The Power of the Daleks animation (II)


DWM meets the team whose passion has brought back to life the missing 1966 classic adventure The Power of the Daleks...

[First published in Doctor Who Magazine #506 (Panini UK Ltd, November 2016), pp. 20-24. Posted here by kind permission of editor Tom Spilsbury.]

“I saw William Hartnell recording a Doctor Who at Television Centre,” says Paul Hembury, director of entertainment talent at BBC Worldwide and the man who commissioned the animation of missing Doctor Who story The Power of the Daleks.

“In 1964,” Paul explains, “I was at school in the West Country, and one of the school governors was also a governor of the BBC. I'm sure it couldn't happen now, but he used to arrange for groups of school kids to come up for a half-day visit to Television Centre. I was one of the lucky ones, and so we were shown into the studio where a William Hartnell serial was in production.”

Only a handful of Doctor Who episodes were recorded at TV Centre in 1964 but Paul can't recall enough detail to narrow down which one he might have seen. “I remember we came up to London on the train, and I remember when we got to TV Centre we were provided with sandwiches. And when we were done, we turned left out of the building and walked up Wood Lane to the then White City Stadium to watch this opening training session with this American boxer who happened to be over here. That was Cassius Clay – later Muhammad Ali. So yeah, him and Doctor Who all in one day, that was pretty fantastic.”

Paul's job is to look for opportunities to make tailored programming around particular artists, programmes and brands. He worked for 18 years with Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, he's made fitness programmes with presenter Davina McCall, he's worked with comedian Miranda Hart, and overseen projects related to brands as diverse as Strictly Come Dancing, Liverpool Football Club and Aardman Animation. And now there's Doctor Who.

“We were looking at what we could do for the fans,” says Paul. “There are 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who, and Charles had this idea about animation...”

DWM spoke to producer and director Charles Norton last issue about his attempts to interest the BBC in animating some of the missing episodes – not that the idea was wholly new (see side-bar). Charles first broached the subject with BBC Worldwide in 2014, and was then commissioned late last year to animate a missing episode of the sitcom Dad's Army, released for download in February.

“And that did very well for us,” says Paul. “So soon after that was completed I had Charles down to BBC Television Centre to discuss what we might do next. We talked about various things, but I knew from before he was keen on Doctor Who.”

Last issue, Charles told us that in his meeting with Paul, “I was outlining missing episodes that would be easiest to animate – not necessarily the best ones. And I said something along the lines of, 'Although, if we had enough resources then obviously the best one to do is The Power of the Daleks...'” Charles thought it would be too complex and expensive to take on a whole six-part story from which no episodes remain. But to his amazement, Paul seemed keen.

“He was passionate about it,” says Paul now. “So I listened – and it did sound good. The first story with the Second Doctor, how all of it was missing, all of that. But the thing really came alive for me as soon as he said when the story was first broadcast. It felt like it was meant to be. If we did this one, we could release it on BBC Store for its 50th anniversary on 5 November – which also just happens to be BBC Store's first birthday.”

Even so, Paul still had to convince BBC Worldwide to put up the funds for such an ambitious project, and he did so by getting different parts of the organisation – BBC Store, BBC DVD and BBC Global – to chip in. “That's what Worldwide does,” he explains. “We're the biggest distributor of programme content in the world outside the Hollywood majors. If we can create something where there is a global following, it's natural we'd attempt to make it available to as many markets as possible. If we're going to invest in creating it, we must do so in the belief that we can get our money back – and make money. That is what we're here to do. Obviously, all the money we make goes straight back into public service.”

The different groups at Worldwide could easily see the potential of the project, which was soon green-lit. Then Charles Norton and his team had to work out how they'd make it.

“When we first got the go ahead in March,” says Charles, “I sat down with the soundtrack of The Power of the Daleks and copies of the scripts, and I went through them, making notes. In fact I came to it largely afresh, because I then realised that – as with a number of the missing stories – I wasn't that familiar with it. I knew its reputation more than the story itself.”

The thing that most surprised Charles revisiting the story was how little time it devotes to what most fans would probably think is the most important part of the plot – the fact that there's a new Doctor. “Nowadays, you get a whole story devoted to coming to terms with what's happened to him,” he says. “But I get the feeling that in this one they tried not to make too much of an issue of it. You can understand that: it was such a new concept, the first time the Doctor had changed, and they weren't sure how people would respond to it. So they get on with a really good story about the Daleks. That's the thing that struck me – and will strike anyone like me coming to it fresh: the quality of the writing.”

