2019-02-04

purplecat: The second Doctor reading his 500 year diary. (Who:Two)
2019-02-04 07:44 pm

The Randomiser: The Abominable Snowmen

The Abominable Snowmen was one of the very first Doctor Who novelisations I ever had, so I'm very familiar with the story. I'd never actually watched it all the way through, however, though I had seen the second episode (the only one remaining) a couple of times.

Superficially, its another Troughton base-under-siege story and yet it feels very different from the stories that surround it. Possibly this is because Troughton's bases tend to be full of scientists with a clearly defined external threat. The Abominable Snowmen is mostly about understanding what the real threat is, and instead of a base full of scientists, we have a Tibetan monastery full of monks and moreover, we have an antagonist who is working much of the time to minimise loss of life and is fundamentally sympathetic to the Doctor and his companions. It is also, of course, one of Doctor Who's few forays into non-Western history though it isn't very obvious that it is supposed to be set in the 1920s.

Victoria has been one of my companion disappointments with the randomiser, but she's not too bad here and given the novelisation is probably the first time I came across the character, that might explain why, as a child, she was always one of my favourite companions. I think quite a lot of the book is written from her point-of-view and she is given more inner strength than often came across on the show. That said, she is more inconsistent, than uniformly strong here. Her characterisation veers wildly almost from scene to scene, at one moment she will be your typical companion: curious, a bit reckless, determined to investigate and moments later she is the Victoria we saw more often: timid and anxious to be somewhere safe.

Somewhat to our surprise it was quite difficult to find a reconstruction of the missing episodes on YouTube. Our normal source - Loose Cannons - didn't seem to have one. Our options appeared to be two different animated versions, we picked the one that looked to have been made from telesnaps/screenshots and were, after a while, quite taken with the effect of animated still pictures against CGI backdrops. We thought it was something that with a little more time and money could have been very effective. However that gave out after episode 4 and the final two episodes were full CGI affairs made, we were fairly certain, using machinima techniques (i.e., moving the characters around inside a game engine). This was quite odd in places since much depended upon the models available in the engine. Mostly it was OK, but the final confrontation was rendered almost incomprehensible - Jamie and the monk, Thonmi, disappear behind a screen from where smashing noises are heard, the search for the right thing to smash takes place entirely unseen, meanwhile the Doctor, Victoria and Padmasabhava stand around doing nothing (presumably in reality there was much acting of struggling against mind control going on, but the 3D models weren't really up to that).

As the story which introduced both the Yeti and the Great Intelligence to Doctor Who, you would expect The Abominable Snowmen to have been an obvious choice for an attempt at animation. Instead it seems strangely neglected. I wonder if there is a concern that it will fare no better than The Talons of Weng-Chiang if exposed to 21st century fan attention - certainly the Tibetan monks are all played by people with names like Norman Jones and one has a nasty suspicion that the writers did not know a great deal about Tibetan buddhism.

That said, I nevertheless wish more of this story existed. I remain very fond of it and think it is an interesting and different take on the base-under-siege format. More than many, I think it is a story that would have benefitted from being able to see what the actors were doing.