Hasslein Blog: The Surreal Reality of This Missing Episode Find


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Surreal Reality of This Missing Episode Find

By Greg Bakun

Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World $9.99 (6 episodes)
Doctor Who: The Web of Fear $9.99 (6 episodes)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on iTunes: October 10, 2013
4:3 Mono black and white

I have been living in a hazy world the last couple of days. I'll tell you a secret. For the last few days, I have been able to watch the lost Doctor Who stories The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear whenever and wherever I want. What? You have been able to do the same thing, too? That's right. We have all been able to do so, in what is one of the greatest moves BBC Worldwide has ever made.

We have entered a new era in how we get to see these missing episodes of Doctor Who. To me, I put my advertising industry hat on and I feel like suddenly the Doctor Who brand is more cohesive than it ever has been before now when it released these stories to us. It's taken us a long time to get to this point, but we are really benefitting from the fruits of the planning it took to get us there.

So, what do we know? After months of speculation, it was announced Thursday evening (October 10th) in the U.S. that nine (yes, nine!) episodes of Doctor Who have been recovered in a relay station in Nigeria. I don't think I have to tell anyone who visits this site regularly how the topic of missing episodes is one of my favourite topics of all British television. It is tragic and mysterious. Obviously tragic because these pieces of art had been destroyed, but mysterious because some of this stuff is still out there. Getting the announcement is great, but because we now live in the 21st century, these episodes were available for download at the very moment we got the announcement. Let me say that again. These episodes were available to us to purchase and watch at–that–very–moment! How far have we come!

Even up to the last recovery of 2011, things were very different. In December of 2011, we fans were treated to news that two episodes of Doctor Who had been recovered: Air Lock and The Underwater Menace Episode 2. I think Air Lock was found in July of that year, and The Underwater Menace was found in October. By the time it was announced at the December 12th Missing Believed Wiped conference, no work (to my knowledge) had been carried out on the restoration of the episodes. At least when The Underwater Menace Episode 2 was shown at that event, it was from an unrestored print. On December 12th, prior to the announcement, "prominent" fans started tweeting about an announcement of episode recoveries that day disguised in "cute" word alliterations. I hate showboating. To me, this wasn't to wet the fans appetite but to let us fans know that they were in the know before we were. Just to remind us. Air Lock was eventually released on The Aztecs Special Edition DVD, where it looks quite nice. The Underwater Menace Episode 2 is yet to be released. There is supposed to be a DVD release for it next year.

Cut to 2013 and a new age. Yes, there were rumours and rumblings about The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear being released in November (along with Marco Polo). Yes, I have been hearing about a large haul of episodes being found as far back as May of 2012. All I know that right now I own The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear to watch whenever I want, and, boy have I watched them… a lot!

From the standpoint of the BBC, the difference between the find in 2011 and 2013 comes down to strategy. As I have mentioned before, I work in advertising. Understanding and watching organizations/brands is something I do. Although it took a while for them to get here, the BBC provided us with the news and purchase of these episodes as one voice. They had a plan to announce and release these episodes in one swift movement. In past recoveries, this would be the process when missing episodes would be returned: announce the episode return (probably fairly close to when it was actually discovered) and wait for an undetermined amount of time. Hopefully, in the meantime, I could find someone in video trading circles who might have a copy I could get to watch.

Now we live in the future. Last Thursday, an announcement was made, and simultaneously something miraculously had happened. There was no waiting. Available for immediate purchase from iTunes (www.itunes.com/DoctorWho) were the two stories. Already cleaned up, artwork, trailers, provisional DVD artwork and release dates. The BBC had their shit together! It was a proper launch. They were being smart and taking advantage of technology, and capitalizing on striking while the iron was hot. It is so simple but had never been done before!

I am a PC guy. No, I don't mean politically correct, but I work on a Windows Platform. I don't like downloading media to watch. I want a physical disc with proper artwork. I hate iTunes. All of that is immediately negated when recently returned Doctor Who is involved. If the episodes were only available by putting my arm up a cow's rectum to pull them out, I would happily do it. A good friend of mine hates iTunes. He owns nothing Apple, but he put iTunes on a spare computer to purchase, download and watch these episodes. It's that important. Why?

