Tag Archives: missing episodes

Doctor Who and the Silurians (part five)

Another reason I think that Carey Blyton’s music for this story is the second worst in all of Doctor Who – his score for “Death to the Daleks” is even lousier – is that it completely and totally undermines the drama in a critical scene.

Here’s the situation: some of the regulars get to be bored in the conference room waiting for news from the caves, while the Brigadier, Captain Hawkins, and some men wait in a trap, and the Doctor negotiates for peace with the Silurians’ old leader. Meanwhile, a young and hotheaded Silurian decides to just infect Major Baker with a virulent plague that the Silurians used, hundreds of millions of years ago, to wipe out apes, and let him go.

The scenes of Norman Jones being cornered by the shadowy, clawed reptile-people are incredibly well-shot, especially for Doctor Who, where the unflattering and harsh studio lighting and unforgiving videotape often show off all the cracks and flaws. This should have been a scene that, like the occasional attacks in caves from Sleestak in Land of the Lost, would have had our son hiding behind the sofa.

But it isn’t, because the music in the scene tells the audience “this is a comedy.” Timothy Combe has the actors standing in menacing shadow preparing to give children nightmares, and the music is some clown with an oboe playing Yakety Sax. Our son laughed and laughed. We talked afterward about what was happening, in case the threat of the plague went over his head – it kind of did – but it was that stupid music. Nothing’s a threat with music like that.

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Doctor Who and the Silurians (part four)

Our son has grasped the main conflict in this problem very well. He even used an appropriate word: extinct. He says that the humans and the Silurians want to make each other extinct before the other wins. He sees that the Doctor is trying to make peace between the two sides, but he also has the mind of a six year-old who’s seen every other alien life form in this show trying to blow humanity up, and so he’s rooting for the Brigadier to get down there and blow up the Silurians first. But this episode ends with the Doctor thrown into a cage by the Silurians and one of them using its strange third eye to give our hero a psychic attack.

You may have noticed that my screencaps from this story show off some very woeful color. As was standard in the seventies, the BBC routinely wiped their color videotapes of stories, and this is one that was never returned in the old 625-line PAL format in color. The BBC retained 16mm black-and-white films for export, and an inferior 525-line NTSC color copy was returned in the eighties. In 1993, they mated the two, putting the color signal from the poorer copy into the better-resolution black-and-white print.

Fifteen years later, they improved on it somewhat, but it’s still notably below the quality of most of the other Pertween serials. I believe that episode four is the poorest of the seven. There are lines of yellow across the red walls of the conference room throughout, and there’s a scene in the cyclotron room where Peter Miles is yelling at a technician, and the poor guy is under siege by a blue band of color on the wall behind him that is attacking his hair.

Episode four is also notable for introducing Geoffrey Palmer to the story. Like Fulton Mackay in the preceding episodes, Palmer was a very recognizable face to TV audiences in 1970, but his biggest roles were ahead of him. As Mackay became a big star with the sitcom Porridge later in the decade, so did Palmer, with the sitcoms The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Butterflies. Palmer plays the first of several civil servants and government types whom the Doctor, over the course of the next five seasons, gets to chew up and spit out.

We’ll take a quick break from this story and resume it over the weekend. Tomorrow night, more mean cave monsters.

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Freewheelers 6.1 – Nero

Time for a new experience here at the blog: a program I’ve never seen at all before. We’re looking at the few surviving and available episodes of Freewheelers, a kid-friendly adventure that ran for eight series on the UK’s Southern Television between 1968-1973. Inspired by the success of The Avengers, it’s a show in which a top professional teams up with some talented amateurs to fight ruthless masterminds and save the world from evil. The stories were told in linked serialized adventures, typically two or three stories in each batch of thirteen, and almost half of the show’s 104 episodes are missing, as is often the way with British television from the period.

The top professional, for most of the run, is Colonel Buchan of the British Secret Service. He’s played by Ronald Leigh-Hunt, and we saw him in the role of Commander Radnor in the Doctor Who story “The Seeds of Death” last month. “Seeds” was made and shown after series two of Freewheelers. Col. Buchan specializes in recruiting small groups of teenagers to assist in his war against the forces of villainy. As would later be common in, say, The Tomorrow People, the cast changes a little with each new batch of thirteen, with “the kids” coming and going. None of the original young stars lasted beyond series three.

For those first three series, the lead villain was an ex-Nazi officer called Karl von Gelb, played by Geoffrey Toone. He was dropped for series four, in which Buchan and “the kids” battled a new villain played by Pamela Ann Davy across a pair of stories. Buchan himself was absent for series five, which was the first to be made in color, as Ronald Leigh-Hunt was working on the film Le Mans in late 1970 and unavailable. In that series, Wendy Padbury, who had played Zoe in Doctor Who‘s sixth season, joined the trio of “talented amateurs” as a new character, Sue Craig.

