Tag Archives: missing episodes

Catweazle 2.9 – The Ghost Hunters

Our son absolutely loved this episode. I thought it was pretty funny, but it never quite rises to a great bit early on. Lady Collingford has decided that their house, which has 184 rooms, is haunted, in part because she keeps hearing this peculiar sound. Elspet Gray then gives this hilarious impersonation of Geoffrey Bayldon’s “tch-tch-tch!” noise and I hooted.

This rapidly descends into the sort of “he went thataway” farce perfected on American Saturday morning shows. Lady Collingford hires famous ghost hunters, played by Dudley Foster and David Cook. They’re a couple of scam artists who have wired the house with speakers, and Cedric has decided to try and spook them with a bedsheet, and Catweazle has decided that tonight, of all nights, is the right night to ask the house’s spirits to help him find the hidden gold in the house. Our son was howling with laughter; this was clearly one of his all-time favorites. Moray Watson is playing an upper-class twit in this series, but he defines the term “long suffering” tonight.

Dudley Foster died in early 1973, only 48 years old, but he appeared in just about everything a fellow could possibly do in British film and TV before then. Foster was cast as the villain Caven in a 1969 Doctor Who serial, “The Space Pirates,” which is the last incomplete story of that program’s run. Bizarrely, Foster appears in the five episodes of that serial that are missing, and not in part two, the only episode that survives. That strikes me as a little karmically unfair.

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Children of the Stones 1.3 – Serpent in the Circle

This is really entertaining, although just a little bit above our son’s six year-old head. We’re having to recap a little of the action to make sure it’s all sinking in. This time, the four newest kids to the village of Milbury, the four who haven’t become all smiley math wizards saying “Happy day,” become three. One of them suddenly understands the incredibly complex math class and the episode ends with the little malcontent joining the village Morris dancers with a vacant grin on his face.

In between, Adam gets confirmation from America that the stone circle is aligned with a black hole. It’s more “folk science fiction” than “folk horror,” and while it’s not completely appealing to our son, it’s the sort of thing that kids in the fifth or sixth grade certainly would have gobbled up once upon a time.

Children of the Stones was shown in the US as one-fifth of a daily anthology program called The Third Eye which ran on Nickelodeon for about 16 months or so in 1983-84, around the same time that The Tomorrow People began its lengthy American run. There were 68 People installments and exactly half as many Third Eye episodes; maybe that’s why they axed it first. You could see them all in just over a month. It would seem that Children of the Stones was shown here at least a dozen times.

The series within The Third Eye all dealt with paranormal experiences or psychic phenomena or witchcraft and folklore, and they all had young protagonists, making them perfect purchases for Nickelodeon. The other components of the anthology were an eight-part serial from New Zealand called Under the Mountain and three other British shows: The Haunting of Cassie Palmer, The Witches and the Grinnygog, and just the first series of Into the Labyrinth. There were another 14 episodes of Labyrinth that they could have bought, but didn’t, for some reason.

Stones, Mountain, and Labyrinth (all of it) have been released on DVD, and there’s even a feature film version of Mountain starring Sam Neill. Unfortunately, and this will blow your mind, The Haunting of Cassie Palmer is not believed to exist any longer, and Grinnygog is only known to exist on home-taped copies. These two shows were made by one of Britain’s commercial networks, TVS, which closed down in 1992. In between all the various media companies that have since licensed or purchased their archive, many of TVS’s master tapes were destroyed.

This was in the 1990s, people. A TV show that was made in 1982 was completely wiped about a decade later. That’s insane.

Even more weirdly, TVS was the original home of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, which ran from 1987-2000. All the TVS episodes from series one through six at least exist, but are not available for syndication or sale. It’s only series seven through twelve that anyone can distribute today.

Anyway, we didn’t get Nickelodeon at my house. When we had cable installed in 1981 or so, the guy was short a converter box and asked my dad to swing by and pick one up, and Dad never did, because he only wanted “cable” for HBO, which we could get on channel 7 on the VHF dial. Five years later, when I used a giant second-hand top-loading Panasonic VCR that weighed seventy-seven pounds to tune in to Nick and MTV and other channels, Dad blew his top because the cable company was going to find out and start charging us. Nobody ever talked about The Third Eye at my school, so I didn’t know I was missing anything.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I heard of The Third Eye, and that blasted Roger Fulton book I mentioned a couple of chapters ago didn’t have listings for three of the five shows. I’ve always been a little fascinated by The Third Eye because it’s something that some of my friends got to absorb and love that I missed completely, even though it’s taken me another – hell! – twenty-eight years to get around to watching one of them.

