This is one of my meandering interludes to the BBC Project posts, rather than me talking about a specific aspect. It’s mostly a way to gather my thoughts and feelings.
Every post I do on the BBC Project is hard. Really hard. Part of that is I’m not entirely happy with the job I’m doing. Fairly sure I will have to do a massive errata post at the end.
A big chunk of the difficulty is the feeling that, even though it’s just as valid a piece of Doctor Who history as any number of failed attempts to produce movie versions, or bring back the series pre-2005, it feels as if it’s not important to anyone except me.
Two things keep me going.
One is, I’d like Cliff Bowman to get just a little recognition. Without him, I’d have never had the chance to work on this. Doesn’t matter that in the end it never went anywhere – for a while I was living any fan’s ultimate dream – trying to do their own version of the series.
The other is, I’m a fanboy. And like most fans, I find out about this sort of thing and it makes me curious as to what may have been. What if Ridley Scott had ended up working on Dead Planet? What would the 30th Anniversary Special Dark Dimensions have been like? Would Doctor Who Meets Scratchman have been any good?
What would a 3D animated pilot or series that got its start using fan talent have been like if it had been produced in-house by BBC Wales, back in 2003?
Some would ask, why haven’t they heard of this before? I suspect no one ever went looking for it. You have to suspect something exists before you think about looking for evidence. And hell, even when Who3D were at conventions, using our showreel to try and get more members to boost the number of hands working on stuff, we got ignored. The group often seemed to fall between the fandom cracks everywhere except the BBC.
Dan Freedman asked members of our group to make him a charity poster to be auctioned off at a convention to help promote Death Comes To Time. We also did a couple of short 3D animations to audio grabs he sent our way – I think there was brief talk of us doing animations for it, before they went with using illustrations.
And a year or two after that we had the approach by BBC Wales R&D.
Yet somehow fandom always noticed the other groups. Maybe they were just better at self-promotion, or it was a case of it’s not what you know, but who.
If that smacks a little of sour grapes – well yeah, it is. But just a little. None of them ever got the chance we had. Freedman and later Phil Balaam obviously saw something of worth in us that they didn’t see in the others. So Who3D may have gotten ignored by the fans, but we got noticed where it counted.
But it still feels as if, if I don’t talk about this stuff, then it will probably never be known.
Some weeks back, I appeared on an episode of Boxcutters Podcast. It’s a fabulous Australian podcast about television, one that I heartily recommend.
I was on it because I had donated money through Pozzible so some of the team could go to an event they had been invited to, South By Southwest in the USA. It was a big deal, and because I love the show I wanted to help them get there. One of the aspects of the reward tier I was on was that I’d get to be in studio during a Boxcutters podcast.
So, a day or two out from me going into the studio, I get an email from Josh Kinal asking if it’d be okay to talk to me about the Animated Doctor Who project. I said fine. I had talked about all this once before at a Swancon, Perth’s major yearly science fiction convention, at which I had been a guest. I’m pretty comfortable with public speaking in general, have done some radio and TV interviews, so I wasn’t fussed.
Once I got into the studio, nerves got the better of me. I can usually talk off-the-cuff quite easily, but I found myself really fumbling over my words and explanations of things. It was a jumbled mess, and I pity poor John Richards for having to try and edit my segment into something that flowed or even made sense.
I think Boxcutters set off my paranoia simply because suddenly I was talking about this for the first time in a forum that reaches thousands of people. Yes, hundreds of people have read these posts, but that doesn’t feel as real as being interviewed and recorded in a studio – especially by a group of people I really admire.
The main part of the nerves was my inner voice, egged on by my poor self-esteem, loudly yelling, “You’re a bloody fraud, it never actually got made, and no one will believe you!”
The other part is, I’ve never been comfortable pushing stuff I’ve worked on. Doesn’t matter if it’s a photo I’ve taken, a model I built, something I wrote – I always go through the “No-one cares, so why are you bothering them with your worthless crap!” self-esteem issues.
Every post, I feel nervous. I’ve been lucky so far, haven’t been attacked, haven’t had anyone call all this into question. But this is the internet, so it’s just a matter of time. I’m the first to admit it sounds a highly unlikely story. That’s one of the reasons I hadn’t written about it earlier – it’s a too good to be true story.
Some of those are fine, like me finding my childhood copy of Pinocchio in a random batch of children’s books that I purchased off the internet. That’s a heart-warming outlandish coincidence. Me doing work on a secret attempt to create an animated version of Doctor Who, made by people in the BBC, before the new series came along?
I would be sceptical about that one. Hell, I could barely believe it at the time. Even now it feels vaguely unreal, like it happened to someone else.
So, partially, I didn’t talk about it because of that. Also, a couple of times in the last decade, I’ve seen people caught out with made-up stories of success. Now, while I knew mine wasn’t made up, it’s hard to prove.
It doesn’t matter that my friends and most people I know believe its true with no doubts – random strangers who don’t know me and that I’ll never ever meet might think I’m lying!
About five years back, I briefly considered writing about the project. My first thought was that people wouldn’t believe it. So I figured as my first step I’d look up Phil Balaam, just to see what he was up to nowadays.
I couldn’t find him.
