Probably the best Doctor Who EVER: My review of The Power of the Daleks

As long term readers of the blog will recall, Power was one of the three stories I was most keen to see recovered, for the reasons I set out in this blog post. Indeed, so curious was I to sample Patrick Troughton’s sadly missing first adventure that I eventually gave in and watched the Loose Cannon recon – and it only increased my excitement for the animated release when BBC Store confirmed the animation project.

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Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Power of the Daleks

Back in the summer, in the heady days before the now infamous leak of the Power of the Daleks animation footage, there was only ever one candidate when I decided I wanted to sample a Loose Cannon reconstruction, and that was Patrick Troughton’s first adventure. Right from the very start of this blog I made no secret that, like most fans, I really wanted to experience the disconcerting sensation of watching Patrick Troughton make his mark on a role that, until that point, had been solely defined by William Hartnell.

So that was my plan. Until we had some confirmation I would watch the Loose Cannon reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks. Then this showed up:

That put me in a bit of quandary. Should I press ahead with my commentary on the Power of the Daleks given that we were about to experience a much fuller reconstruction of the lost episodes? In the end, as evidenced by your reading of these words, I thought it gave even more reason to write the blog. There are some fans out there that prefer Loose Cannon recons to the official animations. This post gives the chance to share my impressions of these reconstructions, and then (in just over a week – how exciting!) to compare it to the new animation.

So let me begin with an explanatory note for those unfamiliar with what Loose Cannon recons are. As noted in previous posts, and especially my post on The Macra Terror, there are two principal ways that missing footage has nevertheless survived – off air fan recordings of the audio, and tele-snaps taken of the live footage. A company known as Loose Cannon (for more details, read here) took it upon themselves to combine audio and tele-snaps to produce a rough approximation of what the on screen action would have been like. While their website is now sadly missing, their videos are still available on sites like youtube and daily motion.

I am already familiar with what it is like to watch such a reconstruction as part of a largely complete episode. When The Tenth Planet was released on VHS it featured a recon of the missing episode 4 that was a combination of telesnaps and audio, and a similar recon was used for The Web of Fear episode 3, and (rather less successfully) for episodes 1 and 4 of The Underwater Menace. I did wonder however what it would be like to watch a completely missing story made up of just tele-snaps.

I have to say, I absolutely loved it, and it was a joy to experience The Power of the Daleks in this way. Undoubtedly the strength of the story itself contributed to that, being a gripping and clever tale that built the tension wonderfully across the six episodes. Even more than that though, I felt the presentation was a reasonable substitute given the absence of the original episodes, never once feeling like I couldn’t understand what was going on. In contrast to just listening to The Macra Terror I found it significantly easier to picture what was happening, and fill in the gaps between the different shots.

The recon also, tantalisingly, includes such surviving footage as exists, including a few pitifully brief shots of Troughton in episode 1, filmed by an amateur viewer pointing a cine camera at his television during the broadcast. It makes watching Doctor Who in his way arguably even more painful, as you are able to get a glimpse of what it would have been like, piquing one’s desire for the original prints to somehow, miraculously, be found. It also pointed out all of the little quirks and mannerisms in Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor, sadly lost when his episodes were wiped. If the animations truly mean that Phil Morris will never find the original prints of The Power of the Daleks, then it is a huge loss for British TV heritage.

The bottom line is that I could very easily see myself dipping into the Loose Cannon range in future for other missing stories. Alongside novelisations, they are an excellent way to reimagine lost classics. As we are about to discover on Saturday however, I still suspect that the very best way to enjoy currently missing Doctor Who is through animations.

But all that will come in my forthcoming review of the Power of the Daleks animation!

Don’t forget – Power of the Daleks is set to be released at 5:50pm GMT on Saturday 5th November, 50 years to the day after the original broadcast on BBC One.

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Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Macra Terror

In anticipation of the release of Power of the Daleks in less than two weeks (!) on BBC Store, I am continuing my series of ways to enjoy the currently missing episodes, and this week focusing on the audio story of The Macra Terror. Next week I will be sharing on the Power of the Daleks telesnap reconstruction to give a point of comparison. Both these stories start from a similar starting point – no episodes have survived, and so we are reliant upon two sources to imagine the story: John Cura’s telesnaps taken of the footage when originally shown, and the off-air fan recordings of the soundtrack. As I was already familiar with telesnap reconstrucuctions through the VHS release of The Tenth Planet and the DVD release of The Web of Fear, I purposefully wanted to experience a story with only sound.

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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.

Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Moonbase

Ladies and gentleman – I began writing this post in late August, with the intention of doing a full week of missing episode recreation content. As we know now, the BBC have made this somewhat superfluous by announcing that they are animating The Power of the Daleks to be released this November! Nevertheless, I am still publishing this post (more or less) as originally penned, which is still an accurate reflection of my enthusiasm for animating those episodes sadly missing from our DVD collections.

