Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Power of the Daleks

Back in the summer, in the heady days before the now infamous leak of the Power of the Daleks animation footage, there was only ever one candidate when I decided I wanted to sample a Loose Cannon reconstruction, and that was Patrick Troughton’s first adventure. Right from the very start of this blog I made no secret that, like most fans, I really wanted to experience the disconcerting sensation of watching Patrick Troughton make his mark on a role that, until that point, had been solely defined by William Hartnell.

So that was my plan. Until we had some confirmation I would watch the Loose Cannon reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks. Then this showed up:

That put me in a bit of quandary. Should I press ahead with my commentary on the Power of the Daleks given that we were about to experience a much fuller reconstruction of the lost episodes? In the end, as evidenced by your reading of these words, I thought it gave even more reason to write the blog. There are some fans out there that prefer Loose Cannon recons to the official animations. This post gives the chance to share my impressions of these reconstructions, and then (in just over a week – how exciting!) to compare it to the new animation.

So let me begin with an explanatory note for those unfamiliar with what Loose Cannon recons are. As noted in previous posts, and especially my post on The Macra Terror, there are two principal ways that missing footage has nevertheless survived – off air fan recordings of the audio, and tele-snaps taken of the live footage. A company known as Loose Cannon (for more details, read here) took it upon themselves to combine audio and tele-snaps to produce a rough approximation of what the on screen action would have been like. While their website is now sadly missing, their videos are still available on sites like youtube and daily motion.

I am already familiar with what it is like to watch such a reconstruction as part of a largely complete episode. When The Tenth Planet was released on VHS it featured a recon of the missing episode 4 that was a combination of telesnaps and audio, and a similar recon was used for The Web of Fear episode 3, and (rather less successfully) for episodes 1 and 4 of The Underwater Menace. I did wonder however what it would be like to watch a completely missing story made up of just tele-snaps.

I have to say, I absolutely loved it, and it was a joy to experience The Power of the Daleks in this way. Undoubtedly the strength of the story itself contributed to that, being a gripping and clever tale that built the tension wonderfully across the six episodes. Even more than that though, I felt the presentation was a reasonable substitute given the absence of the original episodes, never once feeling like I couldn’t understand what was going on. In contrast to just listening to The Macra Terror I found it significantly easier to picture what was happening, and fill in the gaps between the different shots.

The recon also, tantalisingly, includes such surviving footage as exists, including a few pitifully brief shots of Troughton in episode 1, filmed by an amateur viewer pointing a cine camera at his television during the broadcast. It makes watching Doctor Who in his way arguably even more painful, as you are able to get a glimpse of what it would have been like, piquing one’s desire for the original prints to somehow, miraculously, be found. It also pointed out all of the little quirks and mannerisms in Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor, sadly lost when his episodes were wiped. If the animations truly mean that Phil Morris will never find the original prints of The Power of the Daleks, then it is a huge loss for British TV heritage.

The bottom line is that I could very easily see myself dipping into the Loose Cannon range in future for other missing stories. Alongside novelisations, they are an excellent way to reimagine lost classics. As we are about to discover on Saturday however, I still suspect that the very best way to enjoy currently missing Doctor Who is through animations.

But all that will come in my forthcoming review of the Power of the Daleks animation!

Don’t forget – Power of the Daleks is set to be released at 5:50pm GMT on Saturday 5th November, 50 years to the day after the original broadcast on BBC One.

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Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Abominable Snowmen

In February 2014 I faced a conundrum. The Moonbase had just been released on DVD with its missing episodes animated, but I could not bring myself to buy it. As I was to explain in this post, at that stage fandom was rife with rumours that almost the entire stock of lost classic Doctor Who had been recovered – what is popularly termed the ‘Omnirumour.’ The rumour refuses to die, but in the very least no Doctor Who fan honestly expects the imminent return of every missing episode.

51bskycec2bl-_sy346_This is now, but back then I was a bit at a loss. I’d been patiently building my DVD collection for eight years, and suddenly there was nothing else. At that stage I was reluctant to invest in audios, for much the same reason that I held off buying The Moonbase on DVD – I didn’t want to pay twice if there was the prospect of the episodes being recovered!

