Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Nothing Is Ever Forgotten!"

'Nothing is ever forgotten. Not completely. And, if something can be remembered, it can come back.'

For a long time the dreaded number stood at one hundred and eight and many of us doubted that situation would ever change. But, tonight, dear blog reader, there are now only - and this blogger says 'only' with some, necessary, irony - one hundred and six missing episodes of Doctor Who.
    Two long-lost twenty five minute, monochrome episodes from the BBC's long-running popular family SF drama - one from the 1965 story Galaxy 4 and another from 1967's The Underwater Menace - have been found according the Radio Times and confirmed at the BFI's Missing Believed Wiped event in London on Sunday afternoon. So, yes, if you're a 'not-we' (or, a 'normal person' as I believe they call themselves these days), then that's the reason why your Interweb has been very slow tonight. (My thanks to young Andrew for that joke.)
     Episode three of the William Hartnell story Galaxy 4 and episode two of the Patrick Troughton serial The Underwater Menace have surfaced over forty five years after they were first broadcast. 'Neither is likely to feature high on fan wish lists, but any find is a marvel after so many decades and each episode has its own merits,' noted the Radio Times's Patrick Mulhearn. And he's dead right. Funnily enough, yer actual Keith Telly Topping remembers a conversation with his mate, Ian from a few years ago on the very subject of rumours about the recovery of missing episodes. 'You notice,' Ian said, with almost uncanny foresight, 'it's always Evil Of The Daleks episode seven or The Web Of Fear episode three thats said to have been found, it's never The Underwater Menace episode two!' All of which probably goes to prove that, in terms of such rumours, the lack of a reputation within fandom is an almost certain indicator on whether the rumoured recovered episode actually has been, or not.
     Anyway, a minute long clip from each episode is now available on the BBC's Doctor Who website. And, very nice they look too: The Undermater Menace is here and Galaxy Four is here. Now, if somebody at the BBC had their merchandising heads screwed on, they'd have Chumblies in the shops by Christmas. And, now I've said that, I want a Chumblie for Christmas, dear blog reader. Doctor Who writer and actor Mark Gatiss was at the BFI event and said: 'Christmas has come early for Doctor Who fans everywhere. It's always wonderful when a missing episode turns up but it's been years since the last one so to have two is just brilliant. Add to that a proper bit of action from the legendary Chumblies (and the horrifying Rills!) plus the utterly mesmeric Patrick Troughton on great form. Well, what more could we all ask for?' The Tenth Planet episode four, Mark, since you're asking. Or, is that just too greedy?
    Both episodes were rediscovered via a former TVS engineer, Terry Burnett, who bought them at a school fête in Southampton back in the 1980s and never realised their significance. The copies are believed to have originated from the ABC channel in Australia due to some minor edits having been made to The Underwater Menace.
      Radio Times's head of heritage and a lifelong Doctor Who fan, Ralph Montagu, told the magazine how they came to his attention: 'I occasionally meet up with a group of film collectors and retired TV engineers at a café in Hampshire. A few months ago I spoke to Terry Burnett, who used to be an engineer at TVS [the former ITV franchise based in Southampton]. Somehow Doctor Who was mentioned in passing, and Terry said, "Oh, actually I think I've got an old episode." I thought it was bound to be something we've got already. I tried not to get too excited, but he came back the next day and brought this spool with him. It had no label, so I had a look at the film leader and it said Air Lock. I thought, "What's that?" I checked online and saw that Air Lock was an episode of Galaxy 4 - a missing Hartnell serial.' And you call yourself 'a lifelong fan', Robert Montagu?! Everybody knows that Air Lock was the third episode of Galaxy 4. It's the twelfth law of fandom. 'So then I got very excited,' he continued. 'Meeting with Terry a couple of weeks later he said, "Guess what I've got?" It was another episode of Doctor Who. Again not labelled on the can, but it turned out to be The Underwater Menace part two.' Previously all four parts of Galaxy 4 were missing (although a - very good - six minutes fragment from episode one had survived on film in the BBC's archives and been released on video and DVD on a couple of documentaries about the missing episodes). Only one episode of The Underwater Menace - part three - previously existed which, again, will be very familiar to fans. The story, which has a reputation somewhat lower than rattlesnakes piss within fandom, is generally considered to be one of the worst of the 1960s, even though it was directed by future EastEnders guru Julia Smith. Galaxy 4 - written by William Emms - sees The Doctor, Vicki (Maureen O'Brien), and Steven Taylor (Peter Purvis) arriving on an eerily silent planet and encountering several curious small robots, which Vicki names Chumblies. Hell, it was 1965, why not? It is initially unclear whether the robots are hostile, then one is disabled by a party of female clones, the Drahvins, from a planet in Galaxy 4. The Drahvins are dominated by their leader, Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead), who treats her subordinate warriors with bullying contempt in best dominatrix-style.
