Are there fewer missing episodes than we supposed?

In the ongoing case of ‘the rumour that cannot die‘, a new and interesting development has emerged over the weekend.

Speaking at the Pandorica Fan Conference, Philip Morris, the man who found The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear at a TV Relay Station in Jos, Nigeria, revealed that he had in fact found 12 episodes at the station, which included the currently missing Episode 3 of The Web of Fear. According to sources who have heard transcripts of the session Morris spoke at (for reference here are Bleeding Cool and Doctor Who News) the two serials were intact in their entirety when Morris first found them at the station. When he returned it was to discover that episode 3 had disappeared, and it is conjectured that it was appropriated by a member of staff at the station, and potentially been sold on to a private collector.

What then are we to make of all of this, aside of cursing the sheer selfish stupidity of humankind in the truest fashion of the Doctor?

Well first and foremost we should ask if the story is true. While Morris and others have sometimes been purposefully misleading until now, the only reason to doubt his word now is that it conveniently explains the concurrent facts of: 1) the absence of Web 3; 2) the need for radio silence despite; 3) ongoing optimism that more may be found. Or to word it differently – it so neatly explains his actions that if you doubt the man’s integrity and motivations the explanation is too neat. On the whole, I see no reason for Morris to invent such a story when a twinkle in his eye would have sufficed – as Hercule Poirot would remind us, the more one is required to embellish a lie, the more one either ends up saying a provable untruth (thus exposing the lie and making it worthless) or ends up saying the truth because it is easier to do so.

That being the case, then this post by Paul Vanezis on the missing episodes forum is perhaps the most helpful insight we currently possess. Us nice and trusting fans cannot conceive of a person who would gleefully pay to own a reel of film whose intrinsic value is derived from thousands of fans who desperately want to see it – but can’t. We therefore perhaps had not fully appreciated that finding any surviving material is only half of the issue – the other half is bringing it safely into the hands of a restoration team before an enterprising individual outbids the would-be rescuer of Classic Doctor Who.

We also have a very helpful insight from a delegate who attended Pandorica, who stated they had asked Philip Morris the following:

“Suppose you found three episodes of Marco Polo. Given what has happened to Web episode 3 does that mean you’d keep the news to yourself and not share it with anybody else (eg BBC) whilst you were trying to locate the remaining four episodes?”

He confirmed that this is the approach he would take.

If we take this to be true, it puts a whole new complexion on the omnirumour, and on the recovery of additional missing material. It confirms my earlier theory that if anything was complete and ready to go, we would have it by now. In a sense, to quote Nick Robinson from the BBC Election Coverage, Morris’ revelation “is a form of exquisite torture – it’s not enough to tell us definitely what has happened, but it is enough to give everyone a little bit of hope.”

For my own part – I think this revelation is hopeful news. Regardless of whether we will get all 96 back (and the swine who has the 97th repents in shame and returns Web 3) I think going public on Web is a sign that Morris feels he is not compromising his search by making an open appeal to film collectors. Indeed, it rather suggests this may be the last sweep to collect what material may still survive, or else it seems pointless and counterproductive to spook the collectors.

We cannot know how big the findings may be, but I am starting to feel hopeful that we’re not going to be talking about 97 missing episodes five years from now.

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68 – The Krotons

This is quite an unusual story for me – a rare instance of a Doctor Who story that I have grown to like less over time rather than more. I suspect the principal reason behind this is that for a long time my family only owned three Patrick Troughton adventures on VHS – Tomb of the Cybermen, The Seeds of Death, and The Krotons. With such a small sample, the latter was quite well enjoyed – which I think reflects on the excellence of Troughton himself.

Why then the fall from grace? Quite possibly that although this is a perfectly enjoyable adventure, it is not the best Troughton adventure. Now that I have been able to enjoy classics like The Web of Fear and The Invasion, The Krotons is somewhat exposed as but a pale shadow compared to these stellar performances.

I concede this is somewhat harsh, because this is a quite well paced and enjoyable four part adventure, and deservedly in my top 50% of classic Doctor Who stories. It is notable as the first Doctor Who adventure to be penned by Robert Holmes, who would go on to write many classic adventures. It has to be said that the Krotons also make for good villains – threatening in their absence in the first two episodes, and imposing in their menace in the final two episodes. They would have made for excellent recurring villains.

