The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 27 September 2013


The following introduction was first published in the Doctor Who Magazine special, The Missing Episodes: The First Doctor, for which I also wrote introductions to the various stories for which 'telesnaps' do exist. I previously blogged about researching the magazine here.


It is the singular greatest frustration of being a Doctor Who fan that so many of its early episodes are missing. While fans of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone can watch a complete run of episodes, from beginning to end, in digitally-remastered quality, Doctor Who fans have gaps; glaring, soul-crushing lacunae in the continuously developing narrative that mean it will never be possible for modern fans to watch all of Doctor Who from the start, in order, as viewers did in the 60s. Because of the missing episodes, being a fan of Doctor Who will always be a tantalisingly incomplete, unresolved experience, because there will always be episodes which have yet to be seen, episodes that may yet be recovered but which almost certainly won’t. To paraphrase the playwright Michael Frayn; it’s not the despair we can’t stand, it’s the hope.

It’s a formative moment in the experience of any Doctor Who fan. If you didn’t know that there were missing episodes and have only just learned that fact from reading this introduction, then I feel your pain; the wound is still raw and forever will be. When I first became a fan, I only knew about the old stories from the novelizations published by Target books and my prized Doctor Who Monster Book. The thought of ever actually watching them seemed like an impossible dream, because old Doctor Whos were never repeated and to all intents and purposes didn’t exist; they were a part of distant, black-and-white history and I no more expected to watch a William Hartnell Doctor Who than I expected to participate in the Second World War. But then, in 1981, the BBC repeated the first William Hartnell story and suddenly it seemed plausible that if they could show that, then surely The Abominable Snowmen couldn’t be that far away. But instead they showed The Krotons. Because that was the only complete Patrick Troughton four-part story they still had. A story so inconsequential, so second-rate, that Target books hadn’t even bothered to publish a novelization of it.

It was only when my mum brought home the Doctor Who Magazine Winter Special – one of the very first forerunners of this magazine – that I discovered the truth. The magazine printed a list of all the Doctor Who episodes that existed in the BBC archive, a list that consisted largely of the word ‘none’. All those stories I’d read and loved as novelizations, like The Tomb Of The Cybermen and The Ice Warriors, plus amazing-sounding stories I’d never heard of like The Evil Of The Daleks and Fury From The Deep. None, none, none, none. The Web Of Fear. One. The Invasion. All of it apart from part one (a typo, as part four didn’t exist either).

How could they do this to me? Why had such a terrible, heart-breaking situation ever been allowed to happen? It didn’t make sense. How could the BBC - the people who made Doctor Who not have bothered to keep it?

There are, sadly, two main reasons. The first is that in the 60s television was still a young medium, where programmes were considered to be as ephemeral as theatrical productions. In its very early days when everything was live, shows weren’t even repeated at all; instead, the actors would simply reconvene for a second performance. By the 60s the technology existed to repeat shows, but the BBC’s obligation to both its Royal Charter and the license fee payers was to originate new material and keep repeats to a minimum; if shows were repeated, it would be as a sort of ‘catch-up’ service within two years of the initial broadcast. Moving into the 70s, the introduction of colour television (and twice as expensive colour television license fees) meant that black-and-white programming was considered old-fashioned and second-rate and repeats were few and far between (in much the same way that repeats of standard-definition, 4:3 programmes are now rare on BBC One.)

So there wasn’t much reason to keep the programmes for a UK broadcast. In addition, the BBC’s agreement with the actors’ unity Equity meant that repeating old programmes was almost as expensive as making new ones (the union being understandably keen to ensure that the BBC generated new work for its members). However, it is important to note that Equity did not want old programmes to be destroyed; quite the opposite, in fact, as they provided royalties for its members through overseas sales.