My solution was to take advantage of my shiny new Kindle, and to order up the mostly missing Pat Troughton adventure The Abominable Snowmen. At a very reasonable £3, I thought it would be an excellent foray into experiencing lost adventures through the medium of print, without committing to the potentially painful expenditure involved in audio CDs.

My experience with Doctor Who novelisations has proven something of a mixed bag – I couldn’t enjoy Silver Nemesis as a child because it was too different to the TV script, whereas the novelisations of Attack of the Cybermen and The TV Movie managed to make me enjoy and appreciate both a lot better. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started into The Abominable Snowmen.

As it is, I enjoyed the adventure so much that I was compelled to blog not long after that the BBC ought to animate the missing episodes! Terrance Dicks is rightly revered in Doctor Who circles as a wonderful story teller, and he tells this lost tale extremely well. While the action of a six part adventure is (of necessity) rather compacted, the story loses none of its charm or excitement.

While it is more accurate to say that The Web of Fear is the sequel to The Abominable Snowmen, featuring the return of Professor Travers, the Yetis, and The Great Intelligence, for fans like myself who never got to see The Abominable Snowmen when first broadcast it is oddly more appropriate to think of this story as the prequel to The Web of Fear – a Great Intelligence origins story if you like! Knowing what was to come did not really ruin the sense of wonder and exploration as Dicks unpacked the script and told the narrative of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arriving at Detsen monastery in Tibet. The reader gets caught up in the terror of the Yeti menace, and develops empathy with the monks, and with the strange English adventurer Professor Travers.

Obviously, reading The Abominable Snowmen is no comparison to actually watching the episodes, but given that the prints are not meant to be coming back any time soon (or are they? Read my thoughts HERE ...) I found the novelisati0n a more than worthy substitute. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, and enjoyed it so much that I went on to buy the novelisations of The Moonbase and The Crusades. It remains my hope that BBC Worldwide will consider recommissioning eBooks for every missing adventure, enabling those fans born long after the episodes were junked the opportunity to discover these adventures.

Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Macra Terror

In anticipation of the release of Power of the Daleks in less than two weeks (!) on BBC Store, I am continuing my series of ways to enjoy the currently missing episodes, and this week focusing on the audio story of The Macra Terror. Next week I will be sharing on the Power of the Daleks telesnap reconstruction to give a point of comparison. Both these stories start from a similar starting point – no episodes have survived, and so we are reliant upon two sources to imagine the story: John Cura’s telesnaps taken of the footage when originally shown, and the off-air fan recordings of the soundtrack. As I was already familiar with telesnap reconstrucuctions through the VHS release of The Tenth Planet and the DVD release of The Web of Fear, I purposefully wanted to experience a story with only sound.

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The Macra Terror was very kindly chosen by my Twitter audience as the starting point for this experiment in experiencing Doctor Who by audio. The story follows on from the last missing adventure I reviewed, The Moonbase, with the TARDIS arriving on a future Earth colony which gives the picture of an idyllic life. Predictably for Doctor Who, surface appearances are not all that they seem, and it transpires that the colony is in the grip of powerful hypnosis and fear by a hidden menace known as the Macra.

In many respects The Macra Terror is no different to many of the base-under-siege adventures of this era. While the arrival of the Doctor and his companions is accidental, the Doctor proves unable to resist ‘getting involved’ once it becomes clear that not all is well. My impression from the audio is that the writers finally seemed to manage the overfull TARDIS of Season Four in this episode, without having to resort to The Moonbase tactic of rendering Jamie unconscious for two episodes! All three companions are given useful roles, even though in poor Ben’s case it largely came down to becoming a brainwashed stooge for most of proceedings.

The biggest pity however is the absence of footage, and it certainly made it a struggle to engage with the adventure. I could well believe that the quality of the linking narration might contribute, but I found it hard to imagine the different scenes played out in front of me without terms of reference. Certainly, I think it would be hard to enjoy the intentionally comic scene in episode one in which the Doctor is ‘smartened up’ without actually seeing the footage! By the second time of listening, I found myself following (and enjoying) the story somewhat better, but compared to animation I found it a major struggle. My next review will comment on whether telesnaps are a reasonable substitute for footage, but I have no qualms in stating my belief that soundtracks alone are insufficient.

