The Very Animated History of Doctor Who

Doctor Who has been running for over 50 years, and like many other long running science fiction programing, the show has found it’s way into other mediums.  Films, TV spin-offs, books, audio plays, and comic books based on the adventures of the Doctor have all been made, with varying degrees of success, from out of continuity one-offs, to 16 years running strong. But if there was one dimension the Doctor has had trouble breaking into, and that is the world of animation.

Star Trek had a cartoon series, set during the fourth year of the original 5 year mission, from Filmation. There have been several series set at various times and places in the Star Wars universe, the most recent being Star Wars Rebels.  But Doctor Who’s excursions into cartoons have been extremely limited.

Recent attempts

Doctor Who – Dreamland

That isn’t to say there hasn’t been any animated Doctor Who.  David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was featured in two different animated serials.  Dreamland, a six part serial aired as part of the BBC’s Red Button service in 2009. Starring Tennant, with Georgia Moffett, Lisa Bowerman, and David Warner. The story has the  Doctor getting involved in UFO sightings and the Men in Black (no, not those MIB) in 1950s, Nevada.

The animated Doctor and Martha, in The Infinite Quest

Before that there was The Infinite Quest, which starred Tennant, and companion Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman going up against Anthony Stewart Head‘s Bathalzar in a search for the ancient starship, The Infinite.

Like Dreamland, it was also shown as a serial, this one ran for 13 weeks. Each 2+ minute episode aired as part of Totally Doctor Who, behind the scenes program aimed at younger fans of the long running show.

During the Wilderness years…

Richard E Grant‘s Nth Doctor, from 2003’s Scream of the Shalka

But Doctor Who’s animated history goes back to before the series revivial.  In 2003, over 7 years since a new televised adventure (1996’s TV movie, starring Paul McGann)  BBC Interactive created Doctor Who Scream of the Shalka, a Flash animated serial created specifically for the internet.  Animtion Studio, Cosgrove Hall (the creators of Danger Mouse ) had history with Doctor Who, having animated the two missing episodes of The Invasion, the 1968 serial featuring the Second Doctor, UNIT and the Cybermen for its 2006 DVD release .

Shalka was intended to continue the original series, with it’s own Ninth Doctor, voiced by Richard E. Grant (Who played the Doctor, briefly, as part of 1999 Red Nose day spoof, The Curse of Fatal Death, and then played Dr. Simeon, host to the Great Intelligence, in 2013 opposite of Matt Smith.)  It also featured Sir Derek Jacobi as a robot version of the Master,  long before he was cast as Professor Yana, and Sophie Okonedo, better know to Doctor Who fans as Liz 10. Only the one story was produced, as shortly after the BBC announced the new series.

The BBC also produced three “limited animation” Doctor Who stories for the web,  First there was Death Comes to Time, starring Sylvester McCoy, as the Seventh Doctor, Sophie Aldred as Ace, Stephen Fry as the Minister of Chance and Anthony Head (again) this time as St. Valentine.   Then, partnering with Doctor Who Audio producers Big Finish, they made Real Time, featurine Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, and his audio adventures companion, Evelyn Smythe, played by Maggie Stables, followed by a revised version of the lost Douglas Adams story Shada, re-written for Eighth Doctor Paul McGann, alongside Fourth Doctor companions Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (John Leeson)  All three were basically audio plays, accompanied by animatic style drawings by Lee Sullivan.

What might have been…

But oddly, there has never been a long form animated series of Doctor Who.  But, for some reason, the BBC has decided, so far to not produce Doctor Who: The Animated Series. But they have looked into it, at least twice.  The first time was in 1990, right after the series went off the air.  Canadian animation studio Nelvana, who had made both Star Wars Droids, and Star Wars Ewoks in 1985 among many other 80s Saturday morning fare.

The proposed show would feature a new Doctor, but borrowed a lot from the live action show.  Preproduction sketches based on actors like Peter O’Toole, Jeff Goldblum and Christoper Loyd were all made, putting them in very Doctorish looking outfits with long coats, scarves and funny hats.  The TARDIS, Daleks, Time Lords, and even K-9 would all be there, but, with redesigns to increase the play value of any toys that might be base on them. “We were instructed to make them as toyetic as possible” said Ted Bastien, a supervising director at Nelvana, talked about it with Toronto Blog last year “We went through a lot of development on it, then we were scripting and storyboarding it and about 4 scripts had been written. It happened really fast“.

Even the artwork we see here barely survived.  Nelvana didn’t save any of it, we only got to see it because Bastien happened to save some copies.

But just as fast as they began work, it all ended. “It was pulled out from under us” according to Bastien. After spending a considerable amount of time on developing, scripting and storyboarding the show, a BBC executive showed up with a representative from a UK animation studio who claimed they could do it for much less.  Which apparently they couldn’t, since no series ever materialized

Looking forward by going back

More recently,  Thundercats reboot Art Director Dan Norton release a set of pre-productions sketches for a Doctor Who animated series pitch that would have “Starting to with first Doctor, the series would have touched on all the versions and filled in some gaps.”  Reportedly, this happened during the lead up to the 50th anniversary, and ultimately the BBC passed on the project again.

Norton shared these on his Deviant Art page.  As seen by the very preliminary sketches, they planned on working within the existing history of the show, while adding to it, including a couple of new companions for the First Doctor,  a young boy from the 1920s and a 21st Century girl.

This one didn’t even get passed the pitch, with only a handful of character and face studies done, and  the pitch poster, featuring the 1st Doctor, with his companions (who may or may not suppose to be Ben and Polly) surrounded by Cybermen, which Norton completed in seven hours before he met with the BBC.

“We were so close… Had a few revisions creatively that were requested and so we retooled…End of the day, BBC didn’t want anything to distract from production of the tv show.” Norton shared with his followers.

The Unusual Suspects?

The rest of Norton’s sketches can be seen at his page, here.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped fans from making their own Animated Doctor Who, like this from Steve Loves the Internet creator Steven Byrne

Of course, you can’t forget.. DOCTOR PUPPET!

Would you watch a Doctor Who cartoon?

Let us know!

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