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.