Reanimating The Ice Warriors: An interview with Chris Chapman

By Christopher Allen

The Ice Warriors’ debut adventure arrives on DVD soon, with two newly-animated episodes. doctorwho.tv caught up with producer, Chris Chapman, to talk detective work, uncanny valley and which other classic Doctor Who stories he’d like to reanimate.

So what’s The Ice Warriors all about?
The Ice Warriors is classic 1960s Doctor Who. The Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Victoria, materialise in a UK of the distant future where a new Ice Age has set in, and encounter an outpost of human scientists monitoring the glaciers. In the glacier, they’ve discovered a frozen “Ice Warrior”, that they take back to the base. And at the end of episode one, he starts to melt…

And then?
Well, episodes two and three are missing. At the BBC and other broadcasters, there was a tendency in the 1970s when television became colour, to junk black and white tapes. But amazingly, little 10-year old fans were recording the audio of the episodes off their televisions (Doctor Who fans being the plucky breed they are!) And the fact they did that means we still have the soundtrack of these episodes – just not the pictures, and that’s what we’ve had to recreate.

What evidence remains for these two episodes?
Well I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, and we’re very lucky that there’s lots of evidence left for what The Ice Warriors Two and Three looked like. There are ‘telesnaps’, which are literally screengrabs – roughly 20-25 per episode – taken of the programme as a record for the production team. There’s the director’s camera script, that shows camera movements and cuts against the dialogue, so you know how it would have been edited. Sometimes that can change on the day in studio, but it’s a pretty good guide. And we have the soundtracks, which have lots of bumps and crashes and silences – where had to figure out what was happening. All those things come together and allow you to create – hopefully – what it would have been like.

Ice Warriors

So how do you possibly begin recreating 50 minutes of missing Doctor Who?
First thing I did was take the soundtracks and chop them up, shot-by-shot, according to the camera script, and matched them if possible to telesnaps. That gives you a storyboard. Then it’s a case of bringing in the animators at Qurios – the teams designing the sets and the characters – and that’s the really painstaking bit, which took months. Once designed, bringing these little “2D puppets” to life was much smoother.

How long did it all take?
Beginning to end? About twelve months, but around other pieces we were working on.

You’ve mentioned you were keen to limit yourself to the constraints of a 1960s TV studio…
We were keen not to do anything that Doctor Who couldn’t do. There’s no way they would have cut to a helicopter shot of the Ice Warriors on the glacier. Or we could have been tempted to put dripping ice in the foreground of shots, but that wouldn’t have happened in studio at the time. It’s about keeping it accurate and realistic – so, if you squint a bit, you might think you were watching the original episode! Animation’s a bit of jump, but we wanted to get it close. The animators even got to the point of studying the BBC cameras of the time, to understand how their focus worked – so if he have a character in close-up, what does a character behind them look like?

You’ve animated characters in 2D and sets in 3D, why was that?
Making the sets in 3D gave us the flexibility to put a virtual camera into the scene and, whichever way we pointed that camera, get a reliable background. It's a time-saver and a good stylistic look. The characters we decided to do in 2D, because we didn't want it to be photorealistic - gently caricatured, not "uncanny valley". But with the systems we’re using, we can gently pivot and tilt the 2D characters in a 3D way, so you get the feeling of life in the faces.

See a work in progress clip of the animation:


What would you say was the biggest challenge in reconstructing The Ice Warriors?
Above time and budget, it’s the detective work. There’s a scene in episode two, when Penley (played by Peter Sallis), walks down a corridor, sees Varga and Victoria, and hides in a cupboard as they walk past. And if Doctor Who was doing it now, the scene would probably last 30 seconds, but in 1967 it lasts 90 seconds or so! And on the soundtrack all we have is walking, and more walking. So we had to work out how to fill this time without it seeming ridiculous.

Why do you feel it’s important to complete adventures in this way?
The missing episodes are one of the most fascinating tragedies of Doctor Who. I think a lot of fans – certainly myself – get the audios and the telesnaps, but there’s a gaping hole in your soul because you just want to see it! And it would be a minor miracle if we see any episodes again, so to me the animation is the closest we can get to that. A realist’s way of completing the Doctor Who catalogue.

And finally, money and time no object, which Doctor Who adventures would you love to reconstruct?
Purely selfish reasons? I love how mental The Evil of the Daleks is. It’s so much fun - swinging sixties London and Skaro in the same story! The Macra Terror is an amazing script – perhaps the visuals wouldn’t match up – but it’s the only one that uses that TARDIS crew really well, so I’d love to do that. And The Myth Makers as we know nothing about how that looked. I’d set it in Ancient Greece - but on the Moon.

Find out more about The Ice Warriors DVD release in our preview article.

Watch The Ice Warriors DVD trailer:

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