Nor can you fault the rest of the cast – unlike in The Seeds of Death, I have the impression that the TARDIS crew wasn’t completely jaded by this point. That said, this serial also gives rise to the unfortunate line in which Troughton’s Doctor, speaking for all of the viewing audience, observes that Zoe’s intelligence gets somewhat annoying at times. Sadly, this is true – companions such as Nyssa showed that a companion could be intelligent without grating on the viewer, while companions like Adric made you long for the days when Jamie misunderstood everything the Doctor told him. Zoe never really worked for this reason – she was never annoying by any means, but it was difficult to like her.

The Krotons however is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, and certainly one that I am glad survived the cull of the BBC records.

Omigosh! They killed them! Or did they …?

I am fairly sure those reading this article will have seen The Magician’s Apprentice so I am writing under the assumption that this is indeed the case. If not, then this is your last opportunity to avoid some serious spoilers about Series 9’s first episode.

Duty to forewarn exercised, my theme tonight is death and Doctor Who. The first episode of the new season concludes with Missy and Clara apparently exterminated, the TARDIS supposedly destroyed, and the Doctor alone. This is of course the latest episode in a recurring trend in modern day Doctor Who – a person being not quite as dead as you imagine.

Let’s consider the evidence

  • Micky supposedly dying in Rose (and to a lesser extent in The Age of Steel)
  • Captain Jack actually dying – but being resurrected
  • Rose ‘dying’ by vanishing into an alternative universe
  • The Doctor ‘dying’ in Turn Left
  • Donna’s ‘death’ being forecast, but turning out to be loss of her memories
  • The Master being resurrected from death in The End of Time
  • The repeated death and resurrection of Rory (on occasions too numerous to count)
  • The Doctor apparently ‘dying’ in The Impossible Astronaut
  • Clara (in her various forms) dying at least twice before we meet her properly
  • We know that Osgood is somehow coming back from the dead this series

The recurring theme, as you have observed, is that very few people stay dead or actually die, the one exception so far being Astrid Peth in Voyage of the Damned. And there’s rather a problem with that – it cheapens death. This was most evident when Rory was in the TARDIS – any time he appeared to have died we knew it couldn’t possibly be true. The series has in fact built up a narrative that is not companions narrowly evading death despite improbable odds – but characters not staying dead.

In that regard, death in Doctor Who is getting dangerously close to resembling South Park. All we need is the Doctor to cry “OMG … they killed Clara! B******s!!!”

Death is not meant to be something that we can wish or magic away. It is very final, very hard, and it changes everything. In storytelling terms, it has to mean something – I remember the shock running through my system when Cedric Diggory was killed in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It meant something because it was final and irretrievable. The same was true when Adric was killed in Earthshock (though to my everlasting shame I attempted to come up with stories that had him rescued by the Master for nefarious purposes …) When characters routinely do not stay dead, death loses all meaning as a narrative, and it desensitises the viewer to the finality and enormity of that loss.

Even more frustrating is the lack of reasonable explanation for when characters evade death. Fans of BBC’s other flagship drama Sherlock will recognise the same Steven Moffat induced frustration. Just as there was no meaningful explanation for how Holmes survived leaping off the building at the end of Series 2 (and I am prepared to bet my underpants there will be no explanation how Moriarty survived shooting himself in the head) there was no effort to explain how Missy survived supposedly being shot dead by Cyber-Brig in Death in Heaven. it’s lazy storytelling of the worst kind – even if the explanation of evading death is completely implausible, we at least want to be treated with the respect of being given an explanation to judge.

I think a lot of fans have come to the same conclusion as myself – if the BBC want to kill a character, they need to stop arsing about and finally kill them off. We don’t mind the kind of ‘final ends’ that leave the possibility of survival (think of the Master in Planet of Fire; or the Daleks in Evil of the Daleks) – but if someone dies, they need to stay dead. And if they escape, we expect to know how.

Is it Missy … or is it the writing?

I’ve had my necessary 48 hour cooling period after watching a Doctor Who episode, by which time I am able to give a calmer reflection on proceedings! Rather predictably, fandom has split right down the middle on The Magician’s Apprentice – many fans euphoric after that opening bombshell and so many different references and plot twists; others despairing of what Steve Moffat has done with their show (lest we be lulled into forgetting that there is an eternal Doctor Who audience to be appeased).

