Stand by for … #missingepisodes May?

It has been a while since my last post on missing episodes, principally because there has been little by way of substantive rumour to report. Earlier this year there were rumblings that a number of William Hartnell episodes from Season 3 had been recovered, but nothing more substantive than rumour, and absolutely nothing relating to the supposed activities (or lack thereof) of Philip Morris.

Indeed, while there has been a lot of speculation about an event on 27th May put on by Fantom Films celebrating Doctor Who’s lost episodes, there has been a surprising lack of the sort of concrete rumour that ought to precede a pre-event announcement of more found episodes. Despite that, the guest list, which includes Mr Morris among other notables, has led sections of Doctor Who’s fans to conclude that there must be something happening; whether it is the presence of William Russell and Waris Hussein leading to speculation that Marco Polo must be recovered, to Deborah Watling’s presence being a sign that Evil of the Daleks is at least about to be animated, if not actually released as a full recovery.

Which means that this photo, posted on to the Facebook page of Philip Morris’s archive organisation Television International Enterprises Archives (T.I.E.A.) was inevitably going to raise eyebrows:

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Photo of film canisters from T.I.E.A. Facebook page – click picture to follow link

Shrewd observers will have already spotted similarities between the photo above, and the picture Philip Morris shared on the Doctor Who Missing Episodes Facebook Discussion Group of the complete Web of Fear in Jos. The similarities are of course giving rise to one obvious question: “What is in the film cans?”

Long term readers of this blog will know that I am convinced more material has been recovered, and also what material I think has been recovered. Rather than revisit that speculation, I will venture my own thoughts on whether the Fantom Film event is the precursor to a full or partial revelation of what missing Doctor Who Philip Morris has recovered.

I think in the very least we are about to get new information. Posting such a tantalising image as the one above could only ever have one impact on Doctor Who fans – to prompt renewed speculation. I firmly believe one does not knowingly enter a lions’ den having taken away the lions’ dinner! I therefore think that Philip Morris is in the position to share at least some new information, almost certainly related in some way to the posted photograph.

Secondly, if it is true that there is new information being shared, I think it is also possible that we will soon find out the results of his search. To date Morris has been exceedingly discreet regarding his search, emphasising that too much publicity makes it harder for him to track down material, and puts existing material at risk. There has also been speculation that regular teases on social media are Phil’s way of trying to get around Non Disclosure Agreements which prohibit him from revealing which commercially sensitive content he has returned to the BBC.

I do also think however that we won’t find out everything. I have previously speculated that the return of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear may have been influenced by these two stories proving a relatively isolated part of his overall search. Let’s assume that for each companion attending the event we have one returned story – say Marco Polo for William Russell, The Savages for Peter Purves, and The Abominable Snowmen for Deborah Watling. It may be that these stories also came from one small isolated station, allowing Morris to hold back from revealing if he had found anything else.

To put it another way: if there is not a conclusive statement on the search, we can presume that there is more material in the pipeline – either that Morris is still meticulously tracking down, or that he has tracked down and is seeking to repatriate to the BBC, or that is caught up in BBC negotiations. Conversely, a “that’s it” statement from Phil probably does mean the end of any hopes that the Doctor Who back catalogue survives somewhere in Africa …

That said, we should pay attention to whatever Paul Venezis has to say. Philip Morris has not been the only person tracking down material, and Paul Venezis has been one of the key men for co-ordinating the return of missing material from all sources, of which Phil’s worldwide hunt is just one. He is notoriously adept at using denials and carefully worded replies to give misleading impressions – saying for example “The entirety of Season 5 has not been found in Africa” while being aware that Enemy of the World and Web of Fear had been recovered – truthful, but not completely truthful! But if we are approaching the end game of Phil’s search, perhaps he will be more chatty.

That’s my realistic appraisal. I now hope that readers will forgive me if I indulge in a little daydreaming! Let’s suppose that somehow, incredibly, the BBC succeeded in keeping the biggest possible secret completely secret – a mass recovery of missing Doctor Who (ie. more than forty episodes, at least four completely recovered stories). I am inclined to agree with comments I have read elsewhere that the BBC would not permit an external organisation to claim the publicity benefit of such a major news story, so such an announcement would certainly not be made on the day.

Let’s suppose that there is a mass recovery announcement to be made – I rather suspect that the release of the animated Power of the Daleks gives us some indication what this might look like in practice. Assuming that they can control the news agenda (both Power of the Daleks and the Web/Enemy releases were plagued by pre-release leaks) then there will be a BBC press conference held before the Fantom event, not later (most probably) than Wednesday 24th. It is highly improbable that they will announce the release of every recovered episode – let’s face it, if all 96 episodes were recovered and released instantly, the likes of The Space Pirates would never sell in good numbers!

What is more likely is that they will repeat some of the promotional tricks used in Power of the Daleks – that is, a special incentive for fans to buy a complete story in advance; perhaps a discount for buying multiple adventures. The release of the story in a daily episodic format seemed to be extremely popular, and I could see that being repeated – it gained a massive amount of social media publicity and that would only increase for an actual episode recovery.

The trick question however would be which episode or episodes to release, assuming that the BBC have choice? Given that it has been rumoured for so long, and given the attendance of William Russell and Waris Hussein, I’d be amazed if Marco Polo is not a prime candidate for the first tranche of releases. We would then need to consider how the BBC would handle the recovery of multiple stories; would they perhaps release them in tranches of two or three stories at a time? Given that the BBC typically aimed to release one classic Doctor Who DVD per month, one presumes they could release the 20 missing adventures within two years if they so wished, and faster if the delay has been partially due to taking the time to restore the material.

My instinct is that the BBC would announce which stories they had recovered, and confirm which stories would be available ‘immediately.’ I think three is the absolute maximum they could release on BBC Store, which brings us neatly back to three confirmed companions – Ian (most probably Marco Polo), Steven (something from Season 3) and Victoria (most probably The Abominable Snowmen).

So I will finish with my wishful thinking prophecy: that even as we speak, BBC staff are making preparations to load Marco Polo, The Savages, and The Abominable Snowmen on to the BBC Store, ready to download at an episode per day. And if my unending optimism proves right, these downloads are only a taste of what may then follow!

As ever … all this is speculation. I am joining thousands of other Doctor Who fans in hoping that on this occasion, the speculation proves accurate!

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