Saturday, June 29, 2013

50WHO: From Hong Kong With Love....

This is the sixth part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

Without a doubt my favourite Doctor Who topic are missing episodes. I find everything about it intriguing. How did they become missing? Where have them been found? What format are they held in? There is always a certain amount of mystery about the episodes. Were there ever missing episode clubs? Did people ever have episodes and knew there value? I find all of this fascinating.

When I got into Doctor Who, the lion’s share of missing episodes to be found in the 1980s had been found. When I got into fandom, The Faceless Ones Episode 3 and The Evil of the Daleks Episode 2 had been found. Those were pretty incredible. I remember buying a beta machine from my friend Roger and the beta tape that we used as the master for those two episodes came with it. The quality was pretty bad and the conversion was really weird. Parts of the line structure would be magnified which meant that some parts of people looked bigger than others. I didn’t care, I was watching an episode of The Evil of the Daleks. It was a time that I felt much of fandom was feeling that episodes would show up on a regular basis. After all they are all out there, right? We just needed to find them.
Of course, it looked like the instincts of fans were right. In 1988 4 episodes of The Ice Warriors were found. That was pretty incredible. It was just a matter of laying back in seeing what would come in next. Now, of course it made sense to be realistic. In round about 1989 I had a serious phone discussion with my friend Jon. We were talking about which episodes we never thought would be returned. I remember we agreed that Marco Polo would never be returned and nor would all the episodes of The Dalek’s Masterplan ever go back to the BBC. The last one we thought no way we would ever see was The Tomb of the Cybermen. No way. The flip side to that was that we were more than likely going to get The Tenth Planet Episode 4 back some day. Even though, we didn’t have the physical episodes, the one thing we did have was the off-air audio recordings.

As Doctor Who fans, we are extremely lucky. We have off-air recordings for all the missing episodes. The majority of these recordings have been made by multiple fans. Some better quality than others but we do have them. Of course when I got into fandom and started to get access to some of these recordings, they were horrible quality. I mean really awful! I had copies of The Web of Fear I got in 1988. It could have been anything. It could have been the first recording of Thomas Edison on the new wire recording medium. There was nothing that sounded like Doctor Who to me on these recordings. Let’s not even talk about Marco Polo. It was so bad! I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was an actual recording of Marco Polo, himself, in Cathay in 1289. It was ridiculous!  There was one audio recording that I had, at least in those early days that always sounded decent. That was The Tomb of the Cybermen.  I was able to listen to that and actually follow along with the story. It was cohesive and made sense. It was funny because I felt the story teased that we were going to see the Cybermen, opposed to actually seeing them in the first two episodes,  so much that it was getting to the point I was actually wondering if they were going to be in the story! Listening to the audio, I was seeing in my mind how the story would look, at least to me. When we get to the cliffhanger for Episode 2, I have in my mind exactly how I think the episode should end with the Cybercontroller stating, “You belong to us, you shall be like us.” I thought it would be cool if it was an extreme close up of the Cybercontroller’s emotionless face. I was delighted to find, of course, that is exactly how it actually was made. That was pretty cool to see Morris Barry and I were on the same page.
Note this camera script extract from the end of Episode 2. The line, "You shall be like us." Is not there.
So, I pretty much thought I had this missing episode thing figured out. One thing that I found early on in my “fan career” was that rumours were abundant. My favourite rumour was that episodes 1 & 4 of The Invasion actually existed. The film prints were owned by Nicholas Courtney but they had no audio. Oh dear! I knew that audio episodes (even though crappy quality) of the two episodes did exist. Why didn’t anyone bring the film print and audio together? Surely I wasn’t the only one who ever thought of that!  Ha! I may have believed that one at first but I quickly caught on to a lot of bullshit rumours people told me at conventions. One was so unbelievable that it couldn’t possibly be true when I went to Visions in November of 1991.

The convention Visions in Chicago is one of the most mystical journeys I have ever made in fandom. There is something almost mysterious about it. I say that because there were a ton of Brits that would go to the convention and just an amazing cross section of people. Chicago is one of my favourite places to go to meet up with Doctor Who fans and I am sorry to say but since Visions came to an end, it has never been the same since. As I mentioned, missing episode rumours fly around all the time. If you remember in Dr. Paul Lee’s 1990s article, Missing Without A Trace, he speaks of this mysterious man named Lei who attended Visions. Lei was the guy who had every episode of the series and was showing missing episodes at the hotel. Well, all of that is true except for the bit about showing missing episodes at the hotel or the bit about a man named Lei. Anyway, back to my story.  At this point, I had made friends with a ton of people in tape-trading so I became wary of rumours. This is where I met a man by the name of Louis.
This leaflet was included in the 1992 PAL VHS for The Tomb of the Cybermen
When I was part of the Whoniversity, we would have room parties there to support our club or conventions we were doing. I met a man by the name of Louis. There is one subject Louis loved which was missing episodes. We had an immediate bond. I am not sure where Louis was from originally but he was incredibly smart and had lived all around the world. If you were to believe Louis, he had seen a few missing episodes or knew someone in one of the countries where the local TV station ran the series and had seen it. I don’t remember the stuff he saw; I don’t remember the episode names. I liked him but come on. Do you seriously believe that I met the one man in the world that has seen missing episodes in multiple countries on their TV stations? I seem to remember he had seen some of a Hartnell in Cypress and some Troughton episodes in Singapore or somewhere. Come on! Then he started to talk about The Tomb of the Cybermen.