I’m reserving judgement on the story until I see the 2nd part … or to be more exact, I will allow for the possibility that my initially harsh judgement might soften in light of The Witch’s Familiar. But I will briefly extemporise on fandom’s latest love-affair – the inestimable Michelle Gomez as Missy. A lot of fans love her, and she certainly carries a commanding presence. Pitched as a new character, I would probably admire her. Pitched as the Master …

Ay, there’s the rub …

Tying words that I never thought I’d find myself typing, I’m getting over the gender-change regeneration aspect (while not at all feeling happy with the socio-liberal agenda being pushed in the background … I might be in a minority on that one). I’m still not persuaded that gender changes can work and maintain character continuity, simply because gender is such a big part of character, personality and identity – but put someone like Dame Maggie Smith as the Doctor and I’d be willing to be proven wrong.

So why isn’t Missy working? I suspect it isn’t actually Gomez herself, or the way she realises the Character … I suspect it’s the material she’s been given to work with. The crazy ‘killing people for the fun of it’ psycho-lady just doesn’t work for me. There was a pertinent remark by Geoffrey Beevers (derelict of former companion Caroline John, and one of the lesser known actors to portray the Master) in the extras for the Keeper of Traken DVD. When he portrayed the decayed Master, he noticed that he and the former actor to portray this version of the Master, Peter Pratt, where much more nakedly evil and malicious in their realisation of the character. In contrast, Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley with their suave looks were able to use charm and guile, and only needed to resort to brute force where necessary.

So arguably the problem isn’t Missy – the radical change with Master becoming Mistress has highlighted a change that had already occured with John Simm – the conscious choice to portray the Master as an insane psychopath. While this may be true of his character, I think it misses the fundamental point that his psychotic insanity was very much an iron fist in a velvet glove – witness Delgado’s Master in Terror of the Autons ALMOST allowing his temper to snap when Farrell Sr resists his hypnosis – you see in that instant the supressed fury that is now displayed open, but it is hidden at once beneath the iron self-control of the Master.

So my plea … please give Michelle Gomez a chance! Allow her to be the cold, calculating, controlling Master that Derek Jakobi surely would have been, and that John Simm never got the chance to be.

The best ever TARDIS crew? It’s almost too close to call …

In my previous post I began to consider what makes for a good TARDIS crew (by which I mean the Doctor traveling with at least two companions) and reduced it down to two candidates for best – the Season 5 crew of the Second Doctor with Victoria and Jamie, and the Season 12 crew of the Fourth Doctor with Sarah-Jane and Harry. So far, we had learned that three was too many for a TARDIS crew, and there was something too unlikeable about the Tegan/Turlough combination to make them endearing to the viewer.

So why do I think the Season 5 and 12 crews are candidates for the best? Well, let’s clear away some pertinent commonalities to begin with – both seasons feature largely excellent stories, so the crew are given strong content to work with. In this regard, the recovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear are hugely significant, as they have allowed a new generation of fans to appreciate the excellence of Season 5’s stories. Without them, Sarah-Jane and Harry would be the runaway winners of best TARDIS crew.

It’s also abundantly clear that the chemistry between the main actors is excellent. The friendship between Pat, Frazer and Deborah is evident in the way they conduct themselves on set, and the same is true for Tom, Elisabeth and Ian – they make a natural team and it increased the empathy the viewer has for the crew. I would go so far as to say, with each there is the sense that you would want to join as the fourth member of the crew, such is the bonhomie. It could be argued that a similar feelgood factor existed within the U.N.I.T. family – oh for a story that featured the Doctor taking Jo, the Brigadier, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton on a TARDIS adventure …

A curious commonality is between Jamie and Harry. They’re both quick witted, keen to learn, brave, and immensely likeable  – but also just a little bit daft! I think this helps facilitate good story telling – they’re just silly enough not to be on the same level as the Doctor, but not so silly that you spend all your time rolling your eyes at their stupidity (not thinking of any particular companions …) They play the perfect foil in fact to the Doctor being suitably different, and being apt to get themselves into trouble. Their likeability also cannot be overstated – it’s easy to imagine being friends with both of them and their role as occasional comic relief is equally important for adding fun to their stories.

