About three and a half years ago, SF news sites began reporting a really remarkable rumor. A fellow in England had started a second career after a couple of decades globetrotting and troubleshooting, and founded a company that went around to very small television stations in developing countries, particularly the ones in the Middle East and Africa whose broadcasting facilities and archive vaults had been waylaid by revolutions and civil wars. His company, TIEA, works to bring their backrooms up to date, and transfer aging, rotting, decaying old 16mm film reels to modern formats. And while doing this in the city of Jos in Nigeria, the rumor said, TIEA had stumbled across ninety of the 106 missing episodes of Doctor Who.
Of course it was too good to be true, but it was remarkable. A game of telephone had turned nine into ninety, but good grief, finding nine was amazing. These were all five of the missing episodes of “The Enemy of the World” (only part three had survived the purges) and four of the five missing parts of the next serial, “The Web of Fear.”
And now that it was back, in October 2013, people could at last reevaluate a story that was always overlooked. I’ll write a little more about its reputation in a couple of days, but this is a terrific story. Originally broadcast in December 1967 and January 1968, the story is set in the far-flung future of 2018. It’s written by old hand David Whitaker and directed by Barry Letts, the first of many Who contributions from this actor-turned-director.
It was Innes Lloyd’s final story as Doctor Who‘s producer, and it looks like he wanted to go out with a bang, a thriller that opens with lots of location filming on a beach, a hovercraft, a helicopter, and the always-timely debate over whether you can justify a political killing. A disgraced politician named Giles Kent is convinced that a controversial Mexican scientist and diplomat named Salamander is murdering his enemies and consolidating power. He’s a dictator and tyrant in waiting, Kent claims without proof. What is certain is that Salamander employs a ruthless security force led by a man named Donald Bruce (played by Colin Douglas) and that, in the story’s big hook, Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor.
Our son started out thrilled by the exciting chase on the beach and the fight scenes – Jamie knocks a fellow cold with a fist and a cry of “Creag an tuire!” – but started to calm down when one fellow is accidentally shot dead and two others are killed in an explosion. (Perhaps, like the Dalek he saw earlier this month, he does not understand why human beings kill other human beings.) Then the sight of Patrick Troughton – in allegedly archive footage of Salamander addressing the United Nations – in a second role left him a little baffled. Hopefully tomorrow night will go down a little better with him, but I’m hugely pleased. This story is excellent.