Until now, The Web of Fear was the incomplete fifth serial of the fifth series of Doctor Who from 1968. For 45 years all but the first episode were missing, until they were discovered in Nigeria in 2013 by renowned television archivist Philip Morris. In the process of returning the episodes to the BBC archives, the third one disappeared, and is believed to have been stolen for its value. It has never been located.
Thanks to the creative minds at Shapeshifter Studio in New South Wales, that long-lost episode has been reconstructed and restored with the use of breathtaking 3D animation, thus bringing the full story arc to completion and giving fans the closure they’ve been so eagerly anticipating.
Director Adam Boys recently spent time with STACK via Zoom, discussing his love of Doctor Who and the experience of being tasked with such a daunting assignment.
“I got into Doctor Who via a crush, actually,” he says with amusement, “She recommended that I get into Doctor Who, and started me with new Who. And to be honest, I was hooked instantly. I loved Christopher Eccleston, and I don’t know if it’s an unpopular opinion, but I think he’s one of the best. The old Who was something I found a bit later, although David [Devjak], who runs the studio, is a big, big fan, and grew up on the early stuff.”
The Web of Fear marks the studio’s third Doctor Who project, having previously worked on visual effects and composites for the previous incomplete episodes, The Tenth Planet and Fury from the Deep (as featured in other serials). Needless to say, Adam is no stranger to the Whoniverse, and he reflects on the BBC’s involvement and the freedom bestowed upon him as director.
“Because we’ve done a lot of work on the composites and effects, and the mastering and grading on the 2D animation for previous episodes, it’s a dream of ours to work on this,” he says. “And the BBC were wonderful. The feedback was supportive, and we were trusted and given free reign, which was great. It allowed us to be able to make directorial choices to get the momentum happening.”‘
Unlike the previously animated reconstructions, The Web of Fear marks the first 3D animation for Doctor Who, a creative direction which, Boys explains, was fundamental to creating a fluent bridge between episodes.
“One of the challenges we had with this one, compared to Fury from the Deep – which was a full, six-episode recreation – was that we had to have this one sit within five other live action episodes. And that was a big consideration for us, and it partly drove why we wanted to go down the route of motion capture and using a 3D tool.You’ve got natural, moving humans in the live action episodes, and we wanted something that was animated but also fit in with those. And ultimately, it was also a huge consideration for us to think: ‘What does this moment mean for episodes four, five and six?”
Not only did introducing 3D animation to the series enable the overarching storyline to flow as succinctly as possible, but it also afforded Boys and his team the advantage of accessing the characters in ways that weren’t possible for the original production.
“We wanted something that really brought out the distinction in all of these actors,” he elaborates, alluding to the fact that the audio is lifted from the original recording. “They’re wonderful. They’re fun and they’re all doing their own thing, and we wanted to be able to bring those nuances out.
And motion capture and 3D is the natural way to approach that while paying tribute to those actors.
I mean, there’s things we can do now that they would have done then, if they could. For example, our explosions can be as big as we want them to be. We can play with camera angles in a way that their pedestal cameras couldn’t. Just things like that, where you get a bit of extra play by doing it in animation.”
For the first time ever, the complete Doctor Who: The Web of Fear is available to own in all its glory on Blu-Ray and DVD. Says Boys: “We kept the fans in our minds the entire time, and we wanted to do right by them. The Web of Fear is fun. It’s charming. It’s nostalgic. And it [will] probably attract a whole new fanbase, which is awesome as well.”