Illustration, animation and The Moonbase (1967)

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For many of us, this story started as Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis, one of the foundation Target novelisations. A bold and vivid story of TARDIS turbulence, poisoned sugar and Cyber shenanigans, it gave way every few chapters for some lurid illustrations by Alan Willow.

Each of these had quotes from the book which served as natty little titles for each picture. There was Yeah! It’s the moon’s surface, all right! in which Polly has become Chinese, the Doctor has become an ageing Paul McCartney, Ben has developed the physique of an Olympic wrestler, Jamie has a vestigially underdeveloped arm and the TARDIS scanner radiates straight lines. Is it glowing or is the volume up high? The former, I suppose.

There was It was the shadow of a large figure in which an alarmed Ernest Borgnine is staring wide eyed even though the said shadow of a large figure, complete with handlebar head, is behind him. Again, the figure is radiating straight lines, but shadows can’t glow, right? Maybe this time it’s sound. Or a pungent Cyber odour.

These days you can buy the DVD of The Moonbase and it comes with illustrations too. But these are the animated kind, which make up the missing episodes 1 and 3 of this four parter. Sadly, the animators have not chosen to pay homage to the work of Alan Willow. The Cybermen all have the right number of fingers. The TARDIS crew look roughly like the actors who played them. Nothing radiates straight lines.

The animation of The Moonbase episodes is the latest in a series which helps make incomplete Doctor Who stories marketable to the DVD buying public. They are, on the whole, decent if uninspiring pieces of work. Unusually for these type of projects, the first was the best. This was the animation of two episodes of fellow Troughton Cyberadventure The Invasion by long standing production house Cosgrove Hall. Due to some production serendipity, these animations had a decent budget as a one-off. The results – particularly in sequences which didn’t involve the animating of faces (which seems to always be a challenge to avoiding cartoonish expressions) – were beautiful and moody, a kind of Who noir.

The other stories with moving illustrations have had lower budgets and thus are, perhaps unsurprisingly, less impressive. The detailed line drawing style of animators Planet 55 works well on the metallic Cybermen of The Moonbase, but is a little too busy for the 18th century setting of The Reign of Terror. Its rendering of The Tenth Planet Episode 4 is a similarly mixed bag; nice on the snowy exteriors and snowbase interiors but a bit too confronting when characters look towards camera for big showy close ups, their faces seemingly made up of too many angular planes. Qurios’ work on The Ice Warriors is also nice, but with a more simplistic style than Planet 55’s. Almost too simplistic; the movement of the characters limbs is particularly rigid, their elbows hinging like they’re doing the robot dance.

But I’m not here to criticise what is basically good work on a tight budget from both these companies. The truth is, I suspect, that what makes a good animated episode of Doctor Who is that it’s a good episode to start with. And the action packed episodes 1 and 4 of The Invasion is another factor which helps the Cosgrove Hall stuff.

There’s another element too: whether or not an episode has clips or telesnaps available. In a funny way if it does, it doesn’t help. The Moonbase animations take close reference from the telesnaps, ensuring as close a match as possible with the pictures as transmitted. So the animations strive towards recreation of the originals, as an overarching approach to the work.

This adherence to the source material leads to some nice touches, such as in opening moments of The Moonbase Episode 3, when the reprise of the previous episode’s cliffhanger, which shows a Cyberman leaping off a hospital gurney, retains the bed’s unintentional wobble as shown in the previous ep. In some cases though, it’s almost unthinkable that an animated version would vary too far from what we know about the missing episodes. Could The animated Tenth Planet Episode 4 have ended with a brand new version of the Doctor’s renewal? The Outpost Gallifrey forum would have melted.

But then think again of those animated installments of The Invasion. Free of the constraints of matching up with telesnaps or existing clips, the animators were able to create a style if not all of their own, then at least one which stands on its own merits. It might make for a more satisfying experience than sticking closely to the telesnaps. The trap here is that you can’t take it too far; The Reign of Terror‘s animation was guillotined in DWM for adopting a style too far removed from that of the show’s 1960s origins.

But then Doctor Who has never had an easy relationship with animation. The Tennant years saw some valiant attempts, The Infinite Quest and Dreamland, but they are curios only, not the main game. And now that The Underwater Menace DVD has been abandoned, perhaps we’ll never see another animated missing episode. Which is a shame because despite the reservations expressed above, I’d still like to see the results of animating an entire missing story. The Power of the Daleks, anyone? Or Marco Polo?

Never mind, we’ll always have the work of Alan Willow, who managed to pick some of The Moonbase‘s standout moments for immortalisation in pen and ink. At the book’s climax, for instance, the moment when the Gravitron propels all those pesky Cybes into space is captured forever as One by one, as their gravity was neutralised, they rose slowly into the air. Reams and reams on radiating straight lines beam from the moonbase, as the pointy fingered Cybermen flail above ground. The most prominent one looks plaintively distressed, unusual for this race of emotionless killers. Its letterbox slot of a mouth is tilted downwards in a look of comical dismay. Ah, good times.

LINK to Dark Water/Death in Heaven: Cybermen, and jeez don’t I love an easy link to make!

NEXT TIME: She’s an old ship, full of aches and pains. We embark on a Voyage of the Damned.

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