That said, The Macra Terror was a very worthwhile experiment. While it confirmed my suspicion that I wouldn’t rate it that highly, and the music is on the distinctly high side of trippy (something I also struggled with in The Underwater Menace) it was interesting to experience lost Doctor Who in this way. While definitely not my preferred method of experiencing the missing episodes, I would still advise that every fan should experience listening to lost audio adventures without visual references at least once.

Are we getting hints The Smugglers is back?

The Doctor Who missing episodes brigade have been rumbling again following a series of tweets by Anneke Wills, in which she is photographed in the locations she appeared in 50 years ago as Polly in the currently missing Hartnell adventure The Smugglers:

As the eighth Doctor would remind us, “humans [are] always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.” But nobody can quite resist the urge to speculate why these photos are appearing online, and being retweeted by a certain Philip Morris. In typical “looks like a dog, barks like a dog” fashion, fans are wondering if this is a very thinly veiled hint that The Smugglers is no longer missing, and is instead close to a release.

We ought to know well enough by now to treat the willful optimism of Doctor Who fans with all of the caution we can muster. I note the speculation, and don’t rule it out given that there have been rumblings for a long time that Web of Fear and Enemy of the World were not the only Doctor Who episodes recovered. But I don’t conclude that these tweets constitute definite proof that The Smugglers is back – I’ll only believe it when I see it.

What is fascinating is to speculate where the prints have come from, if indeed The Smugglers has been found in a salvageable condition. Working from the helpful guide on The Destruction of Time website, we can construct the following scenarios:

Scenario One: The Sierra Leone prints survived

As is documented in Wiped! it is documented that a near complete run of the Hartnell era, which included most of the currently missing Season 3, was destroyed during the civil wars in that country. It is assumed that these prints are definitely gone, and to be fair I think it unlikely that the prints somehow survived the conflict. It is an outside possibility, albeit extremely remote, that the prints were moved elsewhere before the conflict destroyed the film depot.

Scenario Two: The Zambia prints survived

As I commented on Monday, Philip Morris has previously led us to believe that he had searched Zambia and found nothing there. Let us suppose however that perhaps the prints were not still in Zambia, but instead had been moved on to another location, and that Morris succeeded in finding this location. Then we would be entertaining the prospect I spelt out yesterday – the only prints not in Zambia at some point were Mission to the Unknown, Dalek Master Plan, Tenth Planet, Power of the Daleks, Evil of the Daleks, Fury from the Deep, The Wheel in Space, and The Invasion. In short – if The Smugglers has come from surviving prints from Zambia, then the omnirumour is true.

Scenario Three: The Singapore prints survived

Just a little delving into the Singapore prints reveals some of the headaches involved. As BroaDWcast reveal, the Singapore prints came from and went to a variety of places, so it seems unlikely that they are sitting neatly in one place, in the style of Jos. The one cause for optimism is that if these prints were not sent back to London to be destroyed, and were not destroyed in Singapore, then there is hope that the entirety of these prints exists somewhere. If every story that was shown in Singapore is still around, that means the only story missing is The Dalek Master Plan.

Scenario Four: The Prints from Australia or New Zealand survived

This scenario has always been assumed to be as unlikely as the recovery of the Sierra Leone prints. Most of these prints made their way back to the UK and were destroyed, or else where destroyed in where they finally rested – most of the Australian prints being destroyed there, some of the New Zealand prints being sent on to Hong Kong and Singapore and then destroyed when used. Part of the evidence that backs this up is that the majority of surviving prints that were in Australia and New Zealand are orphans, not complete serials. For this scenario to be true, it follows that the majority of these prints have ended up with private collectors, or alternatively our fifth scenario:

Scenario Five: The ‘extra’ audition prints

You don’t need to spend long delving into the fates of Doctor Who’s overseas prints to see that it was far from straightforward – bicycling prints from one country to the next without adequate paperwork has made it a task akin to archaeology to work out how many prints there were, and where they finally ended up – which is precisely the task Philip Morris took up. The above assumptions assume we know of, and can account for, every print sent overseas. If, as this post explains, there was at least one additional set of audition prints doing the rounds, then all bets are off as to what content is back. We simply cannot know for sure what prints were included or excluded from that package.