Philip Morris is a hero to Doctor Who and British television enthusiasts. I am very careful about how I use that word as it has a lot of weight to it. In the realm of Doctor Who and British television, he is a hero. He was in a position to actually physically look into vaults and TV stations in Africa to find these stories. To my knowledge, this is not a BBC-funded venture. He is doing this search and negotiating with the BBC to return the material. What does it cost? How does it work? I don't know and I don't care. It is none of my business. I do believe two points. I believe the fans buying these releases on BOTH iTunes and the eventual DVD release will help fund more searches/recoveries. The second point is I believe there are more episodes coming back. A lot more. It is in our best interest to support like we have never supported before. The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear were being remastered in secrecy. For all we know, Marco Polo is being done right now. We need to support this new way of episode distribution. We need to tell the BBC we love this, and that what they are doing is worth it.

Obviously, not everyone can afford both, or they may not like iTunes and refuse to use it. I have heard people wonder why these couldn't be made available on Amazon or Netflix. I don't know. All I know is that I wanted to see these episodes. I bought these two previously missing stories for $9.99 each. It's incredible! I will say one more thing about it. I don't want to hear anyone mention to me that they own the episodes but didn't pay for them. I just don't want to hear about it. If you want to watch these, you pay for them! Our money speaks for us, and I truly believe, without a shadow of a doubt, if you want to see more episodes returned and made available, support this range.

I do call it a range. This is how strongly I believe that we are at the start of something wonderful. The BBC have set it up nicely. As more missing episodes become available, they will be put up on iTunes, with a DVD set for later. Is it double-dipping? Yes. Am I bothered by it? Absolutely not. Even the covers have changed. It mirrors what we saw for the U.K. Spearhead from Space Blu-ray release. The covers no longer have the roundels on the top, but now have a solid classic series logo with artwork more prominent. The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear follow suit with this look. My guess is that it will also mirror the U.K. Spearhead from Space by being a reversible cover feature the current template for those who would like all the covers to match.

Did I mention I own copies of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear? I did? Maybe I didn't mention how excited I am about it? Oh, I did. Here are some brief observations about these stories.

The Enemy of the World:
I noticed, while watching the episodes, my head kept shaking in disbelief from left to right. I was watching The Enemy of the World. The story is very grown up. From the very start, it is violent. There are deaths and explosions. This story feels very different from anything else from season 5 and, more importantly, it feels very different from Episode 3.

Episode 3 was the only surviving episode from the story before the whole thing was found. It's funny, but Episode 3 seems to set out to deceive us on how good the story actually is compared to that episode. There are pretty neat-looking sets that are used in all episodes except Episode 3. Episode 3 plays out like some kind of poor man's James Bond, while the rest of the story gives the Bond films a fair run for their money on a BBC budget.

Barry Lett's direction is quite good for the first two episodes, but it appears to wane a little bit after Episode 2. There is a lot to ask for as the scripts progress. It becomes a little fantastical. Some of Lett's decisions are actually somewhat odd—plus, the incidental music is very abrupt and almost intrusive. I kind of feel that was intentional.

I don't want to give too much away as there are some wonderful visual surprises in it that one can only enjoy from watching the episodes. That is one of the things that annoyed me greatly about the trailer that came with the story on iTunes: It gave so much away. Part of the fun is seeing those "moments" that I have only seen in telesnaps, and I am patiently wading through the episodes to see them. Stuff like the Doctor and Salamander face to face in the TARDIS, or the Salamander's ultimate fate. Let us enjoy these. I am actually still pretty annoyed by that trailer.

The Enemy of the World is like no other Doctor Who story. I am trying to be very careful saying that, as I don't want to be accused of throwing that out only because I haven't seen it before. The story has no monsters, it is very dark and even Troughton plays it darker. And I don't mean as the Salamander. If you have heard in the past that this story isn't very good, think again. I think a lot of people will start seeing this as a favourite story. It's a triumph for the series.

