Viewing the omnirumour from the outside

As followers of my Twitter feed will have observed, I’ve been chasing the BBC in the hope that we will be enlightened why the Underwater Menace has been put on hold yet again. Their latest email reply to my chasing (which I must say arrived very promptly!) ran as follows:

We appreciate that some Doctor Who fans are disappointed that we have not yet been able to release The Underwater Menace on DVD. We would like to reassure everyone that we are currently reviewing the best way to bring fans more Classic Doctor Who titles. Please bear with us – we’ll let you know more as soon as we can.

Suffice to say – this is a very intriguing reply. Not a simple “kindly mind your own business” nor a denial that there is anything further on the way. And also a quite clear inference that, whatever the BBC would like to do, it is not actually possible for them to confirm their plans – or perhaps even carry them out.

I am of course in no way ‘on the inside’ – no connections, no sources, and no idea! Which in some ways makes it rather fun – being a historian I am used to speculating without possession of the full facts, and it’s entertaining to deduce what we can from known facts rather than speculative claims from sources (although I am very much on the lookout for those too!) – and from the facts at hand I deduce the following:

  1. There a strong probability that at least one more episode (and quite probably both missing episodes) of The Underwater Menace has been recovered and potentially viable. This is simply on the balance of probability that I cannot see the BBC postponing release on information that the episode has been found somewhere and is potentially recoverable – I would presume either that the recovered episode is potentially not viable, or that they have recovered one episode with a strong lead for the last missing episode.
  2. There is a definite possibility that more has been recovered. Again, this is on the balance of probabilities – the BBC have no qualms about releasing Doctor Who many many times to make as much money as possible – witness for example the multiple ‘revisitations’ released, even before the entire classic series catalogue has been completed. One also suspects that they would not forsake the opportunity to release The Crusades with the 2 missing episodes animated – again, based upon past behaviour of releasing other stories with their missing episodes animated – especially the precedent set by The Moonbase which was the first instance of a story with half of its material missing being released in full. To press pause on this lucrative money-spinner one presumes that they have good reason to hold back.
  3. There are good reasons why the BBC are being silent – and we don’t know what these are. Let’s face it – if all 96 episodes were sitting in BBC HQ right this very second, they would be dusting off some horrendous B-grade celebrity to interview Peter Davison and Peter Capaldi about their memories of watching Patrick Troughton in an equally horrendous “episode recovery celebration” that would have most fans ashamed by association. The silence on this matter indicates that most probably they do not have all 96 absolutely guaranteed as recovered and viable for release – but we cannot be sure why. It may be that they have 96 prints – but some may be 50:50 in their viability. It may be that they have a strong idea where the remaining prints are, and are trying to dampen the risk of being held to ransom by not revealing which prints they have recovered. It may even be that there are a whole host of legal nightmares in the background, and it would do more PR damage to announce a find and then pull it – the experience of The Underwater Menace has already demonstrated the unfortunate propensity of the fans to over-react!
  4. Even if we have the lot – we won’t get them all at once! This is really just common sense – the BBC want to maximise their profits, and they won’t get that if they release 20 new releases – especially for the likes of The Invasion or The Moonbase where there is already a release. So either way – we’re in for the long haul.

That being the reasonable conclusions from established facts, we now venture into supposition. I am inclined to say that it is pure speculation to say how many episodes are recovered, or when we can expect to find them. Rumours are, as you would expect, rife … so what follows is what I conclude from the rumours:

  1. If we accept more episodes have been found (as on the whole I am inclined to), then I am prepared to give greater credence to rumours that Marco Polo and Power of the Daleks have been found, and in the case of the latter, private showings may have occurred. If true, then this is already fantastic news.
  2. It is reasonable to speculate that The Moonbase and The Crusades have also been recovered in full – partly due to rumour, but also because the former was delayed, and the latter has not had any work done for an animated release.
  3. There are almost certainly more strong links besides these – that is why there are rumours, and that is why it has been spun out for so long. Just because there are more potentially out there does not necessarily mean that they are recoverable – the films may be damaged, or the link when investigated may prove fruitless.

