My sabbatical from blogging has lasted rather longer than the initial month I had forecast! To that end, I am going to get back into reviews – and so I am turning to those Doctor Who serials that did not get an honorable mention in my countdown – my favourite topic, the infamous missing episodes of Doctor Who! And I kick off with a story I’d held off buying in audio form for many months, not least when rumours began circulating that the serial was set for release on DVD – The Wheel in Space.
And so we come to number one! My absolute favourite story from the whole classic series of Doctor Who. Along the way we have reviewed some sensational adventures that are deservedly mentioned in the same breath, and others that require slightly more effort to love. Some adventures were genuinely difficult to place; even now I find myself looking at the list and wondering if one should be higher than another. For all of my pondering however, there was never any doubt which story would come first … the earliest adventure from the Patrick Troughton era to survive in its entirety; The Tomb of the Cybermen.
I must begin this review with a frank admission. My original list of classic Doctor Who episodes did not contain either The Web of Fear nor The Enemy of the World, which in the summer of 2013 were still (officially) missing, presumed lost forever. To my very great shame, I concede that not only was The Enemy of the World not high on the list of stories I wanted recovered, I was distinctly underwhelmed when it was announced as one of two lost adventures recovered by Philip Morris in Nigeria. It had simply never registered on my radar.
A confession dear readers. When I first compiled my classic Doctor Who countdown list, The Web of Fear was not even on it. It was the summer of 2013, I had almost finished collecting the entire Doctor Who DVD collection, and I ranked only those stories that had I had watched on VHS or DVD (hence The Invasion and The Tenth Planet were included, but The Moonbase was not). That all got knocked for six in October of that year, when we got what was probably the best present to the fans of all in the 50th anniversary year: the return and release of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear. Even then, I confess I restrained myself for a while – rumours abounded that the still missing episode 3 of Web had been recovered and would be released with the DVD. We have of course now learned that episode 3 was originally found with the other episodes and taken, but long before then I decided there was no sense in depriving myself of a mostly complete adventure.
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.
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.
In my previous post I began to consider what makes for a good TARDIS crew (by which I mean the Doctor traveling with at least two companions) and reduced it down to two candidates for best – the Season 5 crew of the Second Doctor with Victoria and Jamie, and the Season 12 crew of the Fourth Doctor with Sarah-Jane and Harry. So far, we had learned that three was too many for a TARDIS crew, and there was something too unlikeable about the Tegan/Turlough combination to make them endearing to the viewer.
So why do I think the Season 5 and 12 crews are candidates for the best? Well, let’s clear away some pertinent commonalities to begin with – both seasons feature largely excellent stories, so the crew are given strong content to work with. In this regard, the recovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear are hugely significant, as they have allowed a new generation of fans to appreciate the excellence of Season 5’s stories. Without them, Sarah-Jane and Harry would be the runaway winners of best TARDIS crew.
It’s also abundantly clear that the chemistry between the main actors is excellent. The friendship between Pat, Frazer and Deborah is evident in the way they conduct themselves on set, and the same is true for Tom, Elisabeth and Ian – they make a natural team and it increased the empathy the viewer has for the crew. I would go so far as to say, with each there is the sense that you would want to join as the fourth member of the crew, such is the bonhomie. It could be argued that a similar feelgood factor existed within the U.N.I.T. family – oh for a story that featured the Doctor taking Jo, the Brigadier, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton on a TARDIS adventure …
A curious commonality is between Jamie and Harry. They’re both quick witted, keen to learn, brave, and immensely likeable – but also just a little bit daft! I think this helps facilitate good story telling – they’re just silly enough not to be on the same level as the Doctor, but not so silly that you spend all your time rolling your eyes at their stupidity (not thinking of any particular companions …) They play the perfect foil in fact to the Doctor being suitably different, and being apt to get themselves into trouble. Their likeability also cannot be overstated – it’s easy to imagine being friends with both of them and their role as occasional comic relief is equally important for adding fun to their stories.
Intriguingly, the biggest difference is between Sarah-Jane and Victoria. As we well know, Deborah Watling left the series largely because she tired (justifiably) of being asked to look pretty and scream into the camera. In contrast, Elisabeth Sladen built upon the culture change that had been slowly taking place since Deborah left of allowing for a more assertive companion – and was arguably the first to truly break free of the ‘get into trouble and scream’ genre of female companion. Despite this significant difference however, there is the similarity that they are both fond of the Doctor, believe him incapable of looking after himself, and apt to be the voice of reason in the TARDIS trio. It is perhaps fair to say that if we leave background production values (and social attitudes) to one side, each is the product of their background – Victoria had a very comfortable background as a Victorian lady whereas Sarah-Jane is a modern day journalist, used to having to make her own way.
