Nine episodes starring Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor are back at the BBC. I can hardly believe I’ve typed that! This is the stuff of wild fantasy for Doctor Who fans – the first major haul of long-lost 1960s episodes in living memory.
Rumours had been rife in fandom for nearly two years about potential discoveries, many of the details were reported and I’d known some of the details for a while, but the lid popped right off last weekend when BBC Worldwide sent out a less-than-cryptic invitation to the press for a special “Classic Doctor Who” screening at a central London hotel.
Now we know that two (almost) complete Patrick Troughton six-part serials, The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, from 1967/68 can be downloaded and savoured via www.iTunes.com/DoctorWho . Soon they’ll be on DVD.
At the press launch, the man who found them, Phillip Morris, appeared only in a specially shot video. He said: “Christmas seems to have come early for Doctor Who fans in the 50th anniversary of the show,” and he joked, “Other people normally describe me as the Indiana Jones of the film world.” How apt. What a hero!
Director of the Television International Enterprises Archive, Morris has been scouring the world for missing TV programmes. He revealed that the BBC originally sold these Doctor Who film prints to Hong Kong, and they were later dispatched to Africa.
He stumbled upon them in a relay station in Jos, a city in Nigeria “just sitting on a shelf”. Given the climate in that part of the world, he said, “We were quite lucky, considering the temperature, which can be the upper 30 degrees – fortunately they’d been kept in the optimum condition.”
He concluded: “These are things that people thought were gone for ever… No, they’re not. They’re back and you can enjoy them now. So get watching.”
So what is so great about them..?
The Enemy of the World
(Episodes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 are newly recovered. Episode 3 was already in the BBC archive)
OK, first up, I must admit The Enemy of the World was far from the top of my list of longed-for recoveries. In his memoirs, even Barry Letts (who directed the serial) described it as “a right old mish-mash of good and bad” – but I’m already gawping at lots of wonderful little touches.
Episode 1, which was screened at the press launch, is as fabulous as I’d hoped. Barry Letts virtually rewrote the script. For its day, it boasts an unusual amount of action filmed on location (as opposed to taped in a studio). And that action involves a hovercraft and helicopter. There’s also the bizarre sight of the Doctor paddling in the sea in thermal underwear, supposedly on a beach in Australia (in reality, Climping in West Sussex).
Unusually for the period, no monsters feature in this adventure. It’s a political thriller set on a future Earth, which is under threat from a would-be dictator, who just happens to be the spitting image of the Doctor.
And that’s the serial’s USP – it’s a showcase for the acting chops of Patrick Troughton. He not only plays the Doctor, but also his doppelganger, a power-crazed Mexican called Salamander. Additionally, the plot demands that Troughton plays the Doctor pretending to be Salamander and, briefly, Salamander deciding to “return the compliment” by posing as the Doctor to get aboard the Tardis.
I can’t wait to watch the rest…
The Web of Fear
(Episode 1 was already in the BBC archive. Episodes 2, 4, 5 & 6 are newly recovered. Episode 3 is still missing but has been reconstructed from contemporary off-air photos and the surviving soundtrack)
This is why I am thrilled. The Web of Fear is my all-time favourite Doctor Who story! It’s one of the earliest I remember watching as a tiny tot, sitting on my grandad’s knee – a suspenseful, claustrophobic piece, a tale of paranoia. And utterly bizarre…
London is paralysed when robotic Yeti, armed with web guns, spread a deadly fungus throughout the tunnels of the Underground… Daft but oh so compelling. Quintessential Doctor Who.
Previously, only Episode 1 survived. Now we can watch the rest – or almost. Episode 2 looked great on the big screen at the launch, although oddly, Troughton hardly appears; he was enjoying a week’s break in the almost year-round production schedule.
And sadly, Episode 3 is still missing. This is a crucial loss, because it features Nicholas Courtney’s debut as Colonel Lethbridge Stewart, soon to become the Brigadier, a hugely popular long-running character. Happily, we can still enjoy his sterling performances in Episodes 4, 5 and 6.
Episodes 4 contains the big set-piece I’ve longed to see again – the Yeti v soldiers battle in Covent Garden. The Web of Fear was directed by Douglas Camfield, one of the giants of Doctor Who, incapable of making a sloppy episode.
The film prints were in various states of disrepair, but uncensored, unlike many that return from abroad. All have been lovingly restored by the geniuses at the Restoration Team who have polished so many archival Doctor Who episodes.
Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, who played Troughton’s companions Jamie and Victoria, were present at the press launch unveiling. [Pictured left with a Yeti model from The Web of Fear.] They were delighted to watch their work – and their younger selves – for the first time in 45 years. And it must have been doubly rewarding for Watling to see on screen her father Jack Watling, who played the blustering Professor Travers in The Web of Fear.
Of course, many devotees hope these nine episodes are the tip of an iceberg. How many more are out there? Doctor Who fans are famous for both their patience and impatience. Time will tell…
Read the Enemy of the World story guide
Read the Web of Fear story guide