But if Doctor Who was being sold overseas, surely that was a reason to keep it? Well, yes, that was a good reason and initially that was the case. Although Doctor Who’s videotapes were routinely wiped (because videotapes were expensive and had to be re-used) almost every single episode had a film copy made first*, so that duplicates of that copy could be sold to overseas stations. Initially Doctor Who was a great success for the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Enterprises, but by the mid-70s sales of the old black-and-white stories were beginning to dry up. Foreign TV stations were also moving to colour and becoming less interested in black-and-white-material and as the show’s popularity had fallen off during its third season in the UK, the interest of overseas viewers also seems to have waned. In addition, for a couple of years in the late 60s BBC Enterprises couldn’t sell stories featuring the Daleks (due to Terry Nation withdrawing the rights in the hope of launching his own Dalek series) so the package of stories that BBC Enterprises could sell to overseas broadcasters omitted Patrick Troughton’s introductory adventure, The Power of the Daleks, making the second Doctor a less marketable proposition.

So with foreign sales drying up and little prospect of UK repeats, there seemed little point for BBC Enterprises in retaining their archive of Doctor Who film and so, when their rights to sell the shows expired, their film copies were ‘junked’ (i.e. thrown in a skip) to make room in the vaults for more recent, much more commercial material . This was in the days before home video and it took BBC Enterprises a long time to realise the commercial potential of archive material. It does seem remarkably short-sighted in retrospect, but that was how things were back then; in the early 60s the BBC were wiping episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour while BBC Records were releasing the soundtrack of two episodes of Hancock as an LP. The idea that there might one day be a market for ‘archive’ material simply didn’t occur; not only was Doctor Who not kept, but also Not Only... But Also, The Likely Lads, Til Death Us Do Part and hundreds of episodes of Z-Cars, Top of the Pops and numerous other shows now forgotten.

Gradually, however, the attitude of the BBC began to change, as articles appeared in the press highlighting the fact that they were not retaining copies of their programming (Peter Cook bemoaning the wiping of Beyond the Fringe in an edition of satirical magazine Private Eye). The deal with Equity was renegotiated allowing more ‘out of time’ repeats and, as the cost of videotape came down, there was no longer such a pressing need to wipe videotapes for re-use. During the mid-70s the BBC’s Film Library extended its remit from only retaining material originated on film to include videotapes, becoming the BBC Film and Videotape Library (which is why every Doctor Who story from 1975 onwards exists on its original tapes).

A few years later, the BBC appointed an Archive Selector to administrate this archive, Sue Malden. Eager to build a partnership with the British Film Institute, Malden visited their Television Officer, Paul Madden, so they could compare records of what BBC material existed in the National Film Archive that didn’t exist in the BBC’s Film and Videotape Library and vice versa. She noticed that the BFI had film copies of three complete Doctor Who stories that weren’t in the BBC’s own archive; The Mind Robber, The Dominators and The War Games. Malden asked where the BFI had got them from and was told they had been donated by BBC Enterprises. This led Malden to contact BBC Enterprises to find out what archive material they held, to stop junking it and to have it transferred to the BBC’s Film and Videotape Library.

Unfortunately, by that point, BBC Enterprises had junked their copies of most of the episodes from seasons three, four and five. But luckily for us they hadn’t got around to chucking out the episodes from the first two seasons, meaning that all those stories – a complete run save for Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror and The Crusade – could be added to the Doctor Who shelf in the Film and Videotape Library. Around this time, Sue Malden was also paid a visit by a record producer called Ian Levine, a tenacious Doctor Who enthusiast who had been trying to purchase copies of episodes from the BBC for his own collection. He alerted Malden to the fact that some of the Doctor Who episodes missing from the BBC’s archive may still exist in overseas archives, which was indeed the case for a large number of colour Jon Pertwee episodes (the BBC’s copies only being in black-and-white).