We might do Into the Labyrinth for the blog; I haven’t decided. Kind of going back and forth between ordering that and The Ghosts of Motley Hall. It’s just a damn idiotic shame that Grinnygog is not available and that Cassie Palmer may be gone forever.

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Doctor Who: Invasion (part one)

Regular readers might recall that last month, I explained how Lionheart, the company that syndicated Doctor Who in America, made the call to edit two of the 24 TV movies instead of releasing complete black and white films. “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” – part one is, weirdly and with some controversy, just called “Invasion” – was actually wiped by the BBC just seven months after it was shown, as though they wanted to spare themselves further embarrassment over how dopey it looks. Color prints of parts two through six were recovered a few years later, but only a black and white print of part one could be found.

And yet… there were video traders in the eighties who swore blind that a low-quality color copy of part one was making the rounds. Going to get a little technical here, so bear with me.

Since UK television was on the superior 625-line PAL standard, and North America on the 525-line NTSC, you couldn’t just hook two VCRs together to get a copy of a British tape. Ideally, somebody would take the PAL tape to a video production company and pay $40 or $50 for an NTSC copy of it. Some of us called this a “digital copy,” wrongly. The other way was by pointing a NTSC camcorder on a tripod to a screen where the PAL copy was playing. This was called a “camera copy” and it was always substandard, marred by flickering, faded color, and many other visual defects. In 1987, a guy I knew flew to London with a camcorder, got a hotel room with a TV, taped Sylvester McCoy’s first episode on the camcorder and flew back to Atlanta the next day. That’s dedication!

So there were two copies of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” part one floating around, and bear in mind that the best one I could get hold of was probably fifth generation. There was the black and white “digital copy” and then an eighth or ninth generation “camera copy” that was allegedly in color. The story went that it was shown in color at a convention in Canada or Koozebaine or someplace and somebody videotaped it. Nine generations later, my copy was mainly various shades of blue, as happened with camera copies, and it suffered from tape hiss and audio that had been recorded via condenser mic from the convention video room’s crappy speakers. I used to say that the copy was so bad that the Tyrannosaurus Rex looked good.

There was, to be clear, no way to confirm anybody’s claim that this was a color print. Had any color been present in this recording, it had been lost after eight or nine generations of copying. But a weird little quirk gave us hope. If you traded tapes in those days, you remember how the picture of down-the-line copies would occasionally warp and you’d get interference lines. There were points in this crappy copy where the interference would wash up little smears of color information. Jon Pertwee was standing in front of a brick wall and that little smear of color that belched up was red like the wall should be.

Yes, we know now that it’s because this was a color camcorder trying to record in color, and therefore a color tape even though the subject in the picture was black and white. When the tape would, every few minutes, go ZZZZzzWWWaaarrp and the visuals loop around with a line, that was “color banding,” information from the recording distorted, not color information from the projected print. Any similarity to the actual color of the brick walls was a coincidence.

Some of the Pertwee serials had their color restored by a process called chroma-dot recovery. On the black-and-white 16mm film recording, there are all these tiny, tiny patterns of dots that contain the original color information. It’s absolutely fascinating, and you should read more about it here. Unfortunately, the black-and-white print of “Invasion” part one was too poor, and too damaged, to extract the color at the best quality resolution. The DVD includes the color version as a bonus feature for those who’d like to try it.

Isn’t it neat, though, that a color videotape of a black and white film gave us false hope, while a black and white film of a color videotape gave the technicians the information they needed to restore it?

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What We’re Not Watching: Moonbase 3

We’re not watching Moonbase 3 for the blog, because it is a boring, boring program. Even I couldn’t sit through it without finding something else to do, so a six year-old certainly couldn’t be expected to tackle it. But because it’s an interesting footnote in this period of Doctor Who, and because we’ll be taking a short blog break while we have family in town, I thought I’d write a small post about it.

After four years on Doctor Who, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks were keen to continue working together but knew that they needed to find some new projects. Working a little fiscal magic, they were able to get the first story of Who‘s next season into production at the tail end of the 1973 block. Moonbase 3 was commissioned for a six-part introductory series and was taping almost at the same time as that story. Managing a massive, resource-demanding program like Who alone was a huge undertaking; I can’t imagine doing two series at once. Unfortunately for Letts and Dicks, this series was a ratings flop. They taped it in the summer of 1973, and it was shown in September and October to general disinterest, and the BBC didn’t ask for anymore.

