The ‘Doctor Who’ Cartoon That Almost Was

Concept art for the abandoned 1990 Doctor Who cartoon. (Credit: Nelvana/Ted Bastien)

Now that Doctor Who is coming to Disney XD, there’s been a lot of chatter online about what an animated Doctor Who would be like.

“Most people don’t know this ever happened.”

Well, as it so happens, there actually was an effort to create a Doctor Who cartoon series shortly after the classic show’s 1989 cancellation. Nelvana, the Canadian company behind Care Bears and the Star Wars cartoons Droids and Ewoks, was approached by the BBC in 1990 to continue the show in animated form.

We’ve covered the aborted Nelvana cartoon before, but now seems like a good time to revisit it with a little more depth.

After a lot of development, a large portfolio of concept art was produced by Nelvana artist Ted Bastien, but sadly, the show was not to be. Bastien recounted the process to website BlogTO in August 2014:

“We went through a lot of development on it, then we were scripting and storyboarding it and about 4 scripts had been written. It happened really fast.”

The plan was to continue the continuity of the show in animated form, with a new, unspecified Doctor in the lead. Existing characters and enemies like the Daleks and Cybermen were redesigned for the new version.

Unfortunately, it all went into the garbage chute when the BBC showed up with a British animation company that claimed they could make the same show for far less money. There’s no word on what happened with that proposal, but obviously we didn’t get an animated show out of either of them. “Most people don’t know this ever happened,” says Bastien.

Here’s a look at Bastien’s concept art for the various characters and concepts, starting with the Doctor himself:

The Doctor

Rather than using an existing Doctor, Nelvana created several different possible appearances inspired by actors Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, and Peter O’Toole. The Doctor’s outfits were original, too, but kept aspects of earlier costumes, such as the Fourth Doctor’s scarf and that awful John Nathan-Turner “question mark” motif.

The Companions

There were a couple of different companion concepts created. Both were human females from Earth — a common enough Doctor Who trope to this very day.

The Master

Because it was the early 90’s, it wouldn’t be enough for the Doctor’s nemesis to be simply another renegade Time Lord. So the Master was redesigned as a “half man, half robot with a cybernetic bird accessory and a face modelled after Sean Connery.”

Wow. Just…wow.

The TARDIS

From the outside, the TARDIS looks mostly the same. The interior, though, took elements of the classic control rooms and gave them an 1980’s Inspector Gadget-y feel.


Daleks and Cybermen

As with most cartoons (especially in that era), the animated Doctor Who would’ve had a vested interest in selling toys. So when it came to the Daleks, Bastien says, “We were instructed to make them as toyetic as possible.”

So, allow me to introduce the Battle Dalek. And a weird Terminator-meets-Tin Man version of a Cyberman.

Everything Else and K9 Too

This is a great bit of promo art showing the Doctor with a newly redesigned K9. To see the rest of the concept art, including K9 folding into a doctor’s bag (what?!), a flying version of Bessie, a few random aliens, and even more Doctor prototypes, check out the Nelvana page on the Tardis Data Core.

As a child of the 80’s/90’s, I kind of love this whole idea. I mean, compared to the Doctor Who we know and love, it’s godawful. But it would’ve been a perfect extension of the franchise at that particular time. And I would still buy these toys today if BBC would license someone to make them.

What do you think? Would you watch an animated Doctor Who series?