Over the years since then, 33 more missing episodes have been recovered (17 Hartnell, 14 and 2 Pertwee) from overseas broadcasters, private collections and various BBC storage facilities, thanks to the perseverance and perspicacity of Ian Levine, Paul Vanezis and several other Doctor Who fans. With the recent recovery of episode three of Galaxy Four and episode two of The Underwater Menace, the total of missing episodes now stands at 106. The fact that so much of Doctor Who exists is a testament not only to fans’ determination but to the incompetence of the BBC; not only could they not manage to keep a proper archive, they couldn’t even manage to throw things away. Who knows how many missing episodes may have found their way into private collections, having been ‘liberated’ from the BBC or elsewhere?

But it’s not only missing episodes that have been recovered. Back in the 60s a number of forward-thinking Doctor Who fans took the trouble to make audio recordings of the episodes as they were being broadcast, recordings which have since been released with narration by BBC Audiobooks and which have provided the soundtracks of animated recreations of the missing episodes of The Reign of Terror, The Tenth Planet and The Invasion. Fans have also tracked down numerous clips from the missing episodes, from film sequences misfiled in the archive to a trailer accidentally recorded at the end of another programme, from clips used in editions of Blue Peter and Tomorrow’s World, to shots cut out of episodes by Australian censors, to a reel of 8mm film shot by an Australian fan, made by pointing a cine-camera at the TV screen. As it stands, there are (virtually) complete soundtracks for every single missing episode and clips from every missing story save for Marco Polo, Mission to the Unknown and The Massacre Of St Bartholomew’s Eve.

And, of course, there are the telesnaps that form the basis of this magazine, providing a visual record of the missing episodes of Marco Polo, The Crusade, The Savages, The Smugglers and The Tenth Planet. While the clips and the soundtracks can give a flavour of a story, the telesnaps give a sense of each episode as a whole, as there are so many of them they form an effective ‘photo-story’. Thanks to the telesnaps we have an idea of what practically every character from those missing episodes looked like, what their costumes and their make-up looked like, what every set looked like, how the scenes were blocked out, how they were shot and how they were lit. Studied in conjunction with the soundtracks, the clips and the camera scripts, you can get such a thorough and complete idea of each episode it’s almost as if you have actually watched them on television. Almost.

Of all the episodes for which no telesnaps exist, those from The Reign of Terror are the least mysterious, as they are bookended by four extant episodes from the same serial which take place in most of the same locations with the same cast. The only significant character who doesn’t appear in one of the remaining episodes is the Physician (played by Ronald Pickup in his first television role). We also don’t know what the room in his house visited by Barbara and Susan looked like, or what the church crypt where Ian is ambushed looked like. And although Robespierre appears in episode six, he only does so in a state of dumb panic, as all his dialogue scenes are in The Tyrant of France, in which he exchanges harsh words with the Doctor and admits his regret at the bloodshed he has caused and A Bargain of Necessity, in which he is warned by Lemaitre of his imminent downfall.

By contrast, until the discovery of its third episode, Airlock, much of Galaxy Four was a mystery. Most significantly, we only had two rather murky photographs of the stories’ benevolent aliens, the Rills. And although a short clip from part one featuring the villainous Drahvins did survive, it was frustratingly short on Chumblie action (the Chumblies being the Rills’ dome-shaped robots). The discovery of the missing episode demonstrated how little we knew; how rapidly the Chumblies moved, for instance, or how their claws worked, or quite how shaky their spaceship was.

