Tag Archives: missing episodes

Doctor Who: Mission to the Unknown

Among Doctor Who‘s many missing episodes, there is a one-off oddity made and shown 54 years ago this week, in 1965. Who was then made as a series of serials, and they were planning a mammoth twelve-episode storyline featuring the Daleks. The producers decided to take advantage of some budget and calendar hiccups and made a one-off adventure as a prologue to the Dalek epic. It didn’t feature the Doctor or his companions. It starred Edward de Souza as an outer space spy – it was 1965 after all – on a desperate mission to let the galaxy know that, after hundreds of years on the frontiers of space, the Daleks had formed an alliance with six strange alien races and were preparing an invasion of our solar system.

Edward de Souza is still with us, and a few months ago, he and Peter Purves, who had played one of the Doctor’s companions at the time, were invited to the University of Central Lancashire to see what the Culture and Creative Industries school has been doing. Each year, the staff and students collaborate on an incredibly intensive project, and this year, they recreated “Mission to the Unknown.”

Earlier today – well, yesterday, if, like this blog’s calendar, you’re in Europe – the recreation of “Mission to the Unknown” premiered on the Doctor Who YouTube channel. Click the image above and check it out! I won’t swear that it completely met our son’s expectations. We watched the trailer a few days ago and he was bellowing how badly he wanted to see that. Unfortunately, “Mission” is, like a lot of Who from its day, very slow and imaginative. It isn’t action-packed; the original production seems to have been cramped even by the low-budget standards of the William Hartnell years. It’s practically silent for long stretches, with only a few library music cues and actors projecting fear and intensity. More creepy than thrilling, the design may be dated in the way a lot of sixties sci-fi is – our hero’s tape recorder is about the size of a VHS double-pack – but you can see what kids in 1965 were wowed by.

I think the UCLAN team did a terrific job. It’s both a labor of love and, hopefully, valuable work experience for people looking to work in the film and television industry. I’m glad that the BBC and the Terry Nation Estate allowed them the privilege to recreate this.

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Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (parts three and four)

As I mentioned last time, I’ve kept “The Macra Terror” on the shelf for decades, never reading the novelisation or watching a telesnap reconstruction or listening to the BBC’s cassette release. I have, of course, wondered how in the world the production team could have managed a story about giant crabs with the meager resources afforded to them, and when the “Lost in Time” collection of orphaned episodes and clips was released fifteen-odd years ago, the clips suggested “not all that believably.”

In point of fact, for the eight year-old in this audience, “The Macra Terror” moved from being a behind-the-sofa nightmare of a cartoon into a laughing stock when we switched over to disk two to see the surviving footage. There are a few seconds of fragments from a home camera recording of some random moments along with some screams and shocks that the censors in Australia deemed too horrifying for audiences. The cartoon Macra is a swiftly-moving horror, but the real thing was a mostly stationary prop, kept to the shadows with arms and claws waving at the actors. While we would all prefer to have the original, at least the animation doesn’t result in the kids at home guffawing over the production.

In other words, dear Australia: thank you for censoring the story and keeping what you cut in an archive, but I promise, it really, really wasn’t necessary.

Anyway, I’m very glad this story was animated. The DVD package – and there’s an even more packed Blu-ray – contains the story in both black and white and color, along with commentary featuring the serial’s original director, actor Frazer Hines, and three of the guest cast. It’s got telesnap reconstructions of the episodes, the audiotape version that was released in 1992, and the fragments of original footage along with lots of other bonus material. I thought the story was kind of slow and lacked urgency, but the animation was fine and I’m very impressed with the presentation. I hope they have a new cartoon reconstruction in the works for 2020.

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Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (parts one and two)

“So what’s scarier,” Marie asked our son, “the monsters, or the colony telling everyone that there are no monsters?”

“BOTH,” he shouted.

“The Macra Terror” was a four-part Doctor Who adventure that the BBC showed once, in 1967, sold to a few other countries, and then destroyed. All that’s left is the soundtrack, some photographs, and a few fragments that the Australian Broadcasting Company censored from their copy and left in an archive to be discovered decades later. From that, they’ve built a new animated presentation. It’s not coming out in North America until October for some stupid reason. Why anyone should have to wait in this day and age, I’ve no idea. I’ve had my Region 2 DVD on the shelf for a couple of weeks now.

This has been one of the Who adventures that I’ve deliberately never learned anything about, saving it for tonight’s rainy day. It was originally shown in season four, as Patrick Troughton’s fifth story as the Doctor, with Peter Jeffrey as the “pilot” of a mining colony several centuries in the future. Everybody in the colony works hard and sings happy songs during their down time, because they’re all being subliminally programmed while they sleep to obey orders, don’t question anything, and certainly don’t say anything about gigantic crab monsters that creep around the colony at night. Ben, one of the Doctor’s companions, gets taken in by the overnight hypnosis and soon he’s parroting the official position that “there are no such thing as Macra!”