Most of these episodes are missing. Series one exists in full, but only a single episode from the next four series is known to exist. Simply Media released series six on DVD in 2009 and it was hoped they might release the other three existing batches, but sales were apparently too low to overcome the other complications: series one, since it’s in black and white, is less likely to be a big seller in today’s market, and some of the surviving episodes from series seven and eight are said to be in pretty bad shape and really should be restored before release. The investment would eat up any potential profit.

So, for series six, we’ve got Ronald Leigh-Hunt back as Col. Buchan, Adrian Wright returning for his third go-around as Mike, Wendy Padbury back as Sue, and Leonard Gregory as the latest recruit, Steve. We’ve got two master villains in a pair of stories, and at least the first of these diabolical baddies is using the services of two henchmen who’ve tangled with the Freewheelers before: Ryan and Burke, played by Richard Shaw and Michael Ripper.

Series six ran in the fall of 1971. It seems to comprise a seven-parter written by Paul Erickson, and a six-parter by Richard Montez. We started with episode one, “Nero,” this evening. I thought it was quite entertaining, and our son gave it a “pretty cool” thumbs up, although he didn’t like it when Ryan and Burke engaged in some petty crime on an amusement pier on England’s south coast. Interestingly, there was a 2p toll to go onto the pier.

The story opens with Ryan and Burke on the run, having broken out of prison that morning. Mike and Sue are on a vacation together and they meet Steve, who’s chasing the criminals. The baddies seem to get arrested, but they’re actually kidnapped by agents of Professor Nero, played by Jerome Willis, who enlists them in a scheme to steal £6 million in gold from a ship using a non-lethal gas. Because of the law of conservation, this turns out to be the very ship where our young heroes have got summer jobs as stewards. But Col. Buchan is on board as well, strangely in disguise… we’ll see what happens next tomorrow evening!

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part four)

It’s a shame that all of the lost 97 episodes of Doctor Who were junked and will probably never be seen again, but part four of “The Invasion” is particularly painful. Part four is the last of the missing episodes that have been animated. The animation team did a great job, but Douglas Camfield, one of the best action directors working in British television in the sixties and seventies, staged this rescue scene from the tenth floor of a building using a helicopter and a rope ladder and, knowing Camfield, that must have looked downright amazing.

Five further episodes beyond this point are missing, all from Patrick Troughton’s next-to-last serial, “The Space Pirates.” Season six of Doctor Who was not a big international seller, so we’re very fortunate that 37 of the season’s 44 episodes were retained in the UK. It’s a consensus among fans who study this subject that these last seven are among the least likely to ever be found.

The episode ends with the revelation that Vaughn’s alien allies are in fact the Cybermen. A couple of thoughts here: the BBC actually led the promotion for this serial at the beginning of November 1968 with the news that this was a Cyberman story, and yet one doesn’t appear on-camera until the 23rd, and aren’t actually named. I wonder whether the kids of the time were pestering their parents, asking “Where are the Cybermen, Daddy?” for weeks. I had thought not to spoil their return and surprise our son, but the joke was on me. He didn’t recognize it. Admittedly, the Cybermen’s design has been somewhat modified since he saw them in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” in December, but so much for that handlebar head being iconic.

Bet if it were a Yeti, he’d remember…

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Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (part three)

Tonight’s episode is the last animated one that we’ll be watching for some time. There are two more that we will watch a few months from now, but as much as I appreciate the hard work put into these – and I think Qurios did a terrific job – these simply don’t have the budget for all the body language that actors put into their roles, and it will be nice to step back into live action. Victoria is rapidly becoming a screaming mess, terrified by her horrible situation, and Deborah Watling’s cartoon doppelganger doesn’t have the same impact as the actress will have in the next part.

And that’s especially true since in almost every six part Doctor Who serial, there’s one episode that really marks time, and that’s the third part of this story. There are some important plot beats, but it really feels like very little actually happens. Unsurprisingly, our son was not inspired to share any of his thoughts about the show with us, beyond just saying that he liked it and the Ice Warriors are creepy. I hope he’ll be even more impressed when we see Bernard Bresslaw and Roger Jones in full costume tomorrow night.

The most notable thing is the underlining of the central conflict between Clent and Penley, the technocrat against the humanist. It’s all so dated, but I love this look back at what people were worried about and expressing in science fiction fifty years ago. Doctor Who is still doing stories where dangerous alien menaces are putting companions in danger and killing supporting characters – in fact, the Ice Warriors themselves were back in an episode just three years ago doing exactly that – but they don’t really address fear of computers much anymore. (Although, for a very good modern take on the subject, I’d recommend a 2014 novel by Dave Eggers called The Circle.)