He had seen The Tomb of the Cybermen in some country. Or he had seen an episode or something broadcast at some point? I generally have a good memory but wasn’t too clear on this. I found it hard to believe and maybe I stopped paying attention thinking I’ve heard enough of this story. It was about to get harder to believe. Louis told me that The Tomb of the Cybermen had been recovered and it would be announced at the beginning of January 1992. What kind of fool did he take me for? At that time The Tomb of the Cybermen was the most wanted missing story. It was legendary. So, I am left to believe that this man I just met who appeared to have no inside information just casually told me that The Tomb of the Cybermen had been found. No way! Absolutely not!
The Photocopy Louis sent me of the DWM article
So, in March of 1992 DWM announced that The Tomb of the Cybermen had been discovered in Hong Kong. To this day, it still fills me with chills and almost disbelief that this story had been found. There are fans of this series who started to watch it recently who never knew what it was like to not have this story readily available to pull off their shelf to watch. Louis sent me a photocopy of the news item from DWM. It was incredible. I knew I must have that story when it was available. The VHS was scheduled to be released in the UK in May of 1992; the US release was set for October of that year. I couldn’t wait for October. I needed it sooner.

Generally when an episode gets returned, copies get filtered through the fan network to fill our gaps. The same thing happened to me with Airlock and The Underwater Menace Episode 2. I had copies about a month or two after they were returned. The Tomb of the Cybermen was different. This was going to be sold in stores as quickly as possible. It wasn’t going to be coming down the regular channels. I needed to support this release. I didn’t know a ton of people in the UK back then but I did know one. I stayed with his family when I went to the UK in 1990. I made arrangements (through regular mail) for him to purchase the VHS when it came out and send it to me. Early May arrived, The Tomb of the Cybermen was released.
Probably about 2 weeks or so after it was released, I got my PAL VHS. This was my second PAL VHS of Doctor Who. The first one was the Special Edition of The Curse of Fenric. When my tape arrived, it was agony. I didn’t have any PAL equipment back then. I held in my hands a VHS of The Tomb of the Cybermen and I had no way to play it. I couldn’t resist. I still popped the VHS into my VCR. The picture is nothing really but I could barely make out Morris Barry at the beginning. Luckily I had someone kind enough to convert it to NTSC for me. His name was Louis.

Louis and I kept in touch over a few years and he always put the money where his mouth was. He sent me an absolutely amazing copy of The Planet of the Daleks Episode 3, he sent over a really nice colour copy of Doctor Who and the Silurians, and he also made a conversion of The Curse of Fenric. The PAL cover for The Tomb of the Cybermen was really nice. To start off with, all the VHS tapes came in nice plastic cases and not cardboard boxes (like the US) that got cheaper as the years went on in the range. The Alistair Pearson cover was monochrome with just a bit of red. It was fitting for the story plus the title on the front and spine all were in silver foil. It was gorgeous. It truly was special. So, before I sent off the PAL tape, I decided to keep the cover because it looked so nice and was something to look at while the tape was away getting converted. It was a smart move for me as I never got that tape back.  Time passed……slowly waiting for the tape to arrive. It seemed like years. Every day, I couldn’t wait. Finally, after a decade (or 2 weeks) I had a playable copy of The Tomb of the Cybermen in my unworthy hands.
DWB issue 99
My hands fumbled and shook with the disbelief to the feast I was about to give my weary eyeballs. Perhaps while inserting the tape, I may have missed the gap a couple of times with the over eager anticipation. Something that has plagued me all my life. Everything ready to go, the tape begins to play and the picture rolls. I mean it rolls. The picture goes from bottom to top and bottom to top and bottom to top. I mess with the various holds on my VCR and nothing. I mess with the various holds on the TV and nothing. I simply cannot watch it. The rolling is too much. I can’t get anything out of it. We have a ton of VCRs in the house and I take it to each one and the picture rolls. Nothing works. After all this time, am I not able to watch The Tomb of the Cybermen? I then find a crappy 10 inch black & white TV that I hook a VCR up to and for some reason the picture plays fine. The internal weeping has stopped. The throat is a little sore from yelling at every VCR in the house but I can sit down and watch The Tomb of the Cybermen. Granted, until October of that year, every time I wanted to watch that story I had to hook up that damn small crappy TV to a VCR.

