Starburst Magazine - - Contents - by J.R. Southall

We pon­der what’s hap­pen­ing in the search for the lost BBC tapes.

It’s nearly two years now since the BBC an­nounced the re­cov­ery and re­turn of The En­emy of the World and (most of) The Web of Fear, amid a tor­nado of ru­mours claim­ing that the ‘In­di­ana Jones of episode hunt­ing’ had tracked down and lo­cated al­most all of the 106 episodes of Doc­tor Who that were then still miss­ing from the BBC’s archives. The big ques­tion that ev­ery­one’s been ask­ing since is, “Where are the other 97?” The truth is that most of them are prob­a­bly in vin­tage TV heaven, hav­ing been junked back in the 1970s when the BBC sent out their de­struc­tion or­ders. So how did we come to be­lieve that one man might be able to achieve what no­body else had been able to, and bring the num­ber of lost episodes down from a three-fig­ure num­ber into al­most sin­gle fig­ures? What has Phil Mor­ris, the man in ques­tion, been do­ing for the last two years – and why aren’t we hear­ing about it? The lat­ter two ques­tions are easy to an­swer; Mor­ris is do­ing what he has been do­ing for the past decade, over­turn­ing as many stones as he can in his quest to make sure the BBC’s archives are as full as pos­si­ble. It’s a sin­gle-minded ven­ture, and nec­es­sar­ily so – af­ter all, it isn’t like The En­emy of the World wasn’t sit­ting there in Nige­ria wait­ing for some­body to find it, and yet in forty years no­body else had sum­moned up the where­withal to go and look – and Mor­ris is a sin­gle-minded man. The kind of per­son who, once he’s set him­self a task, will fo­cus on that task to the ex­clu­sion of most other things – in­clud­ing his per­sonal well­be­ing (he’s just re­cov­er­ing from a rather de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness and yet he’s al­ready over­seas tak­ing up the search once more). But he isn’t do­ing this en­tirely out of char­ity for vin­tage TV en­thu­si­asts; the last decade’s un­der­tak­ings will have cost Mor­ris a small for­tune, and he’d be mad not to ex­pect at least some of that re­im­bursed. Mor­ris is also the kind of man who wouldn’t want to do things pre­ma­turely, nor would he risk en­dan­ger­ing his chances of in­creas­ing the num­ber of his re­cov­er­ies by ad­ver­tis­ing his achieve­ments any more widely than nec­es­sary. He might have told us that “the wind is blow­ing in the right di­rec­tion” fol­low­ing the Oc­to­ber 2013 an­nounce­ment, but if he’s con­fi­dent of find­ing more lost tele­vi­sion se­ries (and we’re talk­ing far more than sim­ply episodes of Doc­tor Who) and thinks that by mak­ing fur­ther an­nounce­ments he might jeop­ar­dise their re­cov­ery, he’ll wait un­til the time would ap­pear to be right. The lack of any sup­ple­men­tary an­nounce­ments isn’t en­tirely down to Mor­ris, though. He might have been the man of the hour two years ago, but the con­tent of those eleven film cans was un­der the own­er­ship of the BBC, and it is within their prov­ince to de­cide when and where – and even if – to make any sub­se­quent an­nounce­ments. Af­ter half a decade of Li­cence Fee freezes, fall­ing DVD sales and shift­ing in­ter­nal pol­i­tics, the BBC can’t af­ford to be as phil­an­thropic as they might once have been. There’s also the ques­tion of who is in charge of Phil’s project; BBC Cardiff are re­spon­si­ble for Doc­tor Who as a brand, but, per­haps per­ti­nently, BBC World­wide con­trol the pro­gramme’s now-con­cluded clas­sic se­ries DVD range. Ap­par­ently, it was the Pro­duc­tion Of­fice who su­per­vised the han­dling of Mor­ris back in 2012, but now it seems that re­spon­si­bil­ity has been re­lin­quished to World­wide. It would be hardly a sur­prise, then, if de­lays were to be in­curred. That’s if ‘de­lay’ is the right word, of course. Nei­ther the BBC nor Phil Mor­ris – nor in­deed Paul Vanezis, the miss­ing episodes ex­pert who was largely re­spon­si­ble for get­ting Mor­ris’ search un­der­way back in the late 2000s – have ever sug­gested when the most ap­pro­pri­ate time for a fur­ther an­nounce­ment, or for the ter­mi­na­tion of the project and the pub­li­ca­tion of its find­ings (whether those be ad­di­tional films or merely the in­for­ma­tion that Mor­ris has also been gath­er­ing) might be, or how far in the fu­ture. So how did Mor­ris’ war cry of “Ex­pect the un­ex­pected” so quickly be­come an ex­pec­ta­tion that he’d man­aged the im­pos­si­ble, when no­body in any au­thor­ity has ever given any­thing but the most

mea­gre and am­bigu­ous of clues as to his achieve­ments – and how has that eu­pho­ria so quickly evap­o­rated?