Despite that, both work in a way that Wendy Padbury just didn’t as Zoe. It’s worth considering the Season 6 crew, which is the nearest in common to these two crews across the original 26 seasons. Yes, it is a pertinent fact that Pat and Fraser knew they were leaving the show, which undoubtedly had an impact. But it seems that the TARDIS crew works best when none of the companions are on the same level as the Doctor – I think largely because we are meant to identify with the companion and experience the show through them. We have greater empathy when Victoria ventures into the Underground tunnels alone to find the Doctor despite her evident fear and reluctance … with Sarah-Jane when she encourages her fellow prisoners to escape. When Zoe uses her mathematical skill to prevent the Cyber-invasion on the other hand … there’s a slight air (rightly or wrongly) of ‘too-clever-by-half.’
There is another TARDIS crew (disputedly given how few stories it featured in) that could have come close to matching the crews above – the short-lived combination of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan. Again, one senses the right combination of good chemistry between the actors, a sensible companion and a brave companion, and not too many companions. Interestingly, Nyssa is definitely a very intelligent companion, but she doesn’t quite jar on the viewer to the same extent that Zoe did, while Tegan (devoid of Adric winding her up) works well as the more brash companion. This combination is let down hugely by two factors – at two and a half stories, they didn’t really have a meaningful run as a TARDIS crew; and (more crucially) the stories involved aren’t the strongest.
But which is the best crew ever? I pondered this as I watched both Season 5 (as much of it as survives) and Season 12, and found it tricky to assess. Every story is exceptionally crafted, and I have huge fondness for both crews – it is very sad that we cannot see what the combination of Jamie and Victoria was like in Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, or Fury from the Deep. I’m tempted to say that even if they were found it would not influence my choice, as we have a pretty good impression of what both crews were like. On balance, at the moment, the Season 12 crew edge it – simply because the chemistry between the three is so good. But it is so close, that if more Season 5 material was recovered, I might just change my mind. It really is that close …
My last post left out eight serials that currently have all or part of their episodes missing from the BBC Archives. In the case of The Invasion and The Tenth Planet this is because I have seen each story, and they will be reviewed later. Power of the Daleks, The Moonbase and Evil of the Daleks are so eagerly anticipated that they will each get their own honorary review.
That leaves The Reign of Terror and The Ice Warriors (both released on DVD) and The Underwater Menace (due to be released on DVD, then postponed indefinitely). My DVD collection is presently conspicuous by the absence of these DVDs – and also the animated versions of The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase. Given that I own and enjoy The Invasion despite the animated episodes, it is a reasonable question to ask why I am not eagerly buying up the additional stories.
To answer this question, we need to visit a webpage from June 2013. In this post by the Bleeding Cool website, the author opined that many of the lost episodes had been recovered, and were on their way back to the BBC. And for a long while that was that – many daring to hope (myself included) but very few actually believing. I myself had held back from purchasing the Lost in Time DVD after The Invasion was animated – I dared to hope either that the lost stories would be animated in time, or else more might be found. This article gave me pause to see what happened.
Then in October, the rumour exploded. It was confirmed that TV archive hunter Philip Morris had found nine previously missing episodes in Nigeria. It is a sign of how far the rumour had developed that the celebrations of two nearly complete stories being returned to the archives were somewhat muted by the expectant hope that maybe, just maybe, the other 97 episodes had been tracked down too.
One year on, the so-called ‘omirumour’ that most (if not all) of the missing episodes have been found is no nearer to a conclusion. Indeed, for most fans it has become a source of embarrassment. A certain tribalism has emerged between ‘omni-believers’ and ‘omni-deniers’, while a rather petty twitter-war is ensuing between Philip Morris and Ian Levine – the man who had previously done a great deal of work to stop stories from being scrapped, and to recover (sometimes at his own expense) lost episodes to the BBC archives. What ought to have been a cause for celebration has instead become a tantalising but frustrating ‘what if.’ For a good flavour, Doctor Who Worldwide provided a rather good summary on their website.
For that reason, I am holding fire on purchasing the three stories listed above. None of them make my urgent list, and I am prepared to wait in the hope that somehow Philip Morris has done the impossible and found all of the episodes.
Now, it would not be fair to convey these details without giving my opinion – have the episodes been found? Based on pure rationality, I am 95% sure either that Morris has recovered material that is potentially salvagable, or else that he has very strong leads on where the material might be, but has not as yet recovered the material. So many parties have signed non-disclosure agreements enthusiastically that I am certain there is the hope of something. I do not necessarily believe every episode has been found (naturally of course, I hope every episode has been found) – but I do believe that more material is on the way.
I am also inclined to think and hope that a closure on the omnirumour will help the BBC to determine the future direction of the DVD range. It is strongly rumoured that animation of The Underwater Menace was cancelled until the rumour was cleared up – similarly, The Crusade would be a prime candidate for animation and there have been no moves to do so. I sincerely hope that closure to the rumour, one way or the other, would allow the BBC to assess the viability of animating every missing episode.
I personally think that animation technology is advancing so quickly that in ten years it may be commercially viable to plug the gaps in the classic series. One way or another, I think the fans will be able to have a complete collection by 2023. Of course, it would be even more wonderful if for the show’s 60th anniversary the animations were rendered redundant!