Friday, 14 March 2014

Planet 55 moving to Cardiff? Animated Doctor Who?

Austen Atkinson
You know them - the animation studio that's done many of the missing episode recreations. But they have a far more involved relationship with the programme than that - head of studio Austen Atkinson has written for Big Finish, and perceptive enough to peg Russell T Davies as the writer most likely to bring reimagined, Buffy-like cult tv back to television, in 2004. The executive producer, Jason Haigh-Ellery, also happens to be the founder and executive producer of Big Finish. Their current project, a children's SF show called "Prisoner Zero" (funny coincidence, eh?) was originally commissioned by Big Finish. They've already employed at least one animator from the UK (for "The Reign of Terror", which was a joint undertaking with Big Finish). And back in August, former script editor Gary Russell came over to be series producer for that new children's programme. In short, they could not possibly be more involved with Doctor Who unless they were actually making it. 

And now they want to go to Cardiff. The ZDnet news article makes this out to be a simple request for the Australian government to sort out bandwith problems, but here's Atkinson's main comments: 

"He said that as the company is taking on more work for the BBC, it was considering to relocating to Cardiff in the UK."

"We will leave. We will take our money and go somewhere else because we have hit a bottleneck and we cannot expand. We are already looking at Planet55 Cardiff, in the UK...We have hit a bottleneck — not of talent. I found a massive resource of talent and trained them all myself, but if we cannot get our work out daily and communicate with our partners in LA or our partners in Dublin or our partners in Spain or wherever they are, what are we supposed to do? It is not practical."

"He said that support for entrepreneurs was also lacking in Australia, and employment costs were also high compared to the United Kingdom, and the United States."

"The fact is that it is very attractive to look at in the UK at the moment, because the economy is booming again now; it is growing in my sector tremendously. As a result of Doctor Who's success and so forth, there is a huge culture in Cardiff...Our big problem is that the realities of employing people here—it is really unattractive, to be honest. If it were not for the fact that I have invested so much in the talent here, we probably would have gone already. It has been very hard birthing process."

Such as having to ship Gary Russell across the planet just to work on a television show. Of course, Cardiff is working very hard to make itself attractive to television studios right now. To the tune of that 30 million pound investment fund recently announced - if there's ever a time to move your company lock, stock and barrel to a new country, it's when that kind of money is in the offing. 

Big Finish has a lot of projects besides Doctor Who right now and would be in an ideal position to get a project or two while they're settling in - another Bernice Summerfield story would be nice. It'd be fun to see animations of the classic series Doctors, if the licensing could be worked out. But there's other possibilities.  If the Michael Grades of the world do force the BBC to slow down on in-house productions and get more programming from elsewhere, Planet 55 would be as safe hands as any for a new Doctor Who spin-off programme (if that happened they'd be scrambling for new shows, and let's face it, a Doctor Who spin-off is a fairly obvious one). BBC Worldwide would love another show and more merchandising. The Cardiff production crew wouldn't have to worry about outsiders playing in the sandbox.

Of course, this could just be Atkinson trying to pry better infrastructure out of the Australian government, so if they do get their Internet sorted this could all fall down. There's a lot of ifs here. But...

anything's possible. And in this instance, perhaps even likely. The one thing that the ZDnet article missed in the Parliamentary transcript was this line: "We have a project to do—I cannot say what it is; it is a top-secret one from the BBC—and I need to find another whole team for that."

Could it be that they're working on that spin-off already?

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