       The Drahvins are at war with the reptilian Rills, the creators of the Chumblies, and both races have crashed their spaceships on the planet. The story's central twist - that the beautiful Drahvins are actually the villains of the piece and the horrible looking Rills are really rather nice - was ruined by various British newspapers stating this information - Oi, SPOILERS! - before the story was even broadcast. Some things, it would seem, never change. Ask Steven Moffat, he'll tell you. Transmitted over four weeks in autumn 1965, at the start of Doctor Who's third series, the story is a well-remembered one by fans of a certain vintage and its clever Beauty And The Beast-style storyline was certainly unusual for the series. But, it subsequently became something of a forgotten gem until it was novelised (by Emms himself) in the 1980s and then when the few minutes fragment from episode one was release on the Lost In Time DVD set in 2004. There's even a tiny link to the current series of Doctor Who as The Drahvins are one of the many alien races said to be gathered above Earth to witness The Doctor's demise in the 2010 story The Pandorica Opens. The Underwater Menace was the only story that author Geoffrey Orme ever wrote for Doctor Who. The TARDIS lands on a seemingly deserted volcanic island. The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Ben (Michael Craze), Polly (Anneke Wills) and their new recruit Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) are captured and taken in a lift down a deep shaft which leads well below the seabed. They are prisoners of the survivors of Atlantis, the Fish People. Their High Priest, Lolem (Peter Stephens), declares they are to be sacrificed to the great god Amdo. As they are about to be fed to a pool of sharks, Professor Zaroff arrives. He is a renegade scientist who has devised the technology from which the plankton food that the Atlantians live on has been refined. The Doctor succeeds in persuading the Mad Professor to hire him for his scientific staff. Zaroff tells The Doctor that he has a - completely bloody bonkers - plan to raise Atlantis from the sea and restore it to greatness. The always excellent Colin Jeavons was among the cast which also featured the Austrian actor Joseph Fürst as Zaroff, going so far over the top he was down the other side when delivering the infamous line at the end of episode two 'Nuzzzink in ze verld can stop me now!' There's even a touch of politics in the story as the Doctor decides to cause a revolution by creating a food shortage. He realises the plankton-based food will not last long before perishing, so decides to cause its farmers to stop supply. The Fish People eventually do revolt and overthrow their oppressors in typical Doctor Who style. It's not very good example of the show, to be honest. But, it's an early Patrick Troughton story with Ben, Polly and Jamie and hardly any of their episodes still exist so any new discoveries are very welcome.
     Over one hundred of the 1960s monochrome Doctor Who episodes, from the Hartnell and Troughton eras, are still missing presumed wiped, from the BBCs shamefully incomplete archives. Occasionally film prints of an episode may turn up in some third-world dictatorship or in the hand of a private collector (the most recent such find, before today, was an episode of 1965's The Daleks' Masterplan in early 2004), though it remains unlikely that we will ever see television masterpieces like The Evil Of The Daleks, Fury From The Deep or The Web Of Fear in their entirety again.
For those dear blog readers who don't know the full - and very sad - story of all this - and if you're young, why should you? - numerous episodes of numerous TV programmes were either wiped or simply thrown away by the BBC during the 1960s and 1970s for a variety of economic, logistic and space-saving reasons. There are, for instance, twenty seven incomplete Doctor Who serials, with as noted above one hundred and six of the two hundred and fifty three episodes from the show's first six years missing. Many more were thought to have been lost until copies were recovered from various sources, mostly overseas broadcasters, over the years. There's also the saga of the two episodes that were supposedly discovered in the crypt of a church but, weren't really.