Conclusions:

If Philip Morris has indeed found The Smugglers it will give fans great cause for optimism. While the ideal would be a Jos style discovery of an entire collection of missing Doctor Who, even the survival of one lone story would give fans hope that other stories that were bicycled with it may also have survived.

#MissingEpisodesMonday: Why I think more missing episodes are coming back – and WHAT I think is coming back …

I’ve been sitting on this post for quite a while, realising that predictions are the worst kind of attention seeking, and unable to find any hard evidence to back up my suppositions. As it is, with rumours rumbling that Doctor Who fans will have more to celebrate than the Power of the Daleks animation, I have decided to take the plunge and join in with my own speculation! Readers should note the health warning in advance of this post – I really do not have any proof to back up my suppositions. I think I am right, but it is entirely possible I am wrong.

Let me begin by returning to an original tweet sent out in June 2015:

Tweet by BBC Worldwide

We do have a hard fact to work with here: that as early as June 2015, the BBC were contemplating the release of further classic Doctor Who material. Since then both the BluRay of the TV Movie and the Power of the Daleks animation have indeed been announced, fulfilling their hope to release ‘more.’ As my post from the time also notes, this was right in the middle of the ‘Will they or won’t they?’ release of The Underwater Menace. So, on the face of it, it is simple – we know the three hoped for releases.

Except it does not seem that straightforward. Judging by what we know from elsewhere, the animation of Power was due to BBC America deciding to make funding available both to commission the animation, and also to broadcast it in America. The animation team involved is the same team that animated the lost Dad’s Army episode ‘A Stripe for Fraser.’ – a project that concluded in January. Taking these two facts together, it seems unlikely that the BBC were thinking of The Power of the Daleks when this tweet was made. Similarly, it seems unlikely that they were thinking of The Underwater Menace, given that this particular DVD release seems to have been made with reluctance, and I have always thought that ‘more’ classic Doctor Who means more than special editions or high definition. The conclusion I am forced to, is that the BBC still anticipate the return of more material that is currently ‘officially missing.’

The obvious candidate for more returned material would be Web of Fear episode 3, given that Philip Morris said in his Starburst interview: “we’re on top of that.” It seems to be accepted that we will eventually get Web 3, and there seems to be acceptance that we will get more material, whether orphans or complete serials. It also seems to be accepted that the omnirumour was the galloping fancy of fans who couldn’t resist entertaining the prospect of being able to watch (almost) every single episode of Doctor Who ever made. So what we are looking at, is a number between 2 and 97 … and now I am going to predict what I think we are going to get.

To do so, credit is due to The Destruction of Time website (http://missingepisodes.blogspot.co.uk/) and in particular their page detailing which overseas nations are believed to have screened lost Doctor Who, available at THIS LINK. I am also grateful to Jon Preddle, who gave a very detailed email reply to some of my questions about which serials were sold in ‘packages.’ All of my deductions are based on the premise that if I think one story is back, that increases the likelihood that other stories sold in that cluster are also back. So, with that in view, here is what I think we can look forward to:

Highly Probable: The Abominable Snowmen and The Wheel in Space

I am not the first person to speculate that these stories ought to be back. These were included in the same package as Enemy of the World and Web of Fear, so on paper they ought to have been in Jos. Possibly, like Web 3 they went walkies. Possibly they were sent on to a different station. My own persuasion is that the revelation Web 3 exists is good news for these stories – it changes the perception of Jos from ‘fortunate that only one episode was lost’ to ‘everything was there.’ I am fairly confident that both these stories were found in Nigeria – as with all of these recoveries, the unknowable question is whether they are salvageable. Given the BBC’s optimism however, I predict that a future release may well be a Great Intelligence boxset featuring the newly completed Web of Fear alongside the newly recovered Abominable Snowmen.

Suspected Probable: The Crusades and The Underwater Menace

It has always puzzled me why the BBC drew stumps on animations after The Moonbase, given that two other stories satisfied the criteria of not having more than half their content missing, and only requiring two episodes to be animated to complete the story. It is even more puzzling that when The Underwater Menace was released, not only did the BBC use rather telesnaps, they also refused to let the restoration team rearrange the telesnaps to reflect the story being told – meaning that it is incredibly difficult to follow the story. It is useful to reflect that the BBC did not rush an animation for the missing episode of Web of Fear, rather suggesting that they knew from the start that it was out there somewhere, and it was worth being patient.