The Power of the Daleks was written by David Whitaker, who'd overseen the first year of Doctor Who as its original story editor. It's also the first Dalek story without any involvement from their creator, Terry Nation. “And you can see it really benefits from someone else coming in with a new perspective,” says Charles. “It's doing something new, intelligent and interesting with the Daleks, when I suppose they were getting a little tired. There's only so often you can have them trying to invade a planet or chasing after the Doctor before it gets a bit repetitive. David Whitaker scales the whole thing back to a small group of people in this enclosed place, and then does something different with the Daleks themselves, making them more rounded characters. They're genuinely calculating and sneaky, and it's so weird them offering to be people's servants. We – the audience – know they're not really like that, but no one else does, so there's all this suspense. And that all makes them more credible and frightening. It's probably the strongest Dalek story from the 1960s for that reason. So that was what we had to recreate: the amazing sense of atmosphere in the original.”

Having made his notes on the soundtrack and scripts, Charles collected together all the surviving footage from the story – totalling less than three minutes – as well as the 415 off-air photographs ('telesnaps') taken by John Cura when the programme was broadcast, and any other photographs taken during recording of the story that he could find. In addition, he sourced clips of the actors in The Power of the Daleks appearing in other programmes. “We even called on the services of a couple of actors to play out some of the scenes so we could follow their movements,” says Charles. “Our double for Patrick Troughton's Doctor was Nick Scovell, who previously played the same part on stage.” This was all to build up a rich library of resources for the artists to work from.

It was my work on the DWM comic strip that brought me to Charles's attention,” says artist Martin Geraghty. “He approached me years ago, when he was first looking at reconstructing the Dad's Army episode. Charles was astonishingly single-minded in seeing that reach the screen. And then finally we got commissioned – and had about seven weeks to do the whole thing! A few weeks after we finished that job he called asking if I'd like to do the same for The Power of the Daleks – and I leapt at the opportunity!”

In fact, Martin's first ever work for DWM was a Second Doctor comic strip in the magazine's 1993 Summer Special. “Bringer of Darkness was my first professionally published comic strip,” he says, “a wonderful chamber piece by Scott Gray. The Troughton I drew then was drawn primarily from [1967 story] The Tomb of the Cybermen, which had only been rediscovered and released on video the year before. I'd watched it incessantly.”

As Martin says, being able to watch a previously missing story massively affected how he – and others – saw the Second Doctor. “His characterisation seemed much darker and more manipulative than the later stories we already had available. Those elements were all there in Scott's writing, too.” So has he been similarly surprised by what he's seen in The Power of the Daleks? “I've always liked it,” he says. “Certainly the Doctor here is an actor finding his feet in the role, although David Whittaker's writing of the character is incredibly different to that of Hartnell's. There are elements of the Second Doctor there right at the outset of his era.”

“My brief on the animation was to design the main characters,” he continues. “Basically, I did all the speaking parts. I tried to find a compromise between capturing the various actors' likenesses without being too slavish. The schedule and budget for the project was such that, certainly in my mind, we were creating an achievable comic-book style for the characters while remaining as faithful to the original TV version as humanly possible.”

How much does Martin's experience on the DWM comic strip help? “I'm sure it's a great advantage! I've drawn the strip now for nearly quarter of a century and one of my favourite aspects is capturing the mannerisms of each actor to play the part. None of them are the heroic archetype that you expect of the traditional comic-strip genre and they all have quirks that hopefully can be translated to the page. If that's achievable you're only a step away from adapting that to animation. Of course, on a job like this, being a lifelong Doctor Who fan is a huge plus, too!”

“The characters we're animating aren't being done using cel or 3D modelling,” he continues. “They're all hand-drawn, with only so many elements. By necessity we're making this work with a set amount of character kits, alongside a few specific poses and key scenes that require custom-drawn characters. But I've tried to put as many of Troughton's distinctive tics of movement into his hands and arms as I can, and I made each mouth shape match how he would have spoken, wherever possible. It involved lots of freeze-framing DVDs, there's been a heck of a lot of blowing up images and light-boxing character poses – the telesnaps have been a godsend – and I've been fairly rigorous about matching poses, angles, and so on. But there's also a lot of artistic licence involved, too.”

While Martin has been responsible for the speaking characters, Mike Collins provided background characters such as guards and colonists, and drew individual props like guns, chairs and machine pieces. He was also responsible for 'in betweening'.

“That's where the lead artist draws key frames,” explains Mike, “so the beginning, middle and end of an action – like the Doctor jumping over a rock. My job is to then provide the images in between, matching Martin's style so that when all the frames are seen in sequence it looks like a smooth whole. My background is as much in animation as in comics, and I've worked 'on model' for shows like Horrid Henry where I've had to match the storyboard style exactly. But I found it fascinating matching Martin's work. It gave me a real insight and appreciation into the way he constructs figures and designs faces.”

Again, Mike tried to match his drawings to what's seen in the footage and photographs from the broadcast story. “Where we didn't have reference – for example, for a wall-mounted radio in one frame, a lantern in another – we interpolated what it would look like based on the model designs seen in the episodes, or made it stylistically consistent with the time the serial aired.”