It may be a new cartoon from a 52 year-old show, but it’s still got the power to thrill and get under audience’s skin. Doctor Who hasn’t frightened our son this much in several months. This was a behind the sofa with the security blanket experience, that left him wide-eyed and very worried for Polly. “This was SUPER SCARY,” he protested.

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RIP Trevor Preston, 1938-2018

It was announced today that writer Trevor Preston passed away last month. He’s best known for his work on crime series, both ongoing programs like the seminal The Sweeney as well as one-off films, television plays, and serials like 1978’s Out. Most of Preston’s work was outside the scope of this blog, but he did have one fantastic credit to his name. He created Ace of Wands, which we really enjoyed watching last year.

Sadly, none of the Ace of Wands episodes that Preston himself wrote still exist. He also wrote a 1967 adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that is mostly missing, as well as a Freewheelers four-parter for Southern in 1968 which has never been released on home video. So there’s a lot that we’d like to watch together, but can’t!

I’ve been saving two of his other works for a rainy day, though. One of the missing Ace of Wands stories featured a villain called Mr. Stabs. Preston really enjoyed the character and brought him back as the protagonist in two TV plays in 1975 and 1984. They’re included as bonus features on Network’s Wands DVD set. We’ll have to check those out sometime. And as always, our condolences to Preston’s family and friends.

Photo credit: The Guardian.

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The Avengers 1.20 – Tunnel of Fear

I’m going to say something a little heretical. I’m honestly not a big fan of the videotaped Avengers. There are moments of greatness across those three years. “The Wringer” is incredible. “Brief For Murder” might be the very best episode of the show. Good scripts, good characters, fabulous actors, but I won’t linger on why I don’t love it like I do the filmed years. It’s best to just appreciate where it gets it all very right. “Tunnel of Fear,” which was recovered from a private collector in late 2016, is mostly very right.

It’s the 20th episode of the first series, and one of only three stories to survive in full from that year. The Avengers was designed and developed as a vehicle for Ian Hendry, who stars as Dr. David Keel, a man who we have retrofitted into being the first “talented amateur” that John Steed conscripts for his investigation into crime. All of the other episodes, sadly, were junked and are believed lost for good.

In the first series, the world of weird crime hadn’t yet developed, and Brian Clemens hadn’t arrived with his rules about the fantasy of the series. Keel and Steed were “two against the underworld,” and theirs was the London that anybody could visit, a London – or a Southend – populated by uniformed policemen and escaped convicts. John Kruse’s script for this story is remarkably ordinary and down-to-earth. The emotional core of the story – imagine an Avengers with an emotional core at all – is the convict on the lam desperate to clear his name learning that his girlfriend had a baby with another fellow while he was away. The convict is played by familiar face Anthony Bate, who guest starred in everything in the sixties.

Our son was remarkably attentive given the primitive and stagy world of the videotaped days of the show. He honestly didn’t enjoy it very much, and I didn’t expect him to, which is why I decided against watching series two and three with him. I appreciate his patience. This isn’t the Avengers we’ve watched; it’s two incarnations removed from what he knows. For an archaeological look back at classic TV, it was a good one-off for him.

For me, it was better than that. It does have the teeth-grinding limitations of black-and-white videotape, where the actors and the microphones are rarely in the same place twice and the pre-filmed 16mm material was done without a microphone at all, just Johnny Dankworth’s deeply dull lounge jazz, but this a pretty good story with some good actors, and it shows that Steed had that twinkle in his eye from the beginning. Ian Hendry is very entertaining in the role of a crimefighter who deeply cares about people and is willing to get in way over his head to help this guy. He just radiates charisma and a real passion for Dr. Keel’s work beneath his cool exterior. Hendry was a great actor. You can see why the show was built for him, even if they let Patrick Macnee come in and steal the program out from under him.

Studiocanal released “Tunnel of Fear” by itself on a Region 2 DVD last month along with a few bonus features and a fabulously thick booklet full of photographs and even a reprint of a comic strip from the 1962 TV Crimebusters Annual. Unfortunately, Studiocanal being Studiocanal, they managed to not include the advertised PDFs of the surviving season one scripts, but apparently they’ll email them to you if you buy the DVD. I’m glad I purchased this!

We’re going to take a short break from The Avengers now, but stick around! Steed and Mrs. Peel will return in a few weeks!

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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 and Grinnygog are 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. All that remains of these two serials are very poor quality VHS copies.

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 and Cassie Palmer were wiped.

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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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