      Doctor Who is not unique in this respect, as thousands of hours of programming from across all genres were destroyed by the BBC until as late as 1978, when the corporation's archiving policies were changed. Other high-profile series affected included Dad's Army, Z-Cars, The Likely Lads, The Wednesday Play, Steptoe & Son, Dixon Of Dock Green, The Morecambe & Wise ShowTill Death Us Do Part and Not Only ... But Also. You can find a useful round-up of some of the reasons why such wiping and junking took place here. It should be noted that it wasn't all crass knobcheese malarkey, some of it has to do with cost and copyright. But, much of it, sadly, was simple short-sightedness and a failure to realise that television was never an entirely ephemeral throwaway medium - despite what many people working in the industry believed - and that one day much of its output could, again, have some value. Either commercial or artistic (or both). It's also important to note that the BBC was not the only British broadcaster to carry out this practice; several ITV companies also destroyed programmes, including early videotape episodes of The Avengers for example. Nevertheless, between approximately 1967 and 1978, large quantities of material stored in the BBC's Engineering Department (their videotape storage unit) and their various film libraries were destroyed or wiped to make way for newer programmes. Other notable losses include several early plays by the likes of David Mercer and Dennis Potter among others in the Wednesday Play strand, all bar a few tiny fragments of James Burke and Patrick Moore's live presentation of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, Kenneth Tynan's infamous first televised use of the 'f word' in an episode of BBC3 from 1965, The Madhouse On Castle Street a 1963 play starring the, then virtually unknown, Bob Dylan, The Beatles appearance on Juke Box Jury in 1964 (and a similar Rolling Stones episode from a few months later), the entire first series and most of the second of Hancock's Half-Hour (only one 1956 episode featuring Kenneth Williams still exists, albeit, it's a very good one - The Alpine Holiday).
     And, sadly, there's more. All one hundred and forty seven episodes of the BBC's 1965-67 football-based soap opera United!, all bar two episodes of the second (1966) season of Adam Adamant Lives! and over half of the ground-breaking science-fiction drama anthology series Out of the Unknown. All gone forever. The primary, overriding, reason for such apparent cultural vandalism was the belief which existed widely in the industry at the time that there was no reason for the material which had been broadcast once - and, in many cases, sold overseas - to be kept. This was particularly true of monochrome material after the introduction of colour TV to BBC1 in 1969. 'Who,' the reasoning went, 'wants to pay for a colour TV licence and then have to watch black and white telly?' The actors' union Equity had actively fought against the introduction of TV recording since it originally became a practical proposition in the 1950s.
     Prior to the development of workable telerecording, if a broadcaster wished to repeat a programme (usually a one-off play), the actors would be re-hired for an additional fee to perform it again, live, for a second time. Equity's concern was that if broadcasters were able to record the original performances, they would be able to repeat them indefinitely, which would cut down on the levels of new production and threaten the livelihoods of its members. Although Equity could not prevent recording altogether, it was able to stipulate that recordings could only be repeated a set number of times within a specific time frame, and that the fees payable for further use beyond that were deliberately so high that broadcasters would consider it unjustifiable to spend so much money repeating an old programme rather than simply making a new one. Consequently, recordings whose repeat rights had expired were considered to be 'of no further economic use' to the broadcasters.
