31 – The Web of Fear

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.

This story took a little while to grow on me, but has now become a very firm favourite. Following directly after the preceding The Enemy of the World, it finds the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria drawn to the London Undergound in the 1960s, which is mysteriously deserted save for a military taskforce. It is soon discovered that the city of London is being overrun by two forces – a lethal and impenetrable web that is expanding relentlessly, and an old and familiar foe – the Yeti! It becomes clear that the protagonist of The Abominable Snowmen, the Great Intelligence, has established himself once more on planet Earth, and it falls to the Doctor and his companions to find out what his purpose is, before the city of London is wiped out.

This is a noteworthy tale, even before the remarkable story of its loss and unlikely recovery from Nigeria. Following the popularity of the Yeti in their debut story, the BBC quickly arranged for a follow up adventure to maximise their appeal. While their debut story is still sadly officially missing (though I am hopeful of its return!) we are still able to enjoy their return. The story has a particular significance however for the debut of a character who would become a firm fixture for seasons 7 to 11 – Colonel Alastair Gordon Leighbridge-Stewart. Here only a Colonel, this story would pave the way for the U.N.I.T era, and indeed features the hallmarks that would characterise the Pertwee era – an adventure set on earth, against an invading alien force, with the Doctor working alongside military and scientific groups to repel the invasion. It is a huge pity that Leighbridge-Stewart’s debut episode is the one that was appropriated by the unknown collector, and we can only hope it is not lost beyond all hope.

Even aside of this significance, The Web of Fear is a genuinely good story in its own right. Patrick Troughton is at the height of his powers as the Doctor, ably assisted by Fraser Hines and Deborah Watling. The supporting cast are also superb; a special mention is due to Jack Woolgar portraying the irascible Staff-Sergeant Arnold, but every single actor puts in a first class turn. The production team also manage to deliver a wonderfully claustrophobic and atmospheric story – they reproduced the London Underground so well that the BBC were accused of illegally using the actual Underground lines without permission! As base-under-siege stories go, this one is easily one of the best.

I know several fans were surprised to not enjoy this adventure as much as The Enemy of the World, in part because a mythology had developed around The Web of Fear that simply had not around the preceding adventure. As you will soon read, there are reasons that I still prefer Enemy to Web, but that is no disservice to Web. This is an outstanding adventure from the Troughton era, and a joy to watch even partially incomplete. I can only imagine fans enjoying it even more if episode 3, and indeed The Abominable Snowmen are ever recovered.

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The Web of Fear
is available to buy on DVD on Amazon

Next time: “Grendel? You’ve forgotten your hat!”

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.

The best ever TARDIS crew? It’s almost too close to call …

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 …

The Missing Episodes – Part Two

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!

The Missing Episodes – Part One

The more dedicated reader will be aware that we have counted down from 137 serials, and pondered why the number is not higher than this. Including the 1996 Television Movie and the uncompleted Shada (both of which have made this list) the number of serials ought to run to 160.

As long-term fans of the show are very painfully aware, a large number of the earliest episodes of the show (especially from seasons three and four) have been completely lost from the BBC Archives. For those who are not long-term fans, the brief explanation is this: videotape was extremely valuable. The BBC therefore transferred the originals film unto smaller film reels for sale overseas, then wiped the tapes for reuse. The bigger mistake was junking the overseas prints when they returned to the UK.

The 23 missing pages are therefore 23 serials that have the vast majority of their episodes missing and that I have not seen on DVD. Some serials with missing episodes do make the the list – The Tenth Planet for example, was released on VHS with ‘telesnaps’ representing the final, still missing, episode, while The Invasion was released with the missing episodes 1 and 4 animated. Others have been released on DVD with their missing episodes animated but I have not purchased them as yet. The reasons for this will be outlined in part two of this feature, while in the third section I will review the three serials I would most like to see recovered if possible. In part one however, I pay brief homage to those serials lost to time, and share my expectation of what the serial would be like:

Marco Polo
This was included as a 30 minute tele-snap reconstruction on The Edge of Destruction DVD and I was highly intrigued by the storyline. It holds a certain mystique for Doctor Who fans, both because it is entirely missing, and because it is the earliest story to have missing episodes. While the sets look lush and the storyline is intriguing, I am slightly wary of how much a seven part story might drag.
Desire for it to be found: * * * *

The Crusade
Two episodes of this four part adventure are currently missing, and even if they have to animate the missing episodes I would love to see this serial in full. Even aside of the historical setting featuring Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the serial features Julian Glover, who was utterly excellent in the Tom Baker serial City of Death.
Desire for it to be found: * * * * *

Galaxy 4
From Wikipedia this appears to be a steady-as-she-goes standard 60s sci-fi adventure. It is perhaps for that reason I am less bothered by it. If the serial is in a similar vein to The Space Museum then I might enjoy it, but if it is like later Season 3 story The Ark, then I suspect I would be less wowed.
Desire for it to be found: * *

