When I was a kid, video recorders were not a common household item. People watched whatever was on broadcast TV when it was aired. If you missed it, too bad! Being a fairly innovative kid who didn’t want to be limited to experiencing my favorite shows when they aired, I turned to the one recording device a lot of people did have. I used an audio cassette recorder to record my favorite shows so I could listen to them whenever I wanted. It was pretty amazing how well that worked. Between the dialog, the music, and the sound effects, I could visualize episodes of Star Trek or The Wild Wild West just by listening to them. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only innovative kid out there.
When the BBC started making the series Doctor Who, they had no idea it would become a worldwide phenomenon or that people would want to watch episodes that had already aired. What’s more, the United Kingdom at the time really didn’t have syndicated television the way we did in the United States, so there wasn’t a market for rerunning shows after they had first aired. The upshot was that once an episode aired, the video tapes it had been recorded on were often recycled for other shows, which meant numerous episodes had been lost. And this is where the innovative kids (and probably some adult fans as well) come in. We still have audio recordings of some of those lost episodes, many of which feature the second actor to play the Doctor, Patrick Troughton.
As I’ve said in other posts, I think animation is an underutilized medium for storytelling. One of the more clever ways I’ve seen animation used in recent years is to recreate some of these lost Doctor Who episodes. We have audio and we often have still photos from the set to know how things looked. Artists can then retell the story in animation. Of course, there’s more to it than that. Audio engineers need to clean up the audio recordings from over 50 years ago. Also, you have to decide how much artistic license to employ. Do you retell the story shot for shot as close as you can? Or, do you enhance the creatures, sets and special effects to make it “better” than it had been before? At what level do you go too far adding new visual elements?
“Fury from the Deep” is a well-remembered “lost” episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor and his young companions arrive on Earth in the 1960s and find a natural gas production facility that’s being besieged by sentient seaweed. In this telling, it sounds silly, but decent script writing gives us a facility staff that’s sympathetic and trying to keep things operating all while our strange menace is slowly taking over the people in hopes of driving away the facility. Patrick Troughton shows himself as a great actor who can take all of this seriously, make us care about this problem, and see the seaweed as the intended threat.
The animators strike a nice balance and keep much of the original episode’s look. However, where the original episode gave us a few pieces of menacing, wiggling seaweed, we now get something that looks like it’ll sting you when you pick it up, as said in the dialogue. Where the original gave us a stuntman in a costume, we now get something that looks like a plant breaking through the plant’s pipes. We even get menacing seaweed coming out of the ocean.
I enjoyed this look back at an early episode of Doctor Who. Between this and other animated retellings of early episodes, I’m getting a better sense of how the series became so well loved that it would last for many decades. “Fury from the Deep” does include something of a milestone. It’s the first episode to introduce the Doctor’s ubiquitous sonic screwdriver. In later episodes, he uses it for many different tasks. In this episode, we actually see it used to remove some screws!
The DVD includes a radio play by Victor Pemberton, the episode’s author. The story is, effectively, an earlier version of “Fury from the Deep,” that features sentient mud in place of sentient seaweed. What makes the radio drama interesting is that the scientist who fills the Doctor’s place in the story is played by Roger Delgado, who would eventually play the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, in Doctor Who. In a nice touch, the animated backgrounds for this episode include wanted posters for Roger Delgado’s Master. This is especially fun since Delgado wouldn’t be cast in the series for another two years. It seems a very appropriate touch for a show about time travel.