I am therefore entirely persuaded that both stories exist, and the BBC is holding fire in the hope that they reach the BBC archives. As with all of these ‘finds’, there is no guarantee either that the stories are in a recoverable state, or that those holding the prints are willing to part with them. The balance of probability however, is that the absence of animations for these two adventures is best explained by the prospect that the animations would very soon become superfluous.

The possibilities: perhaps the entirety of Seasons 1 and 4 …

From this point onward, we enter deepest, darkest speculation. As with all of the health warnings thus far, there is no guarantee that individual stories or episodes were not siphoned away from the main package, or suffered more damage than others. If, however, episode packages have indeed remained intact in overseas film depots, then here are the possibilities that we might entertain.

If the Crusades has been recovered, then we can be absolutely confident that the missing episodes from season 1 have been recovered as well. Every country that bought The Crusades also bought Marco Polo and The Reign of Terror. On that premise, I am prepared to predict that the entirety of the first two seasons of Doctor Who exists somewhere, and the only question is whether the material is still salvageable, and whether it is possible for the BBC to access the material.

If the Underwater Menace is back, and the entirety of its package is intact, that means that at worst the Uganda prints have survived. That would mean the recovery of Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror, The Highlanders, The Moonbase, The Macra Terror, and The Faceless Ones. We already know that Phil Morris has searched Zambia and (supposedly) found nothing; if that information is erroneous, and the rescued copy of Underwater Menace is from Zambia, then the metaphorical jackpot has been well and truly hit. In addition to the above, the Zambia prints would also include The Crusades, Galaxy 4, The Myth Makers, The Massacre, The Celestial Toymaker, The Savages, The Smugglers, The Ice Warriors, and The Space Pirates (technically also The Abominable Snowmen – but I presume it has already been found in Nigeria!)

This represents a best and worst case scenario if The Underwater Menace has indeed been found – and even the ‘worst case scenario’ is still pretty fantastic! There are three outside possibilities that on the whole can be discounted – the prints from Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia. These prints seem to be well accounted for, and it is unlikely they have been found. It is worth noting that if our assumptions about these prints are wrong however, then we cannot rule out the possibility of the omnirumour being true. If The Underwater Menace is in the Hong Kong prints, along with the rest, then the only story (intriguingly!) missing from the Troughton era is … The Power of the Daleks. I still maintain that if Power ever gets recovered, that means that everything (or almost everything) is back.

A final note of caution is that we have never been entirely sure how many overseas prints have been in circulation – read this earlier post for a short explanation why this is the case. If there are other prints we didn’t know about, then obviously the theorizing above is entirely redundant!

In conclusion – I have focused on two fixed facts. Enemy of the World and Web of Fear survived in their entirety, and the BBC have acted very strangely over the non-animation of The Crusades and The Underwater Menace. My suppositions do rest on certain presumptions – that the episode packages have survived intact in their entirety; that no episodes are lost, water damaged, or held by private collectors; and that the person responsible for finding the episodes (whether Philip Morris or A.N.Other) is able to return them to the BBC – and I freely concede that any and all of those might be the case. Even if just one is true, my case falls flat.

If my supposition is correct however, then I think this is the list of definite recoveries. It is by no means exhaustive, and we may have even more to look forward beyond this list. But I am prepared to stick my neck out, and predict that the following stories have been found:

  1. Marco Polo (7 episodes recovered)
  2. The Reign of Terror (2 episodes recovered)
  3. The Crusades (2 episodes recovered)
  4. The Highlanders (4 episodes recovered)
  5. The Underwater Menace (2 episodes recovered)
  6. The Moonbase (2 episodes recovered)
  7. The Macra Terror (4 episodes recovered)
  8. The Faceless Ones (4 episodes recovered)
  9. The Abominable Snowmen (5 episodes recovered)
  10. The Web of Fear (1 episode recovered)
  11. The Wheel in Space (4 episodes recovered)

37 recovered episodes, leaving 60 still missing

If the rumours are true, we may be about to find out in November just how disastrously wrong I am. Watch this space – and expect the unexpected!