Ladies and gentlemen … this is not the blog I had originally intended to write. Originally, this was entitled “Five years on … the wait continues”. It was due to be a rather prosaic acceptance five years after the return of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear that the so-called ‘omnirumour‘ – the promise that a large number of missing episodes of Doctor Who had been recovered – was a busted flush.
That, as I say, was what I had intended to write …
This all changed in a rather dramatic Friday evening. First it was revealed that a significant archive recovery was due to be announced on the One Show that evening. Then came the bombshell …
What had hitherto been a mild curiosity suddenly became the primary focus of Doctor Who fans (sorry Jodie!) given Phil Morris’ prior reticence to reveal the results of his global search for missing television. Even though it was abundantly clear that it would not be missing Doctor Who, any archive recoveries give clues as to what potentially may be out there, and give hope to eager listeners (guilty as charged!).
The announced finds were indeed striking – a lost episode of Morecombe & Wise, the earliest known episode of The Basil Brush show (featuring The Kinks no less!), and a complete series run of Steptoe & Son. What has whipped Doctor Who fans into a frenzy however are two very important details:
1: At least one of the prints was found in Sierra Leone
Right at the end of the interview (British readers can watch the relevant section at this link – go to 28 minutes in) it was revealed that the Morecombe and Wise prints were recovered from Sierra Leone. This is a nation painfully familiar to Doctor Who fans as the reputed site where surviving prints of Season 3 were obliterated during civil unrest in the nation (as I mentioned when speculating where prints of The Smugglers may have been recovered from).
The survival of the Morecombe and Wise print is certainly not proof that previous assumptions about the Sierra Leone prints were wrong, but it has given fans reason to be hopeful. If we trust the paperwork (in itself a dangerous thing!) the following serials were, at one time, in Sierra Leone:
- Marco Polo
- The Reign of Terror
- The Crusade
- Galaxy 4
- The Myth Makers
- The Massacre
- The Celestial Toymaker
- The Savages
- The Smugglers
Absolutely not proof … but it gives one furiously to think! Despite speculation to the contrary I don’t believe the interviewer ‘let the cat out the bag’ – production teams ensure the interviewers speak to interviewees ahead of time (not counting the world’s most famous job interview) – so the revelation can only have been with Morris’ prior consent. That encouragingly suggests that he (1) considers Sierra Leone fully searched, and (2) no longer considers it a risk to reveal that he has recovered material from there. Which leads neatly to point two …
2: More is coming …
As if there wasn’t already enough excitement, Philip Morris dropped an even bigger bombshell shortly after his One Show appearance:
“Lots more to be revealed.” For the last five years there had been lots of hints – fans hung on every breath that ‘the wind is blowing in the right direction’, and wondered what truth there was in the rumours circulating in the summer of 2013 that a vast number of missing Doctor Who episodes had been found.
When I planned this blog to mark five years since the Web/Enemy recovery I had intended to take a rather pessimistic line; that after five years if anything was coming we really ought to have had some breath of it. Instead of which, the animation of Power of the Daleks, yet another release of Shada, and the move to release the classic series on Blu-Ray all suggested that the well was dry.
In view of the recoveries announced on Friday, as well as the statements made surrounding the recovery, I am no longer so pessimistic. Quite what has changed in the background I cannot be certain of, and it certainly gains nothing to speculate. What we can freely observe is that there seems to be a sudden move to openly declare at least some of the results of Phil’s search for lost television … and it has always been understood that Phil was only going to do that when he was satisfied that the search was concluded.
So as we come to five years since the unexpected and unthinkable recovery of two Troughton classics, I dare boldly suggest that Doctor Who fans should be prepared to expect “the unexpected.” It increasingly feels like it is not a question of ‘if’ but rather a question of ‘how much, and how soon?’
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