These articles are not really about the stories but to me, this story lived up to its expectation. Yes, there are some dodgy moments in there such as Toberman raising the Cyberman and we see the Kirby wires holding the Cyberman up or when Toberman picks up the very obvious “dummy prop” of the Cybercontroller and throws him against the console. Other than that, I love the story. Troughton is at his mischievous best. Listening to the off-air audio, it is really difficult to pick up his nuances as the Doctor. I feel history repeated itself with Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace. On the audio, you are really only getting a portion of his performance. I know that can be said of all actors but I think that statement really leaps out for Troughton as the Doctor.
DWB Cover for issue 101
The Tomb of the Cybermen was released twenty years ago. It was said that if The Tomb of the Cybermen sold x number of VHS tapes that a missing episode office would be set up. This was very exciting because there was absolute momentum. It seemed like this was heralding in the second coming of missing episode discoveries. If The Tomb of the Cybermen could be found, anything could be found. Soon, nothing was found. It all became quiet. Soon I lost touch with Louis. If anyone knows a Louis Singh, please let me know. I would love to say hello to him. Was a missing episode office created? Beats me. It seemed disingenuous that the BBC wouldn’t have put in more effort at that time to find missing television. Everyone’s eyes were on Doctor Who but there is so much more BBC missing programs out there I want to see.

 As for the missing episodes, some had been returned. In fact 4 had been found since 1991. A lot of clips had been found plus crystal clear recordings of the missing audios. Plus, don’t forget telesnaps! A whole lot of them were discovered in 1993 and in some cases the only visual representations of aspects of these episodes.  As for Jon Pertwee episodes, nothing was missing but a lot of episodes existed only in black & white at the time The Tomb of the Cybermen was released. I now own them all in colour. You probably do too. As for the black & white episodes that exist, they all have been restored. Even to the point of returning their original look and feel of videotape to the studio scenes. I had always wanted to see them look like that. So, there are 106 episodes, things aren’t too bad, right or could they get better?
It is very timely that this article is being written as there is a persistent rumour that about 90 episodes of Doctor Who have been found. If this rumour is true, there will only be 16 episodes of Doctor Who missing. The rumour has been denied by various sources. I like to think I am a reasonable human being and perhaps even… Then, why do I believe this to be true? Do I know something you don’t know? Everything I know has also been on the Bleeding Cool articles. This takes me back to where it all started, rumours about missing episodes and the excitement of something possibly being out there. Let’s have history repeat itself……

On November 23rd 2011, I published an article titled Missing You! My Experience with the Missing Episodes of Doctor Who. On December 11th 2011 news broke that 2 episodes of Doctor Who have been returned. This is my new article about missing episodes of Doctor Who and now it’s time for more episodes to show up because I posted this article. I did my bit, now I am ready for the announcement of the 90 missing episodes of Doctor Who being recovered. Go ahead BBC……

Finally, to all film collectors……
Speaking of missing episodes, as we know they are not just limited to Doctor Who, the BBC or British television. Peter J. Greenwood got a hold of me through my Facebook page. He works at Chertock TV. Jack Chertock produced 182 episodes of The Lone Ranger and produced many of the Our Gang shorts after MGM took over. He was executive Producer on My Favorite Martian. A 1964 series called My Living Doll is what we are interested in.

My Living Doll is a series that starred Bob Cummings as Dr. Bob McDonald, a psychologist who is given care of Rhoda Miller, a lifelike android (played by Julie Newmar) in the form of a sexy, Amazonian female, by her creator, a scientist who did not want her to fall into the hands of the military. The series lasted for 26 episodes. 15 of those are now missing. They exist as film recordings and many episodes are thought to possibly exist in Europe. Most film collectors get asked if they have Doctor Who but if you are friends with a film collector or are one yourself, please look to see if you have any film prints of this series. If you do please contact: or myself at to get these prints back.
DWB Cover for issue 99
Next 50WHO article: Doctor Who went off the air in 1989. There were a lot of rumours going around as to if the series was going to return and who would be making it. One strange rumour was the Steven Spielberg was going to be involved. It wasn’t strange nor was it a rumour. In 1996, Paul McGann became the Eighth Doctor and the TV Movie was broadcast on FOX. At that time I worked for FOX, well at least the Twin Cities affiliate. I go into detail about what it was like to work at a network affiliate with something that had high hopes but delivered a crushing defeat.

Next week: I will be publishing an review of the 1975 vintage BBC series North & South released by Acorn Media plus more Midsomer Murders.
Have a great week!
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BfloPolska said...

Hi, I'm Louis Singh's wife! :-) I'm keeping him alive and well and still Doctor Who obsessed!

Greg said...


Louis got back in touch with me and I have to say it has been the highlight of the year for me!

Thanks for introducing yourself!

Take care,