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Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (part two)

We’re back to animation for two posts, because episodes two and three of “The Ice Warriors” are missing. The BBC wiped their copies of this serial in the 1970s. Film copies of the other four parts were uncovered when the BBC was moving out of an aging facility and somebody asked “Hey, has anybody ever looked behind this filing cabinet?” The serial was released on VHS in the 1990s with the missing episodes handled by making an edited fifteen minute “bridge” mini-episode of the key plot moments, using “telesnaps” and the original audio. In 2013, the episodes were animated by a British company called Qurios. It was one of the company’s final projects, unfortunately. They closed down in December of that year.

I really like the animation, actually, although I worried that the Ice Warrior would lose most of its impact with our son when (a) it’s a cartoon, and (b) I am having to read the alien’s dialogue from the subtitles, because our son can’t understand what it’s saying. So I’m doing the voices of Roy Skelton (the computer) and Bernard Bresslaw (the Ice Warrior) right now! But in a happy surprise, he thought the Ice Warrior was incredibly creepy. “I did NOT like him!” he told us, clarifying that he doesn’t actually like “creepy things,” despite all evidence to the contrary. After we watched this morning’s episode, he asked Mommy to tape the cardboard slipcover of the “Power of the Daleks” DVD on his wall, like a pin-up poster. I just throw those things out; this is a much nicer place for them!

The science in “The Ice Warriors” is as wonky as can be, and it was made in a time when computers were these weird and questionable things that the public didn’t understand. As I was writing the previous post, our son went upstairs to play with Legos and blocks, and he came down with a rocket that he announced “will go 100% far in space.” That makes more sense than a single expert programming the single computer which is connected worldwide and which will calculate how much ionization is needed to melt glaciers without flooding the world. Training another guy to do this would take months. This story is supposed to be set in the year 3000. Nothing dates faster than our predictions of technology and design.

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

I’m really, really glad I never watched the telesnaps or read the novelization of this story so that I could come to it fresh. It climaxes in a fantastic and grim final episode that sees the Daleks gunning down lots and lots of humans, their usefulness at an end. Janley and Lesterson are among the casualties, and Lesterson, by now totally insane, gets a triumphant last line before he gets gunned down.

This was our son’s first exposure to something so violent, and he was wide-eyed, absolutely stunned, when we could see his eyes anyway. He was curled in a ball on Mommy’s lap, ducking under his blanket. He completely loved it and so did I. This serial completely lived up to the hype. There are a few bits from the original production that you can believe would have been improved with a greater budget – like so many Doctor Who stories, we’re asked to believe in a very large colony despite the appearance of just a few sets and a handful of actors – but David Whitaker’s script was razor-sharp, and it was just a joy watching the malevolent, scheming Daleks consolidate their power.

We will be skipping the next two DVDs that are available, “The Underwater Menace” and “The Moonbase,” in order to start in on the next serial that exists in its entirety, and will begin that soon. That means that these cartoons will be the last we’ll see of the characters Ben and Polly, who are among my favorite of all the Doctor Who companions. Sadly, Michael Craze died at the stupidly young age of 56. He didn’t have very many acting jobs following this, and largely left the business in the eighties and ran a pub. Craze had a bad heart, and died the day after seriously injuring himself falling down some stairs. Anneke Wills, an icon of Mod London, later co-starred with Anthony Quayle and Kaz Garas in a really good ITC adventure series, Strange Report, although her role was, in my book, nowhere as large as it should have been. Wills left the business in the seventies and moved to a monastery in Asia for something like a decade. Since returning to the UK, she’s appeared at lots of conventions and does occasional fan-instigated projects and documentaries about Who, and is still breathtaking at age 75.

“The Power of the Daleks” is available on Region 2 DVD. It’ll be out in Region 1 in 2017, with a Blu-Ray to follow. It’s definitely worth buying!

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

Part four was written to give Anneke Wills a week off, and Michael Craze takes a holiday in this episode, while his character is still in the hands of the rebels. It’s really neat how seamlessly they were able to do that.

Two things of note this time. First, another reason it’s a huge shame this serial is missing is that we’re not able to see actor Robert James completely flip out when Lesterson finally snaps, realizing that the Daleks are seriously up to no good. I respect and appreciate all the hard work the animators did, and graciously thank BBC Worldwide and BBC America for commissioning this, but we are badly deprived of seeing that actor go into total bug-eyed freakout mode. That must have been something.

Also, up to now, our son’s only seen two almost incidental deaths of very minor characters. In this episode, the colony’s governor, whom he knows as one of the good guys, gets exterminated. Wow, was his head ever buried under a blanket during this scene. This serial has very minimal incidental music – it’s actually music that Tristram Cary had performed three years previously for the original Dalek serial – and it’s used to amazing effect here, when Bernard Archard’s traitorous character slowly crosses over to the Dalek with its gun in his hands. It’s a really great and incredibly tense scene, and really had my son frightened, as of course it should.

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