Five years on … is optimism still high for a missing episodes return?

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.

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Is it time to expect the unexpected?

 

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 …

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The #missingepisodes update …

It’s nearly five years since Bleeding Cool published the internet-breaking article suggesting that a mass return of currently missing Doctor Who episodes was about to happen. Since then we have not had the promised omnirumour dreadnaught, even if we have enjoyed the wonderful return of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, and the rather excellent Power of the Daleks animation. Five years on, I think it’s safe to say many fans have rather lost hope and patience. So I asked myself the question: “What could we have to look forward to in 2018?”

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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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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: 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 theĀ 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!

#MissingEpisodesMonday – New thoughts … after we hear from Phil

I thought I would give a quick update on my latest missing episode ponderings as I have been silent for quite a while – to be fair, partially because there has not been anything by way of news upon which to comment! I have been mulling over a number of posts which are geared up and almost ready to go … but I am pressing pause for now.

The main reason for this is that episode hunter extraordinaire Phil Morris (of Web/Enemy recovery fame) is due to appear at the Starburst Film Festival, taking place in two weeks over the bank holiday weekend. Also appearing at the festival will be Dick Fiddy from the BFI, a man well versed in recovering lost television in general. Both will be appearing in a Q&A session, and it seems likely that they will be asked about Doctor Who recoveries. Whether they are in the position to answer the questions is of course another matter!

(You can find out more information on the event at the following link: http://www.starburstfilmfest.co.uk/festival-guests/philip-morris)

In any event, while I am not expecting Phil to announce that he has tracked down the low-life who appropriated episode 3 of the Web of Fear (still massively annoyed about that!) I expect he has something new to say. Were I in his boots, I would expect eager Doctor Who fans to grill me any time I set foot in public. As the late Nigel Hawthorne phrased it when playing Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister “One never steps into the lion’s den having taken away the lion’s dinner!”

With the likelihood strong that there will be new information, though sadly probably not new recoveries, I’m pressing pause on my missing episode thoughts and speculations. After all, for the sake of two weeks I will hopefully avoid my theorising going instantly out of date!

In the meantime, it’s worth highlighting that the BBC are releasing their second classic Doctor Who adventure on BluRay HD – the 1996 TV Movie:

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Aside of the stunning artwork by Lee Binding (another reason to want more adventures recovered – more opportunities for Lee to create beautiful artwork for Doctor Who DVDs) the main point of interest is that it is the first classic Doctor Who DVD release since The Underwater Menace was released. Is this what was meant when the BBC said “We are hoping to release more classic Doctor Who?” It would seem a little strange if so – not least in that the secrecy seems disproportionate to the project. Having just watched the Spearhead from Space BluRay I’m in two minds whether or not I’ll invest in the Movie BluRay. It does make me wonder if the BBC’s idea is to upscale other classic adventures … which I confess would be a massively disappointing cop out if so! We can but wait and see.

In the meantime, while we await whatever revelations Phil has to bring, or indeed the release of Dave Hoskins’ book on the omnirumour, one of the things readers will get to look forward to will be a series of ‘if only’ reviews covering ways in which you can enjoy missing episodes in lieu of the actual episodes. Coming up will be:

  • A review of the animation of The Moonbase
  • A review of the novelisation of The Abominable Snowmen
  • A review of the Loose Cannon reconstruction of Power of the Daleks
  • A review of the audio reconstruction of The Macra Terror

Meantime – keep hoping readers!