Chris Chapman on Doctor Who, The Ice Warriors, missing episodes, Matt Smith & more…

Cameron chats to Doctor Who documentary maker Chris Chapman about animating The Ice Warriors, missing episodes, and much more...

I caught up with Doctor Who DVD documentary maker and BAFTA nominated director Chris Chapman to chat about his animated reconstruction of The Ice Warriors, which is now available on DVD (details here) and his career so far in the world of Who documentaries.

How did you get involved in the animation of the missing episodes of The Ice Warriors?

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since I was a kid. And first I became a producer of documentaries and so I thought, ‘Well, why aren’t I making Doctor Who documentaries?’ I got in touch with Dan Hall at the classic Doctor Who range and said, ‘Please let me do Doctor Who documentaries,’ and he said yes. And then I made Doctor Who documentaries, and then I thought, ‘What do I want to do next?’ Well, I’d love to do missing Doctor Who. I’d love to bring Doctor Who back to life in some way. 

The Invasion had come out – the animated episodes made by Cosgrove Hall – which I loved. I think they’re really stylish, and do a really good job. We started talking to Dan Hall about, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we did some more of those?’ I worked, at the time, for a company called Dene Films who had an animation company called Quirous, who’ve done stuff like Hyperdrive and Mongrels and Tracey Beaker and do a lot of broadcast telly. And have done credit sequences for the documentaries that I’ve done. 

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So we started talking to Dan [Hall] about doing animations and did a lot of test footage. We animated a test scene from The Tenth Planet and from Evil of the Daleks. Neither of which we’ve done [as a final finished product] but that was purely speculative – there wasn’t necessarily a plan to do those episodes. They wanted to see what people could do. 

It went a bit quiet for a while and then Dan gave us the call and said, ‘Would you like to do The Ice Warriors?’ We said, ‘Yes, yes, YES!’ We didn’t specifically do an Ice Warriors test. I think Dan was really happy with the Troughton that we’d done for the Evil of the Daleks. We would have loved to have put the tests on the Ice Warriors DVD but it just comes down to a rights issue with the Terry Nation estate [for Evil of the Daleks] and the Kit Pedler estate and so on for the Cybermen. So we weren’t able to. Maybe they’ll be seen one day, they’re really cute! 

Why were The Tenth Planet and Evil of the Daleks chosen as tests?

Dan was keen to see where he could go next with animations next after The Invasion and fielded out to a number of different animation companies to say, ‘What can you guys offer?’. And he said, ‘Animate two clips – one from The Tenth Planet and one from Evil of the Daleks. They supplied the audio for those clips and every company had to go away and try do them.


How did you feel when you got the call to animate The Ice Warriors?

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I was really happy we got The Ice Warriors because I think Reign of Terror [the William Hartnell story, released on DVD earlier this year with two animated episodes] is a really tough gig; it has no monsters, it has no telesnaps, has very few photographs. So I actually I think Thetamation/Planet 55 [the production company behind The Reign of Terror] had a really tough job because they didn’t have a lot to base it on.

I was very happy because we had great monsters, we had a great setting, and we had telesnaps and we had photographs and we had surviving episodes around it. I wanted to make it as faithful as we could. From the beginning we had the tools to do it and enough monsters to keep me interested [laughs]. 

How tough was it recreating the two episodes?

Ice Warriors was a lot tougher than we thought it was going to be. We knew that the animation was going to be time-consuming, it’s a huge process to animate, to design that number of characters and sets, and to bring that to life. And all the time you’re thinking of the detective work, and the piecing together of how it was originally. It was tough. But it was really fun, I loved it all.

What do you mean by detective work, what’s the process?

In terms of the process, we would always have the audio soundtrack – so we always have the sound of the scene – and sometimes you’ve got photos and telesnaps. If the scene is two minutes long, there might only be three telesnaps to cover that scene. So you’ve got some general stuff but it’s hard to pin it down to what’s literally happening at this moment. We had the shooting scripts, so we were looking at that but, for instance, there’s a scene in Episode Three when the script says the Doctor is coming up with formula and writing them in a felt-tip pen on the wall of the Ice Base – that’s what the shooting script said.