Mission to the Unknown
The reduction of Planet of Giants to a three part story left a spare episode block, that was filled by this standalone episode that, uniquely for Doctor Who, does not feature the regular cast, but instead is a primer episode for the forthcoming Dalek Master Plan. Perhaps because it stands alone I am less anxious to see this episode recovered – although that may well change if The Daleks’ Master Plan were recovered.
Desire for it to be found: * *

The Myth Makers
While not the highest on my list, it seems by repute that this episode is similar in feel to the Romans – a story that I thoroughly enjoyed. For that reason alone, I’d be delighted if this story made a reappearance:
Desire for it to be found: * * * * *

The Daleks’ Master Plan
12 episodes, and 9 of them missing, including the famous Christmas episode where William Hartnell breaks the fourth wall and wishes “A Merry Christmas to all you at home!” While one would hope the Daleks provide as much enjoyment as other Dalek serials from this era, I suspect 12 full episodes would kill me off.
Desire for it to be found: * * *

The Massacre
If you had asked me in Septemer 2013 if this serial was high on my list of serials to be found, I probably would have been less bothered. Then The Enemy of the World was found – another serial in which the actor playing the Doctor also plays the lead villain of the serial. Enemy was completely fantastic, and I have high hopes that William Hartnell playing a villain would be equally amazing.
Desire for it to be found: * * * * *

The Celestial Toymaker
I imagine this serial to be similar to The Mind Robber – slightly confusing and off the wall and therefore unique and interesting. While I would not be desperate for its recovery, it is one I would be interested to see.
Desire for it to be found: * * *

The Savages
I have become more enthusiastic to watch this serial having seen other serials featuring Steven Taylor as a companion. He plays a strong lead in this serial, and he plays such a good companion that I feel his performance alone would make The Savages worth recovering.
Desire for it to be found: * * * *

The Smugglers
This is one of those episodes I could take or leave. All four episodes are missing, and the plotline doesn’t sufficiently grab my attention that I am anxious for them to be recovered.
Desire for it to be found: *

The Highlanders
Oddly enough, where fans are positive about The Smugglers and dismissive of The Highlanders, this is a serial I would rather like to see. Whether it is my Celtic roots, or the fact that this story introduces Jamie McCrimmon as a companion, but I would be genuinely disappointed if this story was never recovered, even if it turns out not to be the strongest story.
Desire for it to be found: * * * *

The Macra Terror
I also break with conventional opinion on this Troughton classic. Fans of the show who actually watched the show in the 60s have fond memories of this serial. I’m slightly worried how awful the Beeb’s attempts at giant crabs will look.
Desire for it to be found: * *

The Faceless Ones
This story was for a long while like its title – it hardly flagged up on my radar. After reading the plot summary however, I can see this serial following in the theme of The War Machines and paving the way for stories like The Web of Fear and The Invasion, both of which eventually led to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor teaming up with U.N.I.T. I would be highly interested to see how those themes may or may not have developed in this serial.
Desire for it to be found: * * * *

The Abominable Snowmen
Where once my curiosity about this serial was no more than idle, the recovery of The Web of Fear and use of the Great Intelligence in the modern series has made me more interested to see the genesis story for this menace. I would definitely buy a DVD double-pack featuring this serial and the fully recovered Web of Fear (assuming it is possible to find episode 3 of Web)
Desire for it to be found: * * * *

Fury from the Deep
Another serial where I am less bothered by its recovery relative to fandom at large. Perceived as intense and spooky, I have the fearful impression that the serial consists of six episodes on an oil rig. While I’m prepared to be impressed, this story doesn’t rank highly on the list of those I’d want recovered.
Desire for it to be found: * *

The Wheel In Space
This used to be a serial I really wanted recovered – principally because of my great love for Cybermen stories. Having read the BBC reconstruction on their site featuring the story’s tele-snaps, I am slightly wary of how much it may drag over six parts. That said – I’d be thrilled if they found it.
Desire for it to be found: * * * *

The Space Pirates
Universally agreed as the story most fans would be happy to stay lost forever as the price for recovering the rest. For all I know, it may be a hidden gem that goes roaring into my top ten when it is recovered, restored and released. But I’m not holding my breath for any of those contingencies …
Desire for it to be found: *

So where next you ask? Well in part two I will comment on three serials that are mostly complete, two of which have been released on DVD with their missing episodes animated – that is: The Reign of Terror; The Underwater Menace; and The Ice Warriors. I will also take the opportunity to comment on why, for now, I have not bought these serials on DVD.

Part three will come in three parts, as I review the three serials I would most like to see recovered in their entirety: The Moonbase, Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks. My reasons for choosing these three will become clear as I write each piece!

As a concluding remark – while I may have indicated a certain lack of enthusiasm for certain of the lost episodes above, I would be more than delighted if any additional lost material were recovered. But I’m still not expecting The Space Priates to become my favourite serial any day soon …