❉ Doctor Who events at the BFI on London’s South Bank are back, back, BACK! Rob Fairclough reports from NFT1…
“At seven episodes for Evil, Walsh’s team were allowed more money and time, with the production taking a year and a half. It shows. Not only have the facial expressions and body movements of the characters become more expressive and fluid, but there are moments of impressive detail and real artistry… along with flat-topped Daleks spewing out their fried guts. It seems dreams can come true if you wait long enough.”
Doctor Who events at the British Film Institute on London’s South Bank are back, back, back! In NFT 1, the main cinema, seating is now unrestricted, and eager punters are able to queue up again along the BFI’s corridors in anticipation of the doors opening. I even felt a twinge of Convention nostalgia, as queues have always been A Thing at fan events.
In terms of Doctor Who animation recreations, we were there for the big one: Second Doctor Patrick Troughton’s The Evil of the Daleks, which finished off Season 4 in 1967 with a full-on Dalek civil war. This triumph of BBC visual effects informed my wide-eyed, early viewing years so much that I could often be found drawing flat-topped Daleks with their guts spewing out. The story as a whole is the first one I can remember in its entirety and the one that made me a fan. No pressure on the animators, then.
Presenter Dick Fiddy informed us that the screening was dedicated to special effects cameraman Roger Bunce, who died recently. He “revelled in the Heath Robinson nature” of the effects set-up at the BBC, was an active union rep and worked on several Doctor Who stories, The Evil of the Daleks included. The technique “luminous overlay”, which he used, occurs a lot in Evil, so the BFI considered their screening of it a fitting way to pay tribute to him and, appropriately, his family were in the audience.
The Evil of the Daleks is a seven-episode, serpentine, epic hybrid. The first episode plays like an episode of the contemporary adventure series The Saint (1962-69), with a cockney henchman manipulating the hero through Swinging London with a series of clues; parts two to five-and-a-half riff on Hammer films – a creepy Victorian house concealing unearthly scientific experiments and lethal traps – and The Forsyte Saga, the historical drama series that dominated the first half of 1967: it’s easy to imagine Eric Porter’s bullying patriarch, Soames Forsyte, as the head of Theodore’s Maxtible’s equally dysunctional household. By the time the story reaches the Dalek planet Skaro in episodes six and seven, we’re into a strikingly minimalist, alien environment that wouldn’t have been out of place in the BBC’s sci-fi anthology series Out of the Unknown (1965-1971).
Evil was the first Doctor Who story since The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965-66) to field such a rich mixture of styles and influences, and director AnneMarie Walsh’s team have more than honoured that (as well as – as I told her in the bar afterwards – bringing my childhood back to life). Her attitude was to be “true to the camera script and audio” but not deliver “a frame for frame remake.” This can be seen to best effect in the visual differences between the existing Episode Two and the animated version, in which Walsh’s team took the opportunity to improve or reimagine certain scenes.
This approach is governed by Walsh’s belief that if the production team of the time had had more time and money, they would have been able to achieve certain effects just out of their technical reach. This directive yields such notable scenes as the first sight of Maxtible’s mansion, where the camera tracks around the building and in through the French windows to reveal the Doctor. For me, this is absolutely the right way to do these productions, rather than the “more of an animation than a recreation” concept of the team behind Fury from the Deep, where the visual reimagining of the 1968 story was so different it left the original source material behind.
At seven episodes for Evil, Walsh’s team were allowed more money and time, with the production schedule taking a year and a half. It shows. Not only have the facial expressions and body movements of the characters become more expressive and fluid (the realisation of new companion Victoria is a sweetly twinkling tribute to actress Deborah Watling), but there are moments of impressive detail and real artistry: the frozen agony on the dead Kennedy’s face, the motes of dust floating in the air of Maxtible’s house, a Dalek backing into a dark archway so the only thing visible is the light in its eye lens… Best of all is the tentative, almost tender way one of the humanised Daleks tenderly touches its exterminated “friend”.
There was the usual impressive array of guests. The ever-affable sound specialist Mark Ayres was on hand, explaining the challenge of bringing the soundtracks of the episodes either side of the existing Episode Two up to the same standard, and revealing how he had to work around the omission of ‘Paperback Writer’ by The Beatles. Backed up her fellow animators Barry Baker and Tom Bland after the apocalyptic Episode Seven finished, AnneMarie and her colleagues created ripples of laughter by saying that, during a pandemic, animation was a career in which it was “perfect to be stuck at home.”
The Evil of the Daleks was something special before this very special animated version of it came along. This is the Second Doctor at his most alien and the only story where there’s real conflict between him and his usually obedient companion, Jamie (Frazer Hines). In a story that is all about the dual nature of good and evil, it’s artistically satisfying that the Doctor’s actions reflect the manipulative nature of the human villain, Maxtible (Marius Goring). Now I can watch all this whenever I want, along with flat-topped Daleks spewing out their fried guts. It seems dreams can come true if you wait long enough.
Evil 2021 really is a cut above all the other animations so far released. I reckon Walsh spoke for nearly everyone in the audience at the BFI when she said, “It feels like we’ve been building up to this one [and] gradually getting more sophisticated.” Hell yeah: if they’re doing The Abominable Snowmen next, I don’t care if I’m 60 before I get to see it.
I know it’ll be worth the wait.
❉ ‘Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks’will be released on 27th September 2021 on DVD, Blu-ray and as an exclusive Steelbook this year, is available to order from Amazon, Rarewaves, HMV and Zavvi in the UK, on Amazon in the US and Canada and from JB Hifi and Sanity in Australia.
❉ Robert Fairclough writes on a variety of subjects, including mental health and popular culture (sometimes both at once). He has written six books, contributes to magazines and websites, and writes regular blogs about projects he’s involved in for The Restoration Trust. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org, and his website can be viewed at www.robfairclough.co.uk