Sunday, October 06, 2013

Rumours Of My Survival Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (Slight Return)

Some stories just won't do the decent thing and, you know, die. The story (or, rather rumours of a story) about the - alleged - recovery of an unspecified number of missing 1960s Doctor Who episodes in an - alleged - unspecified African country (allegedly) which first cropped up on the Bleeding Cool website a couple of months ago and which had already been officially denied by the BBC now appears to have - finally - reached the mainstream press. Well, that's if you can call the Sunday People the mainstream press. Which is probably pushing things a bit far, frankly. This article - an alleged 'exclusive' written by one Halina Watts, probably in crayon - claims in its hysterical headline that 'over one hundred' long-lost Doctor Who episodes have been found 'by dedicated fans, in Ethiopia' and goes on to quote the figure of one hundred and six episodes. Or, in other words, the entire number of episodes featuring yer actual William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton his very self which are currently missing from the BBC's archives. Okay. Calm down, dear blog reader and let's look at this thing rationally. 'A group of dedicated Doctor Who fans tracked down at least one hundred long-lost episodes of the show gathering dust more than three thousand miles away in Ethiopia,' the People claim excitedly, switching the - alleged - East African country involved away from the previously widely discussed Nigeria, Zambia and Uganda to an entirely new target. 'It was feared the BBC ­programmes from the 1960s – featuring the first two Doctors William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton – had vanished for all time after the Beeb flogged off a load of old footage,' Halina states, seemingly somewhat confused. The BBC didn't 'flog off loads of old footage' or anything even remotely like it, do some bloody basic research, Halina. That's what the Internet is there for, after all. Or, better still, stick to less nuanced material like your last breath-taking 'exclusive' a photo-story about Stella English signing on at the Job Centre. For the record, one hundred and six of the two hundred and fifty three episodes of Doctor Who broadcast during the 1960s are currently missing, presumed wiped due to the BBC's complex archiving policies of the 1960s and 1970 - which From The North attempted to explain the context of in this article a few years back. As - thanks to its rabid fandom - probably the most high-profile of all the casualties of junking, at one point over one hundred and fifty of the 1960s monochrome Doctor Who episodes, were missing from the BBCs archives. Everything from 1970 onwards still exists in one form or another (albeit some early Jon Pertwee episodes are only held as black and white telerecordings). But then, odd Doctor Who episodes started to turn up, often in the most unlikely of places - the BBC found all four episodes of 1967's Tomb Of The Cybermen in Hong Kong, for instance. Another handful of William Hartnell episodes were discovered in Nigeria and some more in Cyprus and Australia. The BBC even found four of the six episodes of The Ice Warriors in a filing cabinet in one of their own offices in Television Centre, the film cans having, simply, been misfiled. The steady trickle of returned episodes during the 1980s and 90s now seems to have more or less dried up - occasionally films print of an episode may turn up in some developing-world dictatorship or in the hand of a private collector, though there have only been four such recoveries in the last twenty years (the most recent such gems were single episodes of Galaxy Four and The Underwater Meance in 2012). 'After months of detective work the tapes have been unearthed at the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency,' Halina claims. She goes on to quote an, alleged (nameless, of course - and, therefore almost certainly fictitious) 'television insider' as, allegedly, saying: 'It is a triumph and fans everywhere will be thrilled. This is a really big deal for the BBC and is set to make them millions from the sale of the DVDs.' The article specifically refers to three Doctor Who stories - the 1964 historical four-parter The Crusade (of which two episodes are, currently, missing from the BBC's archives), the 1967 six-parter The Enemy Of The World, only one episode of which currently exists and the highly-regarded 1968 six-parter The Ice Warriors (two episodes of which are still missing). 