Friday, 11 May 2012

BAFTA Cymru & BBC Wales present Doctor Who – The Lost Episodes

After a fun filled day of Doctor Who Cardiff location sightseeing I headed to Chapter where BAFTA Cymru & BBC Wales arranged a special, exclusive screening of two recently rediscovered episodes of 60’s Doctor Who. The episodes were found last year and shown at the BFI’s annual “Missing Believed Wiped” event at the National Film Theatre Londonin November. I was thrilled when I learned that these two episodes had been found and was instantly desperate to see them. Initially it was announced that they would get a DVD release later this year, but that was quickly corrected to 2013. When this special screening in Cardiff was announced I knew I had to go, I was able to secure a ticket through a friend at BAFTA and the rest is history. 

"How could this possibly get better?" I hear you ask. How about being joined for the viewing by actors, Peter Purves (Steven Tyler), Anneke Wills (Polly), Fraser Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), current series producer Caro Skinner and show runner Steven Moffat. Edward Russell, the Doctor Who Brand Manager, excitedly introduced the episodes and also gave us a little ray of hope. For those of you, who couldn’t make it, couldn't get tickets or like me couldn’t wait to see the episodes, you may not have to wait until 2013. Edward Russell alluded to a possible iTunes release of both Air Lock and Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace in the coming months. Nothing has been officially confirmed, but this certainly sounds hopeful.

Air Lock (Episode 3) from Galaxy 4

When Air Lock started I had a child sitting behind me, who had clearly come as a fan of the new series with her mother. She kept asking her mum whispered questions: "Who’s that? What’s that thing? Where are they going?" At first I was annoyed by this but she quickly quietened down, apparently engrossed. 

It was great to see the visuals of a story which until recently was almost completely unrepresented in the archives, bar a short section from the first episode, Four Hundred Dawns. There’s a beautiful flash back sequence where we see Margaa, commander of the evil/sexy Drahvins, killing one of her own injured soldiers all from the point-of-view of one of the kind/hideous Rills. Stephanie Bidmead who played Margaa has a very impressive 2-minute monologue which is delivered directly to camera. It's is just so impressive, especially when you consider it was all done in one take. The episode is solidly directed with some impressive fades and camera work. I felt particularly privileged as we got to see the whole episode, of which only a section was shown at the “Missing Believed Wiped” event. 

Stephanie Bidmead's impressive direct to camera monologue.
The episode has a classic cliffhanger, where Steven is locked in an Air Lock with the oxygen slowly seeping away. The little girl sitting behind me was so scared as she asked her mum, “Is the Doctor’s companion going to be okay?” Even though she was watching a 47 year old episode, totally out-of-context from it’s story, she invested in it, got scared and was genuinely worried for Steven's safety; even though she didn’t even know his name. It was thrilling to see one so young totally loving and buying into this vintage episode. I don't know who you were but I assure you Steven was fine, he got freed by the Chumblies and went on to run his own planet, so never fear.

Will Steven survive the Air Lock?
Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace

The picture in this episode was excellent as it had already been vid-fired and had it's censored clips reedited back in. This is now the very first complete Troughton episode in the archive. It’s great to see more of Joseph Furst playing the “mad as a hatter” Professor Zaroff, but the real joy here is getting to see Patrick Troughton still really playing with his interpretation of the Doctor. He makes so much of what is really no more than a fairly adequate script. Like Steven Moffat said “It’s all in the spin he puts on it.” 

Troughton loving his rhubarb hat.
The current show runner also shared with us his two favourite moments from this episode: when the Doctor is warning King Thous about Zaroff and says, “Have you noticed his [Zaroff’s] eyes recently? They’re like this!” and then doesn’t do anything with his eyes. The second is when the Doctor is given an Atlantian priest’s garb to disguise himself and perhaps enjoys it a little too much. It really is brilliant to see Troughton trying everything under the sun with the part; too often I forget how brilliant his early stuff is because there’s so little of it remaining in the archives.

The mercurial Patrick Troughton with guest star Joseph Furst.
Afterward we were treated to a Q+A panel with the three actors and Steven Moffat moderated excellently by Gary Russell. The three actors shared their experiences and memories of these episodes. Peter Purves talked in an incredibly articulate way about his time on the show, Frazer Hines was, as always, very funny, and Anneke Wills was beautifully inappropriate. All three expressed their interest to return to Doctor Who for the 50th anniversary next year. Steven Moffat put on his metaphorical crazy fan hat and spoke for everyone in attendance by admitting that he couldn’t impartially judge old episodes like these, in the same way “normal people” woud. Like everyone there, he was just so thrilled to see new old Doctor Who.

Me with two legends Frazer Hines and Peter Purves.
Once the event had finished I had the good fortune to get to meet Peter Purves, Fraser Hines, and Anneke Wills in person, all three were incredibly charming. I also got to have a brief chat with Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spillsbury; who kindly shared some of his experiences of working for the iconic publication. He's a very nice chap indeed.

Me with the lovely Anneke Wills.
I would like to say a big thank you to BAFTA Cymru, BBC Wales, ChapterEdward Russell and Gary Russell for organising the event, to Paul Vanezis and Peter Crocker for their work on the restoration and finally to Mr Terry Burnett for giving us the episodes themselves. It was a fantastic event, enjoyed by all in attendance. I feel incredibly privileged to be one of the lucky few who got to attend this very special occasion that I won’t soon forget.

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