The Web of Fear
If you talk to people from the U.K. who were around in the 1960s about their favourite or scariest memories of Doctor Who as a child, inevitably the answer tends to be about the Yeti in the London Underground. It was always frustrating, because it sounded like one of the greatest adventures we couldn't see. The first episode of this story (which previously existed) is a masterpiece, and it was always disheartening when getting to the end of the episode because I knew nothing else existed for this highly regarded story. Jon Pertwee was right in his famous quote that an alien menace at home is much scarier than one on another planet. As he said, "There's nothing more scary than coming home and finding a Yeti on your loo in Tooting Bec."

After watching the entirety of The Web of Fear, I can confirm there is no scene of a Yeti sitting on a loo, or any part of the story taking place in Tooting Bec. What I can confirm is that this is a masterpiece. The Web of Fear does not disappoint.

I have seen some people's comments about the story online, and a couple mentioned how the story is a lot of running around. Absolutely, it is. There is no argument there—though one of the greatest strengths of The Web of Fear is the question of who is infiltrating the small group of people trapped in the Underground; which one of them is the Great Intelligence. Episode by episode, the shadow of doubt would be placed on someone else. This includes someone who is now very familiar to us, but The Web of Fear was his first story: Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. The next time we would see him would be in The Invasion, where he would become a Brigadier. Episode 4 is the earliest existing episode with footage of him in his first story. It is very surreal. I have only seen telesnaps of him but now, we have almost everything.

Unfortunately, when I say almost everything, that means we are still missing an episode of the story. Episode 3 is still missing. This is a shame, as this is the first encounter between The Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart. It is presented as part of the iTunes download as a reconstruction. I am a fan of reconstructions, more so than animation, but I really wasn't enamored by this. I thought the quality of the images were poor. I have my own sets of Telesnaps that look better than that. It's fine that it is included, as it is needed to complete the story, but hopefully there is a miracle between now and February and the episode is recovered.

The look and pacing of the episodes are great. The Web of Fear is a very drab story. This sounds silly, but the story really is black and white. There is almost no in-between, and that is what makes the story so visually striking. The images of the Yeti with their glowing eyes walking down the Underground tunnels is something I never thought I would see. It lived up to my imagination of what that would look like. Director Douglas Camfield does a great job of only allowing us to see what is in shot. If Jamie is hiding from a Yeti walking past him on a platform, he will then move to the right and there will be another Yeti waiting there which roars when we see it. There were a couple of times when I jumped. Fantastic stuff. This story couldn't be any more different from The Enemy of the World. They both are so different, yet so wonderful. They both pushed the right buttons for me. I can't believe how lucky we are. The two stories, back to back, show us exactly how flexible the format is for Doctor Who and why this series is so unique.

Of course, because it is a download from iTunes, we are not able to see the full benefit of the restoration. The prints and picture look great, but when the DVDs come out, we will get to see it a little better—plus, with VIDfire applied to the episodes to give them the look of video. In the U.K., The Enemy of the World is scheduled for release on November 25th and The Web of Fear is scheduled for February 24th, 2014. There has been no announcement yet from BBC Home Entertainment in regards to when the DVDs will be released over here. Just a friendly reminder: They are currently available on iTunes, www.itunes.com/DoctorWho.

As of this writing, the two stories are still in the top 10 TV seasons for iTunes. On Friday, they were ranked #2 and #4 (The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, respectively). We live in amazing times. The work Philip Morris is doing is not just walking into a television archive to see what they have on their shelves. It is him risking his life entering into countries that are at war or facing unrest. It is visiting countries that immediately hate him for what he looks like. This is dangerous work that we can never take for granted.

I just want to say, I have been following this story for over a year. I believe there is a lot more to come. I just want to say that while following the story, I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of people. Over the last few months, because of following this story, I became closer friends with people I already know, I got reacquainted with whom people I lost touch and I made completely new friends, all because of what Philip Morris is doing to bring us back our favourite show's history. Perhaps I have more to thank him for than just The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear. I can't wait to see what Philip Morris has in store for us next.

Greg Bakun is a huge British television collector and enthusiast. He randomly picks programs to watch and writes about them for his site, From the Archive: A British Television Blog (www.from-the-archive.co.uk). He writes about all kinds of British television, from Ace of Wands to Z Cars, plus a lot of Doctor Who. You can follow updates to his blog on Twitter @FromtheArchive.

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