Like all histories, much of Doctor Who is unknown. It is out of reach. Now, after fifty years or so of the show, we must accept that it will continue far beyond our own lives – our list of favourite Doctors will be irrelevant because there will be entire Doctors we will never meet. Even now, with shiny plastic discs on our shelves, so much of Who is hidden from me.
Which is strange, because some of my favourite stories are amongst this hidden Who. The Massacre (not of St. Bartholomew’s Eve – a title that makes not an iota of sense) is sublime. An unsettlingly hopeless drama where history overwhelms a personal narrative and William Hartnell gives a fine performance as both the Abbott and the Doctor with his most profoundly delivered speech. But is it that? I mean, I’ve never seen it. Pretty much no one has. It is lost. Absolutely lost. There is not a second of footage of it left in the archives.
And so it becomes my holy grail. The story I’d want to see more than any others. I try to shift the order of the recovered season three stories around so that it would exist, but then regret that The Gunfighters would be absent. And no one would ever read that story redemptively again. So much of the success of the story depends upon Hartnell’s multiple roles – without seeing this, how can we tell if it was good or not?
And so I hope for the return of the episodes. I don’t even need all of them. Just one. Or two. Maybe there’ll turn up in some archive somewhere. Or in the shed of a former BBC engineer. I check internet forums and ridicule the preposterous fables of recoveries, yet secretly wish them to be true. I read books tracing how the episodes wormed their way across the world. Maybe the episodes are buried in a tip in Sierra Leone…
But do I really want to see The Massacre? Why not a moment of Marco Polo (surely one of the most important, unusual stories recorded), why doesn’t that story exist when it was so widely sold? And how do three episodes of The Dalek’s Master Plan exist when it wasn’t sold anywhere? Don’t I actually really want to see the final, horrific episode of that serial? What about The Myth Makers – that story is a classic (three episodes of comedy followed by one of tragedy) that needs a wider respect. How many episodes were saved from the returned haul from Australia to be junked? We know some of them have ended up in private hands, why not some more? Those recoveries can show us that any episode returned has extreme value. Galaxy 4 was ignored for the most part, but now we can see from Air Lock how boldly it was directed with its confrontational performances and strong sense of depth of field. What other reassessments need to take place? Is The Space Pirates a secret masterpiece?
I want the recoveries of these episodes more than I want new episodes themselves. I immerse myself in them – watching animated reconstructions on DVD, listening to the audio and looking at telesnaps (I loved experiencing Marco Polo like that), viewing the Loose Cannon reconstructions online. The stories are vivid and unknown and the fact that they are so removed from me makes me want them all that more. It reminds me of the limits of my understanding of this brilliant, textured show. I imagine histories of the show where nothing was returned to the BBC and our knowledge of the black-and-white era of the show is as reductive as our understanding of the first season of The Avengers. This period of Who is neglected enough as it is; the sheer weight of missing material, obsolete production methods and limited presentation all diminish it in the eyes of the audience. For so many, Doctor Who doesn’t even really begin until Spearhead from Space.
I know that The Massacre isn’t really the holy grail. That’s meant to be The Tenth Planet episode four. But we know what that looks like, and Blue Peter means that we’ve got the regeneration. So maybe we can live without that one. So shouldn’t the holy grail be The Power of the Daleks episode one? To see Patrick Troughton’s dazzling take on the Doctor for the first time? But honestly, that part feels like filler, and he feels like he’s killing time and it isn’t until the second episode that his take on the character becomes fully apparent.
Maybe this is our holy grail…
The most important thing to note is that we’re still not actually watching The Power of the Daleks. We’re watching something that is close to an approximation of it. There are moments in the animated version where we see the limits of the budget and the technology. Characters bob up and down and constantly stand in positions closer to hieroglyphs than performances. There are other moments when we are witnessing another fan re-visioning of the show; the backgrounds have enormous depth – completely unlike the cramped sets of reality. Thousands of Daleks mass on Vulcan, rather than the two or three and the pile of cardboard cut-outs that existed before. We won’t even mention the incorrect aspect ratio. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that Doctor Who always looks cheap regardless of the format it is produced in.