The truth is that at some point be­fore the eleven re­cov­ered episodes were re­turned from Nige­ria, a leak within the BBC (and al­most cer­tainly not from one of the ‘pro­fes­sional fans’ who have been im­pli­cated within wider fan­dom) be­gan a se­quence of events that led to im­pos­si­ble ex­pec­ta­tions even be­fore the cor­po­ra­tion took pos­ses­sion of The Web of Fear. Mor­ris’ search had be­gun vis­i­bly, with a se­ries of posts on the Miss­ing Episodes Fo­rum and a cou­ple of ap­pear­ances on a ra­dio show and a DVD com­men­tary track, and in an ex­am­ple of the left hand mis­in­form­ing the right, his ap­par­ent report that there was a pos­si­bil­ity of dis­cov­er­ing the where­abouts of up to 90 miss­ing episodes was er­ro­neously taken as con­fir­ma­tion that he had found as many, af­ter news be­gan to break amongst those in the know that he had in­deed man­aged to re­cover pre­vi­ously lost Doc­tor Who. An en­su­ing com­bi­na­tion of con­fir­ma­tion bias and the echo cham­ber ef­fect soon put meat on the ru­mours’ bones.

The con­se­quence of this was to make Mor­ris’ job more dif­fi­cult. It seems that in spite of re­turn­ing those episodes (two of which the BBC al­ready pos­sessed) in time to make them avail­able for Doc­tor Who’s fifti­eth an­niver­sary, Mor­ris had ini­tially wanted his name kept off the news of the re­cov­ery in or­der that he might con­tinue his search in rel­a­tive anonymity – with a cover story con­cocted prior to the truth be­ing re­vealed later on. Un­for­tu­nately, the emerg­ing ru­mour storm erupted early in 2013, with Mor­ris in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the find, and the game was up. Since then, Mor­ris has main­tained a rel­a­tively low pro­file (his pub­lic ap­pear­ances and so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­i­ties feel more pro­lific than they ac­tu­ally are, thanks to the fo­cus we place upon them), his con­cen­tra­tion re­main­ing de­voted to his work. But the fo­rums were soon buzzing with news of his achieve­ment – and with all the spec­u­la­tion, hearsay and con­jec­ture that went hand in hand with it.

To find is not al­ways to pos­sess, though, and while Marco Polo was ini­tially as heav­ily ru­moured as The En­emy of the World and The Web of Fear, two years later – and de­spite nu­mer­ous in­stances of fans pre­ma­turely pre-an­nounc­ing its im­mi­nent re­lease – the Wil­liam Hart­nell story has yet to ap­pear. It’s not un­likely that Marco Polo was men­tioned dur­ing dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing the re­turn of the other episodes, but it’s equally as pos­si­ble that ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­turn it first into Mor­ris’ hands were ham­pered by the events of 2013. Let us hope that if Mor­ris was in­deed on its trail, that in­quiry is still open or per­haps even con­cluded. Thanks to nearly two years of ap­par­ent in­ac­tiv­ity (doubt­less any cur­rent de­vel­op­ments are be­ing very care­fully screened), and af­ter some ad­mit­tedly un­usual and pos­si­bly even ques­tion­able so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity on Mor­ris’ be­half, fan­dom is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing dis­il­lu­sioned with the idea that any more Doc­tor Who might have been re­cov­ered – and this is prob­a­bly for the best. There’s no doubt the wait­ing is set to con­tinue, and the hys­te­ria that fol­lowed Oc­to­ber 2013 wasn’t ben­e­fit­ting any­one.

On the other hand, it seems un­likely that ten years of search­ing would have turned up only the two sto­ries in the same lo­ca­tion, so it’s still en­tirely pos­si­ble that when the story of Mor­ris’ search for miss­ing tele­vi­sion is told – as both Mor­ris and Vanezis have as­sured us, both be­fore and af­ter that ini­tial an­nounce­ment, that it will be – it will come with fur­ther re­cov­er­ies at­tached. But no­body knows what else Mor­ris might have found, nor whether it re­ally will in­clude more Doc­tor Who, so for now we must sim­ply be pa­tient and al­low him to con­tinue his work, safe in the knowl­edge that he’s do­ing it for the ben­e­fit of us all.

“As my­self and Philip have said in the past, the whole story will be told when the job is done and the job is not yet done.” Paul Vanezis, De­cem­ber 22nd 2013, Miss­ing Episodes Fo­rum

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