Friday, 4 November 2016

The Power of the Daleks preview

“We will get our power…”

The sinister chanting of the Daleks at one point in this story has suddenly taken on a surreal double-meaning. Because for a long time, nobody dared to dream that we would ever get to see The Power of the Daleks.

One of the most important stories in Doctor Who’s history, The Power of the Daleks introduced Patrick Troughton as the ‘renewed’ second incarnation of the Doctor. It was a pivotal moment for the series, a ‘make or break’ scenario of the highest magnitude. With the benefit of fifty years of hindsight, audiences of today are completely used to the idea that, from time to time, the lead role in the series is recast. But in 1966 things were very different. William Hartnell quite simply was the Doctor. The one and only. So, when the mysterious old man collapsed at the end of Cybermen debut The Tenth Planet, and his features blurred and dissolved into those of a complete stranger, it’s scarcely possible to imagine how audiences must have felt. Doctor Who had dived head-first into uncharted waters.

Which makes it all the more tragic that The Power of the Daleks – such a significant moment for Doctor Who, both in terms of production and the fictional ‘mythos’ – doesn’t survive for us to enjoy today. Along with many other stories of its era, all six episodes fell victim to the archival purges which were a common occurrence until the late seventies. But although no complete film recordings of The Power of the Daleks survive, the original soundtrack does, thanks to the diligent work of Graham Strong, who recorded audio copies of the episodes during their original outing in 1966. Additionally, numerous still images (or ‘telesnaps’) from each episode exist, having been photographed from the television screen by John Cura. There are even a handful of original clips in existence – so in some respects, The Power of the Daleks isn’t quite as ‘lost’ as it might seem. It’s just tantalisingly out of reach.

Enter the Animation Unit.

In September, BBC Worldwide announced that it had commissioned a team of artists and animators to recreate all six episodes of the story using the original soundtrack, under producer Charles Norton. This technique has been used on a few incomplete Doctor Who serials over the years, but only ever for a couple of episodes at a time, to plug a gap. The wholesale recreation of a lost story, let alone a six-part lost story, is without precedent.

On Thursday 3 November 2016, BBC Worldwide held a press launch for the story in central London with a preview of the first two episodes – so what’s the result like?

On paper, this isn’t a seismic departure from previous animated episodes – nobody is trying to reinvent the wheel. But on the basis of the first couple of episodes, The Power of the Daleks may prove to be the strongest animation of a lost story to date. It certainly demonstrates a strong attention to detail. The backgrounds and sets are especially beautiful – the Dalek capsule in Lesterson’s laboratory being a notable highlight. Elsewhere, the misty swamps of the planet Vulcan are realised beautifully, as is the interior of the TARDIS. The characters, meanwhile, are relatively simplistic in terms of character design and movement. This isn’t inherently a bad thing; when some of the prior animations have attempted more complex characters it hasn’t always paid off. Here, on the other hand, the designs are – for the most part – just fine. However, there are a handful of occasions when the movement of the characters drops the ball slightly. It’s important to stress that this is confined to just a couple of shots across the first two episodes, but these do perhaps betray the time constraints that this animation was made under. (Episodes 4 and 5 were only finished the day before the press launch.) There is one prolonged shot of Ben and Polly walking in long-shot towards the Dalek capsule, but the motion is rather puppet-like with limited joint movements. Even Polly actress Anneke Wills made a joke about this after the screening, with Charles Norton admitting that walking is a difficult thing to animate. (He was also rueful of the Doctor’s checked trousers – a tricky thing to animate when you can’t move the pattern!) But this very small quantity of slip-ups (in the first two episodes at least) is more than made up for by the amount of times the animation just gets it right.

The animators have attempted to find a sympathetic balance between remaining faithful to the original, and embellishing a few moments here and there. Right from the word go, there is a new pre-titles sequence at the start of Episode 1, which is an obvious deviation from the original episode. But the sequence makes sense in context, and since it takes place before the beginning of the episode proper, it is unlikely to be much of a problem save for the most ardent of purists. This aside, the two episodes we saw seemed very faithful to the original, apart from one or two little touches. One beautiful shot pans across the alien landscape of Vulcan before pulling back through a window to reveal the three protagonists in the rest room. Another key difference to the overall production is that whereas the original broadcast was formatted in the full-frame 4:3 (non-widescreen) aspect ratio, this animation is in 16:9 widescreen – a first for an animated reconstruction. But this appears to have been achieved with a great deal of care; the animation has been created with close reference to the existing telesnaps wherever possible, but with additional detail at the sides – as opposed to a drastic deviation from the original framing. In fairness, there will be those who would have preferred to watch in the original 4:3 ratio seen in 1966, as per the previous animations in the range. But pragmatically, the decision to go widescreen is an eminently sensible one.

