Happy #MissingEpisodesMonday folks! It’s been a while, but we’re still holding out in hope that the gaps will eventually be filled in the Doctor Who back catalogue. Some encouraging news is that the animation of lost Dad’s Army episode ‘A Stripe for Fraser’ has seemingly been the catalyst for a new wave of animations of lost British sitcoms, including Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son and Till Death Us Do Part to be animated for a new series, The Lost Sitcoms. It confirms that the BBC are willing to explore animations for classic material, and again makes us revisit the crucial point: why not the remaining missing episodes of Doctor Who?
Well, off the back of yesterday’s post on the excellent missing episodes book WIPED!, I would now like to advance a theory. It is only a theory, it is partially borrowed from ideas I have read on Planet Mondas, and is not based upon any hard fact, inside knowledge, or particularly ingenious reasoning. It is, however, a plausible explanation of what may be going on.
If we assume that Philip Morris has told us the truth about the discovery and loss of Web of Fear episode 3, an assumption which I think is entirely fair, then we know he discovered painfully that he has to be discreet when tracking down episodes. Hard though it is for us to fathom, there are individuals (rather like in City of Death) who would get a kick out of having something that no-one else can have.
We also know from WIPED! that this also makes recovery something of a cat and mouse game. Ian Levine purposefully withheld news that he had recovered episode 1 of The Time Meddler in the early 1980s – not because he wished to keep it for himself, but recognising that it may be necessary to trade a supposedly missing episode for a different missing episode. It means that even if Phil is sitting on quite a few missing episodes, it doesn’t do to reveal how much he has, lest he need to negotiate the return of an episode he cannot recover by other means. Web episode 3 is a good example of this; if the Nigeria print was the last one in existence and it now rests with a private collector, it may well require the exchange of a currently missing story to secure its return.
Another interesting aspect from WIPED! however, is that we’re not absolutely sure what happened to all of the prints that were sent overseas. We know that the BBC looked to keep costs down by ‘bicycling’ the prints from one country to another, so it is not simply a case of one print per country. We also know that some prints that ought to have been returned were not – by virtue of the fact that fans currently have the likes of Tomb of the Cybermen, Enemy of the World and Web of Fear sitting on their bookshelves! Until now, it has been assumed that all of the prints can be accounted for as either lost or destroyed, but it seems that there are two challenges to this assumption:
- As the Web/Enemy recovery shows, it seems that the paper trail was never followed up in person, merely by long distance communication. This is a huge pity, as if someone had been able to call on the Sierra Leone archives before the civil war commenced in 1991, they may well have found and recovered the five Hartnell prints believed to have been sitting there.
- It seems that the paper trail itself is neither 100% clear, nor 100% exhaustive. In WIPED! Richard Molesworth has had to use some commendably impressive deduction to figure out which prints went where; even to the extent of trying to work out how the recovered prints of Tomb of the Cybermen came to be in Hong Kong. But by the nature of the surviving paperwork, it must be deduction rather than repetition of definite fact.
In view of the above, I propose that the following theory may account for why the BBC have been so reluctant to explain why they have been saying: “We expect to release more classic Doctor Who“, and why the expected #omnirumour dreadnought has been delayed for so long. Please take note that we begin with a speculation made by a member of Planet Mondas Forum, Douglas Wulf. He firmly believes in a mass recovery, so we must take his words with an extra large pinch of salt – I must repeat: this is not a fact, and I have no evidence to support this supposition.
The supposition is this. Philip Morris has publicly praised Pamela Nash for her work in the 1970s, despite the fact that sections of Doctor Who fandom hold her in very low regard for allowing the purge of Doctor Who from the film archives (incidently, this is a very unfair judgement – by the time the prints were destroyed, the BBC had no legal right to sell them. With painful hindsight we can see the video market was less than 10 years away, but then we didn’t see the iPhone coming in 1995 …) Morris’ praise seems odd therefore, unless it is possible that the concurrent action Nash took of sending audition prints overseas, means that there is a better chance that stories currently missing have survived. This forms the core of the theory: that there is at least one set of audition prints covering the Hartnell and Troughton era that have previously not been accounted for.
If this is true, then how do the 2013 recoveries fit in to this theory? 2013 was absolutely huge for Doctor Who as the 50th Anniversary – it was strongly rumoured that the BBC asked Philip Morris if he had any material that could be released especially for the anniversary year. In following up all of the paper trails, I believe Morris found the Nigerian prints exactly as he said (side note – and there may even be other prints in the Nigerian find, not as yet released). However, it is possible that this find is not the main recovery at all.
Let us suppose that Philip Morris is tracking down lost prints. He makes the Nigerian discovery, but gets his fingers burnt with the loss of Web 3. He’s bitterly disappointed, but not overly so, because he’s hot on the scent of the proverbial motherlode – and who knows – perhaps Web 3 would be in this master set? Perhaps he has already tracked down many of the prints, or perhaps he is close but not yet to the point of having the cans in his hands. The BBC phone, aware of his search, and asking if he can release something. He could tell them about the big find – and maybe he would be tempted to if he had recovered something as highly sought after as Power of the Daleks. But then he would have to explain how he found the prints – and with his search incomplete, that would put the remaining prints in danger of private collectors getting there first. Indeed, with the Mirror splashing that all 106 missing episodes had been found in Ethiopia, perhaps he decided that he needed to take the heat off the public asking what he was up to.
Which leaves us with a plausible explanation for where we are at just now. With the Nigerian prints an isolated find, Phil figures there can be little harm in returning Enemy of the World and Web of Fear. Whatever loose end he followed to that particular point is now a dead end, and puts no further prints at risk. This leaves him free to follow his trail as far as it will go, do his best to get there before the private collectors, and perhaps even to barter with known private collectors.
I finish with the same note of caution I expressed at the start: this is only a theory. At present we cannot prove or disprove it, and we will only know if it is true once Philip Morris is in the position that he can reveal where he searched, and what he found. It does cover all of the established facts thus far however , and account for why the so called omnirumour came to exist, yet not be fulfilled as immediately as anticipated.
So where does that leave us? Well, if it’s untrue then we’re whistling in the wind (nothing new there). If it is true on the other hand, it encouragingly and excitingly suggests that we should not expect the return of the odd orphaned episode, but instead can look forward to one or more complete adventures. As ever, we can only sit and wait – and expect the unexpected!