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.

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#MissingEpisodesMonday: How Rogue One points to the future of classic Doctor Who

2017 has not started well for those fans hoping that Philip Morris and/or A.N.Other missing episode collector would be backing up a massive truck to BBC HQ with 97 cannisters of 16mm film cans. The animation of Power of the Daleks, combined with certain acerbic assertions made by Paul Vanezis (a reliable if untrusted source) on GallifreyBase, have persuaded those following the omnirumour that it was just that – a rumour.

More on that to come in due course – but for this week’s post I have decided to revisit a post I wrote two years ago, when Doctor Who fandom had lost all of the pent up optimism that followed the release of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear. I decided that it was time to stop waiting for Philip Morris to bring the rumoured shipping container filled with cans of missing episodes to the BBC, and to instead press on with recreating what was lost; I wrote a letter to this effect in October 2015, launching the #MissingEpisodesMonday hashtag (not, I confess, one of my more successful ideas!) and hoping to pester BBC Worldwide into keeping the classic DVD range alive. We have already had the first fruits of that, with the wildly successful release of The Power of the Daleks fully animated.

I think there is a pointer to where the BBC can go next provided by another creation that looked to recreate something lost. I delayed this post for a month, giving readers plenty of time to watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (should they be that way inclined) without spoiling anything. I’m assuming a full month after release that if you have not watched it by now, you will not be troubled by a minor spoiler – but if you would be, this is your last chance to look away!

Rogue One, which is set just before the events of the very first Star Wars movie, caused a great deal of debate and discussion – not just for the storyline (good but grim) but also for a brave and contentious decision to recreate Peter Cushing’s character of Grand Moff Tarkin, and to create a Princess Leia who looked as the late Carrie Fisher did in 1977. The video below shows what sort of process was involved to do this – essentially, it required near lookalikes to portay and speak the roles, and then for CGI to be overlaid over the actor.

Of course the first question that has been raised in all of this relates to the ethics of recreating long deceased actors. This article by the Guardian focuses specifically on the ethics of it, and includes the following helpful remarks:

“This was done in consultation and cooperation with his estate. So we wouldn’t do this if the estate had objected or didn’t feel comfortable with this idea.

(For additional debate, you also may want to read this article by Max Farrow and this article by Dave Ehrlich)

While I know some readers will want to debate the ethics involved, I’m purposefully side-stepping the debate for this post as it merits an entire post to itself, and is being explored much more thoroughly and knowledgeably elsewhere on the internet! Instead, I’d like to focus on what this develop does mean – for better or for worse, we are rapidly approaching the point at which CGI renderings will be comparable to real life actors. We absolutely need to land on a humane and sensible agreement in terms of what is acceptable and what is unethical – but we also won’t be able to avoid for long the question of how this applies to missing episodes of Doctor Who.

This idea is not exactly new – I speculated in May 2015 that the BBC could recreate Marco Polo using an entirely new cast as a reference point for the animators, the driving factor there being the proliferation of motion capture in computer games. Rogue One has demonstrated that movies are quickly catching up, and that television or on-demand viewing cannot be far behind. Yes, in 2017 it is probably prohibitively expensive to map William Hartnell’s CGI created expression on to David Bradley. But it is not impossible – and it was not that long ago that we were warned that animating a completely missing episode of Doctor Who was financially impossible.

This being the case, then suddenly the BBC have a lot of questions in front of them, in terms of productions, values and ethics – never mind the business decisions! Even if BBC Worldwide could bring together a cast to re-make Marco Polo, and wanted to do so, how far should their creative freedom go? The animators of The Power of the Daleks have already faced questions on the decisions they took when animating the adventure. Imagine having to decide whether Marco Polo: Reimagined should be recorded in widescreen colour HD, or instead as close to the orginal as possible? Should all of the original cast be faithfully recreated, or only the recurring cast? Should the original soundtrack be used? And especially given contemporary debates about cultural appropriation, would the BBC have to ensure that Chinese actors portrayed Chinese roles?

Against all of these challenges however, I would like to present a positive case. Unless the episodes show up (and optimism is at an all time low) we have 97 gaps in the classic catalogue, of which only fifteen have been satisfactorily plugged. The Power of the Daleks animation was great, but also lacked fluidity – you had to get past the realisation of the human characters. There is definitely a case for using motion capture to improve the quality of future animations – the question seems not to be if we should use motion capture, but rather the extent to which we should use motion capture and CGI.

