It’s a week of celebration for Doctor Who fans as The Web of Fear, the once-lost classic from 1968, is released on BBC DVD.
I am overjoyed that my all-time favourite Doctor Who serial, in which second Doctor Patrick Troughton battles the Yeti on the London Underground, miraculously “exists” again after 46 years. And I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the Restoration Team (who have achieved a pristine clean-up job) and to Television International Enterprises and Archives Ltd (TIEA) who returned the film prints to the BBC last year.
But TIEA’s executive director Philip Morris, the man who located the film cans in Nigeria, has yet to find time to sit down and enjoy his discovery. “I still haven’t watched Web of Fear,” he tells RT. “Maybe the BBC will send me a copy!”
Now 46, he is as old as the episodes himself, so obviously never saw them on original transmission on BBC1, “but I did read the Target novels when I was six or seven years old.”
Philip (pictured below) explains how the episodes came to light: “TIEA had been working on a very large project in Nigeria called Project Genesis, alongside the Nigerian Television Authority. The first phase involved checking every station countrywide to ascertain conditions and storage of materials. It was while visiting one station in Jos [a city in central Nigeria], during a careful catalogue of materials with my staff, I noticed a piece of masking tape on a shelf, which after closer inspection read ‘Dr Who’.
“I immediately pulled down one of the film cans. It read ‘Dr Who QQ5’ [the official code for The Web of Fear episode 5]. From TIEA records, I knew it to be a missing Doctor Who story. Wow! I thought and I must admit my heart skipped a beat.” He’d found The Web of Fear alongside cans for The Enemy of the World. “These films were the last survivors of two classic Patrick Troughton tales, which should have been destroyed years ago according to contract.”
When Philip contacted the Nigerian programme purchaser, “He informed me he had instructions to burn them. I informed him it was not necessary and the BBC would be delighted to have them back.”
Unfortunately, although Philip found all six episodes of The Enemy of the World and five of The Web of Fear, the film can for episode three of The Web of Fear was not among them. “Eleven were retrieved in total, but who knows, maybe out there another copy exists somewhere; we live in hope.” (On the BBC DVD, episode three has been re-created using off-screen photos and the surviving soundtrack.)
The global search goes on for TIEA, and of course they’re not just looking for lost Doctor Who. Many other programmes are of historical interest. TIEA have also returned two 1963 editions of the BBC’s The Sky at Night.
Philip reveals that he and his team are currently “working in South America, South East Asia, as well as a whole host of other larger and smaller countries. We are also working with lots of private film collectors around the globe transferring lots of old domestic video recordings from old reel-to-reel tapes, Shibaden and Philips 1500/1700 [obsolete videotape formats].”
Read any fan forum, and it’s hard to keep up with the frenzied rumours and conspiracies about missing/found TV programmes. There’s the so-called “omnirumour” that almost all 97 missing 1960s Who episodes have been found. There are less far-fetched assertions that another batch of discoveries might be announced some time this year.
At Radio Times, our Missing Episode Campaign has attracted all sorts of wild stories and credible accounts of film collectors in far-flung locales. But there are positive stories. In 2011, British collector Terry Burnett passed on to RT historian Ralph Montagu episodes from Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace. We’re still waiting for a DVD release of the latter.
My old friend Ian Levine, who saved many episodes from destruction in the 1970s and 80s, is back on the trail for lost classics. Recently, his contacts located ten film prints in Taiwan; such bad luck that they were all episodes already existing in the BBC archive. But the search goes on.
We’ll end on a personal message from Philip Morris: “To the fans, never give up hope. Be patient. People are working very hard in lots of very volatile and dangerous corners of the globe, sometimes paying with their nervous systems, which is a hard thing to give. As always, TIEA are out there. Expect the unexpected.”
Doctor Who fans love making lists. I am no exception. I’d love to see further complete serials returned – for starters, all seven episodes of Marco Polo, starring William Hartnell, and all six episodes of Patrick Troughton’s debut, The Power of the Daleks. Undisputed classics of 1960s TV. Vital chunks missing from the history of Doctor Who. However, if I had to choose ten random episodes, which would I most like to see..?
Marco Polo: Five Hundred Eyes (1964)
The Myth Makers: Horse of Destruction (1965)
The Daleks’ Master Plan: The Destruction of Time (1966)
The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve: Bell of Doom (1966)
The Celestial Toymaker: The Celestial Toyroom (1966)
The Power of the Daleks: Episode 1 (1966)
The Evil of the Daleks: Episode 6 (1967)
The Abominable Snowmen: Episode 4 (1967)
The Web of Fear: Episode 3 (1968)
Fury from the Deep: Episode 6 (1968)
If you were to press me, I’d tell you why. But which ten episodes top your list and why? Let us know…