Intriguingly, the biggest difference is between Sarah-Jane and Victoria. As we well know, Deborah Watling left the series largely because she tired (justifiably) of being asked to look pretty and scream into the camera. In contrast, Elisabeth Sladen built upon the culture change that had been slowly taking place since Deborah left of allowing for a more assertive companion – and was arguably the first to truly break free of the ‘get into trouble and scream’ genre of female companion. Despite this significant difference however, there is the similarity that they are both fond of the Doctor, believe him incapable of looking after himself, and apt to be the voice of reason in the TARDIS trio. It is perhaps fair to say that if we leave background production values (and social attitudes) to one side, each is the product of their background – Victoria had a very comfortable background as a Victorian lady whereas Sarah-Jane is a modern day journalist, used to having to make her own way.

Despite that, both work in a way that Wendy Padbury just didn’t as Zoe. It’s worth considering the Season 6 crew, which is the nearest in common to these two crews across the original 26 seasons. Yes, it is a pertinent fact that Pat and Fraser knew they were leaving the show, which undoubtedly had an impact.  But it seems that the TARDIS crew works best when none of the companions are on the same level as the Doctor – I think largely because we are meant to identify with the companion and experience the show through them. We have greater empathy when Victoria ventures into the Underground tunnels alone to find the Doctor despite her evident fear and reluctance … with Sarah-Jane when she encourages her fellow prisoners to escape. When Zoe uses her mathematical skill to prevent the Cyber-invasion on the other hand … there’s a slight air (rightly or wrongly) of ‘too-clever-by-half.’

There is another TARDIS crew (disputedly given how few stories it featured in) that could have come close to matching the crews above – the short-lived combination of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan. Again, one senses the right combination of good chemistry between the actors, a sensible companion and a brave companion, and not too many companions. Interestingly, Nyssa is definitely a very intelligent companion, but she doesn’t quite jar on the viewer to the same extent that Zoe did, while Tegan (devoid of Adric winding her up) works well as the more brash companion. This combination is let down hugely by two factors – at two and a half stories, they didn’t really have a meaningful run as a TARDIS crew; and (more crucially) the stories involved aren’t the strongest.

But which is the best crew ever? I pondered this as I watched both Season 5 (as much of it as survives) and Season 12, and found it tricky to assess. Every story is exceptionally crafted, and I have huge fondness for both crews – it is very sad that we cannot see what the combination of Jamie and Victoria was like in Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, or Fury from the Deep. I’m tempted to say that even if they were found it would not influence my choice, as we have a pretty good impression of what both crews were like. On balance, at the moment, the Season 12 crew edge it – simply because the chemistry between the three is so good. But it is so close, that if more Season 5 material was recovered, I might just change my mind. It really is that close …

Thinking about TARDIS crews …

The TARDIS hasn’t had a crew for a long time. It has usually had the Doctor plus one companion, but very rarely has it had a crew – by which I mean the Doctor plus at least two companions. Of course, there are two people we can blame for this:

Jon Pertwee, who insisted that he wanted his doctor to be an ‘action’ hero (thus negating the need for an active male companion) and …
Adric, who made the Davison era ‘crowded TARDIS’ experience so miserable that JNT became convinced that Peri was a good step forward (er …)

And yet, I found myself reflecting that some of the episodes I have enjoyed best have been enjoyable principally because of the interaction between the members of the TARDIS crew. And so (tomorrow) I will be facing off the two TARDIS crews that I think are the prime contenders for ‘best TARDIS crew’ – but first I wished to pay tribute to those crews who didn’t make the cut …

We simply cannot know …
Steven and Vicki
Steven and Dodo
Ben and Polly (and Jamie)
Sadly, we just do not know how good these TARDIS crews where (although with Dodo we can begin to make an educated and despairing guess …) I have enjoyed Steven’s performances in every story that has survived featuring him as a main companion (sadly, that’s just The Time Meddler; The Ark and The Gunfighters) and would really enjoy the opportunity to see how he got on with Vicki and Dodo over a longer period. I have a slight suspicion that his three stories with Vicki would far surpass his four stories alongside Dodo.
As I remarked previously in my review of The War Machines, I wish more material of Ben and Polly survived, as they seemed to make for a good team – in the very least alongside William Hartnell’s Doctor. Having now watched The Moonbase DVD release, the jury is out as to whether they made such a good team with Patrick Troughton, especially after Jamie joined the TARDIS crew.
As it is … for these TARDIS crews we simply don’t know …

