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Feature: Doctor Who
The animated series on BBCi
As Doctor Who celebrates its 40th Anniversary, BBCi premières the weekly webcast Scream of the Shalka starring Richard E Grant as the animated Time Lord. We step into the TARDIS to take a glimpse and speaks to the stars...
Doctor Who is having a rather memorable 40th anniversary. Weeks after learning that the Doctor will finally return to BBC One in 2005, this month followers of the Doctor’s travels can view something completely different. Starting in mid-November, the series’ first fully-fledged animated story reaches a computer near you, as online division BBCi premières the weekly webcast Scream of the Shalka, written by Paul Cornell. Never mind the medium, though – this story has a brand-new Doctor, for in a high-profile casting coup, Richard E Grant is playing another incarnation of the time traveller.
Animation maestros Cosgrove-Hall, of Dangermouse and Count Duckula fame, have handled the animation duties, as they did for BBCi’s acclaimed non-Who webcast Ghosts of Albion last winter [see Amber Benson interview in TV Zone #161]. But the animators needed all the audio content to work with first – and pictures of the cast from which to create their likenesses.
So in June 2003, a new Doctor could be found in an industrial estate a mile from BBCtv Centre, at the Soundhouse recording studios. TV Zone met Richard E Grant in a break from a busy recording schedule, and asked him first what he was especially enjoying about being in Doctor Who. “That I don’t have to get into make-up or costume, or get up at five in the morning,” he said without hesitation. “The great luxury of this is that we record everything in four days, then it’s left to the animators to do the mammoth process of making it come alive visually.
“It’s a real get-out,” Grant explained. “I’ve known other actors who’ve done voices for animated projects, and your contribution seems such a small percentage compared to the amount of work it involves. So I’m feeling no pressure, really. Anyway, I’ve never seen Doctor Who…”
That’s right: the actor taking the reins here is doing so blissfully untroubled by preconceptions. Once Doctor Who had established that its title character could be re-cast, most British-based actors would probably have known what being up for the role entailed. Not so Grant, who grew up in the small African kingdom of Swaziland and paid no attention to the long-running series after relocating to the UK aged 25, in 1982. “I do know – just because I’ve seen a newspaper picture – that one figure associated with it is Tom Baker, with curly hair and a long scarf,” ventures Grant. “He’s the name that comes up time and again when I’ve asked people about the series. Was he the first one? No? Well, that’s the full extent of my knowledge. This project just came over to me rather as if it could be ‘Sherlock Holmes in Outer Space’.” That’s an interesting perspective, both the Doctor and the Great Detective being classically British eccentric figures: Grant himself appeared prominently in BBC One’s Hound of the Baskervilles last Christmas. But wait, attentive Doctor Who fans are saying – hasn’t Richard E Grant already played the Doctor? He was one of the starry cameos in Steven Moffat’s 1999 Comic Relief spoof The Curse of Fatal Death – the Doctor who declared himself “lick-the-mirror handsome”.
by Mark Wyman
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