This past weekend BlogtorWho was lucky enough to be in attendance for the world premiere of the new animation of partially missing Doctor Who story ‘The Underwater Menace’.

When ‘The Abominable Snowmen‘ animation was released last year the prospect of further releases seemed unlikely. However, it is now the choice of story which has been perhaps the most unlikely. ‘The Underwater Menace‘ is not an obvious choice to receive the animation treatment. For a start, only half of the four episodes are missing from the BBC archive. As is the prevailing methodology, all four episodes have been animated in both colour and monochrome. This includes the surviving episodes 2 and 3. Saturday saw the world premiere of these animated colour episodes.

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace at BFI Southbank – Dick Fiddy and Justin Johnson (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

Hosting the event once again were Justin Johnson and Dick Fiddy kicking things off with the customary quiz. During a recent trip Johnson recorded an introduction with actress Anneke Wills, who played Polly in the original story and narrated the novelisation audiobook. This was certainly a story which stood out in her memory and one which holds fond memories. It was a lovely addition to the day and tied the event back to the original production via a member of the cast.

The Animated Underwater Menace

I have to admit to not being the biggest enthusiast for ‘The Underwater Menace‘. Whilst the audience laughed along with the adventure, I’ve never considered that it was written as a comedy. The performances are over the top yes but it is played as a drama. When the dialogue generated a laugh it hadn’t been written to that end. That said, watching the animation I did enjoy the story. Unfortunately, the little nuances of Patrick Troughton’s performance can’t be easily captured through animation. Thank goodness we have two episodes to enjoy those moments. Instead the animation focuses on telling the story and does a commendable job in doing so.

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace at BFI Southbank – Dick Fiddy and Mark Ayres (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

As anyone who has seen the promotional imagery will have noticed there have been some design changes. The temple of Amdo looks far more impressive than it did in studio. The fish people actually look like fish people. Other edits have also been made with a decision not to show Zaroff drowning. No wonder it was cut by the Australian censors! Instead the animation creates an amusing encounter with Zaroff’s pet octopus. Purists may not like it but telling the story in a different medium necessitates certain changes. As a member of the audience it was more important that it worked as a piece of entertainment. Given the entirely positive reaction it would appear that ‘The Underwater Menace‘ is another successful animation.

Guests and Interviews

Following the first two episodes, audio magician Mark Ayres joined Dick Fiddy on stage to discuss the process of preparing the soundtrack in order to be paired with the animated visuals. Ayres explained how the bulk of the audio was provided from the off air recordings made by Graham Strong. It is astonishing to consider that the only UK broadcast of ‘The Underwater Menace‘ has been used for this release. Even the restored versions of the surviving episodes 2 and 3 use Graham Strong’s off air recording because it is of better quality than the sound on the film prints. There was also the addition of minor sound effects. It’s pure alchemy and huge credit to Mark Ayres for his incredible work!

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace at BFI Southbank – Justin Johnson, Annemarie Walsh, Charles Norton and Paul Hembury (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

Concluding the event Director Annemarie Walsh, special features collator Charles Norton and Producer Paul Hembury joined Justin Johnson on stage to discuss the animation. It was particularly interesting to hear Annemarie Walsh explain that rather than look specifically at existing footage the main resource point is the original camera script. Whilst of course audience members were keen to hear about this particular animation, the overwhelming desire was to learn if any future animations in the pipeline. Although obviously restricted in what he could say in public Paul Hembury did confirm that more animations were planned. This was met with great excitement but largely relief from the audience!

Sadly the next title could not be revealed but kudos to Justin Johnson for trying to find out!

Beyond the Premiere

After the screening event in NFT1 festivities continued in the BFI bar with the Quiz of Rassilon (the team we were in came 6th out of 14). Although it appeared not to be a sellout event, which has become customary for Doctor Who events at the BFI, there were also significant transport difficulties encountered by some due to the recent poor weather caused by Storm Babet. However, the positive reaction by those who were in attendance confirms a desire for more Doctor Who events at the BFI and animations in future. The future is looking positive for more animation releases in 2024.

BlogtorWho would like to thank all of those at the BFI for their hospitality.

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace is available to preorder now from HMV, Amazon and other retailers. The title will be released on DVD, BluRay and on limited edition steelbook next month.


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