Monday, April 6, 2009

D1 - The Roof of the World

And we approach a new twist to The Chronic Hysteresis - the fan reconstruction video. For those who are unaware of what I'm talking about, I'll have to start at the beginning. Here's the Coles Notes version of the The Story of the Doctor Who Missing Episodes (a Terrance Dicks novelization):

From 1972-1978, the BBC erased much of the old programmes that had been broadcast from as far back as the 1950's up until the early 1970's thinking that the sales potential for old black and white programming had long since past. Doctor Who was particularly affected. However, the BBC recovered over half of those episodes that were junked in the form of 16mm film copies, either from other countries that had previously bought episodes, or from in their own film library. 108 episodes are still missing, though.

Fortunately, a small pocket of devoted fans independently recorded audio versions of every 1960's episode of the show at the time of the original broadcast. Another chap, John Cura, was a professional photogragher who used to take screenshots, or telesnaps, of programs and sell them to TV producers so they could keep a visual record of their work. (All this, of course, was long before the days of the home videotape recorder).

Using these audio recordings and telesnaps, another altogether different, yet equally devoted, pocket of fans set about reconstructing the missing episodes as best as they could. Thanks to both pockets of fans, Doctor Who fans can at least enjoy a reasonable approximation of what these episodes looked like when they were originally broadcast.

And, with Marco Polo, we have our first such fan reconstruction. This story is an oddity for several reasons, as I'll get into over the next seven entries. Firstly, it seems almost suspicious that this entire story is missing from the BBC archives. The first two seasons of Doctor Who were sold to scores of countries around the world, and, as such, this initial era of the show is virtually complete in the archives. But Marco Polo remains missing, and, as such, the story has taken on an almost mythical quality among fans. For the longest time, even the telesnaps weren't known to exist until the serial's director, Waris Hussein, found them amongst his personal affects in 2004.

Secondly, the length of time over which the story takes place is perhaps the longest in the show's history - at least a month, probably a lot longer. The first episode sets up the pattern of events. Once the TARDIS lands in 13th century China (then known as Cathay), it breaks down and (somehow) loses all power and water functions. (Did The Doctor forget to pay his utilities bill again?) The stranded TARDIS crew are found by none other than Marco Polo himself, whose caravan is on its way to Shang-Tu. Sensing the magical nature of the TARDIS, Marco seeks to use it to bargain with Kublai Khan so the Mongol ruler will allow Marco to return to his native Venice.

The journey from the plateau of the Himalayas to Shang-Tu begins, and the story starts to settle in. Most of the action during the first episode, at least, takes place not during the journey, but once the caravan has stopped to camp for the night. The story is also told, to some extent, through the eyes and words of Marco Polo himself in the style of journal entries, punctuated by visuals of a map of Cathay. It's such an odd method of storytelling for the show that it makes the episode, and its impending epic length of seven episodes, compelling viewing/listening. The first episode basically serves to introduce the three main characters in the caravan - Marco, Ping-Cho, and Tegana - and to set up what will appear to be the main thrust of the story: can The Doctor and his friends get the TARDIS back before Marco hands it to Kublai Khan?

I sense exciting things are afoot...


hypocaust said...

The BBC was junking well before 1972 (the earliest junkings of Doctor Who for example were in 1967) and Doctor Who is not actually as badly affected as several other shows from the 60s (and 70s) that were often just as popular and in some cases much more popular than 'Who.

Much mocked but extremely popular police show 'Dixon of Dock Green' for example, has a total of 33 complete surviving episodes out of 436 broadcast between 1955-'76.

'Z Cars', another extremely popular police show has 284 complete out of 799 broadcast from 1962-'78.

Both those shows have episodes missing well in to the '70s unlike Doctor Who which is 'just' missing colour copies.

Doctor Who is also the only series with large numbers of missing episodes that has the 'luxury' of having complete soundtracks to all missing episodes.

I'm not saying we should be in any way pleased with the archive situation of Doctor Who but it could be a lot worse.

James said...

And so onto the first Reconstruction. The original copy I watched some time ago was a loose cannon one I think and I found it quite distracting (I don’t think that it made use of the telesnaps) so for this experiment I managed to locate a better copy online which uses the actual telesnaps and is much better quality. I think having a good copy of this made all of the difference. Although it takes a litte getting used to it was easy to follow and if they are all this good quality I dont think I will have too many problems sitting through the Reconstructions.

The only thing I would say about the episode is that despite being mainly set up at this stage it never seemed to drag and the story seemed to move along at a pleasant rate, looking forward to more of this story now.

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