The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Photographic



Later this month will see the publication of Doctor Who – The Missing Episodes – The First Doctor, a Doctor Who Magazine special, which compiles (by popular request) the 'telesnaps' for the episodes which have been lost. I’ve written quite a bit of it, and one of the things I’ve done has been to provide new ‘commentaries’ for the ‘telesnaps’ for the stories The Savages and The Tenth Planet (part four only). The ‘telesnaps’ are a series of photographs taken of the television screen by a chap called John Cura who would then sell those photographs to the production office, to directors and actors as a souvenir of their work (in the days before videos). As such, there are telesnaps (I’ll stop using quotation marks now) for many of the episodes which sadly do not reside in the BBC Archive and/or the J Morris DVD collection.

Writing these commentaries has been a fascinating and head-scratching process, because I was determined to be as accurate as possible. For each telesnap, I would first have to identify where that photo was taken in terms of the camera script. The camera script includes descriptions of the various camera shots (i.e. close ups, long shots), camera moves and notes which characters should be in which shot, even which characters are favoured, which are in the background. But even with all that information, it sometimes wasn’t clear where the shot came precisely, so rather than be wrong, I would make sure that my commentary for that picture covered the section of the script during which that shot had occurred; to be a little imprecise but deliberate and accurate in my imprecision.

The problem is that although 60-odd photographs exist for each 25-minute episode, they weren’t taken at regular intervals. Instead, John Cura was trying to favour shots that showed actors in close-up or showed sets and costumes to best effect, or shots that were particularly impressive, whilst trying to avoid repeating similar shots, which is all very marvellous, but he was also doing so on the hoof, as he watched the episode for the first time, with no recourse to the script. So sometimes he missed stuff, like brief establishing shots or short cutaway scenes. Or even quite long, significant scenes, like Dodo threatening to smash the lab equipment in part two of The Savages, or Ben and the scientists pretending to be dead to lure a Cyberman into the Radiation Room in The Tenth Planet. My theory is that around the mid-point of each episode John Cura would be changing the film in his camera, which is why his photographs tend to be most frequent at the start and end of episodes (because at the beginning he has plenty of film and at the end he knows how much he has left to use up) and tend to be less frequent in the middle as he is waiting for a suitable lull, with a brief spurt half-way through as he used up the first batch of film followed by a one or two minute gap. But that’s just my theory.

The other thing that made the process interesting and difficult is that occasionally – maybe once or twice per episode – there would be a telesnap that didn’t correspond to the camera script, because the camera script only describes the plan of action for a recording, and not what was actually shot, and so inevitably the plan would change during the camera rehearsals as the director found that he needed a different shot to tell the story, or had to use a different camera for one shot because the camera he’d planned to use couldn’t move from another set soon enough or would get its cables tangled up or whatever. So whilst the camera scripts are generally very accurate, they’re not the whole story; if you compare an existing episode to its camera script you’ll notice numerous small differences between the plan and the realisation, usually in terms of the timing of cuts. There's also the fact that the camera script only covers what was shot in studio, and so only gives a guide to what happens in the sequences shot on film and not to which shots were used when.

Having identified the line of dialogue to which each telesnap corresponded, I would then write up a commentary based around that line, but also mindful to put it in context and to tell the story. I’d also then check the dialogue against an audio recording of the episode because, more often than not, what the actors actually said didn’t match up to the script. Particularly where William Hartnell was concerned.

Like I said, I was determined to be accurate, even if it made life difficult. Certainly I’ve taken more care over it than was done when the telesnaps were put on the BBC site, where not only are some of the captions entirely wrong, but they also occasionally changed the order of the telesnaps  to make them ‘fit’ the commentary better. That’s why I didn’t use the BBC site as a guide; I also didn’t use any of the fan reconstructions because, by necessity, they also sometimes have telesnaps in the wrong order, or repeat images in order to tell the story better. But with the commentaries for this magazine, I can be as sure as it is possible to be that each caption describes the actual line being spoken for each shot, making my commentary fit the pictures when it would’ve been much, much easier to make the pictures fit my commentary.

The other thing I should add is that for both those stories there are some clips in existence, and in preparing the commentaries and checking against the clips, I found that not only were some of the clips from The Savages on the Lost In Time DVD from a different episode to that given, they were also in slightly the wrong order, as Dodo rushes over to Steven after he says ‘Very well, I will stay’ and not before. Which kind of makes more sense, doesn't it?

So anyway, lots of painstaking pains were taken, and in the process, having spent goodness knows how long poring over the telesnaps, the camera scripts and listening to the audio recordings, I gained a new appreciation and insight into these missing episodes and feel almost as though I’ve actually watched them. Almost. Because I’m sure that if they were found they would contain all sorts of surprises and prove me wrong in something or other.

Plus I found this amazing telesnap from The Savages. Amazing what they could get away with in the 60s, eh?



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