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But when I looked at the telesnaps it was kind of vague as to what he was writing on. You couldn’t actually see. There was one shot where he was crouched on the ground, you didn’t know quite why and you saw two other shots that were close-ups of a flat thing, horizontal with scribble on it. Looking at the geography of the scene we couldn’t see how Troughton could have got from where he was in the middle of the room to a wall to be able to write on it.

So the logical assumption is, he writes on the floor. He ignores the shooting script. In rehearsals they say, ‘We could write it on the wall but maybe it would be a lot more fun if I keep crouching down and writing on the floor with felt-tip’. And that’s a lot madder and the characters look down at him going, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ That felt like an educated decision but also something that brought it to life a bit more.

What was your initial reaction on seeing the finished story?

I hope for most people it’s just a continuation of the story. You watch episode one, and then you watch episode two and three and it doesn’t feel like you’re really watching animation. I hope, that would be the ultimate aim. I certainly watch it and start to forget that I’m watching animation – it’s never gonna be perfect but I feel like it’s a faithful recreation of what it once was.

Do you think it’s important to have these missing episodes animated for fans and for history?

On a personal level, I just wanted Ice Warriors to exist. I just wanted to pick it up off the shelf and watch it. It’s important to bear in mind that, unless these episodes ever come back, this may be the only chance The Ice Warriors ever has of being complete. So I think you have a responsibility to make it faithful, to not get carried away with any agenda I might have of showing-off particularly.

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I just really wanted it to feel like you were sitting down and watching The Ice Warriors. And hopefully that means that in five years time or twenty years time people can still do that. But hopefully by that time they’ll have found the originals and we won’t have to worry about any of this! [Laughs]

Did you know the Ice Warriors were to return in series seven?

I did not. But we were aware of that during production and we thought, ‘That’s cool!’ because maybe that means there would be more people interested who might not be otherwise. The animation team weren’t big Doctor Who fans, so I was keen to say that when Cold War came out, ‘You should all go watch it!’ It’s like Varga, except on steroids and stuff!’ They enjoyed that. It made them feel they were more part of Doctor Who‘s history.

Are you a fan of Cold War?

I like Cold War, it’s a really good reintroduction to the Ice Warriors as a threat. And I love the production values and I thought, ‘I wanna see more, I wanna see where the Ice Warriors go next.’ I’d love to see what they do next with them, I really would.

If you had the chance to animate any episode or story, what would it be?

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Weirdly enough, I would love to have animated The Macra Terror. Nobody else would say that but I love The Macra Terror! It’s a wonderful story. It’s satirical and funny and clever sci-fi and people don’t talk about it enough. It’s amazing! I would love to animated the Macra with its big claws!

I think Evil of the Daleks would have been fun; though expensive. The tricky thing with Evil is that it moves around all over the galaxy, all over the universe. So the number of sets you’d have to make for Evil of the Daleks is huge. I guess Daleks’ Master Plan would have been great fun, just for the sheer madness of it all but, again, it would have been a very time-consuming project.

As a long-term fan, how did it feel to have your work on a Doctor Who DVD?

The first Doctor Who DVD documentary I made was War Zone, on The War Games DVD, back in 2009, but it wasn’t the first that came out. We actually did The Gallifreyan Candidate on Deadly Assassin and that came out first. I remember going into Forbidden Planet and seeing it on the shelf, taking it off the shelf and cradling it. It was a really special moment, I felt proud. I treated it like a little child, kissed it and put it back. [Laughs] I didn’t actually kiss it but I did cradle it! There was something really exciting about that. For me, as a Who-geek, it was just lovely.

Did you pitch for particular stories and were you asked to do particular ones?

