There are times in life when even if your dream comes true, it’s not quite in the way you imagined it. So went the experience of the team behind the first ever fully animated Doctor Who story, Scream of the Shalka. What they created may not be one of the most fondly remembered episodes in the Who-verse, but it may be the most important.
Back in 2002, the original team of folks behind this were coming off some interesting experiments happening with online storytelling and animation. The BBC had two official websites, with one leaning more towards pop culture and the media front and the other more focused on the news. The team noticed that the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who was soon approaching and the BBC had made no mention of doing anything special for it. The famed character was still viewed at the time as a historical novelty with only a niche following.
It was agreed that some type of remembrance should celebrate the anniversary and this team charged forward with the idea of making a brand new animated story and launching it online using flash animation. They asked BBC if it was cool and found out they were golden as long as they could get all the rights sorted out, which they did. Off they went and the work was quick and tough, but thrilling.
Suddenly, people started asking the BBC questions at press conferences about whether or not a celebration was being planned for the anniversary and would the show ever come back. The reply was they would love to bring the show back, but the rights were too tied up and unavailable. This was a rather big shock to the folks working on Shalka since they believed they had the rights all sorted out. The BBC got reminded about them and called them immediately to headquarters, likely in order to yell at them. But the Shalka team came prepared with all their documentation about the rights and they were allowed to continue on the special.
This brief and momentarily tense meeting was only a brief bump in the road in terms of Shalka production, but it planted that seed that Doctor Who could actually come back fully on television. Once that connected with an ambitious woman at the head of development the ball began to roll and it very quickly led to the 2005 reboot and the rebirth of a modern day franchise. The premiere of the new series quickly overshadowed the online Shalka production which hit the web only a few months before the show came back to air. The story was quickly dumped into the annals of Who history and left to gather digital dust, even though it actually won an award for digital animation at the time.
Yet I think it deserves to be told that without Shalka the current phenomenon may not have come to bear, or at least not in the time frame it did. Also, for Richard Grant, the actor who voiced the Doctor in this tossed aside project, he did get to come back years later during the seventh season with Matt Smith as The Great Intelligence. Another factoid is back in 2003, then fanboy and future Doctor himself, David Tennant, got to voice a five line character (Second Warehouse Worker) in the animated episode.
So while it might not be a great story in contrast to the last seven years of modern day Doctor Who, it was an integral stepping stone to getting us there.