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Survival of the Footage
An Interview with New Zealand's Graham Howard
by Mark Parmerter, May/June 2002

 

 

 

 

Doctor Who fan Graham Howard of New Zealand notes, "The timing of this find really came as quite a surprise. Since becoming a Christian a few years back Doctor Who has taken on a much lower priority in my life, and I haven't kept up with fandom too much or watched a lot of Doctor Who in recent times. Nevertheless, I've always had an interest in sixties Doctor Who, and over the years (off and on) I've spent quite a lot of time and effort trying to trace whether missing episodes could still exist in this country." How fitting then that Howard himself should unexpectedly and fortuitously discover missing Doctor Who film footage. The fully detailed account of Graham's find is chronicled in TSV 65, the newsletter of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club where the discovery was first announced, yet Howard has been kind and generous enough to briefly discuss here the events surrounding the recovery of long-lost, sixties-era Doctor Who film footage.

It was early in 2002, whilst Graham was helping to catalogue a collection of film reels held by a film collector, that just over a minute of lost 16mm film clips from the Patrick Troughton era were discovered. The clips, part of a collection of over six minutes of 1960's Doctor Who footage, were in fact censored extracts from episodes edited before transmission by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC). The reels on which Doctor Who footage was found also contained extracts from many other programmes. The edited material had apparently been discarded by the NZBC, yet survived and the films were anonymously donated into the collector's collection some years ago.

Howard's initial response upon making the discovery was one of genuine excitement, as he explains that "The first batch of Doctor Who clips on the reel were from The Ark (The Bomb), which of course I knew wasn't missing. When the Web of Fear clips started to roll my first reaction was disbelief. Then, as the clips continued to roll, the sensation was "Please don't end!" The footage was spliced together in reverse order on the reel, although I didn't click to that until the scene from Episode One came on (Julius Silverstein killed by the Yeti in his collection). Further down was more from The Ark (The Return) and then the brief scenes from The Wheel in Space. Having been spoilt with The Web of Fear scenes, I was very disappointed there wasn't more from The Wheel in Space. Subsequently, I ended up going through the film reels a couple of times to make sure I hadn't missed anything." And how did the film collector who owned the material react when told this was footage from episodes otherwise missing from the BBC Archives? "He seemed surprised. I don't think he had considered the possibility that the contents of the reels might contain clips from episodes of programmes that were now missing."

In all, the find produced a :14 clip from the Season Five classic The Web of Fear Episode Two, :41 worth of clips from The Web Episode Four, and a :02 clip from The Web Episode Five, as well as an :08 clip from the Season Five adventure The Wheel in Space. Graham notes that "The condition of the film seems pretty reasonable" and that "The only issue really is that the splicing is pretty rough in places."

Not only was Howard thrilled to see film clips which no fan anywhere had seen for over 25 years, but "Of course, there was also the fact that only a handful of people in New Zealand had ever seen them. Neil Lambess [Responsible for helping to recover The Crusade 1: The Lion in NZ in '99] pointed out to me the irony that of the missing Doctor Who footage found in New Zealand, none of it had actually ever screened on television - since The Lion never screened here either."

Graham's discovery is particularly exciting as only Episode One of The Web of Fear survives in the BBC's archive, and this adventure has long been considered one of the most dramatic and enduring in the history of the program. For years fans have wondered what the Covent Garden battle between the Yeti and Army soldiers was really like - now three recovered scenes will show us; for years fans have longed to see the Yeti stalking the tunnels of the London Underground, as well as their attack in the Army headquarters on Professor Travers - now two recovered scenes will show us. But can these clips, short as they are, provide a realistic glimpse into what made The Web of Fear such a longtime success with fans? Howard believes so. "Absolutely. Good as the telesnap reconstructions are, seeing the images come to life gives another dimension to them. I think also the fact that they are largely action shots and include scenes that people might not intuitively think of as being censor cuts, helps give some of the flavour to these scenes. They definitely leave you wanting to see more." Howard's favorite clip amongst those recovered is "The scene from Episode Two where the Yeti march up the tunnel towards the soldiers. The sight of Yeti in the London Underground is just one of those classic Doctor Who images. I was also pleased there was a scene that included the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria."

This is not Graham's only experience in dealing with long-lost Doctor Who film. In January 1996 he helped to bring to fandom's attention the existence of silent, 8mm off-screen footage filmed during the sixties by a fan who apparently pointed his 8mm camera at a TV set during the original broadcasts of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton episodes. Although it was known to exist, it wasn't circulating in fandom at all, and no one knew very much about it until Howard got hold of a copy from a contact in Australia. Much of the 8mm footage is of classic scenes otherwise lost to the BBC Archives, including Troughton's first appearance as the new Doctor in Power of the Daleks, Steven's departure in The Savages, the prelude to the regeneration sequence from The Tenth Planet and more. "Although it was exciting to 'discover' the 8mm clips, I knew that material wasn't truly missing, just very, very rare at the time. So to finally find some film that was genuinely missing was a huge thrill. Part of that thrill is also the knowledge that fans - especially those of the Troughton era - will also get a lot of pleasure from these scenes. No doubt my excitement was also boosted by the fact that if I was to have chosen a story from which to recover missing footage, The Web of Fear and The Wheel in Space would have been very high on the list."