In the beginning, it was really just a case of convincing Dan [Hall, commissioning editor of classic range] that we could do the job. It would be a case initially of Dan coming to us and saying, ‘I need something on The War Games, what can you do?’ So, initially it was us filling a gap. I think it took us a good three or four releases before we found our feet and to stop making things shit and to start making things very nice. [Laughs] But more often than not it would be a case of Dan coming to you and saying, ‘Creature From The Pit is coming out on DVD, here’s the budget – what can you do?’

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Later on, we started to become more ambitious about pitching an idea. I think for The Sensorites, Dan came to us and said, ‘Can I have a Sensorites making-of?’ And I said, ‘I don’t think that would be very good. A lot of people aren’t with us any more and I don’t think there are big stories to tell and that’ll all be in the commentary. So, in discussion from an idea from Toby Hadoke we went back and said, ‘Let’s do Looking For Peter; all about looking for the writer of The Sensorites, Peter R Newman. To find out what became of him, do that instead of a making-of.’ We became more ambitious and began to pitch more left-field.

Where did the ideas come from for the docs such as that one, Living with Levene and Hadoke Vs HAVOC – out of boredom with the ‘making of’ format?

I always enjoy doing the making-ofs but it’s always nice to step away and do something separate, something which didn’t have a format to fit to. That started with Who Peter [a two-part documentary looking at the history of Doctor Who and Blue Peter‘s relationship] and had a blank slate. I was really happy with the production values on it, hoping that it was a bit more like telly doccos as opposed to DVD special features.

When I met Toby [Hadoke] we really wanted to collaborate and did Looking For Peter. And I loved that because I love working with a presenter, there’s a lot more fun you can have as a director – ‘cos you can have a cool stuff happen around him and use him to get to the story, and Toby’s a really fantastic presenter, a very clever comedian, a very good writer.

For Living With Levene, Toby met a man on a train who asked, “Why hasn’t anyone done a Louis Theroux type piece? John Levene is an interesting guy, interview him!” Toby came to me with this idea and I said, “Let’s do it!” [Laughs] For Hadoke Vs HAVOC I’d worked with the HAVOC guys [Doctor Who stunt team] before and wanted to delve more into their world. And I suggested we do a sort of Justin Lee Collins “bring back” reunion show.

Speaking of John Levene, he’s an interesting character. How did you feel about him after working with him so closely?

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I think Living With Levene was the most interesting shooting experience I’ve had on a Doctor Who release. I’d grown up loving the Benton character on screen and thought that was an amazing, likeable, loveable, charming character but then we’d heard lots of stories about John on the convention circuit – it seemed to paint a very different picture of Levene.

But I didn’t want it to be a stitch-up. I wanted it to be a fair and balanced account of the fact that John is a larger-than-life character. I genuinely think there are Alan Partridge moments and then I think there are genuine moments where he makes your heart melt a bit. And I hope we got a balance there, you take from it what you want. A lot of people who love John Levene watched that film and loved John Levene even more. And a lot of people who weren’t sure of John Levene watched that film and weren’t sure about him even more. [Laughs]

I found it quite sad.

John’s had a tough time. He’s back in the UK after years in America. I think there’s an element of loneliness to what John’s going through that we probe in the documentary. I think we were careful to be gentle to John. We had a really nice time with him.

I’d love to carry on the Living With … strand with some of the quirkier characters within Who. If we ever get a chance to make more DVD releases, I’d love to do Katy Manning, Hanging With Manning! [Laughs] I like Katy very much. Or a Weekend With Waterhouse [Matthew, who played companion Adric] or Fun With Fielding [Janet, companion Tegan].

Have any surprising bits of information arisen whilst making your documentaries?

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This may have been reported in the archives but when I came to do The Greatest Show In The Galaxy making-of, I hadn’t heard that when the crew were filming at Elstree that there was a fire alarm and the whole crew ended up in a car park with the cast and crew of ‘Allo ‘Allo. I love ‘Allo ‘Allo, I think it’s misunderstood, really silly and under appreciated sitcom.