So in conclusion – I am bracing myself (and my credit card) for action. I am confident on balance of probability that more missing episodes are on their way. But until we have confirmation, or a kind soul leaks some proof, we’re just going to have to wait patiently to discover how many have been found, and when we’re going to get them …

74 – The Sontaran Experiment

One of the first things I did after ranking the classic episodes of Doctor Who was to sweep through for the obvious shocks – stories that other fans would feel were definitely over-rated or definitely under-rated. Alongside The Aztecs at 107 and An Unearthly Child at 98 (neither of which, it must be said, earned a massive uproar …) it was the low placement of this serial that I felt sure would enrage fans. The Sontaran Experiment is widely viewed as a classic, and yet it doesn’t make my top 50 – how is such sacrilege possible? (Discerning readers may also wonder why it is ranked lower than the likes of Terror of the Vervoids, but we shall skip past such supposing!)

It is worth repeating what I have said in several previous reviews – at this stage of the countdown there are very few serials that I actually dislike. The problem instead is that I enjoy other serials more than I enjoy the ones lower down! The Sontaran Experiment very much fits into this category – suffering only from not being high on the list of stories I would automatically turn to.

It also suffers in part from high anticipation. As fans of a certain age will recall, it was originally released as a VHS double set with the excellent Genesis of the Daleks. I loved (and still love!) the latter serial, and bitterly resented that my dad would not buy the video! As the mystique of the first serial grew, not least with rumours that it was a classic, I was keen to see this second Sontaran story – a desire heightened after enjoying the equally excellent The Time Warrior.

As it was – I wasn’t wowed. I should however be very positive – it is one of the few 2 part stories were one senses the story matches the length – it would make an excellent 45 minute story in the current era of the show. It was pulled together somewhat last minute to fill a production gap, but doesn’t look unpolished – quite the reverse indeed, as the rough outdoor production creates a sense of the rough state of the abandoned earth the serial is set on. And the overall concept of a lone Sontaran experimenting upon humanity to learn of their weaknesses is very clever, with Commander Styre excellently released by Kevin Lindsay.

So the downside? Well, it isn’t that exciting … it’s clever, and doesn’t exactly drag, and explores interesting concepts … but it is a bit pedestrian. It is redeemed of course by the excellence of the cast – I think the Baker/Sladen/Marter era was perhaps the best of the show, it only being a pity it did not continue into the Holmes/Hinchliffe gothic horror era – and in this serial they are very much continuing in the fine form of the preceding Ark in Space. But even their performances don’t incline me to dust off the DVD of The Sontaran Experiment that often …

75 – The Nightmare of Eden

We resume my countdown through the classic episodes (painfully aware that now I have bought The Moonbase, The Reign of Terror and The Ice Warriors I may have to re-number everything) with this curious story from Tom Baker’s sixth season as the Doctor. By now, the Baker/Ward love-in is in full swing, and while not the best story in Season 17 by any stretch of the imagination, it is certainly better than The Creature From The Pit and The Horns of Nimon.

I confess that I arrived at this story extremely judgmental. The name sounded rubbish, I had not heard rave reviews from other fans about the story, and I was forewarned by the DVD case insert (cheers BBC …) that the monsters of the piece, the Mandrels, were rather too fluffy to be taken seriously as threats. So I was perhaps not the most enthusiastic when I heard the prim and proper voice on the DVD announce “Doctor Who: The Nightmare of Eden.”

I have to say however – I was pleasantly surprised. Yes one must skate over some of the rough edges, not least the fluffy edge that the Mandrels would be a better fit on the Muppets than in scary sci-fi. But the storyline is actually quite good and engaging despite that. If you lifted this story and put it in any other era (except perhaps the irascible Hartnell) it would stand up quite well. The theme in short is that someone on a doomed space ship is running drugs – and they cunningly conceal them by reconstituting the drugs as the Mandrel creatures. Add into the mix a supposedly dead man hiding in a projector slide, ignore the dubious science, and add a good measure of confusion, backstabbing, and the Baker/Ward/Adams comic insanity, and 4 episodes peel away at an enjoyable gallop.

It’s not vintage by any means, and pales by being in the same season as the stellar City of Death – but The Nightmare of Eden is a serial I am very much looking forward to re-watching!