Five years ago Doctor Who fandom gave a collective scream of ecstasy. Already stoked by the 50th anniversary celebrations, the wonderful news broke that archive television hunter Philip Morris had successfully recovered nine missing episodes from The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear. Many a fan turned up to work exhausted (or consequently failed to!) as they rushed to download the releases from iTunes as soon as they were released at midnight, and overall there was much rejoicing.
The rejoicing was somewhat muted however by expectations. The so-called ‘omnirumour’ had fans expectant that the midnight press release was going to confirm a much larger recover. Some put the number as high as NINETY episodes. Almost everyone expected Marco Polo to be one of the serials confirmed as recovered. As it was, in any other circumstance the recovery of one complete story, and almost all of another story would otherwise have been cause for undiluted jubilation.
Five years on, and fans continue to be on tenterhooks. News such as the Morecombe and Wise recovery from Sierra Leone continue to give hope to fans that more material has been found – but just how high is current optimism?
To find out, I did an online survey to get a quick reaction to Friday’s encouraging news, and the findings were very interesting:
While a significant number remain convinced that nothing is coming back, the most striking finding is that almost three quarters have become more confident following Phil’s appearance on the One Show. It is hugely significant that 28% of respondents were previously skeptical that anything was coming back, but the Morecombe and Wise recovery seems to have changed their minds.
While optimism has increased overall, fans are still dubious that much is coming back. When asked how likely each story was to be recovered, few fans felt many stories were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to return. They are more likely to expect those stories most mentioned in rumours such as Marco Polo or The Wheel in Space – but there hasn’t been a sudden burst of conviction that many stories have survived.
That said, it is striking that if you look at how many stories are ‘possibly’ back, optimism is higher for Season 3 than for others (with the obvious exception of The Daleks’ Master Plan and Mission to the Unknown) – which could well reflect the sudden anticipation that material from Sierra Leone has survived.
An interesting finding is that respondents were more supportive of missing episodes being released in full season box sets, akin to the Season 12 and Season 19 Blu Ray releases, rather than continuing with individual DVD releases as with the majority of the classic series. Knowing what fickle completer finishers Doctor Who fans are, I expected respondents to insist that they wanted their DVDs before any season boxsets!Int
That said, another question (which I hadn’t coded correctly so isn’t quite as nuanced as I wanted!) seems to support my assumption. When confronted with forced choice rather than choosing all that apply, most respondents indicated that they would buy the stories on DVD rather than Blu Ray – and we have further proof that digital releases are not terribly popular with traditional fans (it of course does not answer the question to whether it would attract new fans – but that’s another question for another survey!)
What do we conclude from these two seemingly contradictory findings? If forced to hazard a guess, I would suggest that the Season 12 Blu Ray has been very warmly received by fans, and if offered the chance most fans would leap at the opportunity to have a complete classic run in Blu Ray. That desire however doesn’t seem to stop fans from also wanting to watch the stories as soon as possible, and also having a healthy suspicion of digital releases. Which is good news for the BBC marketing team, who get to sell everything several times over!
82 respondents took the survey, of which 70% became fans during the show’s original run, and 23% since the series reboot in 2005. Unsurprisingly, almost all respondents rated their interest in missing episodes as 10/10 with only 2.6% rating 7 or less. It would be interesting in a larger scale survey to see how responses would vary from fans with less familiarity or interest in the missing episodes.
While we cannot say conclusively that fan optimism is higher than a month ago (not having a point of comparison) the results do suggest a greater openness from fans to the possibility that episodes have survived. Five years since we saw the first fruits of Philip Morris’ extensive worldwide search, the evidence suggests that despite some wariness and weariness, Doctor Who fans remain hopeful that more has been found. It goes without saying that they are eager to discover what sooner rather than later!
The data from this survey can be viewed at this link.