It’s very rare that Doctor Who fans can all agree on anything, the new series being a perfect example (as this piece’s two authors will attest), but today’s announcement from the BBC will surely unite all of Doctor Who fandom in celebration: two 1968 second Doctor serials, missing from the BBC archives for the best part of forty years, have finally returned home.
The Enemy of the World, which is returned to the BBC in its entirety, features Patrick Troughton in dual roles as both the Doctor and the story’s lead villain Salamander, and was the first Doctor Who story recorded in 625-line PAL (finally the recovered prints will answer the more technically-minded fans’ question of whether all six episodes were recorded in such a way; Episodes 1 and 2 actually debuted in 1967 and had long been assumed to have been recorded in the old 405-line system). The following story, The Web of Fear, is missing its third instalment but is still one of the Holy Grails of Doctor Who archive recovery. Directed by the late Douglas Camfield, the serial has long been regarded as one of the series’ greatest ever stories, largely thanks to the availability of its first episode which the BBC were already in possession of. The story features a return appearance by the Great Intelligence, recently revived in Steven Moffat-written episodes (with The Web of Fear itself being directly referenced in last year’s Christmas Special, The Snowmen).
Back in the 1960s, when television was becoming ever more firmly established as a medium, expatriate communities in Commonwealth countries in places as far afield as Ghana and Nigeria, New Zealand and Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong, routinely bought up much of the BBC's output. However, in the 1970s, when colour programming began to be broadcast and repeats of black and white material became unfashionable, the BBC (along with other broadcasters) destroyed much of their back catalogue, and it wasn't until the advent of home video in the 1980s that the value of these lost programmes became apparent.
Unfortunately, the BBC have never previously had the financial wherewithal to actually physically check television archives around the world, so it often had to be taken on trust that the episodes that had been destroyed no longer existed. And that hasn’t always proved to be the case.
Philip Morris is the new hero of the hour, the man who must now be at the top of every Doctor Who fan’s Christmas card list.
Morris, an archive television enthusiast and Doctor Who fan, is the head of an organisation called Television International Enterprises Archives Ltd (TIEA, pronounced ‘Tea-a’), a company whose work involves travelling around the globe and assisting archives mainly in the developing world in updating their equipment and holdings. Much of TIEA’s work takes place within the archives themselves – reformatting obsolete recordings so that they can be shown again – and of course, one side effect of the endeavour has been the repatriating of “foreign” material to its domestic copyright holders, including two episodes of The Sky at Night that Morris had previously returned.
And these nine episodes of Doctor Who.
The return of nine episodes, almost completing two entire stories from a particularly under-represented, and yet extremely popular, period of the show’s history is unprecedented in these post-internet times, and will be the cause of as much disbelief as it will celebration – simply at the sheer unlikelihood of so many “new old” episodes still existing. The last complete story to be found was The Tomb of the Cybermen 22 years ago, and while one of the most exciting aspects of the recovery has been the way the news has broken across the web in such an exhilarating fashion, there is also a downside to the way in which the internet has played a part in the process.
Negotiations for items as rare as these can be tricky at the best of times, but Morris has had to travel to some extremely dangerous and unstable locations in his search. There’s no doubt that the early reporting of this story, while the operation was still underway (an operation that is undoubtedly still ongoing, with another 97 episodes potentially still out there somewhere), might easily have permanently hampered proceedings, and the welter of internet speculation following such early mis-reporting of the “facts” – particularly about the number of episodes actually found, and the personal details of the people involved in finding them – will not have helped in any way.
Here at Starburst Magazine, we’d prefer instead to celebrate Philip Morris and his achievement. The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear are already available to purchase on iTunes, ahead of potential DVD release somewhere further down the line, and stand to be two of the crowning glories in the story of Doctor Who. But it is Morris’ triumphant return of them to the BBC that is what we’d like to focus on – in the hope that one day, with a little patience and by allowing the people working on these matters to get on with their jobs without interference, further such returns might be in the offing.
But for now, it’s time to party like it was 1968 all over again!