Over the past month we’ve told you about Bernice Summerfield: Dead and Buried, the first-ever CGI adventure starring Benny, the Seventh Doctor companion in the Virgin New Adventures!Â We recently engaged in a discussion with the story’s animator, Alex Mallinson, who shared with us some wonderful anecdotes about his career thus far, including what it was like putting everyone’s favourite off-screen archaeologistâ€¦ well, on the screen!
The roots of Alex’s interest in animation stem from the 1980s, “the heyday of the action/adventure film, usually replete with special effects and that certainly inspired me. I’m a bit of a combination of hermit and control freak, perhaps stemming from years of quietly crafting my own, lonely worlds in Lego and I’m sure that the solitary nature of animation appeals on that front.
“My biggest two influences are Doctor Who, whose special effects always had that accessible quality which looked like one could aspire to; and a Miyazaki animation called Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which I saw aged about 9 and which utterly blew me away. Epic themes, airborne pirates, robots and explosions. So I suppose it’s that love of spectacle and fantasy that drove me to use animation to create the things I could never see.”
This fascination with the bold and astonishing genre of visual storytelling eventually led Alex, ironically, to the Whovian-treasured audio-play makers at Big Finish, whom Alex admired long before working with them.Â “I spent several years working in video games and my last employer was little better than a production line for run-of-the-mill titles. I stumbled across the Big Finish site around that time (remember the old one which stretched down for miles?!) and escaped from the drudgery of work into the Whoniverse.
“Once I went freelance as an illustrator I approached them to see if they were interested in my work. There are two very good reasons why they didn’t hire me at that time. The first was that my work was very pedestrian (and occasionally still is if inspiration doesn’t strike before the deadline) and the second was that I’d rampaged merrily across message boards trailing deeply insulting remarks, never suspecting for a moment that the people involved might read these comments. In my meagre defence, it was largely a way of venting frustration that I wasn’t involved. Simple jealousy I suppose.”
This “simple jealousy” that nearly every Whovian has experienced at some point during his or her fanhood, may have temporarily prevented Alex from his Big Finish debut, but even the Doctor Who audio masters could not stop a zombie outbreak:Â “At a Shaun of the Dead signing I met the writer Jim Swallow and got chatting. He introduced me to John Ainsworth, who employed me on his Space 1889 audio range and got me into Big Finish working on the adverts. He then introduced me to Nick [Briggs] and before long, Big Finish was my biggest client, in fact I don’t really think of them as clients any more! They’re the best bunch I’ve ever worked for.”
Alex’s “biggest client” allowed him to produce animated trailers for audio stories featuring some of the Doctor’s most infamous opposers, including Cyberman.Â “It was quite early on in my BF career, I don’t think I’d done any covers at that stage and it was another way to get their attention and do work that inspired me. I’d been working on adverts and virals for a while at that point so I felt fairly confident. In retrospect, the Cyberman’s chin is too big. They’re buggers, those Invasion Cybs, the mask proportions are odd and every time I tweak it, it throws something else out. I had fun with the spaceship designs, which were meant to be utilitarian but ended up looking a bit like lions. The models have cropped up in all sorts since.
“Just as you can recognise bits of old BBC spaceships all over Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who, so those ships have ended up in Viyran vessels and the whaling ship from Song of Megaptera. There’s even a bit of it in the Benny animation.”