Mike and Martin sent their completed drawings to Charles, who would then pass them on to another DWM artist, Adrian Salmon, for toning. “I'm sent a black and white drawing and I have to shade it in,” explains Adrian. “In doing so, I add basic shape and shadows. And I have to make sure that the light is still in the right place as the character moves through a scene. It's quite complicated.”

Ironically, that complexity is down to the fact that the images all need to be kept simple for the animation to work properly. “There are various kits of each character,” says Adrian. “So you have Janley in front profile, another from the side, whatever we're going to need. Each kits has different layers of eyes and mouths, so you can make them speak and blink and move. All those individual elements need toning, consistently, and if you make it too complicated the animation becomes tricky. So say you've got a tunic on a character, you want a maximum of three different tones – light, mid and dark. You then use those same tones on all the tunics that look like that throughout the episode. You tend to do the simpler stuff on characters because they move, but the background can be more rendered.”

“Obviously, the Doctor has the most kits as he's the focus of the story,” Adrian continues. “And he's got the most complicated costume, too. His jacket is practically solid black, which helps to simplify things, but those bloody checked trousers have been the bane of my life! There's one scene in the first episode where he staggers over to the TARDIS console and his trousers are in shot all the way across, so you have to make sure that they match all the way and are toned exactly right. When I first did them, I added some texture. It made the file sizes of the images so huge the computers crashed. So there's some texture in it now but not as much. And we had to take the dots out of his bow-tie, too. It's been really intensive getting the Doctor right, but I think he's worked out really well.”

“We wanted to match the story as broadcast as much as possible,” says Charles. “But you have to be practical.”

Another decision was what aspect ratio to work in. The original broadcast was in the then standard 4:3, but most people watch TV today in the now standard 16:9. “So if we made this in 4:3, most people would watch it in the wrong ratio,” says Charles. “And you'd really see that in things like the Daleks, which are already short and squat. It would be distracting.”

Last issue, Charles told us how one sequence, as a room full of Daleks chant “Daleks conquer and destroy!”, matches the angle and style of the existing original footage – but with a notable improvement. The original episode mustered just four moving Daleks in front of rows of photographic blow-ups, whereas in the animation all the Daleks in the room now move. Likewise, a production line sequence in the original used toy Daleks mass-produced by the company Herts, which are clearly not quite the same shape as the full-sized props. Again, the animation team has matched the angle and style, but made their Daleks consistent.

“It's worth saying that the Daleks we're using in the animation are not entirely computer generated,” says Charles. “Martin drew all the elements of our Daleks in pen and ink – each of the little slats that sits on the shoulder, the mesh behind it and the panels with the balls on the skirt, everything. Those drawings were then effectively stuck onto a 3-D wireframe model, so you end up with a hand-drawn Dalek, largely, but animated in 3D. But they're not all identical. In the surviving footage, we noticed on one of the Daleks that there's a little spatter of black paint at the bottom. We've replicated that and painted it on the right Dalek so that it matches.”

There's only a limited amount of surviving footage – and none at all from Episode 3. “The telesnaps are also a wonderful resource,” says Charles, “but there are 60 or 70 telesnaps per episode when there would have been maybe 150 to 200 individual shots, so there isn't one telesnap for each shot. When you're doing your storyboards, you still have to do quite a lot of drawing to fill in the gaps.”

In many cases Charles and his team had to extrapolate – and guess – how the episode might have looked. But Charles is confident they've caught the feel of the original. For example, it's clear from the telesnaps that director Christopher Barry and his team made the most of it being in black and white when they shot it. “There's a lot of stark tonal contrast,” says Charles, “and some really interesting uses of shadow. It has the feel of film noir. During the pre-production process, we talking about the cinematography of John Alton, who did a lot of noir pictures in America in the 40s and 50s, and Robert Krasker, who photographed The Third Man [1949].”

“Yes, I watched The Third Man before I started,” laughs Adrian. “We talked about noir. And I was thinking that I'd be doing really dramatic light on characters. But like before, when I was saying about the kits, you have to keep it simple for the most part. Every so often, as well as having people talking there's a chance to do something more dramatic. You see it in the telesnaps, where there's something that looks really interesting. There's the scene of Lesterson peering through at the Daleks, with this fantastic light on his face, the shadows all around. We really went to town on that.”

This was one of the first sequences to be animated for the project. “We put together a short test reel of footage,” says Charles, “largely built around that scene. We delivered that in March, so everyone could see how it would look. And the response was terrific. I think that's when BBC America came on board.”

But if BBC Worldwide were happy with this test sequence, Charles and his team were not. “We've since redone virtually all of that,” he says, “once we started the production proper. We weren't terribly happy with the character design on the Doctor so we started him again.”