The sound shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Long-serving audio restoration expert Mark Ayres has surpassed himself, upmixing the original mono audio recording into both stereo and 5.1 surround sound. We heard the 5.1 mix at the screening, and when you consider that this is an off-air audio recording of a programme which doesn’t even exist, it’s rather breath-taking. The Doctor’s initial post-regenerative shock has such a sense of immediacy, it’s almost uncomfortable (in a good way).

As for the story itself?

The Power of the Daleks is hailed by many as a classic. That may be, but if it is, it’s not because of the first two episodes. It’s important to remember that they are designed as a build-up to a greater whole, but viewed in isolation they do tend to sit at the more ‘talky’ end of the spectrum. There was very much the sense that the best (both for the story and the animation) was yet to be seen. But nonetheless there are highlights aplenty. It’s surprisingly touching to see the Second Doctor’s first scenes actually move. It may not be the original footage, but there is a palpable sense that something has been resurrected from the ashes here. There are more superb moments when the action reaches the inside of the capsule. The dark, dusty recesses of something best left alone. The eerie, glistening cobwebs. Especially effective is the cliffhanger ending of the first episode which, even if you know what’s coming, is surprisingly scary – in a way which a still image simply can’t convey. This is heightened further by the final stab of incidental music being even punchier in the 5.1 mix. It’s quite a stomach-twisting moment…

So, has it worked?

Based on the two episodes we’ve seen, yes. The Power of the Daleks is a story which nobody ever expected to be able to ‘see’ again. The fact that such a crucial moment of the show’s history has been restored to a viewable format is rather heart-warming. What’s particularly pleasing about this animation is that it feels like a faithful evocation of the original, whilst having the confidence to break the mould here and there – and there may be more surprises to come later. But equally, some of the later episodes will also face a challenge. There are some major visual sequences which have extremely little surviving representation – the real test of this animation will be in its interpretation of those moments. But from what we’ve been able to see, the animated Power of the Daleks shows signs of being a wonderful restoration of a lost gem. What better way to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary?

One day to go. We will get our Power.

With thanks to BBC Store

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Power of the Daleks bonus content & DVD cover

BBC Worldwide has revealed the full list of extras and the DVD cover for the new animated edition of The Power of the Daleks, the lost Patrick Troughton story coming to BBC Store and DVD next month.
No complete film recordings of The Power of the Daleks are known to have survived, following the destruction of the master negatives during an archive purge in 1974.

The six half-hour episodes feature the regeneration, or as it was then called ‘renewal’, of First Doctor William Hartnell into Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, as the Time Lord and his companions Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze) do battle with the Daleks on the planet Vulcan.

"It’s been wonderful to have been able to track down so much rare and previously unreleased material," says animation producer Charles Norton, "and I hope that fans enjoy the excellent package we’ve been able to assemble."

The Power of the Daleks will be priced at £9.99 in standard definition and £12.99 in HD from from Saturday 5 November, with the six episodes due to be released over six consecutive days. The DVD will follow on Monday 21 November priced at £20.42.

The full list of extras is as follows:

5.1 surround, stereo & mono soundtrack options – DVD only

Animation test footage

Audio commentaries on all six episodes – DVD only
Members of the original cast and crew are joined by members of the new animation unit to discuss the production of the story and its animated reconstruction. Moderated by Toby Hadoke. Includes archive audio.

Booklet with production notes – DVD only
An extensively researched set of production notes written by the noted television historian Andrew Pixley, covering the behind the scenes story of how the original production was made.

Original camera scripts – DVD only
Selected items of original production paperwork and a complete set of original camera scripts.

Original title sequence – new restoration
An unedited presentation of the full original Doctor Who title sequence, prepared using a new HD remaster of the original film elements.

Artwork and photo gallery
An extended gallery of images featuring production photographs from the original 1966 serial and artwork from the animated production, accompanied by incidental music from the story, which has been digitally remastered from the original music production tapes.

Surviving footage & original trailer – BBC Store only
A compilation of short film fragments and clips – the only surviving footage to remain of the show's original BBC1 run.

Original Dalek voice session recording (1966) – DVD only
Rare and previously unreleased sections from the studio recordings made at Maida Vale Studios in 1966 for the Dalek voices.

Servants and Masters – The Making of 'The Power of the Daleks'
A specially prepared documentary directed by John Kelly and featuring interviews with members of the original 1966 cast and crew.

Telesnap reconstruction
Around 400 individual still frames of film exist from the original 1966 version of The Power of the Daleks. These images are here combined with the programme's original soundtrack to present a photographic reconstruction of the original programme.