'After each airing only once between 1964 and 1969, copies were sold to the Ethiopian Agency and the BBC then lost or wiped the originals,' the article states. At least some of which is entirely factually incorrect; only some William Hartnell episodes from Doctor Who's first and second series (1963-65) were ever sold to Ethiopia, in 1970. This site gives a very useful guide to what, exactly, was sold and broadcast, and when. According to the BBC's own - meticulously maintained - sales records, the Ethiopia's only TV network, the Ethiopian Television Service (which began transmission in 1964) is reported to have bought Groups A, B and C (seventy seven Doctor Who episodes) of the standard package of William Hartnell stories, bar the 1964 four-parter The Time Meddler from Television International Enterprises, the 1960s forerunner of BBC Worldwide. It was the last country known to have broadcast the run of Hartnell stories from The Romans to The Chase during 1970 and 1971. It is not known why The Time Meddler was omitted from the sale - speculation exists that it may have been because there were no available prints in circulation in 1970. The programme was supplied to the ETS on sixteen millimetre black and white film prints with an English soundtrack. In Alwyn W Turner's 2011 book The Man Who Invented the Daleks, Turner notes that 'in 1971, [Terry] Nation received £3.12 [in royalties] when The Chase was sold to Ethiopian television.' Of the three stories the People article specifically mentions, only The Crusade was ever sold to and shown in Ethiopia - although two other long-missing stories (the 1964 seven-parter Marco Polo - the Holy Grail for many Doctor Who fans - and the same year's six-parter The Reign of Terror, of which two episodes are still missing) were also sold for broadcast in Ethiopia. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping must say, dear blog reader, that he is pure dead fascinated by the idea of Haile Selassie his very self sitting in his palatial Addis Ababa gaff one day in the early 1970s decreeing 'His Imperial Majesty, Ras Tafari demands an instant repeat showing of The Keys of Marinus. An' ting. He likes the bit where Mister Hartnell fluffs his lines in the first episode when talking to William Russell about Susan's shoes.' The article then suggests that 'Doctor Who expert' Stuart Kelly (no, me neither I'm afraid) 'revealed news of the discovery at the Wigtown Book Festival in Scotland last week.' It goes on to state that 'when contacted by the People' Mister Kelly was quoted as saying: 'I was told by a friend that the episodes have been found in Ethiopia. The BBC is negotiating to get them back right now. I really can't say any more than that.' So, therefore, this entire story appears to be based on nothing but second-hand information from an anonymous 'source'. One of the People's readers in the comments section below the article, suggests that the claims are 'ridiculously unsubstantiated' and an example of 'disgracefully bad journalism' (shoddy journalistic methods? From a risible rag like the Sunday People? Surely not!) containing second-hand allegations and unsubstantiated quotes from anonymous 'insiders'. And then the press wonder why Lord Justice Leveson wanted to flush them all into the gutter. The reader notes that 'neither Stuart nor his "friend" are mentioned as having any insider information [nor is there] any reason to suspect any of this [is] beyond the hearsay that's been going on for months.' He also scorned the comments of the - alleged, nameless, and almost certainly fictitious - 'television insider' and goes on to confirm that Ethiopia only ever purchased seventy seven Doctor Who episodes, and didn't get any Patrick Troughton stories, adding that, as a consequence, the maximum number of missing episode which any hypothetical Ethiopian broadcaster could - hypothetically - have in its possession would be eleven. Not one hundred and six. Therefore, once again, as when this rumour - or variants on it - first surfaced in the summer, this blogger will, frankly, believe it when he sees it. If it's true - or even partially true - yer actual Keith Telly Topping his very self will be as happy as any fan alive (and I do mean that). But, fact is, I simply can't see there being anything in it - and certainly not in the kind of numbers being bandied about in this article. I think it's, sadly, probably a load of crap and have done since the first stirrings of the rumour back in the summer. We've all been here so many times before and we've - almost always - ended up with disappointments and there still being one hundred and six missing episodes. So ... time will tell. It usually does. The story (or variants on it) has been denied by the BBC (at least twice) and the Doctor Who restoration team has previously described the Bleeding Cool-led rumours as 'not true.' And, in theory at least, they should know since they'd, presumably, be given the job of cleaning up the returned episodes for any subsequent potential DVD release. It's interesting that even Rich Johnston, the writer on Bleeding Cool who first brought these rumours to the wider public attention now seems to be hedging his bets, as well as having a reet good laugh at the more ridiculous aspects of the People's piece.
Meanwhile, in a Doctor Who story which, as far as we know, doesn't appear to be a load of completely made-up cobblers, principal photography for this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special - you know, the one in which yer actual Matt Smith will turn into Peter Capaldi his very self - was completed on Saturday. This was announced by Doctor Who's producer, Marcus Wilson on Twitter. Which, one might suggest to the People, is what can be described as a 'reliable' source: 'So it's goodnight from me, and it's goodnight from him,' wrote Marcus. 'That's a wrap. Christmas 2013. Thank you all.'

And, here's a picture of yer actual Smudger his very self along with his mum, Lynne, on set on the final day.