“Even where the drawings are the same, it's all been retoned,” says Adrian. “I learnt a lot just doing that first bit – how not to do it, you know? But Charles really knows about animation and has taught me everything from scratch. I've never worked with anyone so helpful or responsive to what we're doing. I send him stuff every day practically, and he's always straight back with comments, or just to say he really likes it. And all that while he's corralling 20-odd animators and whatever else. I don't know how he did it. And the work they're turning out – wow! There are the smoke effects on Vulcan, where Charles has been looking at how [1999 animated movie] The Iron Giant did that sort of thing. There are loads of things.”

“Across the project as a whole, there have been some 15 animators working with us,” says Charles. “But at any given time, I don't think we've ever had any more than seven or eight. We've also got some people a little outside the main animation unit as well – Mark Ayres on sound remastering, Peter Crocker on restoring the opening titles, and Jonathan Wood on grading. Totting up all the names of the crew, in total I come up with 27 people.”

It's a relatively small team – and they've had to work long hours to get the animation completed in time for the anniversary release date. In fact, as DWM speaks to Charles, we can hear his email constantly pinging with new messages. “Oh,” he says, mid-sentence. “That's Andrew Pixley asking about the DVD sleevenotes. I'd better just reply...”

“I daren't think how many hours I've devoted to this,” says Martin Geraghty. “I'm a freelance commercial artist so I don't have a nine-to-five office job as such, but I tried to carry on taking on other jobs at the same time. Routine is all. Long hours working at home alone aren't everyone's cup of tea. Suffice to say I've not had a holiday this year.”

Given the time and effort involved involved, what is he proudest of – a detail we can look out for? “No cardboard Daleks!” Martin laughs. “And Robert James does a great turn as Lesterson. The animation team have done a fantastic job of driving him slowly mad. Seriously, it's been a pleasure to work on with such a fantastic team of people doing their utmost to produce something that recreates a classic part of Who lore. I hope people like it. I can't wait to watch it myself!”

DWM asks Paul Hembury how BBC Worldwide will measure the success of the project. “Gosh,” he laughs. “Well, there's a financial measure of success here, of course. We want to see a return on the investment, and after it's gone out for download and DVD we'll look to sell it on other channels and platforms. But its rather more than just being about the numbers. This is a very prestigious project here at BBC Worldwide. What Charles and his team are doing is special and important in its own right. I talked about passion before and that's the word here. The depth of knowledge, the work they've put in, the attention to detail they've shown in recreating this. The original is surely lost forever – we know it's not likely to be one that's found in a barn or somewhere. But it's a key bit of television history, isn't it? It's part of our heritage.”

And DWM is sure Paul can't say at this stage but we're going to ask anyway: what does it take for the team to animate more missing episodes of Doctor Who? “You're right, I can't say,” he laughs. “I suppose we have to see, first, how well accepted it is. We're confident because of the story we selected and the way it's been made that we've got something special. But it's been a bold step to take, this animation. So let's see how it lands, what people think and how it does, then we'll take a view.” He smiles. “But certain stories would be good, wouldn't they?”

[The following side-bar was cut from the article as published.]


12 July 2001
The BBC's Doctor Who site webcasts the pilot episode of Death Comes to Time, a new Doctor Who story with illustrations by Lee Sullivan featuring synchronised to the soundtrack.

14 February 2002
The BBC site begins to webcast the remaining episodes of Death Comes to Time, again with basic animation.

2 August 2002
Webcast begins of Real Time, a new story with improved but still basic animation.

2 May 2003
Webcast begins of Shada, a new version of an unfinished TV Doctor Who story, with improved but still basic animation.

13 November 2003
Webcast begins of the first fully animated Doctor Who adventure, Scream of the Shalka, a new story with animation by Cosgrove Hall.

6 November 2006
DVD release of 1968 story The Invasion, with its two missing episodes animated by Cosgrove Hall. Cosgrove Hall then animated a trailer for The Power of the Daleks (1966) as a pitch for producing the whole story, but it was not commissioned.

2 April 2007
TV broadcast begins of The Infinite Quest, a new adventure animated by Firestep – involving the same creative team from Cosgrove Hall.

23 Novermber 2009
Broadcast begins of Dreamland, a new adventure animated in-house by the BBC interactive team.

28 January 2013
DVD release of 1964 story The Reign of Terror, with its two missing episodes animated by Big Finish and Planet 55.

26 August 2013
DVD release of 1967 story The Ice Warriors, with its two missing episodes animated by Qurios Entertainment.

14 October 2013
DVD release of 1966 story The Tenth Planet, with its missing episode animated by Planet 55.

20 January 2014
DVD release of 1967 story The Moonbase, with its two missing episodes animated by Planet 55.

5 November 2016
Download release of The Power of the Daleks (1966), with all six missing episodes animated by BBC Studios. A DVD release followed on 21 November.