As an ongoing series, Moonbase 3 is full of problems, but the casting is the major one. The leads, left to right in the photo above, are played by Ralph Bates, Fiona Gaunt, Donald Houston and Barry Lowe, and Bates, whom genre fans may recall as the lead in some Hammer horror films from the early seventies, is the only one with any real charisma. They’re outshined in every episode by the guest stars. If you enjoy BBC or ITC dramas from the early seventies, you’ll see all kinds of familiar faces in Moonbase 3, including Anthony Chinn, Michael Gough, Peter Miles, and Michael Wisher. And you’ll wonder why the guest stars aren’t the leads. It’s that lopsided.

But I’m a huge fan of Peter Miles and not even he could save this program by leading it. This is a show about budgets and breakdowns. In going for realism, Letts and Dicks encouraged a format where imagination was sacrificed for the banal. There’s neither any worry nor any curiosity about the future, it’s just a bland place with bland people having arguments about money and weather satellites. Twice, science experiments are conducted by jealous physicists. At no point are any of the five moonbases threatened by Cybermen, or staffed by Gabrielle Drake in a purple wig, or invaded by the Bringers of Wonder, but the one we’re watching is going to have its budget cut in the next fiscal year to put more Eurodollars into a Venus probe. Staffing cuts! Now that’s what I want from science fiction!

So anyway, the show was a flop, losing two-thirds of its audience in a month, and then, in that 1970s BBC way, it didn’t exist anymore. As the corporation so often did, they wiped the tapes and forgot about it. The episodes were lost forever… except for a weird quirk of fate. The BBC got some co-production money from 20th Century Fox, who suggested that they might be able to sell it in America. I’ve read that they were hoping to get it on ABC, but it’s also possible that Fox was looking at PBS stations or even the same first-run syndication market where Fox was selling the Canadian videotape sci-fi show The Starlost that same September. Whatever, there’s been no indication that any station in North America purchased Moonbase 3 in the 1970s, and so it was completely forgotten.

Fast forward to 1993 and something very weird happened. When the Sci-Fi Channel launched, their most interesting program was an anthology called Sci-Fi Series Collection, which ran all sorts of quickly-cancelled flops without enough episodes for a proper Monday through Friday airing, things like Gemini Man, Otherworld, or Planet of the Apes. In many cases, they couldn’t even get all the episodes: four of the 20 installments of Kolchak: The Night Stalker weren’t available to Sci-Fi because Universal offered those as a pair of sausage-link TV movies instead. And the episodes were all edited by a couple of minutes to accommodate segments of interviews with these shows’ creators or stars.

A few months into the run, Moonbase 3 joined the rotation, and it was kind of funny to see how they had the background animation for the interview segments but no actual interviews. Bates and Houston had already passed away by the time this aired, and I suppose the channel didn’t have the budget to go to the UK to interview Gaunt or Lowe… or Letts or Dicks. At the time, some people in British sci-fi teevee fandom were very interested in the Sci-Fi Channel – there were frenzied updates each month in the fanzine DWB about what it was showing – and people in the UK were incredibly surprised to see that the channel had “found” this lost show. Fox had simply never wiped its tapes. It remained available for any station to buy for twenty years – much like those unidentified thirteen episodes of Ace of Wands from DL Taffner – and the show just sat on a shelf in some vault for two decades waiting for a buyer.

Happily, new copies made their way to the BBC promptly, and the show was released on VHS in 1994, and on DVD some years later. It’s a program for completists only, but I am glad that it survives, because everything should!

Photo credit: Archive TV Musings

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (part three)

The first time I watched (most of) “Planet of the Daleks,” on PBS around 1987, I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t impressed when I watched it again after getting a complete copy in 1994 either. But about nine years after that, I watched it with my older son, then about six, and got a new appreciation for it. This is definitely a story to watch with a kid, as we experienced again tonight. The thrill that a child has for Daleks, and the total conviction they have in their cruelty and their power, almost totally overshadows any production problems or scripting silliness.

You can be a curmudgeon on your own; watching this story with a kid is huge fun. Ours was excited, worried, frantic, and, when the ice-volcano erupts and two Daleks are splashed with gallons and gallons of “ice hot lava,” absolutely pleased. We briefly debated whether that shouldn’t be called “ice cold lava” before paying attention to the next bit of running down corridors. Upstairs, now, his nightly playtime before bed has been interrupted several times while Mommy has been threatened with extermination.