    Most Doctor Who episodes were made on two-inch videotape for initial broadcast and then telerecorded onto sixteen mm film by BBC Enterprises for further commercial exploitation - sales overseas; notably to the likes of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and several African countries, et cetera. Enterprises used sixteen mm for overseas sales as it was considerably cheaper to buy and much easier to transport than videotape. It also circumvented the problem of different countries' incompatible video standards, as film was pretty much a universal medium. BBC Enterprises kept only copies of programmes they deemed commercially exploitable. They also had little dedicated storage space and tended to keep piles of film canisters wherever they could find space for them at their Villiers House property. Despite the destruction of most of the original master tapes, BBC Enterprises held a near-complete archive of Doctor Who in the form of their film copies until approximately 1972. Sadly, from around that date through until sometime in mid-1978, BBC Enterprises 'disposed of' (ie 'threw away') much of their older material, including many of these episodes of Doctor Who. Doctor Who is unique in that all of its missing episodes do still survive in audio form, recorded off-air by fans at home - usually on quite primitive equipment, admittedly. Stills or short video clips have been found for several missing episodes, particularly in Australian. All Doctor Who episode from the first Jon Pertwee series, in 1970, onwards exist visually in some form or other - albeit some of them only as black and white telerecordings. Efforts to locate missing episodes continue, both by the BBC themselves and also by a vast and dedicated army of fans of the series. Extensive restoration has been carried out on many recovered 1960s and 1970s episodes for release on VHS and DVD. The surviving soundtracks of missing episodes have also been released on cassette and CD. Fan groups and the BBC have released reconstructions of missing episodes, matching off-air photographs from the episodes with the soundtracks. Two episodes of the eight-part 1968 Cyberman story The Invasion were reconstructed using animation and released with the surviving episodes of that serial on DVD.

Amid all of this excitement about Doctor Who, another little bit of TV history being rediscovered went almost unnoticed. BFI Southbank's December programme also announced that a television play by the late Dennis Potter which was long thought lost has now been found. The annual Missing Believed Wiped presentation included a screening of Potter's Thirty Minute Theatre, Emergency Ward 9, which was broadcast live on Easter Monday, 11 April 1966. The script has long been available to scholars, but Humphrey Carpenter in Dennis Potter: The Authorised Biography writes: 'The play was recorded during transmission, and repeated the following year, but the recording had been made on the newly available electronic videotape system, and to save costs it was eventually wiped.' Well, it would seem that a recording of the play which, according to Carpenter, 'in retrospect looks like a trial run for the hospital strand of The Singing Detective,' did survive.
    The thirty year old Potter had attracted attention in 1965 with his pair of dramas for The Wednesday Play, Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton (both with Keith Barron in the title role). Like most of his television plays, these negotiated elements of autobiography within a framework of some pointed social critique. Emergency Ward 9 was his next script to reach the screen, having been commissioned by the story editor for BBC2's Thirty Minute Theatre, Kenith Trodd. Potter was far from enthusiastic about the context for which he penned what he saw as a riposte to the falsity of hospital soaps like ATV's popular Emergency – Ward 10. As he wrote the following year: 'The half-hour play is cripplingly difficult for the television writer – the form constantly degenerates into the shape of a mere anecdote, the mood is temptingly similar to after-dinner conversation and the sort of money you get for taking such risks could be more easily earned by being priggish in the back pages of small left-wing magazines.' It was noticable that Potter, a bolshy bugger at the best of times, was simultaneously managing to adroitly bite at least two of the hands which fed him with these comments. The BBC was, obviously, one whilst this was published in what could fairly be described as a 'small left-wing magazine', The New Statesman! Emergency Ward 9 is set in a ramshackle London hospital and focuses on three characters: a young schoolteacher, an elderly 'Alf Garnett-style' working-class bigot and an African patient, Adzola, towards whom the older Flanders directs casual and thoughtless racist remarks. In his critical biography Fight & Kick & Bite: The Life and Work of Dennis Potter, W Stephen Gilbert said of the drama: 'The play addresses working-class attitudes and beliefs quite as much as it seeks to redress the romanticised images of nurses as angels (the name Angela is an especially Potteresque joke) and patients as nobly suffering. The racist talk – too gross to merit illustration – is surely intended to be thought odious.' 'Mocking the woolly-liberal conscience,' Carpenter added, 'and poking fun at what we would now call political correctness, Emergency Ward 9 shows that everybody's value system is vulnerable.' Kenith Trodd's recollection was that the live presentation 'nearly went astray because Terence De Marney, who was playing the old man, Flanders, lost his way during a long speech. And there was nothing we could do to help.' Nancy Banks-Smith wrote an enthusiastic contemporary review in the Sun: 'Thank goodness for Dennis Potter. A loaf of fresh bread in the stale wilderness of Bank Holiday Monday viewing. [The play] made Emergency – Ward 10 look like perjury, an offence against the whole truth. It doesn't sound entertaining? But you must believe me, it was. If living and dying and the bit between are entertainment.'