BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Series Bible – Part 2

One of my renders to give an idea of scale for the spacecraft in “Waltzing to Elysium”

Initial posting giving an overview of the project history here.

Looking through some of the emails last night, just goes to show that I’m glad I kept them because looks like I’d heard a rumour that the Doctor Who series was being produced a few days before it was announced.  I had completely forgotten about this.

Found an email from Cliff referring to it and him being surprised I hadn’t said anything to him, with me replying that I wanted to wait until I heard something more concrete before mentioning it.  There had been so many, “Doctor Who is coming back!” rumours that had never panned out, and even though this came from a fabulous source, I’d always rather be cautious.

Plus, from what I’d heard, formal announcement wasn’t going to be until Jan 2004, so there was meant to be plenty of time.  Obviously it got pushed forward, probably because the BBC knew otherwise it would get leaked and they wanted to make sure they controlled the release.  I mean hell, I’d heard about it!

The thing that surprises me is this was in late September of 2003, and we weren’t killed off until November, and even then, the main reason seems to have been the previously mentioned budget stuff that killed the BBC Wales R&D Department.  I’m surprised it took that long, and that we were collateral damage rather than an actual target.

Not that I think we were all big and important, but that I would have thought anyone developing something that could potentially damage the new brand would have been dealt with immediately.  Then again, it’s a bureaucracy.  We had a drama meeting in October 2003 to decide whether or not we’d go ahead.

I was thinking that, as I go through emails, I’ll go back and re-edit posts where appropriate to correct errors and omissions. Would people prefer that, or would you rather I left the original inaccurate text and instead added footnotes and/or an errata sheet at the end of all this?  Let me know.

You will be able to find all the posts on this topic here.
Anyway, here is part 2 of the bible.  In this bit I discussed the possible formats, weighing up the pros and cons.

Series format

There are three possible formats for a new series of Doctor Who done using computer animation.  Here I shall endeavour to explain the pros and cons of each.

Single Episode Stories.

At first, this may seem like an unlikely format.  Surely 22-25 minute episodes would not allow the depth of story telling and characterisation that Dr. Who at its best does so well?

This may be true in some ways but the format is one that has been successfully used by series like Batman Animated and Superman Animated.  I mention these two series specifically because of the attention to story-telling and character that these shows manage with what should be a more restrictive format.  These shows treat their characters and villains with care and attention to detail and yet still telling clever and engaging stories.  Occasionally you will get event stories that have two or occasionally even three episodes, however these are the exception, rather than the rule.

The problems with this format are mainly ones of cost and resources.  Telling a new story with fresh locations, fresh characters and ideas is a big task.  Getting so many stories script edited to a point where they accurately reflecting the aims of the production team, coming up with new and interesting tales while getting their new worlds established and entertaining the audience with this new tale within a 22 minute format would be a harder task than the one that faced the afore mentioned series of Batman and superman.

For the most part, both those series take place in the one basic location, whilst Dr. Who can take place anywhere in any time.  To do justice to these myriad times and places in a 22 minute format would be a difficult task.

Also, just like with live action television productions, the more sets you have to build, the more expensive it is to produce.  Paying designers and model makers to create new characters and environments twenty plus times a season would be a very expensive proposition indeed.

Double Episode stories.

A more reasonable format and one that certainly worked well for the animated series of Tintin.  It would also allow for more time to set up the world and better define the characters and would also allow for a traditional Dr. Who cliff-hanger at the halfway point of every story.

The length of story-telling time would also be a closer approximation to the 45 minute format favoured by many drama shows and the episodes could probably be edited together easily for the overseas market.

Also, this format once again makes better use of resources.  Fewer stories would hopefully mean we would be able to have more time spent on each of them to improve the quality, as well as using fewer sets and character models.

Once again, the ugly spectre of cost and resources is the down side to this format.  Allowing for a 22 episode season, that is still eleven stories that need to be written and edited.  And also eleven new environments and groups of characters that need to be created.

Multi-Part stories

A format that allows the freedom for story lengths to be as long or short as they need to be to tell their tale well.  Though a preference for four to six-parters would be the norm, it would also be possible to edit a story down if it seemed to drag.

One of the huge advantages of this more traditional Dr. Who format would be the more cost effective use of story development and modelling costs.  As with traditional television productions, once a set is built, it is built.  It doesn’t have to be rebuilt from scratch every episode.  Also in this case the same goes for creatures and characters, which would also need to be built or adapted from existing models for every new story.  Fewer stories mean less cost.

The traditional format would also appeal to the fans and peoples nostalgia for the programme by providing regular cliff-hangers.  From a story telling point of view, the writers would have time to introduce us to their times and worlds, letting characters and places become firmly established while they then tell the stories they wish to tell.

Modern audiences seem to be embracing television show that tell good ongoing stories, like Buffy and The Sopranos, so Doctor Who’s episodic format should be well received.

The negative side to this approach is that, as with the original series, some stories may drag or suffer from unnecessary diversions as writers attempt to fill four episodes.  Also, some of the modern day audience may not this episodic approach to story telling.

Preferred format suggestion

Would be multi part stories with an aim of telling approximately six stories a season.  This would hopefully allow for a good mix of stories over the course of a season and would allow viewers time to get to know our characters though the course of those stories.

The ideal six story format would feature one or two historicals, a ‘sideways’ story that dealt with altered realities, states of being or other surreal ideas, a ‘continuity’ story, one that put the Doctor in old locations or up against familiar foes and finally the balance of the rest of the stories could be set on alien planets and far distant worlds

The characters should not remain unchanged or unmoved by their journeys either.  Character story arcs don’t have to be overt or in your face.  For example, Phoebe would experiment with wearing trousers in the second or third story of the season, but feel self conscious about it.  In a later story we could then have her needing to get back into skirts or dresses to fit into the time period they have reached and now saying how much she liked trousers for their practicality on their adventures.

While here I am talking about a six story format, there is no reason to be constrained by that idea.  There are many Doctor Who stories that could have done with being shortened by an episode to tighten them up and a few stories that could have done with an extra episode to help clarify what was happening.  It wouldn’t be hard to build up a “storehouse” of one and two part Dr. Who stories written by the production team to fill in any gaps created by tightening up a story.

Also, with pre-visualisation using simple storyboards and read-throughs by the production team, it should be possible to find such problems well before hiring actors, designers and even starting production of the 3D graphics.  This would allow us to, in effect, make the season first so that we could identify any problems well in advance of them becoming a reality.

As already stated, returning Dr. Who as an educational and entertaining programme for the whole family is one of the goals that should be achieved.  There is no reason that this can’t be done.  The technology is there, the audience is there.  All that we need to do now is develop this series for the new world in which it’s found itself, which shouldn’t be so hard.

After all, the Doctor has been adapting to new worlds since 1963.

2 thoughts on “BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Series Bible – Part 2

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

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