Of the (currently) 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who, nine have been recreated through the efforts of studio animators: episodes 4 and 5 of The Reign of Terror, episode 4 of The Tenth Planet, episodes 1 and 3 of The Moonbase, episodes 2 and 3 of The Ice Warriors, and episodes 1 and 4 of The Invasion. The animators have taken advantage of the unique enthusiasm fans had for Doctor Who, which led dedicated fans to record the audio of episodes as they were broadcast. An excellent feature explaining what this looked like is available as an extra on The Invasion DVD, and is well worth the watch – not least to demonstrate the varying quality between different bootleg home recordings!

We will return to the recordings for my review of The Macra Terror, but for now we will focus on the most recent animated release, Season Four adventure The Moonbase. This animation was certainly a leap into the unknown for BBC Worldwide. Until this point they had only released animated content where the vast majority of the story already existed – both The Reign of Terror and The Ice Warriors required one third of their episodes to be animated.

On paper The Moonbase is no different to previous animation projects, requiring only (!) two episodes in order to plug the gaps. In practice this was a significant jump, given that fully half the adventure was missing. The unspoken question was whether a release that was fifty percent animated would prove just as enjoyable to watch?

I must confess to two biases that influenced my judgement of the story. The first is that I have a particular fondness for the iteration of the Cybermen that featured in Tomb of the Cybermen, making this a story I have wanted to watch ever since Tomb was recovered in 1992. Secondly, before taking the plunge to buy the DVD, I permitted myself to buy the Kindle version of the Target novel Doctor Who and the Cybermen, which is a largely faithful recreation of the Moonbase.

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The cover for the TARGET novelisation of The Moonbase – click the picture to read an online sample via Amazon!

You can look forward to my views on novelisations when I review The Abominable Snowmen, but suffice to say reading the novel of The Moonbase made me impatient to watch it! Indeed, despite my earlier reservations that I’d risk having to buy the story again if the BBC had indeed recovered the missing episodes, I enjoyed the story so much I took the plunge and bought the DVD.

Caveats noted, I have no hesitation in saying that I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Moonbase and did not feel at all that the animation detracted from the story-telling. While it makes one sad that the originals are lost, it nevertheless enables you to appreciate what is a rather good adventure. The Cybermen live up to every inch of their imagined menace, and it’s not hard to imagine viewers of the time being completely enraptured by the episode 3 cliffhanger, which the BBC have kindly shared on youtube:

This particular scene benefited from being able to lift several scenes directly from episode four, and you can see similar tricks elsewhere – most notably that any time a Cyberman is killed by the ‘Polly Cocktail’ (a mixture of different solvents that cause the Cybermen’s plastic organs to dissolve) the animators have lifted the death throes of the Cyberman killed by Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen episode 4. That can be forgiven however for enabling the story to be told, and it certainly progresses at a good rate of knots, enabling one to enjoy the story despite the absent episodes. The regular TARDIS crew are on top form, and you are able to see what Anneke Wills means when she explains that this was the first story in which you see Patrick Troughton learn to be the ‘serious Doctor’, after thoroughly clowning around in the preceding adventure The Underwater Menace. They are complemented by a stellar supporting cast, giving me no hesitation in saying that a complete Moonbase would easily be one of my favourite adventures.

I am still inclined to the view that the animation from The Invasion is the best that has been done in the classic series release – but The Moonbase isn’t at all far behind, and demonstrates that even when a story is 50 per cent animated it can work really well at plugging the gaps. It begs the question of why The Crusades and The Underwater Menace have not been animated, as they also fulfill the twofold criteria of only lacking half their material, and only requiring two animated episodes. It is an even more striking question given that the BBC have made the not insignificant investment to animate all six missing episodes of The Power of the Daleks – a much more substantial investment than a mere two, and a brave step to release a serial with no surviving content.

I therefore return to an observation I made in my very first post relating to the Moonbase – that we need closure on the omnirumour sooner rather than later, so that fans can be freed up to re-create those episodes which will never be found. The uncertainty surrounding the fate of those episodes lives us in limbo, when The Moonbase DVD demonstrates that we now have the capacity to get a feel for what these episodes must once have been like.

In summary: I have really enjoyed the animations of missing episodes thus far, and each story I have watched to date has been enhanced by them. If many of the 97 episodes are indeed lost for all time, I for one would welcome either the BBC or a dedicated group of fans animating the lost material.

The Moonbase is available to buy on DVD from Amazon by clicking on the image below:

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Don’t judge a lost tale by its orphan

So I finally got around to watching The Underwater Menace DVD yesterday. I echo much of the feedback that has already been shared online – the telesnaps are very disappointing, and do not really convey well the sense of what is going on – certainly compared to the other telesnaps I have seen (The Tenth Planet and The Web of Fear) there is plenty of scope for improvement, and I’d go as far to say that unless Episodes 1 and 4 are recovered, animation is a must.

