BBC Project – Doctor Who – The Animated Series That Never Was…

Very early stylistic lighting test done by yours truly. That ugly Doctor character in the foreground was later made much more visually palatable. Original image rendered 12/01/2003

Today, I reached a decision.

I want Cliff Bowman to be recognised by Doctor Who fandom for the part he played in a largely unwritten bit of DW history – The 3D animated series of Doctor Who.

I was also a part of this, as were several other folks, but Cliff was at the centre of it. None of us would have had the opportunity to work on it without him, it will always be one of the high points of my life, and I think he deserves the recognition.

Ideally, I’d like to him be made a guest at a major DW event next year.  I think it’s fitting.

The push starts here. He, at the time of writing, knows nothing about it. Please help get the word out. If I get a good response, I will slowly post up other things I contributed to the project. If I get permission from some of the other contributors, I’ll put up their stuff too.

I won’t claim that the dates and such below are completely 100% accurate, as I’m having to work partially from memory and I may have one or two things in the wrong order, but it’s essentially right.

Way back in December of 2002, when I was still called Danny Heap, Who3D was approached by BBC Wales R&D, thanks to a DW fan in the BBC who knew of our work. To cut a long story short, they wanted to see if it was possible to produce a series “across the internet.” Who3D, the brainchild of Cliff Bowman, was already an international group using the net to produce animations.

After a couple of phone meetings, we were given free reign until Jan 2003 to contribute whatever we wanted to the discussion – it could be design control, scripting control with eventual animation farmed out to Foundation Imaging, etc.

There were seven of us at Who3D working on this project, and I got the go ahead to talk a handful of Aussie talent, including people like Nick Stathopoulos, Kate Orman, and Jonathan Blum about the possibility of them eventually contributing. By 10th Jan 2003 I had created a series bible. Phil Balaam of the BBC Wales R&D department was really happy with the huge amount of work we had produced in a short space of time, concept pictures, story work, etc.

Over the next couple of months, as well as a few pictures, models, and animation tests, I produced a sixteen page treatment for an original four-part story – “Waltzing to Elysium.”

Every week we waited to hear that the project had been cancelled, and it just kept going! I still remember having a conference call with Phil and Cliff in the wee hours of the morning, nutting out ideas and concepts.

We never expected it to get as far as it did. We were told that any attempt to produce Doctor Who had to be kept quiet due to the politics involved. For a start, DW was considered a London property, there was no way Wales would get away with this unless we got enough done on the quiet that it was too late to stop us.

I had started work on a second treatment featuring the Ice Warriors, when I got a phone call telling me to start work on a five minute proof-of-concept pilot. Prior to that, every thing had been quiet and unofficial, but if this got produced it would become a formal BBC project, albeit a test one.

What happened next was… we spun our wheels for several months. There was lots of chatter, but it was obvious that a full script was not going to even get looked at for some time. Plus, it was seriously looking like the plug was about to be pulled. I held off on actually writing the script, but planned it out in detail so that, if I got the go ahead, I could produce it quickly.

At this point we were all working on this stuff in our spare time, and for free, hence my reluctance to work my ring off any more than I’d already done – it was hard work on a project that we weren’t yet being paid for.  But if the five minute pilot script was asked for and written, I would actually get paid, which would have been delicious!

The basic outline I came up with was to open with the Doctor and Phoebe helping some reptilian aliens prepare for an attack.  A group of around half a dozen Daleks from a crashed spacecraft would storm the alien city – the aliens being gecko-style reptiles who could cling to walls and fire at their attackers. The Daleks would eventually be lured into becoming trapped inside a force-field, whereupon The Doctor would tell them if they disarmed themselves he would take them to an unpopulated planet to live out their lives.

The Daleks realise the man talking to them is the Doctor, and silently and in unison start firing continuously, all the beams converging at the same point on the force field, right in front of the Doctor. He ignores the attempt to kill him, pleading with the Daleks to stop firing as the force field is only throwing the energy back at them.

He realises they aren’t going to stop, and starts to rush about trying find a way to vent the energy harmlessly and stop the energy build-up. The beams continue to track with him as he moves about. The Daleks do not speak, they simply continue firing, never letting up. The Doctor is distraught, screaming at them, cajoling them, begging them to stop or they will kill themselves.

Their only response is to increase the amount of power that are using to try to break through the barrier.  Inside the force field the temperature is growing and growing until it overwhelms the Daleks and they explode. The Doctor is devastated that he couldn’t make them listen. His young companion Phoebe tries to comfort him.
I had a few goals with this. The opening would help to introduce the Doctor and Phoebe.  Phoebe especially would be nervous, as the preparations would remind her of London during World War II, which had been her home.

I wanted to make the Daleks lethal and scary. Virtually every shot they fired would have been a kill shot, but they had to balance their power, so a hovering Dalek had less firepower than a Dalek on the ground, and fast moving Daleks had less firepower than slow moving ones.  They would have been saying ‘exterminate’ now and again during the battle, but I wanted total silence when they tried to kill the Doctor in hopes that it would actually be scarier and more intense.

I wanted the aliens to be non-human and different, and to be able to move in different ways.  If it’s going to the pilot for an animated series, may as well show off what can be done.  And I wanted the Doctor to have an emotional journey, from triumph at capturing the Daleks to despair at his inability to make them see reason.

A BBC drama meeting was scheduled to be held on 30th Oct 2003 at which our project would be discussed. It would then be a few weeks before anything was decided, one way or another.  We knew this was likely to either kill us off, or suddenly give us a lot more recognised and paid work.

Word came down in November 2003 that the project was being scrapped, but not because of any problems with what we had done – no one was unhappy with us.  Cost overruns at the BBC had basically meant that belts were being seriously tightened in every area. The R&D department was being shut down, and therefore so were we. We were lucky, while it meant that all the work we had put in was for naught, lots of people in BBC Wales R&D lost their jobs or had to move to London.

Even if this hadn’t happened, there were many more hurdles we would have had to have cleared. We were never in any doubt that the chances of it getting to the animation stage were minute.

As it was, we had a dream run. And if things had worked out, and the pilot had gone ahead, the creation of the 2005 series of Doctor Who would certainly have killed us. There’s no way the Beeb would have wanted to risk diluting the brand.  And who would you go with, a bunch of unknowns doing an animated version, or Russell T. Davies and live action?

But for ten wonderful months, I was head story-writer and effectively one of the producers of a Doctor Who series.

Life don’t get much better than that.


PS   Thank you Cliff, and Phil, for helping make a fanboy’s dream a reality for a hard but amazing ten months.

7 thoughts on “BBC Project – Doctor Who – The Animated Series That Never Was…

  1. Pingback: BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Series Bible – Part 1 | Dalekboy

  2. Pingback: BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Series Bible – Part 2 | Dalekboy

  3. Pingback: BBC Project – Interludes and thoughts… | Dalekboy

  4. Pingback: BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Designs Part 1 | Dalekboy

  5. Pingback: BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Designs Part 2 | Dalekboy

  6. Pingback: BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Designs Part 3 | Dalekboy

  7. Pingback: BBC Project – Dancing in front of an Audience… | Dalekboy

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