I have pretty good search skills, and I couldn’t find any sign of him online. I looked at the lack of an online profile and all I could think was, “The one name I know from the official organisation, the guy who was our BBC contact on the project, doesn’t exist on the web. People will scream fraud and I have absolutely no back-up beyond some emails, which could easily be faked.” So I pulled my head in again, and forgot about it.
When I started posting about the project recently, I figured I’d look up Phil, and lo and behold, he exists! So I felt a lot more comfortable about writing about the project on here.
But that aspect of the story hadn’t really sunk in. That’s where the Boxcutters podcast was really good. While I don’t think I gave a good interview, by the end of the night something crystallised in my head.
Some people may choose to disbelieve me on this stuff, but there’s one thing they can’t deny – through the course of this these articles, I’m naming names. I’ve named people that I approached at the time, or who were directly involved. These people can be contacted and can confirm that ten years ago, we were talking about this.
While I don’t want dozens of people suddenly emailing them out of the blue demanding details, every name I mention had some level of involvement, even if it was just me asking for their ideas or testing the water to see if they would be willing to help out down the track. If I were setting out to tell a lie and tricking my friends and acquaintances into backing me up, I have incredible patience, given I waited a decade to start my scam.
But that’s just the people I was involved with. Cliff Bowman was the core of the group. He went to BBC Wales and got to see their motion capture rigs. I had threeway phone conversations with Cliff and Phil. There should surely be a paper trail that exists beyond my emails. I daresay someone like Andrew Pixley  could find something – that man’s amazing in his abilities to track down behind the scenes info.
I daresay he could correct chunks of what I’ve been writing about, too.
So I feel a lot better about things, thanks to Boxcutters.
Actually, I don’t. I should, but my poor self-esteem still calls me a fraud, still says I didn’t deserve that luck, still tries to keep me feeling nervous about what people I don’t know might think.
But even if no one ever believes me. Even if the stuff on this website is the only record that ever exists about the project, it doesn’t really matter.
Because one day, when they’re old enough to understand just what it means, I’ll tell my kids about my part in trying to bring back a version of our favourite TV show, and they will be completely blown away.
And that’s worth more to me than anything else.
To find all the posts on this topic, please click here.
PS If you’re enjoying these posts, please spread the word about them. I’ve been trying to find emails for some of the other folks who worked on it with little luck – maybe if word gets spread, they’ll find me and give me permission to use their art on here.
I could just use it and deal with fall-out later, but I’d like to try and do the right thing first and get permission. I had to use Chris Sutor’s art without asking in this post, and that does bother me a bit. But this was also a group project, and I was part of Who3D even if I didn’t contribute to the poster. I would much rather have had his blessing, but I did try every email address I could find online.
So please, if you know him, point him here. I would be very grateful.
1. Maybe that’s why I haven’t yet tracked down any of what should be several uncorrupted copies of my emails from that period. Not because it will mean going through lots of CDs looking for the stuff, but because then I’ll find all the mistakes I’ve made! BACK TO POST
2. Digging out the obscure references for the hardcore fans now! BACK TO POST
3. Which I know is hypocritical. I have no idea how Dan Freedman managed to find out about us, but I’d be surprised if there was no connection between his knowledge of us, and the folks at BBC Wales R&D deciding we were worth approaching. BACK TO POST
For the record, I was initially on because I was a supporter who donated money. The donation was before I ever started writing about this. Living interstate, I couldn’t go in to appear on the show any sooner than I did.
I did also mention the Project in an email, but that was mainly to bring it to the attention of John Richards, given I first met him a couple of decades back, and know he’s a fellow Doctor Who fanboy.
I certainly didn’t expect to be asked to talk about the Project. If I had, I would have had more time to pull myself together and hopefully do a better job of talking about it. BACK TO POST
5. None of the guest stints or interviews I’ve done were anything to do with the project. The guest stint at Swancon was my third time being a guest there. West Australian fandom like me, so I thought it was a good, safe place to talk about the BBC Project. BACK TO POST
6. This really happened. Go back to the post if you’re not interested in the story.
I had a large collection of Little Golden Books as a child. Dad gave them all away, without asking me, when I was about ten or so. I was always resentful about that, and when the time came four years ago that I was to become a father, I cracked it and decided to buy a job lot of Little Golden books off eBay. I picked up a box of 100 for about $1 a book.
Some time after they arrived, my mother was going through them and saw a copy of Pinocchio. She commented that it was my favourite book as a child, and I used to drive her nuts asking for her to read it to me again and again.
Few days later I notice the copy of Pinocchio and think I’ll have a little look at it, just to experience what was once my favourite childhood book. I open the cover and there on the inside page is my name, written in my mum’s handwriting! Thirty years later, my favourite book had found its way back to me!
It’d gone through goodness knows how many homes, and moved states at least once, and more incredibly, it was in fabulous condition – one of the best in the box.
Sometimes the universe likes to surprise and delight with outrageous coincidences. BACK TO POST
7. Andrew Pixley is an amazing being, part TV historian, part bloodhound. If anyone has his contact details, or wants to point him towards this site, please feel free. I suspect that he would eventually do a write-up on the Project full to the brim of stuff I knew nothing about.
Which would be so cool! I’d love to know more about the stuff I wasn’t involved in. BACK TO POST