to the visuals as seen on screen (the possessed master of the monastery Padmasambhava, played with breathless, echoey malevolence by Wolfe Morris, has been animated as a wonky-mouthed doodle apparently drawn by a distracted three-year-old) only serve to muddy the waters further and turn this into an interpretation of the story rather than a proper representation of it. Fortunately, the set includes a number of worthwhile special features including commentaries, censor snippets from the missing episode four, cine camera behind-the-scenes footage filmed by Jamie actor Frazer Hines, an archive interview with serial co-writer Mervyn Haisman and a brand new ‘making of’ documentary that sees Hines reunited by make-up artist Sylvia James in the uncannily-unchanged Snowdonia location with the redoubtable Toby Hadoke on hand to jog hazy memories. All in all, though, a bit of a damp squib to bring the curtain down on the animation range.
Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen is out now on Blu-ray.