Discovery of the NZ censor clips also has altered previous misconceptions of NZBC broadcast policies. As Howard elaborates, "Our pre-conceived theory, now proved wrong, was that the NZBC tended not to cut scenes, but to reject stories that were not able to be classified as "G" rated. Some years ago I researched the NZBC program traffic/planning records at TVNZ (successor to the NZBC) and discovered that quite a few of the stories that never made it to our screens were in fact purchased by the NZBC. But they were either rejected outright by the censor or given a higher "Y" rating. A rating other than "G" meant the NZBC weren't allowed to play the story in the early evening slot where Doctor Who normally screened." So is it likely that further Doctor Who footage was censored by the NZBC? Graham explains, "We now know for sure they did, having found documentary evidence confirming this for the earlier Who stories." Whether more censored footage was fortunate enough to fall into safe hands and not be properly discarded by the NZBC we may never know. When fan Damian Shanahan discovered the Australian censor clips in 1996, it was found that the Australian censors had a policy of storing censored material for 30 years; however, Graham's research to date suggests that no such obligations existed in New Zealand. That having been said, it is truly miraculous that the censored footage from The Web and The Wheel not only survived to this day, but was eventually recognized for its worth by somebody qualified to do so. As for the possibility of further material existing in NZ, Graham says "This find has opened up some previously unexplored avenues of research which myself and others will be following up over coming months."

Since the initial find, the process of returning the film to the BBC has gone quite smoothly. On June 15 Steve Roberts of the BBC's unofficial Doctor Who Restoration Team announced on the RT online forum that "Thanks to Graham Howard, who arranged for the film to be sent over to me, the BBC now have broadcast quality copies of the censor cuts. The film will shortly be winging its way back over to NZ and some of the clips will hopefully get their premiere on the BBC official Doctor Who website next week." And in fact, only days later on June 17 the clips became available for viewing on the BBC's official Doctor Who website. As for restoration work done on the film, Roberts explained that "Because this transfer will effectively be the BBC master, it was done without any digital noise reduction or sound filtering. This can be done further down the line using whatever technology is available at the time. However, the film was broken down into its component parts and re-spliced with spacing between the clips where required. Chinagraph marker (used by the original film editor in NZ to mark-up the clips for removal) was cleaned off and then the entire film given two passes through the ultrasonic film cleaner before being transferred to Digital Betacam using the Spirit telecine." And how to package the clips for an eventual video release? Graham suggests "They would make a nice add-on to The Web of Fear Episode One, if that was to be released sometime soon. With brief narration by Nicholas Courtney [Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in The Web] perhaps?" Time will tell, but such a release would be very appropriate for the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2003.

Fans worldwide are very encouraged and excited by the NZ censor clips find for a variety of reasons. Shanahan, the first to discover censored extracts from Doctor Who's past, says "To find even two consecutive frames of footage is fantastic so I'm really looking forward to seeing these clips, especially as The Web of Fear is one of the best stories. All credit to the finder - this is absolutely brilliant research and will hopefully spark a more motivated interest [within fandom to search for missing material]." American researcher Robert Franks notes "I was a little surprised to hear about them, and must admit that the battle scene from The Web of Fear episode 4 sounds particularly thrilling. I'm interested in the fact that all this goes against accepted fact - I like when new facts are dug up that add more to our collective knowledge of Doctor Who." Doctor Who Restoration Team member Richard Molesworth agrees "It's always nice when 'missing' material turns up, and this does prove that the NZ episodes were edited. We've always suspected this, as Graham very dilligently came up with the programme traffic records of most of the NZ material a few years ago. This gave the episode durations at point of dispatch, and these proved that NZ screened cut material. Now as NZ was a primary Doctor Who market for the BBC, the two options were a) that NZ received already edited episodes from another broadcaster, or that b) NZ did the editing, but I've never given any weight to option a)."  And as Doctor Who researcher Dominic Jackson explains, "Firstly, it's an interesting find because it was always thought that TVNZ didn't censor episodes - they either broadcast them as received or rejected them. This proves that they did cut material themselves. Like The Lion, it does raise the possibility of more material being out in New Zealand. Secondly, it's nice to see material from the later episodes of The Web of Fear. This is possibly one of the most visually stunning Troughton stories and, although it's nice to have Episode One to view, the opening episode promises so much which up until now we've been completely denied. Some of the most well-remembered scenes from the story seem to be present in these extracts: the Yeti in the underground advancing irresistibly, the soldiers in the market hiding from the Yeti, etc. All in all this is, in my opinion, an even more important find than The Lion: everyone hankers after Troughton stories and whilst this isn't a complete episode, to have these long-yearned-for scenes on film again is a very good second best!"

Thanks to Graham Howard for his generous contribution of time and energy, as well as Paul Scoones, Damian Shanahan, Dominic Jackson, Richard Molesworth, Steve Roberts & Robert Franks.  For full details of the NZ censor clips find visit the NZDWFC webpage.