Please. In the name of Heaven. Stop.
Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan
As the extras feature ‘Crowded TARDIS’ on the Castrovalva DVD points out – this crew was too heavy by one member. In Arc of Infinity we see that Nyssa would have made a great solo companion to the Fifth Doctor. Adric arguably aquits himself quite well in Keeper of Traken, and Tegan was exceptional in Kinda. Which one should have gone? I wouldn’t like to choose, but suffice to say three of them was too many.

Close … but no cigar
Jamie and Zoe
Ian, Barbara and Susan/Vicki
Tegan and Turlough
Firstly (as you have noticed) I am counting Ian and Barbara’s time as one, since Susan and Vicki effectively played the same role in the TARDIS crew. Vicki was probably a more fun companion than Susan, but Susan certainly had more mystery – making them both an even match. Ian and Barbara certainly made for an excellent crew alongside Hartnell’s Doctor – but again there is a sense that they didn’t need a pretty young companion just to get into trouble.
Tegan and Turlough meanwhile are an interesting proposition – right numbers (finally) for the Fifth Doctor, but the chemistry doesn’t quite work. One suspects this is partially because one never quite learns to trust (or love) Turlough, and Tegan’s character was perhaps too abrasive alongside that ambiguous character. Could have worked … not sure it did.
Meanwhile, I have made Jamie and Zoe distinct from Jamie and Victoria. I was struck watching Seasons 5 and 6 that Zoe does make a big difference to the crew – as the Doctor says in The Krotons – “That’s the trouble with Zoe – she’s too smart for her own good.” It made for a jolly crew under Captain Pat … but not quite a happy ship. This is a theme I will revisit in due course …

Which leaves … the contenders

As you have by now deduced, that leaves two contenders – the Season 5 crew of Jamie and Victoria, and the Season 12 crew of Sarah-Jane and Harry. Which one wins? Tune in tomorrow to find out …

(The eagle-eyed will have observed that some ‘crews’ didn’t make the cut. These include Steven and Katarina/Sara; The U.N.I.T family; Romana and Adric; Tegan and Nyssa; Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough; and counting K9 as a crew member. This is principally because the ‘crew’ existed for so short a time that it is hard to count them with the crews above)

Have the Fish People been saved?

I hadn’t anticipated that anything in the world of Classic Doctor Who would happen when I disappeared off to an internet blackspot with work. So you can imagine my surprise to discover that the campaign to #savethefishpeople has borne fishy fruit, and led to the announced release of The Underwater Menace on DVD.

I confess that I remain somewhat dubious – as of the time of writing there is no information as to whether the missing episodes 1 and 4 will be animations, telesnap reconstructions, or (worst case scenario) entirely missing – which makes it all the more crazy to consider that you can pre-order the DVD on Amazon for £19.99 without knowing what you will be getting!

So where then are we at? Is this what the BBC were referring to when they said they were doing their best to bring more Classic Doctor Who? I would be disappointed if so, and would remind the BBC of my suggestions for what to do now that the Classic catalogue appears to be completed – I’d like to see The Crusades released in the very least, and see no reason why the entirely catalogue could not be released in some restored form in future.

The elephant in the room however is the omnirumour – it quite simply will not die. The BBC could have nipped this one in the bud by spelling out quite clearly the form that episodes 1 and 4 would be appearing in. They haven’t – and so fandom is filling in the gaps and wondering if the story may even be released in full. Such speculation is hardly new – the same was pondered when The Moonbase was released in 2014, and with the repeated on-off saga of the release of The Underwater Menace. I admit (reluctantly) that I find it hard to imagine that the BBC would have kept the recovery and release of the episodes under wraps without the information leaking out. There’s also the fact that if they do intend to release The Underwater Menace without any missing episodes, it will inevitably lead to more questions.

So in that regard – very little has changed. The speculation won’t stop until we have some sort of definitive statement. But one nevertheless senses that the end is in sight …