Note that I say “almost totally.” Kids can love Daleks all they want, but nothing can save the next Dalek serial that they made, the following year. That thing’s a complete turkey.

Anyway, the reason I’m less familiar with this story than almost all the others from the era that I’ve seen many times is that Lionheart, the company that syndicated Doctor Who in the 1980s, deliberately provided stations with a badly edited version. As I’ve mentioned previously, the BBC wiped many of Jon Pertwee’s color tapes, retaining only black and white film prints for export to countries who hadn’t switched to color yet instead. Lionheart’s package of the 24 Jon Pertwee stories, edited into TV movies, included five black and white movies and nineteen color ones.

However, both “Planet of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” from the following season, were idiotically offered as color TV movies with their missing color segments simply cut out. Since part three of this story was missing in color, the narrative of the movie version just jumps from the character telling Bernard Horsfall “Somewhere on this planet there are ten thousand Daleks!” to a scene a few minutes into part four, once everyone has escaped from the Dalek base. Twenty-five minutes just chopped out. I know I’ve said that these six-parters are all about one episode too long, but that’s insane. They should have syndicated it as a complete black and white movie. It was good enough for “The Daemons.”

(Even weirder, I’ve read that Lionheart also offered this in its mostly-original episodic format, only with the credits remade, so the American “part three” was the original “part four,” and so on. Since WGTV only bought the Pertwee adventures as TV movie compilations, we never saw it like that in Atlanta, but I wonder whether this version included the escape from the refrigeration room that was cut out of the TV movie.)

Anyway, the version of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” that they offered was, while still obnoxious, not quite as incoherent since the missing color part was the opening episode, and so it looked like the movie began with the adventure already in progress. I hope we’ll be watching this story in about one month’s time, and I’ll talk more about that when we get there, but it was also one that I skipped copying off air.

There’s a terrific short documentary on the DVD about how they rebuilt this episode and restored the color. It took two separate projects: traditional colorizing done by a firm in Los Angeles, and a really neat project in London that extracted color information – chroma-dots – from a black and white telerecording. It’s absolutely wonderful to finally see this episode just about exactly as it was first taped.

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Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (part one)

It’s a great pleasure to finally see “The Mind of Evil” in color. I’ve had this DVD for a while and, like “The Ambassadors of Death,” I’ve been waiting patiently to watch it with my son. All of the other lost-in-color Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who had some kind of color version available in the tape trading days, usually a low-quality multiple-generation copy that came from an American broadcast of the series in the mid-seventies. Nobody is known to have recorded this story and kept it. A gentleman called Tom Lundy recorded the other four (I think he was in Buffalo NY) and kept them, but he recorded over “The Mind of Evil” with a football game. All that remained was a few minutes at the beginning of part six before he taped something else.

A few years ago, the BBC’s technicians and magicians reassembled this story as close to the way it was originally shown as can be managed, and it looks very good. Every fifth (or so) frame of part one is hand-colored, with computers estimating the rest, and parts two through six were restored through chroma-dot recovery, extracting a color signal from the data within a black-and-white copy. I think this is all so fascinating. The only critique I can make about part one is that the insides of actors’ mouths seem unnaturally black. Otherwise this looks incredibly good.

“The Mind of Evil,” written by Don Houghton, is a little bit of a throwback to the previous season of Doctor Who. It’s a harder-edged story than the increasingly fanciful and lighter eighth season, tackling prison reform and the threat of global war without an army of candy-colored monsters. The special effects are not as garish as in the previous story, or anywhere as close to how they’d be in the next one, and the Doctor is still yelling at bureaucrats who get in his way, only this time the target of the Doctor’s loud mouth snaps back, and it is pretty hilarious seeing the Doctor get a little comeuppance for his constant rudeness.

Our heroes are faced with two issues that keep them separated in part one. The Doctor and Jo are observing an experimental procedure that is said to be the work of the famous Dr. Emil Keller. It is supposed to remove the “evil” impulses from the minds of criminals. It seems to work on a cruel fellow called Barnham, played by Neil McCarthy, who was the farmhand from the first season of Catweazle a year before this was shown. Also in the cast is perennial guest-starred-in-everything actor Michael Sheard as the prison doctor.

