I was at the BFI last Sunday (December 11, 2011), for the annual Missing Believed Wiped event, where recently recovered ‘lost’ TV gems are shown to a live audience. I went on the back of a tip from a very good friend who, one happy West End evening in October, urged me to go along because it would be of interest to me and as he did, I sensed he was talking about Doctor Who. So I did.
The place was packed, and I was glad to have booked my ticket a month earlier. It quickly became clear that my tipping friend (unable to make it due to work commitments) had been on to something. Many of the great and the good of the Doctor Who fan firmament were in attendance, including: Mark Gatiss, Rob Shearman, Tom Spilsbury, Peter Ware, Gary Gillatt, Ben Cook, oh and that Elton Townend Jones of course. Something about smoke and fire…
I’d never been into NFT1 before, but what a lovely venue for such a special occasion; plush red velvet everywhere and very well kept. The buzz in the room was wonderful, and according to Dick Fiddy (the event’s organiser) it was much fuller than would usually be the case for such an event. Amazing what a whiff of Doctor Who will do. Looking down the programme sheet, I must admit I began to feel a little nervous: a Dennis Potter play (Emergency Ward 9), some long forgotten TV puppetry, a dreadful ITV drama about the US press corp (the audience were in tears throughout) and some lost Pete and Dud. Each piece had about a paragraph devoted to it, but nothing was mentioned about Doctor Who. The closest it got was a sentence at the bottom of the page: ‘BBC sci-fi clips’. Could that be what I hoped it might be? If all these fan folk were here, then surely it must mean a recovered ‘lost’ episode?
In the event it was two episodes. Ralph Montagu, who had liberated these gems from an ‘80s boot sale or some such, had captured lightning in a bottle. Twice. Briefly MC-ing the introduction to these recovered gems, Mark Gatiss did a fine job of keeping us in suspense, snatching the mic away from Ralph if it ever seemed possible that he might reveal episode titles; wisely leaving the programme itself to let us know what we were watching.
I think now it’s probably time to get all Tomb of the Cybermen on you. When that story was recovered in 1992, those of us who’d been told it was the unassailable Best Story Ever immediately saw reasons why it might not be and perhaps felt a little disappointed. I daresay that if, like me, you were one of these people, you have since come to re-evaluate this tale and now see it as one of the finest examples of a ‘60s story. This is worth bearing in mind as I describe what we saw today…
As the titles began, we knew we were in Hartnell territory (and I must add that at this point we only thought one episode had been recovered). The first image in this episode – Galaxy 4: “Air Lock” – is that of a vast Rill, a creature whose image had all but eluded Who historians until recent years. It is big, but unwieldy and inanimate looking. Then, Vicki finds herself cut off from the Doctor by a wonderfully designed door, but fails to notice that it would be very easy to slip under it as it rests about a foot from the floor. Or to climb through one of the big holes it is full of. In response, the Doctor gets to work on trying to solve the problem, whilst fumbling his lines. But I’m cool with ‘Billy-fluffs’ (so cool I even made a drinking game out of them). That’s what happens in Hartnell stories, I accept that.
But do you know what? ” Air Lock” may not be a highly regarded classic, but it’s wonderful to see ‘new’ scenes of the original (and probably definitive) Doctor moving around on an elegantly designed BBC world. And the Chumbleys have arms – I never knew that! Most thrilling of all is Maaga, leader of the warrior Drahvins. Stephanie Bidmead looked great on the surviving 6 minutes of “Four Hundred Dawns”, and sounded great on the audio, but to see her deliver her evil and icy speech, as she sadistically anticipates the joy she will derive from knowing the Rills have been obliterated was a revelation. The whole piece is played as some Shakespearean soliloquy, with Bidmead moving from camera to camera and boldly staring directly into the viewers’ eyes in stark and seductive close-up. Maaga has been overlooked, Whovians. Maaga is a wonderful, wonderful Doctor Who villain and we should put her in our Top Ten.
And then the picture stopped. We all gasped. Mark Gatiss assured that the episode did exist in full, it’s just that there was little time in which to show it as it turned out Ralph Montagu had also found another episode, which we would now see in full – The Underwater Menace Episode 2. Not that we knew that when the titles started (still the old Hartnell sequence, see?), but I was overjoyed when I saw what it was. There aren’t many of us Underwater Menace fans about, you know.
Again, most people are never going to love this story, but if Maaga was a lesson in what we don’t see when we listen to the audios, then this was a master class. One word? Troughton. I love all the Doctors, but the second hasn’t been one of my favourites for a long time. I recognise Troughton’s accomplishment as an actor, but I never felt like I knew his Doctor very well. Like he didn’t develop. But his performance in this episode is so full and busy and rich, it really does make you wonder how manic his work in Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders must be. Certainly by the time we get to The Moonbase he seems to have calmed down – or maybe it’s just the full-on nature of this particular story that he’s responding to? He is always watching, his eyes dart all over the place assessing the strengths and weaknesses of his foes. He does an incredible bit of business when knocking at his head like it’s a door and looking to see if anyone’s home as a way of proving how mad Zaroff is. He even dresses in a sou’wester and spends a quarter of the episode looking like a barmy old fisherman before diving happily into ceremonial robes and the most outrageous bit of headgear you’ll ever seen him in. ‘I would like a hat like that’, indeed.
So that’s two new episodes back. Maybe the mainstream wanted Tenth Planet 4 or Daleks’ Master Plan 12, and maybe the obscurists wanted The Massacre or The Myth Makers. It never seemed to occur to me that we might get episodes from the stories we once considered Who’s b-movies. But we did. And although these are not ‘classics’, it is wonderful to see old Doctors in what for many of us are new situations. I mean, to actually see them, and watch them move and speak. When these episodes finally see commercial release we’re all going to see something new and exciting in them, but based on the performances of Bidmead and Troughton in these two gems, I find myself reconsidering what classic might actually mean. I can’t wait to see them again.
With thanks to Robert Lewis and Toby Hadoke
Elton Townend Jones is an actor and playwright, but he’s even more chuffed to be bothering Steven Moffat on page 6, column 2 of Doctor Who Magazine’s Christmas Number.
Read his blog at www.25yearstoolate.blogspot.com