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!

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 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!

#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!

#MissingEpisodesMonday – is this the truth behind the #omnirumour?

Happy #MissingEpisodesMonday folks! It’s been a while, but we’re still holding out in hope that the gaps will eventually be filled in the Doctor Who back catalogue. Some encouraging news is that the animation of lost Dad’s Army episode ‘A Stripe for Fraser’ has seemingly been the catalyst for a new wave of animations of lost British sitcoms, including Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son and Till Death Us Do Part to be animated for a new series, The Lost Sitcoms. It confirms that the BBC are willing to explore animations for classic material, and again makes us revisit the crucial point: why not the remaining missing episodes of Doctor Who?

Well, off the back of yesterday’s post on the excellent missing episodes book WIPED!, I would now like to advance a theory. It is only a theory, it is partially borrowed from ideas I have read on Planet Mondas, and is not based upon any hard fact, inside knowledge, or particularly ingenious reasoning. It is, however, a plausible explanation of what may be going on.

If we assume that Philip Morris has told us the truth about the discovery and loss of Web of Fear episode 3, an assumption which I think is entirely fair, then we know he discovered painfully that he has to be discreet when tracking down episodes. Hard though it is for us to fathom, there are individuals (rather like in City of Death) who would get a kick out of having something that no-one else can have.

We also know from WIPED! that this also makes recovery something of a cat and mouse game. Ian Levine purposefully withheld news that he had recovered episode 1 of The Time Meddler in the early 1980s – not because he wished to keep it for himself, but recognising that it may be necessary to trade a supposedly missing episode for a different missing episode. It means that even if Phil is sitting on quite a few missing episodes, it doesn’t do to reveal how much he has, lest he need to negotiate the return of an episode he cannot recover by other means. Web episode 3 is a good example of this; if the Nigeria print was the last one in existence and it now rests with a private collector, it may well require the exchange of a currently missing story to secure its return.

Another interesting aspect from WIPED! however, is that we’re not absolutely sure what happened to all of the prints that were sent overseas. We know that the BBC looked to keep costs down by ‘bicycling’ the prints from one country to another, so it is not simply a case of one print per country. We also know that some prints that ought to have been returned were not – by virtue of the fact that fans currently have the likes of Tomb of the Cybermen, Enemy of the World and Web of Fear sitting on their bookshelves! Until now, it has been assumed that all of the prints can be accounted for as either lost or destroyed, but it seems that there are two challenges to this assumption:

  1. As the Web/Enemy recovery shows, it seems that the paper trail was never followed up in person, merely by long distance communication. This is a huge pity, as if someone had been able to call on the Sierra Leone archives before the civil war commenced in 1991, they may well have found and recovered the five Hartnell prints believed to have been sitting there.
  2. It seems that the paper trail itself is neither 100% clear, nor 100% exhaustive. In WIPED! Richard Molesworth has had to use some commendably impressive deduction to figure out which prints went where; even to the extent of trying to work out how the recovered prints of Tomb of the Cybermen came to be in Hong Kong. But by the nature of the surviving paperwork, it must be deduction rather than repetition of definite fact.

In view of the above, I propose that the following theory may account for why the BBC have been so reluctant to explain why they have been saying: “We expect to release more classic Doctor Who“, and why the expected #omnirumour dreadnought has been delayed for so long. Please take note that we begin with a speculation made by a member of Planet Mondas Forum, Douglas Wulf. He firmly believes in a mass recovery, so we must take his words with an extra large pinch of salt – I must repeat: this is not a fact, and I have no evidence to support this supposition.

The supposition is this. Philip Morris has publicly praised Pamela Nash for her work in the 1970s, despite the fact that sections of Doctor Who fandom hold her in very low regard for allowing the purge of Doctor Who from the film archives (incidently, this is a very unfair judgement – by the time the prints were destroyed, the BBC had no legal right to sell them. With painful hindsight we can see the video market was less than 10 years away, but then we didn’t see the iPhone coming in 1995 …) Morris’ praise seems odd therefore, unless it is possible that the concurrent action Nash took of sending audition prints overseas, means that there is a better chance that stories currently missing have survived. This forms the core of the theory: that there is at least one set of audition prints covering the Hartnell and Troughton era that have previously not been accounted for.

If this is true, then how do the 2013 recoveries fit in to this theory?  2013 was absolutely huge for Doctor Who as the 50th Anniversary – it was strongly rumoured that the BBC asked Philip Morris if he had any material that could be released especially for the anniversary year. In following up all of the paper trails, I believe Morris found the Nigerian prints exactly as he said (side note – and there may even be other prints in the Nigerian find, not as yet released). However, it is possible that this find is not the main recovery at all.

Let us suppose that Philip Morris is tracking down lost prints. He makes the Nigerian discovery, but gets his fingers burnt with the loss of Web 3. He’s bitterly disappointed, but not overly so, because he’s hot on the scent of the proverbial motherlode – and who knows – perhaps Web 3 would be in this master set? Perhaps he has already tracked down many of the prints, or perhaps he is close but not yet to the point of having the cans in his hands. The BBC phone, aware of his search, and asking if he can release something. He could tell them about the big find – and maybe he would be tempted to if he had recovered something as highly sought after as Power of the Daleks. But then he would have to explain how he found the prints – and with his search incomplete, that would put the remaining prints in danger of private collectors getting there first. Indeed, with the Mirror splashing that all 106 missing episodes had been found in Ethiopia, perhaps he decided that he needed to take the heat off the public asking what he was up to.

Which leaves us with a plausible explanation for where we are at just now. With the Nigerian prints an isolated find, Phil figures there can be little harm in returning Enemy of the World and Web of Fear. Whatever loose end he followed to that particular point is now a dead end, and puts no further prints at risk. This leaves him free to follow his trail as far as it will go, do his best to get there before the private collectors, and perhaps even to barter with known private collectors.

I finish with the same note of caution I expressed at the start: this is only a theory. At present we cannot prove or disprove it, and we will only know if it is true once Philip Morris is in the position that he can reveal where he searched, and what he found. It does cover all of the established facts thus far however , and account for why the so called omnirumour came to exist, yet not be fulfilled as immediately as anticipated.

So where does that leave us? Well, if it’s untrue then we’re whistling in the wind (nothing new there). If it is true on the other hand, it encouragingly and excitingly suggests that we should not expect the return of the odd orphaned episode, but instead can look forward to one or more complete adventures. As ever, we can only sit and wait – and expect the unexpected!