BBC Store bonus content will be unlocked on 14 November.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Racnoss at Big Finish

Audio producers Big Finish have announced that the Racnoss will be among the monsters featuring in its forthcoming second volume of the Classic Doctors, New Monsters range, due next year.

The giant spider race appeared on TV in 2006's Christmas episode The Runaway Bride, starring David Tennant and introducing Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Meanwhile, the upcoming audio adventure Empire of the Racnoss, written by Scott Handcock, sees the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) battling the creatures in an earlier, chaotic time...

"We've started work on the second Classic Doctors, New Monsters box set," says director Barnaby Edwards, "and I couldn't be happier. The Racnoss are back... and with the most fabulous cast a director could hope for. Brilliant Doctor Who stalwart Adjoa Andoh plays the Racnoss Empress, a megalomaniac engaged in a civil war with her crippled husband, the Emperor, played by the wonderful Nigel Planer. The production also sees a welcome return to the Big Finish fold of Andrew French and Lisa Kay. We had such a fun day in the studio, culminating with a truly majestic Baby Spider Workshop. And, no, I'm not going to explain what that consisted of!"

The second volume of Classic Doctors, New Monsters can be pre-ordered now for £20 on Download and £23 on CD (which also unlocks a digital version upon its release). Additionally, this release, along with the forthcoming second volumes of Big Finish's The Churchill Years and The Diary of River Song titles, can be pre-ordered in a special bundle priced £60 for both CD and Download.


BFI to preview animated Power of the Daleks

As we first reported earlier in the month, the British Film Institute (BFI) is to hold a special preview screening of the first three episodes of the newly-animated adventure The Power of the Daleks.

Originally screened in November and December 1966, The Power of the Daleks introduced Patrick Troughton as the 'renewed' second incarnation of the Doctor. Tragically, no film recordings of the story are known to survive barring a handful of short extracts. BBC Worldwide announced this month that it has commissioned an animation team to recreate all six episodes of the story using audio recordings of the original soundtrack.

The screening will take place at the BFI Southbank in London on Saturday 5 November at 1pm GMT. The first episode will then receive a general release online via the BBC Store at 5.50pm that same day; meaning that the BFI screening will be the world premiere of the first three episodes.

The BFI will also host a question and answer session with actors Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines.

Tickets will go on sale from the BFI website on Tuesday 4 October at 11.30am, priced £22.70 (with BFI members receiving a discount of £1.70) and restricted to two tickets per person. All tickets include a copy of the DVD release, to be posted two weeks after the event.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Dan Dare comes to Big Finish

Unearthly readers may be interested in some breaking news from audio drama producers Big Finish!

December sees the arrival of Dan Dare at Big Finish, courtesy of a new audio production from B7 Media starring Ed Stoppard as Dan Dare, Geoff McGivern as Digby, Heida Reed as Professor Peabody, and Raad Rawi as the Mekon.

“My first introduction to Dan Dare was at the age of nine through the pages of the legendary comic 2000AD,” explains Big Finish Managing Director Jason Haigh-Ellery. “It quickly became one of my favourite comic strips and I missed the character terribly when his adventures came to an end after two years of fighting the Mekon and the Star Slayers. Now I have the chance to be a kid again, as B7 Media and Big Finish bring to life one of the UK's greatest comic book heroes, but this time as full cast audio productions. I can’t wait!”

“We’re delighted to be releasing Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future,” adds Big Finish Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs, who also plays a role in the stories. “I’ve been a massive fan of Dan Dare for years. The way B7 have reinvented it is spot on. They’ve lovingly nurtured the spirit of the original to create something new and exciting that still manages to stay thoroughly faithful to all the beauty of the original. I would have loved to have played the Mekon, so, rather fittingly, I got to play an alien who really wanted to be the Mekon!”

“Ever since my father first introduced me to Dan Dare I’ve been captivated by his space adventures,” says B7 Media Producer and Director Andrew Mark Sewell, “brilliantly realised by the creative genius that was Frank Hampson. It also ignited my fascination with mankind’s quest to journey beyond our blue planet and explore strange new alien worlds. Dan Dare has always stood out as the definitive ‘British’ comic book space hero – a bright light of optimism that captured the hearts and imagination of a generation. The opportunity to realise Dan Dare for audio, and to partner once more with Big Finish, was an opportunity too great to turn down. Audio is unquestionably the perfect home to deliver truly epic Dan Dare adventures that are the embodiment of its comic book inspiration.”

The first volume, containing three stories (Voyage to Venus, The Red Moon Mystery and Marooned on Mercury) and a disc of extras will be released in December 2016, followed in February 2017 by a second volume containing Reign of the Robots, Operation Saturn and Prisoners of Space along with another bonus disc.

