A memorable instalment in Doctor Who‘s 1967-68 ‘monster season’, The Abominable Snowmen is an iconic story in the series’ history – despite five out of its six episodes having been missing for five decades. Its popularity extended to a direct sequel, The Web of Fear, as well as a trilogy of episodes in the Eleventh Doctor’s third season in 2012-13. All of this has inevitably raised the anticipation for a potential animated reconstruction of The Abominable Snowmen, at long last shuffling its way onto fans’ DVD and Blu-ray shelves from BBC Studios.
The story sees the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive in Tibet, 1935, where the Doctor intends to return a long-last Ghanta to the monastery of Detsen. What they find is a body left in the mountains, legendary creatures hiding in a cave, and a sinister alien force at the heart of the monastery…
The Abominable Snowmen is certainly a great concept – and very Doctor Who – blending Earth-based legends with sci-fi explanations, making it easy to see why the serial has been fondly remembered for so many years. It’s difficult not to wonder if the full story – albeit in animated form – can hold up to its reputation, strengthened by its one surviving episode, an action figure set and an atmospheric Target novelisation by the late, great Terrance Dicks. The greatest issue is undoubtedly the pacing: it’s a fairly formulaic tale, featuring quite a bit of back-and-forth, with some slow and plodding dialogue scenes. Perhaps this isn’t helped by the lack of any incidental music, not to mention that the animation inevitably lacks the nuance of the live-action performances. What should be a slow-burn, atmospheric story doesn’t quite manage to enthral in the same way as, say, Fury From the Deep.
Speaking of Fury, The Abominable Snowmen has been animated by the same team, under the direction of Gary Russell and Chloe Grech (who also worked on last year’s Galaxy 4). The animation is a step-up from Fury, although very much in the same style, and does a good job at reimagining the story’s visuals to look much more impressive. It is a little clunky in places – though this is to be expected given the limited time and budget available for such a niche release. No attempt seems to have been made to make the Yeti look more formidable (thankfully they still look as cuddly and endearing as their TV counterparts), while Padmasambhava appears more skeletal and creepy.
While it is a shame to see this range of Doctor Who missing episode animations reach its end, as a fan I’m still incredibly pleased to have had the chance to watch these stories in full, and The Abominable Snowmen makes for a lovely finale. The story may be a little plodding in places, but the chemistry between Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling is undeniable, the Yeti are lots of fun, the Great Intelligence very creepy and this animation is a more-than-welcome addition to any fans’ collection.
The six-episode animated feature is available in widescreen and colour and as a 4:3 black and white variation. Episode 2 – the only original instalment retained in the BBC archives – is newly restored in HD for this release, and features some stunning remastered 35mm film segments (arguably the best that a 60’s Who episode will ever look). A couple of surviving clips from Episode 4 are included, along with some 8mm colour films from actor Frazer Hines and director Gerald Blake, providing a unique glimpse behind the scenes. Commentaries are available on every episode, with a whole host of contributors, and the 2021 teaser is present for posterity. The highlight of perhaps the entire set is Troughton in Tibet: The Making of The Abominable Snowmen, which details the behind the scenes of the story through a mix of new and archive interviews. As ever, director Chris Chapman keeps the documentary focused on the people who made Doctor Who, rather than fans or simple facts, resulting in a warm, emotional film that takes Frazer Hines and presenter Toby Hadoke back to Snowdonia, where Snowmen was filmed. There’s a wonderful moment when Hines sees the TARDIS on a hill, and dashes over to reunite with it fifty years later. Some may find it overly-sentimental, but it’s always nice to see the positive impact of Doctor Who.
The Abominable Snowmen was screened at the BFI Southbank on Saturday 3rd September 2022, and featured a short Q&A with documentary-maker Chris Chapman, as well as animation director Gary Russell, along with Rob Ritchie and Ioan Morris. All offered some nice insights into their work for this new DVD and Blu-ray release, while Chapman’s Q&A was followed by a six-minute clip from Troughton In Tibet – and yes, it turns out that name is a Tintin reference.