It is not just missing episodes at stake here. If a convincing William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton could be re-created, why not a convincing Peter Davison or Colin Baker? Take Big Finish’s excellent audio drama Spare Parts (available to buy online here) – the clip below shows a test animation attempted by a fan (there are four on youtube in total):

While Cybermen (like Daleks) are easy to animate, humans are unsurprisingly somewhat more difficult. Given the pace at which technology is advancing however, we may not be far from the point that we can produce so much more than missing episodes – we would be able to turn audio dramas into reasonably realistic animations. Of course – this would instantly put fandom into a schism inducing uproar – certain fans would refuse to accept ‘non-canon’ stories, while even those who accepted it would be divided in terms of whether these new adventures would be welcomed into the ‘classic’ DVD range, or should be a stand alone range.

Plainly there remains a lot to debate, and absolutely no easy answers. But the future for classic Doctor Who is nevertheless extremely exciting, and persuades me that regardless of whether further material is found, Doctor Who fans can eventually look forward to a day when the missing episodes have been recreated in some form, and we can enjoy the classic era in its entirety.

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.

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!

#MissingEpisodesMonday: Reasons for Optimism

Two weeks after the excitement of the Power of the Daleks animation announcement, and fan excitement for the missing episodes has fizzled out somewhat. It’s pretty easy to guess why – with rumours abounding that there had been a secret screening of episode one of Power, it had become part and parcel of the whole omnirumour. The animation of the entire story has proven quite effective in killing off the anticipation and expectation that a large scale recovery is on the cards.

The animation announcement also stifled the appearance of a certain Philip Morris at the Starburst Convention the week before. Where ordinarily fans would dissect and dine out on such talks for weeks on end, enthusiasm has proven somewhat curbed thanks to the Power animation. This is a pity – because in certain respects the talk (which you can download using THIS LINK) has some interesting gems to grab hold of.

While most Doctor Who fans are obviously interested in cutting to the chase (“Where’s Marco Polo?!!”) it is well worth understanding the wider background to Phil’s work as an archivist. Aside from being genuinely interesting (hey – I’m a historian, I would say that!) it also helps us to understand Phil’s motivation and modus operandi – the aim is never specifically the recovery of high profile British television – however much we might wish it to be the case! The hub of Phil’s work is the premise that there is no reason why film material should be lost in a digital age. If the material exists, and it can be salvaged, then it is imperative to clean it, restore it, and transfer it to a stable medium. Listen to the talk itself for the detail, but the salient point is there – Phil’s work is concerned with ensuring that any kind of media material is not permanently lost.

How does this help us? Well, there are two useful clues hidden away in his observations. Firstly, there is the wider comment on his work in Africa. Phil’s mission is to salvage ALL television archives he finds; as he winsomely puts it: “this is their heritage.” His equipment for doing this lives in the UK, so everything he finds gets shipped back to Phil’s base so that he can transfer it to a secure (ie. digital) medium, to then give back to the original broadcasters. Just this fact alone gives us some sense of the huge project Phil is working on. Anyone who has ever tried scanning in their old photo negatives (like I did once!) knows its time consuming. Phil obviously has tools and resources and expertise to do all of this much more quickly, but it’s still time consuming, and involves getting the film material out of the country and back to England. With that in view, it’s no wonder it may take time to recover lost Doctor Who.

As an aside, this may also explain the delay in recovering any Doctor Who Phil has found. Even if Studio A had all 97 missing episodes sitting on a shelf somewhere, the price of recovering them could well be that the rest of their stock needs to be archived first. Phil stressed not only that archiving was good in it’s own right, but also that it was important for building relationships with station managers and other archive holders.

The second interesting point relates specifically to a painful reality that most fans are now reluctantly accepting- that Web of Fear episode 3 is currently in the hands of a private collector. While a comfort that only 96 episodes of Doctor Who are missing, it doesn’t do us much good while the film is stashed where the majority of fans will never get to see it. And yet Phil gives us grounds for optimism – admitting that he does talk to private collectors, and encourage these collectors to talk to him. And we come back to his modus operandi – his crucial, vitally important modus operandi: preserve cultural heritage at all costs.

Phil’s determination that no material should ever be lost means that his first question to a collector is not “can we have that back please?”, but instead is “Can I help you to preserve the film print?” He accepts that if he gets a reputation as a nasty man who will go blabbing to the BBC when he discovers a private collector has something that ought to be returned, private collectors will say nothing. The longer they say nothing, the longer the film degenerates, potentially to the point of no return.

Out of the entire talk, it was this little snippet, more even than “You will get more Doctor Who when you least expect it!” that most interested me. I think the nightmare scenario for most fans is the prospect that Joanna Bloggs is sitting on a rapidly dissolving copy of Tenth Planet episode 4, which will turn into a sad shriveled heap of vinegar by the time she dies off and leaves it to her disinterested heirs. Phil’s approach offers the hope that perhaps, just perhaps, a collector might be persuaded to ensure their valuable film collection gets securely transferred to something more secure and enduring. In short – if there are other orphans (or indeed complete adventures) in the hands of individuals, then Phil’s approach gives us the best hope that they might yet see the light of day.

