Doctor Who: The Web of Fear

How the Missing Episodes Were Unveiled to the Press

The missing episodes.  There are three immutable rules about them I’ve decided over the years.

First, it’s impossible to write about them without resorting to cliché.  They are the Doctor Who Holy Grail, our lost Ark of the Covenant our Shan-gi-La.  The very mention of lost episodes evokes images of dusty cans in far-flung lands, dense jungles and steamy mangrove swamps containing lost bunkers with rusted bulkhead doors leading to who knows what.  In short; they have become the stuff of myth and legend.

Second, everyone talks about them, but no-one when pushed ever seems to really know anything concrete.  Like urban myth, stories are repeated over and over, until in the end, fact becomes indistinguishable from fiction.  Apart from the dastardly hoaxers, who momentarily get our hearts racing and which to Doctor Who fans is the equivalent of that annoying kid playing knock-a-door ginger when you’ve asthmatically wheezed all the way to the front door only to find it empty.  Again.

Third, the discoveries have been somewhat drying up since the 1980’s.  In fact, we’ve only had eight returned in the past 21 years and, bearing in mind four of those occurred in 1992 the collective view was the well must be more or less run dry. Repeat after three; there will ALWAYS be 106 missing episodes…

So, with all this in mind, the confirmed recovery of NINE episodes now safely back at the BBC is mind-blowing.  Put simply; the recovery of the whole of The Enemy of the World and all bar part three of The Web of Fear this is more than has been discovered in the previous 25 years and the first complete story recovered since 1992.  So, kind of a big deal.

Doctor Who: The Web of Fear canister

When the full tale of this recovery is finally written up in years to come, I suspect it will come across as thrilling and preposterous as the tea time trials of Troughton and co.  But it’s real.  It’s happened.  And it’s all down to Phil Morris of TIEA, archive hunter and the self-styled Scouse “Indiana Jones of the film world”.

Phil Morris was not able to join us for the launch in person.  However, he did provide a statement read by Roy Robinson archive co-ordinator of TIEA and a video interview which gave some semblance of the task, some details of the discovery and his hopes for more to come.  Welcoming us to the screening, Phil explained that as “his work is endless”, he would not be able to be with us “but the search goes on”.  Assuring us that above all, “he has the best interests of Doctor Who fans at heart”, in the pre-recorded video interview that followed, Phil went on to explain how the discoveries came about;

These episodes were discovered on a project we were working on in Nigeria.  And they were found in a TV station in Joss, just sitting on the shelf.  Which I remember now seeing a piece of masking tape saying Doctor Who on it.  And I thought; this looks interesting.  I pulled the cans down and read the story codes, instantly recognised what they were.  The Web of Fear and Enemy of the World.  And realised they were missing from the BBC’s archives and that Doctor Who fans from around the world would be very happy!  I was very pleased with their discovery.

I can remember when I was about six or seven years of age, my Mum used to buy me the Target novels and thought that one day I might be able to see them.

And guess what; now I can!

These episodes had come from Hong Kong and had been on a bicycle system where they travelled from this country, to this country and this country.  And they came to be in Nigeria by this system.  Not in the station in Nigeria they were actually sold to, but a relay station.  The kind of condition these programmes were in when they were found were quite lucky, considering the temperatures which can be the upper thirty degrees.  Fortunately in this case, they had been stored in the optimum condition.

Missing episodes of Doctor Who screened in London in October 2013

Against this backdrop of marvel, a group of fans and journalists were assembled to witness the unveiling of two episodes from the haul of nine, hosted by Mark Gatiss with guest appearances by Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling.  By the time you read this, you will doubtless be rushing off to iTunes to download these priceless gems and marvel accordingly.  But I can confidently say, you’ll not be disappointed.

The Enemy of the World part one looks as fresh as ever.  Set in a tantalisingly close 2018 (according to Astrid’s helicopter), the opening episode on the beach is directed with considerable flair by Barry Letts.  However, it’s Troughton who stands out from the crowd in this intriguing spy thriller.  Discussing it with other attendees, we agreed that with the telesnaps and audios, you are only maybe getting 10% of the picture.  The scenes where the Doctor runs into the sea, which seem so throwaway on the audio are an absolute delight.  Troughton, jigs, whoops and comes alive. The Doctor mastering Salamander’s accent is a great moment, while the lovely flirtatious moment between the Doctor and Astrid, which shows an unexpected sexual side to the Doctor and again, is all in the performance.  And if that line about “whose laws?” is not widely quoted this time next week, then something is badly wrong.

So if The Enemy of the World is a Troughton tour de force, then what is to be made of The Web of Fear part two with the Doctor completely absent?  Fear not.  Once more, this episode shows why Doctor Who at the time was at the top of its’ game.  Jack Watling’s Professor Travers and the soldiers – especially the wonderful Staff Sergeant Arnold (from the North, no less) totally captivate.  Another big surprise is just how agile the Yeti are.  Not the slow lumbering teddy bears of lore, but fast, agile and vicious.  This is top drawer TV deftly playing on memories of Quatermass and the Pit and utterly delivering the goods.

Speaking after the screening, Mark, Frazer and Deborah all agreed something quite extraordinary had happened.  Debbie spoke of the cruel hoaxes previously and “having all our hopes dashed over the years”, while Frazer hoped, above all that “more stories would come out of the woodwork”.  Mark Gatiss perhaps spoke for all of us present though, when he said how “he never thought he’d live to see the day when Web of Fear was back” and agreed that we were well overdue a return to the Underground, not just in a forthcoming episode of Sherlock but hopefully at some point in Doctor Who.

In fact, I don’t mind saying the screening today left me something of a quiver.  With Doctor Who on every year since 2005, you sometimes forget the magic of seeing something completely unexpected. All those missing episodes are indelibly realised in our collective imaginations of Target books, Pixley archives and cherished production stills.  By not existing, they invite us to imagine and wonder and when they live up to our high standards, the feeling is indescribable. Beautifully realised characters like Driver Evans and Astrid feel utterly right, as does the foamy fungus in the tunnels and the surprisingly agile and relentless Yeti.

And best of all, by some miracle it once more belongs to all of us.

So; what have we got?  Well, BBC Worldwide report both The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear will be available for download from iTunes from one minute past midnight on the 11th October.  We understand that the downloads are not vidfire restored due to a compatibility issue with the iTunes platform, but that this will be fixed for the DVD releases which will follow in November and early January respectively, although no details on planned extras (if any) were available at the launch.

So all in all, quite, quite preposterous.  And yet real.  As the Doctor reminds us in The Five Doctors; like Alice, he likes to believe in at least six impossible things before breakfast.  But nine?  I think we’re all going to need a sit down and a strong cuppa come midnight.

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