There’s also quite a lot we thought we knew that turned out to be wrong. Fortunately camera scripts exist for all the missing episodes, detailing not just the dialogue and action but also the camera shots and moves, but anyone reading these scripts (available on The Lost TV Episodes CD collections) at the same time as listening to the surviving soundtracks is likely to be struck by how frequently the dialogue differs from what was scripted (particularly where Hartnell is concerned). And just as dialogue was modified on the day of recording, other plans were also changed. And so when fans first saw the recovered episode in 2011 their first shock was how clearly visible the Rill was in the first scene. According to the camera script and according to the memories of fans who saw the episode on original broadcast, the Rill was hidden behind ‘swirling, smoky gas’ - leading Vicki to later ask why they won’t let her see them - yet we now know that wasn’t the case. Similarly, while we did know there was a ‘flashback’ scene shot from a Rill’s point of view, we didn’t know that it would show the wounded Drahvin to be actually bleeding. The script also specified that we should catch glimpses of other Rills during this scene; in the actual episode they are nowhere to be seen. And while we knew Stephanie Bidmead’s monologue was shot as a close-up, we didn’t know it was delivered straight to camera as a fourth-wall-breaking aside. In this and in so many other ways what we thought we knew was only half the story or completely wrong. But most importantly of all, what the script and the soundtrack didn’t tell us was all the physical business that William Hartnell would add, directing the Chumblies with his cane or his mirth at their appearance. It’s these moments, moments that we couldn’t possibly have known about, that make episode recoveries so precious.

Mission to the Unknown’s title turns out to be ironically appropriate. No clips exists from it at all, so the only visual material we have are the photographs of the alien delegates (some of which include a mysterious female human delegate, ‘Verity’), a few set photographs and – bizarrely – a sketch from a Canadian comedy show recorded on the same set. No photographs exist at all of any of the human characters. There’s one photograph of a sinister Varga plant in situ in the jungle, but we don’t know how it moved, or what Jeff Garvey’s transformation into a Varga hybrid looked like. We’re not even sure which alien delegate is which, as Malpha is the only one to speak, but if the existing second episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan is anything to go by, they each had their own distinctive way of moving and expressing agreement.

We have almost as little to go on with the next story, The Myth Makers. The 8mm clips aren’t greatly revealing and in terms of photographs, we’re very well-served in terms of Vicki clinching with Troilus but not very well-served regarding the rest of the cast; there are no photographs at all of Menelaus or Paris and the only photographs we have of Achilles and Hector have their faces hidden by their helmets. But what we do know – from the script and the existing soundtrack – is that this was an exceptionally fine story, with an extraordinarily witty script and a cast of experienced comedy players. Unfortunately, that means we’re missing all the reaction-shots and double-takes that would have accompanied the comedy. And although the script is very much a theatrical, verbal piece, we’re also missing some great visuals; although we know what some of the sets looked like, we have little idea what the scenes set inside the Trojan Horse looked like, or how the fall of Troy came across on screen. We know they built a model of Troy to be combined with shots using the Schüfftan process; did it work? In the scene where the Doctor demonstrates his ‘flying machine’ to Odysseus what sort of paper aeroplane did William Hartnell build and did it fly? This story was also the first to feature the TARDIS’ wardrobe room; what did it look like and what did Vicki find there?

The frustration continues with The Daleks’ Master Plan, as so much of it is missing but what does exist is so well-directed and spectacular. The existing film sequences, in particular, are some of the most visually arresting moments of the black-and-white era; Kert Gantry stumbling through the jungle only to come face-to-face with a Dalek, the Daleks setting light to the jungle and the teleportation sequence in Counter Plot. When it comes to the episodes that don’t exist, it’s the absence of the film sequences which are the most frustrating; frustrating because they were the ‘money shots’, the sequences where the director had the most resources, freedom and time at his disposal – shooting with a single-camera at the BBC Television Film Studios at Ealing and editing at leisure rather than shooting multi-camera – and yet frustrating because at least with the studio recordings we have a record of what shots and camera moves were planned. With regard to the film sequences, we have virtually no idea at all. So when it comes to the model shots, the scene where the Monk’s TARDIS changes its appearance to different modes of transport and the climactic ‘mutation sequence’ we can only guess at what they looked like. The final episode certainly sounds incredible, but as it had several days of filming devoted to it, creating shots of the sun racing across the sky, of Sara and the Doctor aging and the Daleks regressing, the likelihood is that it looked even better than it sounded.