Through a number of byzantine budgeting opportunities that come from a super-massive corporation such as the BBC (which is funded via an exploitative tax), fifteen episodes have been reconstructed via animation.
- Cosgrove Hall animated the two missing episodes of The Invasion in 2006 using leftover money from an abandoned Scream of the Shalka It is more fully realised than the simplistic flash animation of that story.
- Planet 55 animated the two missing episodes of The Reign of Terror, one of The Tenth Planet and two of The Moonbase. They began with a deliberately confrontational quick editing structure that angered purists, before moving onto some highly sophisticated rotoscoped motion in later efforts.
- Quiros Entertainment animated two episodes of The Ice Warriors which is the least satisfying effort; little attempt has been made to frame the motion in anything close to the original staging, and movement is akin to split-pin puppets. The company went bust after this one effort.
- BBC studios animated the whole of The Power of the Daleks reasoning that this story was unlikely to ever be recovered. Ambitious, and impressive in moments (the Daleks seem particularly well-realised) it suffers from little attempt to capture the nuances of performance. The charm and interplay of Patrick Troughton and Anneke Wills (seen on off-air 8mm clips) is completely ignored.
It remains to be seen if any further episodes are restored in this manner – or why stories such as The Crusade or The Underwater Menace were not afforded the same luxury. By animating The Power of the Daleks, we see the potential for re-assessing entire serials of Doctor Who. Previously it was used to fill gaps and maintain a coherent viewing experience on DVD. Now we have the potential to rediscover the great scars of our history. The Macra Terror feels so close to being a masterpiece… would animation prove that correct or not?
Watching the episodes for the first time, I kept waiting for Anneke Wills narration to kick in. My experience of the story was reliant on my previous viewings. When I trace the vein of Who in my life, I feel like the realisation that huge chunks of it were deleted should have been devastating. But when I was young I had seen so little of the programme I adored. It was all missing to me…
Troughton does in two episodes what Hartnell does in a whole season. Which, whilst completely true, is a little unfair. It’s easier to imitate than innovate after all. But it is astonishing how quickly Troughton establishes what is a clearly definitive take on the role. He exudes charm and delights in dancing around the edges of the plot. But when called into focus, when demanding the destruction of the Daleks, he is rage and fury and utterly in control. This interplay between mischievousness and heroism come to become ultimate attributes of the role. He is a picaresque hero.
Delightfully, David Whittaker has created a plot that allows for Doctor Pat to come alive in. His first episode is deliberately unsettling, proposing that an interloper has come to destroy the show that we love (and that he was fundamental in evolving). For the rest of the story he creates a society of treachery and intrigue, allowing well-defined characters to come to the forefront at different times. It speaks to the arrogance of humanity that the rebels are not really rebelling against anything; the society they operate within seems pretty benign and they offer no real alternative beyond the vanity of power. Within this the Doctor and the Daleks listen and adapt to the developments around them, before cumulating in a blood-thirsty final instalment.
Whittaker was a master at mercurial stories; ones that change and evolve as they unfold. His serials start in one place and end up in a completely different situation. It was he, along with Terry Nation, who truly understood that they were writing for serialised television, and that the aim was to engage children for twenty-five minutes and ensure they came back next week. By crafting deliberately transgressive cliffhangers (the sheer, unsettling majesty of ‘I AM YOUR SERVANT!’ has never been bettered) and creating a serial that ranged from bizarre character interactions to a murder mystery to an enclosed drama before ending as an action movie, he ensured that Doctor Who could never be easily limited.
The Power of the Daleks is a masterpiece. It works in a shittily-written novel, on telesnaps or on a narrated audio. It is this story, and Shada, that the BBC have chosen to present in so many different formats. It remains to be seen whether the new slightly-too-wide-for-my-liking animation leads to a significant re-evaluation of the story. After all, the history of Who is being constantly rewritten.