The normal pre-order price will be £20 to download and £25 on CD (also unlocking an instant download upon release) but in a special Dan Dare Day offer on 12 September, for the following 24 hours each release can be pre-ordered instead for £15 and £20 respectively. This offer ends at mid-day on Tuesday 13 September (UK time) – the clock’s ticking!

Check out for more details!

With thanks to Big Finish

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Lethbridge-Stewart updates

A special free story from the Lethbridge-Stewart range of novels has been made available for download by Candy Jar Books, in tribute to the Women's Auxiliary Air Force officer Eileen Younghusband who died on 2 September at the age of 95.

Eileen Younghusband - 1921-2016.

Born in London, Younghusband joined the WAAF during the Second World War and worked in the Filter Room, the top secret hub of Britain’s air defence. During this time, Younghusband tracked the first V2 rocket into the United Kingdom.

A life-sized figure of Younghusband as a twenty-one year-old WAAF officer stands in a replica of a filter room at the Battle of Britain museum at Bentley Priory. Her memories of the WAAF were sought by many, including historians, documentary makers and a Hollywood scriptwriter. Her book, One Woman’s War, won a People’s Book Prize, while her latest book – Eileen’s War – was written for children and was completed and published only weeks before her death.

“We’ve planned for a while to bring Eileen into the series,” says Lethbridge-Stewart Range Editor Andy Frankham-Allen, “and the news of her death made us decide to make it happen sooner, to pay tribute to this great legend of World War II. It’s not often one meets a bona fide hero, and the difference Eileen made to the security of the UK cannot be stressed enough. It was a natural thing to bring her into contact with the Doctor Who legend that is Lethbridge-Stewart.”

The free downloadable story The Last Duty is written by newcomer to the range, Christopher Bryant. “Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has always been one of my favourite characters from Doctor Who,” enthuses Bryant, an English teacher from Woking, “so it's a privilege to be part of bringing him back for new adventures.” Bryant is no stranger to the worlds of Doctor Who, having served as editor and contributor for several charity books such as the You and Who collections, Seasons of War, and the forthcoming You on Target.

The free PDF also features excerpts from Eileen’s War and One Woman’s War. “We have included these excerpts to illustrate how important Eileen was in the defence of Britain,” explains Shaun Russell, head of publishing at Candy Jar, “having arguably saved Winston Churchill’s life and acted as a guide at a Nazi concentration camp. I would encourage all fans to read these excerpts as a fascinating document of our times.”

The Last Duty features a cameo by Younghusband. “I loved writing this story,” continues Bryant, “because it's a great mix of monster-filled action scenes along with a more thoughtful examination of how we lead our lives. It's a particular honour to be able to pay tribute to Eileen Younghusband, who lived such an amazing life.”

Candy Jar has also revealed the cover art for The HAVOC Files 2, a forthcoming collection of seven short stories.

“With the previous volume we collected the many short stories published in 2015,” says Shaun Russell, “but it was a little different this time since we have released fewer short stories this year. We decided it would be nice to produce new exclusive material for the collection, as well as a couple of extras.” 

This includes a brand new short story. Written by Andy Frankham-Allen, The Lost Skin is a novella set concurrently with the forthcoming Lethbridge-Stewart novel, Times Squared.

The Lost Skin is a three-part story which begins in The HAVOC Files 2, to be continued at a later date in the next two volumes of the collection. “Who doesn’t like a cliffhanger or two?”, teases Russell.

The cover artwork for The HAVOC Files 2 was designed by Adrian Salmon, who says, “A unifying cover idea for a mix of stories was never going to be easy but the central idea of an incredible shrinking Lethbridge-Stewart made small work of it!”

With thanks to Candy Jar Books

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Titan launches Third Doctor comic range

Wednesday 14 September sees the first in a new range of Doctor Who comics from Titan, focusing on new adventures for the Third Doctor, as played by Jon Pertwee.

Written by Paul Cornell and with artwork from Christopher Jones, The Heralds of Destruction will be available with a choice of five cover variations plus two retailer exclusive editions (for Forbidden Planet/Jetpack Comics and Diamond UK respectively).

See a gallery of images from the new comic below, along with the official synopsis, courtesy of the folks at Titan:

Paul Cornell returns to Doctor Who comics with The Heralds of Destruction! When something enormous crashes into Bedfordshire, the Doctor, Jo Grant and the forces of UNIT under Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart mobilise immediately – and find themselves in the middle of a pitched battle against a terrifying invader... But the shocking face that awaits their return to base may tip the whole world off its axis!

It's classic Third Doctor action as you've never seen it before!

With thanks to Titan Comics