That’s not all we’re missing. There’s the first death of a companion, Katarina; a clip survives of the moments just before, but not of the shot of her body floating weightlessly through space. There’s the peculiar scene with the Test Match commentators in Volcano, which appears to have included a shot of the TARDIS on the pitch and some stock footage of a cricket match. There are the Screamers and the Visians and the alien delegates that, for reasons known only to themselves, look and sound different when they turn up in later episodes. There’s the futuristic TV broadcast from the opening episode. And there’s The Feast of Steven, Doctor Who’s first Christmas special, which, judging by its virtually incomprehensible soundtrack, was either a tightly-choreographed fast-paced laugh-riot, or a lot of people running around shouting. Of course, it’s likely to be the latter, but if anyone could’ve pulled it off, it would be director Douglas Camfield.

The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve is another of Doctor Who’s great enigmas. Once again, little photographic material exists, with no images available of many of the characters, most notably the Abbot of Amboise as portrayed by William Hartnell. Given that the character’s appearance was intended to come as a surprise and the intention was to keep viewers guessing as to whether he was the Doctor, it’s understandable, if frustrating, that he didn’t feature in any of the photo sessions called to publicise the story. And the Abbot only constitutes a small part of what is an unusually adult, literate script, light on action and humour, but rich with emotion and a suitably doom-laden atmosphere. The cast is exceptionally strong – and as the story’s de facto leading man, Peter Purves is no weak link, giving a skilful and emotionally-charged performance. The production values also seem to have been unusually high, with a huge set constructed at Ealing for the story’s exterior scenes . But the highlight has to be Hartnell’s performance, not as the Abbot but as the Doctor, seemingly abandoned by his remaining companion and contemplating a return to his home planet. But we can only guess at how that scene looked on screen, just as we can only guess at how powerful the story’s climax, combining film footage of the characters’ deaths with a ‘nightmare-raising portfolio of Massacre woodcuts’ must’ve been.

And finally, there’s The Celestial Toymaker, a story which might not have been recorded in telesnaps but which was amply covered by publicity photographs and where the existing final episode gives us some idea of what the other episodes were like (as, for instance, the game of TARDIS Hopscotch takes place on the same basic metallic-walled set that was used for the obstacle course, the Hall of Dolls, Mrs Wiggs’ kitchen and the Dancing Floor). The final episode gives the impression that it was an unusually ramshackle production, an opinion shared by some of its cast, but we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn it. After all, if we only had the final episode of the first Dalek story to go on, it would appear equally ropey and despite its low budget this story seems to have been particularly effective for its younger viewers. Certainly the soundtrack suggests an atmosphere of unbearable menace and the story’s central conceit, of real people turned into playthings, is both piteous and extremely disturbing. Judging by Cyril’s electrocution in the final part, the story didn’t pull its punches, with characters being violently transformed back into dolls or playing cards. The whole idea of killer clowns, playing cards, ballerinas, fictional characters and lethal playground games is the stuff of nightmares, Lewis Carroll by way of Samuel Beckett. By missing the first three episodes, we are missing all of this stories biggest scares, as well as a proper look at the Toymaker’s Dolls’ House (only glimpsed in the existing episode). We’re missing astonishing, surreal images like the conveyor belt of TARDISes and Mrs Wiggs and Sergeant Rugg dancing off into the void, as well as a flashback to young Dodo in school uniform and clips from The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre Of St Bartholomew’s Eve. But most of all we don’t know how effective the gradual descent into half-darkness during the obstacle course was; maybe it was barely noticeable, or maybe it was a masterpiece of surrealism akin to The Twilight Zone’s Five Characters In Search Of An Exit.

In short, there is still so much we don’t know about these missing episodes, which is why they continue to exert such fascination and why their absence will always be a source of great frustration. We can only hope that some more will be found, maybe one day... but it’s the hoping we can’t stand.

* As far as we know, no film copy was made of the 1965 Christmas Day instalment of The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Feast of Steven, which was not included as part of the story when it was offered to overseas broadcasters.