Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks (part two)

WOW! Episode one may have been interesting but slow, but this is downright amazing. As an animation, it’s still creepy and menacing and tense, with a fantastic cliffhanger ending. The original must have been one of the program’s greatest single episodes. Its destruction is a crime against art.

So… what’s up with it being destroyed in the first place? I can’t speak for British viewers of around my age, who grew up never expecting to see old programs like Doctor Who repeated, and probably responded to the news that lots of them didn’t exist anymore with an unsurprised shrug, but the usual response from Americans learning that big chunks of old British TV history just plain got wiped and are missing is one of utter bafflement. Since we grew up understanding that if a favorite show wasn’t being repeated now, it probably would be back again pretty soon, this just flat out did not make sense.

And yet it actually does, given the circumstances: the BBC, unlike American networks, functioned as a creator, distributor, and broadcaster, with a heck of a lot more time to fill each year than ours, who leave most of the daily schedule to their regional / local affiliates and just deliver news and two or three hours of prime time each night, programs made by studios and production houses. British viewers in the 1960s and 1970s expected nothing to be repeated; there was a cultural understanding that the BBC was supposed to produce and screen new programs. Repeats weren’t appreciated.

In large part this was because of an agreement with Equity, the British actors’ union, regarding fees for repeats. Equity’s leaders were understandably concerned but incredibly shortsighted, and envisioned a future where new TV drama simply was not made in favor of repeats, so, in most cases, any production could be repeated exactly once with no charge, but high royalties kicked in after that, and a third screening would end up costing the BBC more than a new show entirely.

So old shows didn’t get seen again at home, and after a few years in the catalog being sold to New Zealand, Nepal, and Nigeria, sales dried up and eventually the BBC found itself sitting on thousands of film reels and tapes, in an era before home video, which weren’t going to be repeated, and which weren’t selling to other countries anymore. It’s a huge shame that old shows got junked, but be practical. They couldn’t predict the future and they had new programs to make.

The BBC junked thousands of hours of material from dozens of series, as well as one-off plays, TV movies, music shows like Top of the Pops, sports, you name it, pretty much everything except the Queen’s coronation was eligible for destruction. The commercial companies followed suit: Southern junked dozens of episodes of Freewheelers, and Thames wiped the first two seasons of Ace of Wands. The Associated British Corporation deleted almost all of the first 26 Avengers episodes. Not a single episode of a “footballers’ wives” soap called United! exists – 147 episodes, gone forever.

Anyway, 130 episodes of Doctor Who – 130 of the first 253 episodes – were lost by the time junking stopped in 1978. In addition, the color versions of about thirty of the 128 Jon Pertwee episodes were unavailable / not of broadcast quality / missing outright when BBC / Lionheart started syndicating his era the “second time around” in the late 1980s – more on that a few months from now – but black and white copies were available.

At the time of writing, all of the lost Pertwee color episodes have been restored to color via a number of neat technical processes, and 40-odd of the missing black and white episodes have been recovered from film collectors or foreign TV stations or, in the case of “The Ice Warriors,” downright weird places. Four of the six “Ice Warriors” episodes were found in a BBC Enterprises building that was being packed up to move in 1988, and which had presumably been checked several times before they turned up a decade after they were noted as lost. (But for a really odd story with the added bonus of The Telephone Game, check out this account of two 1965 episodes showing up in some church or other. Possibly.)

The six parts of “The Power of the Daleks” are among 97 episodes of Who that don’t exist, but audio recordings all of them, thanks to enterprising fans like Graham Strong with good equipment, have survived. 13 of these 97 now exist in cartoon versions, and everybody keeps their fingers crossed that (a) more lost episodes will be recovered, and (b) sales for the animations are good enough to warrant continuing doing these for more stories. So do drop BBC America a line and thank them for ponying up some of the budget for this version. We’d love to see another old story animated next year!


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