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The most fascinating insight however came from being able to compare the relatively recently discovered episode 2 with episode 3. I agree wholeheartedly with other fans in saying that the story becomes significantly better balanced by enjoying the second episode. Episode 3 is frankly, well, mad. As Anneke Wills (who portrays Polly) would observe in The Moonbase commentary, Patrick Troughton was having too much fun in the role to take it seriously – it took the firmer direction of Morris Barry in The Moonbase to bring out the more serious side of the Second Doctor. Watched in isolation, there is not much to like about The Underwater Menace. With episode 2 included, it is much easier to appreciate what this story was meant to be – I found myself enjoying episode 2, even though the whole story is more than a little bit silly.

The most interesting conclusion out of all of this however is how we judge those stories that only have orphaned episodes remaining. The Enemy of the World was one such story – not very high on fan’s lists for recovery, but rightly now heralded as a hidden gem. Part of the reason it was less desired than the following story The Web of Fear is the contrast between the two orphaned episodes – episode 1 of Web is brilliant, whereas episode 3 of Enemy is only enjoyable in the context of the full six episodes. The Underwater Menace is exactly the same – I suspect had episode 1 or 2 been the orphaned episode, fans would have been more interested to see it recovered in full.

Where does that then leave us? With four stories only possessing one episode: Galaxy 4, Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, and The Space Pirates. At the moment, the desirability of recovering these episodes (leaving to one side the unarguable assumption that any recovered Doctor Who is good) is judged upon the surviving material – hence fans would probably prefer Evil of the Daleks to The Space Pirates. The experience of episodes being recovered however, suggests that we should perhaps not be too hasty to judge a lost tale by its orphaned episode.

48 – The Tenth Planet

This review really needs no introduction. To long-time fans of Doctor Who, this is quite possibly the most important surviving story, even surpassing An Unearthly Child or The Daleks. While these first two stories ensured that Doctor Who even became the hit that it did, The Tenth Planet was the means by which Doctor Who ensured it could continue to be a family favourite for decades to come.

The story behind The Tenth Planet is best represented in the 50th Anniversary docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time. It shows how Doctor Who had become a massive success, but the health of lead actor William Hartnell was growing increasingly frail. At this point, the producers had a dilemma – while they had successfully replaced the supporting cast twice over (with new companions Ben and Polly replacing the Season 3 pairing of Steven and Vikki/Dodo) could they really replace the lead actor?

It came to a head in Season 4. While the season began with (currently missing) The Smugglers, this had in fact been recorded in the Season 3 block, and held over until the new season, making The Tenth Planet the effective first story in Season 4. The producers meanwhile took the bold decision not only to recast the role of the Doctor, but to completely change his character. Hartnell, to his infinite credit, consented to appear in one more recorded story before passing the baton on to Patrick Troughton, an actor who would interpret the role completely differently to Hartnell before him.

All of this would have been for naught but for a great story – and The Tenth Planet is indeed a great story. Fans of the Troughton era will recognise the genesis of the ‘Base-Under-Seige’ style stories that would typify Seasons 4 and 5, but at the time this was a relatively new development. The story also benefits from the introduction of a foe who would go on to rival the Daleks for popularity – the eerie and unnerving Cybermen. While appearing in a guise that would not be resurrected for their return in The Moonbase, the Cybermen very quickly establish themselves as a significant menace, and many fans deem these Cybermen most scary for their distinct similarity to mankind.

The story sees the Doctor, Ben and Polly arrive at Snow Cap Base at the South Pole just as a new planet appears in Earth’s orbit, that bears a striking resemblance to earth. The inhabitants of the titular Tenth Planet (back in the days when Pluto was still a planet …) are the Cybermen, who explain that their planet of Mondas went on a journey into space and has returned. In the interim, they sacrificed their humanity by replacing all of their essential body parts with plastic and metallic alternatives, and have now returned to make Earth like Mondas.

The story is superbly paced and a crescendo of suspense and tension with neat flourishes of action. It all builds to a head in the final (sadly missing) episode, in which the Cybermen are defeated when Mondas absorbs too much energy and explodes, depriving the Cybermen of the power sources they rely upon for survival. The most significant moment however, is when the increasingly frail Doctor collapses upon the floor of the TARDIS at the end of episode 4, and his features transform into those of a younger man. It is this scene, more than anything else, that makes The Tenth Planet so crucial for Doctor Who. This first regeneration paved the way for an actor to serve as the Doctor, and then pass the torch on to the next Doctor. It paved the way for the show to be continuously re-imagined, re-thought, and re-created. Put simply – without The Tenth Planet, Doctor Who would not be around today.

The Tenth Planet is not just a crucial story in Doctor Who’s history, but also a personal favourite – one I was very glad to watch on VHS when it first came out, even if I was somewhat confused when it changed to tele-snaps for the final episode! Indeed, that is my only regret for this story – that we are not able to see the original part four, nor able to see Pat Troughton take his first steps in the following serial, The Power of the Daleks.

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You can buy the DVD of the Tenth Planet on Amazon for £6.99

Next Time: Another Doctor bids adieu, as the Timelords finally catch up with the Doctor …