The ongoing saga of missing BBC archive material took a fresh twist this weekend, when the BBC Store announced on Twitter that a currently missing episode of Dad’s Army (“A Stripe for Frazer”) was to be animated alongside the re-discovered soundtrack, and released online in early February.
This significant development raises rather more questions than it answers. It was Dad’s Army that led Bleeding Cool to suggest in August 2013 that a large amount of lost archived material had been recovered. Does the animation of this episode mean that they have written off the recovery the currently missing three episodes of Series 2? If so, can we conclude that the ‘omnirumour’ – that not just Doctor Who but many other classic series had been found in bulk – is dead? Are we (as Frazer himself would frequently cry) “all doomed!”
As I say, it does not seem so straightforward. We can equally ask (and indeed, I have asked BBC Worldwide) why animate this episode of Dad’s Army, but not the missing episodes for The Underwater Menace or The Crusades? Why not animate the other two stories from Series 2 of Dad’s Army?
There are some striking lessons to learn however. Top of the list – this story is due to be released less than four weeks after it was announced on Twitter. You cannot do an animation that quickly, which means that this has been on the cards for a long time, but has been kept secret with remarkable ease. It perhaps encourages us that other material (whether animated or recovered) could well be on the BBC’s books – but just as hidden as this episode had been until recently.
Secondly, it is evident that the trial of launching The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear on iTunes was an enormous success. While I grant you that the BBC Store was probably going to happen anyway (due to the popularity of BBC iPlayer, and the rise of other VoD services), it demonstrated that new titles could be launched exclusively online and turn a profit. I suspect that this fresh venture could well be to assess whether recreating lost material would prove as profitable as releasing recovered material. Bizarrely enough, future releases of Doctor Who could depend upon how well Dad’s Army sells on the BBC Store.
My final conclusion is entirely a balance of probabilities and comes back to the question (most) readers will be asking: “What does this mean for Doctor Who?”
Oddly enough, I think this is very encouraging news for Doctor Who fans, and for those who hope there is more material out there. While it seems the omnirumour is indeed dead (by which I mean, I cannot see 97 episodes recovered barring a miracle of Biblical proportions), I do think that Philip Morris has found more missing material, and either has yet to recover all of the material, or has recovered some, but has a good lead on further material. In fact, I take him at his word that the search is ongoing, and that he has to tread carefully.
My reasoning centres largely around the long-running campaign to release The Underwater Menace, and the incredible reluctance of BBC Worldwide to comment on what they mean when they say they have plans to release more classic Doctor Who. In the very least, I suspect secret animations may well be at an infant stage – if so, let’s rejoice that we get to enjoy some form of these lost classics! But I think their taciturnity also reflects uncertainty as to what material is truly lost. Sales of The Moonbase and The Tenth Planet were badly hit because of the rumours that the missing episodes had been found – fans (understandably) did not want to buy twice. The BBC’s reluctance to announce fresh animations only makes sense if they believe there is a reasonable chance of material being recovered.
Which makes it good news and bad news. The great news is that it looks like the BBC will eventually give the fans what they want – the complete Doctor Who classic run. The bad news is that it seems the ongoing search for missing episodes has put animating the gaps on indefinite hold.