I still sense there is an even bigger story behind all of this, but Phil’s comments at Starburst have given me optimism that we can rescue whatever is out there to be rescued. I grant you that I approach this with the patience and optimism of one who (hopefully!) still has more than 50 per cent remaining of his mortal span, but I am not yet letting go of my hope that there is more missing Doctor Who to be found – and that thanks to the efforts of Philip Morris and his team, their survival rates are now better than ever!

What the BBC had up their sleeves …

After months of speculation, we are finally able to answer the question fans have been pondering ever since the BBC mysteriously announced:

“We’re hoping to release more classic Doctor Who and we’ll let you know when we have news.”

And the news, while not the very best, is certainly to be greatly celebrated – on 5th November, 50 years to the day after Patrick Troughton made his debut as the Second Doctor, the BBC will be releasing a fully animated reproduction of his first adventure, The Power of the Daleks.

PowerPage.png

Let us begin with the positives of this venture – this is a wonderful vote of confidence by the BBC in the classic Doctor Who brand! This will be the first time that an entirely missing serial has been animated for release. If a success, it promises the hope that regardless of whatever success Philip Morris has had in his search for missing Doctor Who, the BBC are open to the prospect I have long hoped for – replacing the missing back catalogue with animations. We owe much to Cosgrove Hall for the very first Doctor Who animations for The Invasion DVD, and to the team that successfully released the missing Dad’s Army adventure A Stripe for Frazer on BBC Store for pioneering the path that has taken us to the point we can own and watch even entirely missing adventures of classic Doctor Who.

And what a story they have chosen to begin this new range of releases! In anticipation of a series of missing episode reviews (which understandably will be put on the back burner for now!) I watched the Loose Cannon reproduction of Power of the Daleks, and was enraptured by the story. It fully justified the anticipation I expressed in my earlier post, in which I placed Power in the top three stories I most wanted to see recovered. Even with just the telesnaps it was possible to follow the flow of the adventure, and the tension ramps up beautifully across the six episodes. I have no hesitation in saying that this is the most hotly anticipated Doctor Who DVD release I have ever experienced, such is the mystique that surrounds Patrick Troughton’s debut adventure. I’m also hugely thrilled at the prospect of sharing this experience with fans across the world who will be discovering the adventure at the same time.

Positives duly enthused, I will now acknowledge the elephant in the room. Wonderful news though the Power release is, it is not the original episodes that I have long hoped (indeed trusted) had been recovered. Indeed, it brings the painful realisation that if the BBC have made the (not insubstantial) investment to animate Power, it almost certainly means that the odds of ever finding the original episodes are as good as zero. That is a painful sentence to type, much less to contemplate and accept! The pragmatist in me is grateful for whatever reproductions we are able to enjoy, while the part of me that has delighted in the recovery of Tomb of the Cybermen, Enemy of the World, and Web of Fear is saddened we don’t get to enjoy all of the wonderful quirks of Pat Troughton’s acting. It does in certain respects feel similar to the recovery of Enemy and Web, insomuch as that fans have hoped and longed for so long that the rumours were true that some of Power had been recovered.

There also remains certain mysteries, made all the more complicated by the fact that fan rumours can establish myths that take on a life of their own! Two different sources each assured me either that (1) Power was definitely not back, because the BBC were animating it, or (2) The so-called ‘secret screening’ of Power had taken place, and we’d get to watch it soon. It’s easy to jump to the obvious question: ‘Does this spell the death of the omnirumour?’

I think there is a much less obvious question: ‘Why were the BBC so secretive in the first place?’ I will be reading media reports with interest to see if the BBC comment on this, but it seems a little strange that a project that would engender such high media and fan attention was kept secret for so long (until the inevitable leak happened …) – so I am still very much interested in what has been going on in the background. I have heard all sorts of rumours – that prints have been found but are not of broadcasting quality; that prints have been found but the holders are refusing to disclose them; that the search is over, done, and fruitless. One suspects the truth lies somewhere between these three possibilities.

All of which to say, as dear Billy Hartnell once said, “It’s far from being all over!” This story is going to run and run, and us fans will be on tenterhooks until it concludes …

Meanwhile – take this site’s snap poll, and cast your vote for which missing episodes you would like the BBC to animate next! I also hope to blog very soon on Phil Morris’ appearance at the Starburst Conference, and what this means for the ongoing missing episodes recovery debate …