Doctor Who fans always get twitchy with anticipation for a new episode, but what really puts die-hards in a lather is the prospect of seeing a new old episode. The notion of two long-lost editions materialising at once would seem the stuff of wild fantasy – and yet that’s exactly what’s happened.
Of 253 instalments transmitted in the 1960s (when William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton played the Doctor) 108 were – until now – missing from the BBC archive. Indeed, all the original black-and-white videotapes were wiped long ago; any productions that do survive are, in most cases, copies made on film for foreign sales.
Very rarely a lost print turns up and the Whoniverse goes bananas. I was first told back in October – in strictest confidence – that “significant Doctor Who material” had been found and would be screened as a surprise at the British Film Institute’s Missing Believed Wiped event in London on 11 December. Only now can the full story be told.
But first, which two episodes are they? Drum roll…Galaxy 4 part three and The Underwater Menace part two. Um, ye-e-e-es… 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 (which I’ll come to later).
So how did they come to light?
“Through me,” says Ralph Montagu, Radio Times’s head of heritage and a lifelong Doctor Who fan. “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,” says Ralph. “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. So then I got very excited.”
Ralph met Terry again a couple of weeks later, “And 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.”
The film collector
When I called Terry Burnett last month, he told me: “I’ve been interested in film since about 1947. I’ve built up a modest collection. I buy and sell, and keep the films I like.” So how did he come by these prints? “In the mid-80s, an electrician at TVS was organising a school fête over Marchwood way [near Southampton].
“Everybody down there knew I was a film buff, and he just mentioned to me, ‘I’ve got a box of films if you’re interested.’ So I said, ‘Bring ’em in.’ We did a suitable deal, I took them home and found two Doctor Whos among them. I cleaned them up, showed them in my ‘old Hollywood’ [home cinema] and then they went into my archive. There they stayed until I mentioned them to Ralph.”
It’s likely these prints were returned long ago to the BBC from ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), were subsequently disposed of, but “pulled out of a skip” by an enthusiast. Thanks to Terry they’re in generally good condition, but they do have several unfortunate glitches.
Restoring the film
I looked over the shoulder of Paul Vanezis, a BBC producer involved in their recovery, who pointed out the problems. “Like any old film, Air Lock has a bit of muck and dirt on it, which we can clean.”
Somewhat trickier is “a ‘tramline’ scratch, a vertical line caused in the past by someone who didn’t maintain their projector. On a big close-up [of villainess Maaga] it can be quite distracting, but we’ll try to get rid of it.”
Even more of a challenge is a film break right at the cliffhanger, where companion Steven (Peter Purves) is suffocating in the eponymous air lock. “We’re missing 27 seconds of action completely, as well as the closing credits,” says Paul. “It’s a few shots and one line of dialogue from Maaga. But luckily we have the soundtrack and by using other visual material within the episode, we can re-create it.”
The Underwater Menace suffers from 20 seconds of cuts made by ABC censors – a scene where a surgeon is trying to inject companion Polly with a syringe. Amazingly, those snippets surfaced separately in 1996 and Paul is hoping to reinsert them where they belong. “My job is liaising with the ABC archive in Sydney because their original transfer was a bit lopsided and zoomed in. They’re rescanning the frames at greater-than-HD quality, so we can match the material.”
The film “wobbles up and down all the way through because of worn sprockets”, plus there’s a tear in the spool halfway through a crowded cave scene. It means one line is missing where companion Jamie says, “How about me, sir?”
“It’s only two seconds, but because it’s one shot with no cutaways, it’s awkward to fix. But it’ll look quite presentable when it’s finished,” promises Paul.
How do the episodes stand up?
Galaxy 4, a four-part season opener from 1965, is fondly remembered by those fans old enough to have watched it. Various factions vie to leave a barren world before it explodes – a race of bad girls called Drahvins, cute domed Chumbley robots and the benign warthog-like Rills.
To me, listening to the surviving soundtrack, it’s always sounded like a leaden plod, but now we can see fledgeling director Derek Martinus utilising the space and camera flexibility at BBC Television Centre. There are high-angle shots of the Doctor (William Hartnell) and companion Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) running through the Rill Centre.
A neat flashback sequence, with a wobble effect, shows Maaga executing one of her warriors. Surprisingly for the time there’s a shot of the Drahvin’s blood-streaked forehead.
It’s a treat to see one of the rarely glimpsed Rills in action (well, it rocks from side to side behind a sheet of polythene). “It looks like a sort of creepy tree you’d see in a pantomime but it’s quite well done,” says Ralph.
There’s also ample corroboration of Peter Purves’s complaint that space pilot Steven was particularly wet in this story. He spends most of episode three pretending to be asleep or overcome by the women warriors and trapped in their air lock. “I was appalled because that was not the character I’d agreed to play,” moaned Purves.
The Underwater Menace part two is arguably the more intriguing find. Not only is it the first Troughton film print since the recovery of The Tomb of the Cybermen 20 years ago, it’s actually now the earliest surviving episode to feature the second Doctor.
His first 11 programmes are still lost (episode three of this four-parter has been around for a long time). It’s also the earliest featuring Frazer Hines as Jamie. He teams up here in a very fit threesome with Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze), while the Doctor takes on a mad professor trying to raise the sunken city of Atlantis.
Recorded in January 1967 at Riverside studios in Hammersmith, The Underwater Menace is a blend of B-movie material and camp nonsense – an early work from Julia Smith, then a rare woman director at the BBC who, two decades later, created EastEnders.
When I interviewed Julia in 1987, she recalled: “There were awful arguments about how Patrick Troughton should play the part; how quixotic the character should be, whether he should play his flute or not.”
This episode contains a now rare example from the 60s of the second Doctor playing the recorder he was so renowned for. Troughton also indulges in some comedic mischief that is a delight to see. If you didn’t get a ticket to the BFI event, the episodes could be on DVD before too long. Paul Vanezis says, “We’ll probably do a second volume of Lost in Time” – a DVD compiling archival odds and ends.
Sadly, Terry Burnett doesn’t have any other spools secreted away, “but I’ll always keep an eagle eye open in case any do turn up, which of course I’ll pass on to Ralph.” He’s only too happy to have returned this pair. “A lot of effort went into making those programmes and it was very short-sighted of the BBC to throw them out. It’s our television heritage.”
“All Doctor Who fans have dreamed of finding a missing episode and you never know how it’s going to happen,” says Ralph. So does he believe any more film prints are out there? “Well, one or two other leads are being pursued at the moment. More than that I’m not saying!”