[Laughs]  What I didn’t expect is when I started speaking to designer David Laskey that he revealed he had about twenty different photographs of the cast of Doctor Who and ‘Allo ‘Allo intermingling, and seemingly groping, and having fun with firemen, stuff like that. When he sent those photos over I was like a pig in shit! I thought this is amazing! Somehow my dream union of Seventh Doctor era McCoy goodness and René Artois, and Yvette, and Michelle and so on. That for me was a real moment of my eyes popping out on stalks. Very cool!

Do you think in a few years we’ll get a documentary on the show’s return in 2005?

I would imagine the ultimate Doctor Who documentary is still to be made, and that would be a ‘2005 Series One’ documentary. I think that’s probably a documentary like Lost in La Mancha or Hearts of Darkness in the way that you can make something a genuinely fascinating feature-length docco. I love the new series, and I love the 2005 series but there was obviously an awful lot of stuff going on that we’re only now beginning to start hearing about. So I think it’s crying out for a docco, at some point.

But I don’t think it’ll happen until all parties are comfortable with it and that could take another twenty years. I think, with this sort of documentary, you don’t want to go too soon. You want to get everybody involved. If you go too soon and you only get half of the key players then you might not get the chance again. You wanna wait until the time is right. I would imagine there is a very interesting and human story to come out of that and one that would ultimately be positive because it birthed a series that people loved that changed the way everybody looks at Doctor Who.

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Any news on upcoming documentaries?

The Tenth Planet docco, Frozen Out, I’m really proud of that one. I was really happy to get into such a meaty subject like The Tenth Planet because a lot was going on behind the scenes, a critical period in the show’s history. Looking forward to seeing what people think of that.

Having seen that one, it will definitely create waves within fandom.

We were keen not to pull any punches. And I think it’s a time in Doctor Who‘s history which is very painful. Where you had a leading man who was very ill, and that was impacting on production, but also a group of people who weren’t quite working together. It was time for a change and they brought in Patrick Troughton and then things worked again. We were very keen to get through to that idea of really why the show needed to change – it wasn’t just about keeping audiences interested.

I think a lot of people may expect with a regeneration story you’re going to be nostalgic  about The Doctor and celebrating The Doctor but I didn’t think that was true and faithful to what was actually happening behind the scenes. I hope it feels like a genuine recounting of that.

How was it working with Matt Smith on your tribute to Elisabeth Sladen documentary for The Sarah Jane Adventures DVD?

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He was great. Matt had really been touched when working with Lis so jumped at the chance. When we interviewed him, it coincided with my young cousin’s birthday and she was going to turn ten years old, and she was a huge fan of Matt Smith. At the end of the interview I said to Matt, ‘While we’re here, and the camera’s running, can you say Happy Birthday to my cousin? She’s going to be ten.’ And he said, ‘You want me to do it down the camera?’ I said yeah, that would be amazing.

And he looked straight down the camera and, I didn’t expect this, he did it in character as The Doctor, instead of Matt Smith – ‘Being ten is cool! Running around having cake, have a great time.’ etc… I was so grateful to him –  I was gonna be the best cousin ever! I had a DVD made and had it sent over thinking, ‘How special is that?’

As it turned out, she was actually eleven years old. She watched it and, obviously, she was agog that the Doctor was talking to her on her television, wishing her happy birthday but at the end she did turn to her mum and say, ‘Mum, I am eleven today, aren’t I?” [Laughs]

I would have loved it had Tom Baker done that for me!

And finally, what’s your favourite Doctor Who monster and story?

Erato. [Laughs] Actually, I really like the Krynoid. I love The Seeds of Doom and I love the Krynoid man stage. I love the stuff where people are turning into Krynoids and lying in beds and being fed raw meat and stuff like that. No touch pod, could be dangerous!

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Story? City of Death. Because it makes me cry and it’s romantic and funny and brave and amazing. It does make me cry. The bit where The Doctor and Romana run off at the end together is heartbreaking, probably the most amazingly romantic thing I could put on a screen ever in the world. It’s the ultimate aphrodisiac (though I’ve not used it as such). [Laughs]

Chris Chapman, thank you very much! You can find out more about The Ice Warriors DVD here, and follow Chris on Twitter, here.

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