Meanwhile, UNIT is trying to balance providing security to a World Peace Conference while simultaneously planning to dispose of a missile – you don’t think these plot threads are going to join up, do you? – and their jobs get complicated when a Chinese military captain first reports some stolen documents and then waits half an hour after finding her country’s delegate murdered body and lies about it. Joining UNIT for this story and the next is Fernanda Marlowe as Corporal Bell, whose uniform indicates that she enlisted in the RAF, not the Army, before being assigned to UNIT. Corporal Bell has very little to do in her two stories, but it’s nice that the TV people made the effort to continue giving UNIT some recurring characters before forgetting about the character!

I kind of predicted this would start out a little complicated and over the head of our favorite six year-old critic. He wasn’t really taken with it, but he did let us know that the strange Keller Machine, and the bizarre deaths that happen in the prison’s processing room, are “creepy.” Hopefully he’ll enjoy the next episodes a little more!

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Ace of Wands: The Power of Atep (part three)

We’ll pause for a moment from the mysteries of Egypt to mention another mystery. Was Ace of Wands ever shown in America, and, if so, which episodes?

This is going to read a bit like “A guy I met swears somebody claimed to have a missing Doctor Who episode,” or “Don’t I recall a bit in the Book of Ezekiel where the wheel landed on a primitive Nazca line,” because I can’t quite prove this, but here goes. TV stations used to get an annual copy of this book, and I can’t even tell you the proper name of it. I always called it “The Syndie Bible,” a big catalog of series, serials, and movies that stations could purchase, and who to contact. I found a few of these in the UGA Library in the early nineties when I was researching a proposed book I was co-writing, an encyclopedia of American TV sci-fi and fantasy. Then the internet happened and the book became surplus to requirements, as you might say.

In the book, I found a listing for a package of Ace of Wands being offered to American stations in the 1970s and 1980s by a company called D.L. Taffner. I did a little rudimentary hunting and that seems to make sense. Taffner, an American producer, did a lot of work with packaging Thames TV series for the US. His biggest success was with the various Benny Hill shows and specials, but Taffner later started following in Norman Lear’s footsteps and remaking Thames sitcoms into popular American shows: A Man About the House / George and Mildred into Three’s Company / The Ropers, and Keep it in the Family into Too Close For Comfort. In 1987, Taffner financed a pilot for a revival of The Saint that CBS didn’t pick up.

But if any public broadcasting stations – for it was most likely PBS – did show any Ace of Wands in America, which episodes did they show? The package was 13 episodes, but the existing series three is 20 episodes, comprising six stories. So, was this a package of four of the six existing stories, or, more tantalizingly, might this have been the first season, which could have been more likely? Did Taffner have thirteen episodes of the show long after Thames wiped their copies?

Stranger things have happened. In 1973, the BBC made a glacially-paced space drama called Moonbase 3 that nobody watched and wiped their copies a few years later. 20th Century Fox had co-produced the show, thinking that it might run on ABC, and held onto their set. In the early nineties, the Sci-Fi Channel launched, desperate for programming, and bought the show from Fox, surprising all the “telefantasy” fans in the UK who thought that the series was gone forever. I wonder whether the same thing might have happened with Ace of Wands, or whether the package was just 13 of the surviving 20 episodes.

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The Goodies 2.8 – Come Dancing

If our son was muted and polite about that Ace of Wands adventure, he was screamingly happy with another new-to-him escapade with The Goodies tonight. This time, we watched 1971’s “Come Dancing,” and he prepped for it by rewatching two of the episodes we’d watched previously this morning before I went to work.

He chuckled and giggled all the way through it, but I thought the climactic silly film bit wasn’t half as funny as the middle-of-the-show silly film bit, and that wasn’t half as funny as watching the guys step back to let June Whitfield and Joan Sims steal the whole show. They play rival gangsters stepping on each others’ dancing shoes to control the fixed ballroom dancing circuit. Whitfield spits out an amazing paragraph of gobbledygook when her subterfuge is revealed, and Sims’ character, Delia Capone, is like a villain from a John Wagner 2000 AD comedy.

Marie wondered whether this was originally made for 3D as the color is slightly off, with pink and blue bands occasionally overlapping the actors. It turns out that “Come Dancing” was one of the episodes that the BBC wiped, as they did back then. The print we have today was made from mating a decent quality black-and-white telerecording for overseas sales to a long-forgotten and beat-up color videotape that somebody at BBC Scotland had made of a 1972 repeat of this installment, discovered 26 years later. I remain amazed both at how good of a job the artists and technicians who perform these restorations do, and how frustrating it is that there’s a need for their services at all.

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