Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Wiped! Doctor Who's Missing Episodes: Second Edition – book review

The definitive story of the missing episodes of Doctor Who is brought fully up-to-date, with information about two further recoveries since the publication of the original book, plus other additions sprinkled throughout...

RRP: £15.99
Author: Richard Molesworth
Published by: Telos Publishing
Release date: 28 February 2013

In 2010, the ultimate story of Doctor Who’s 108 missing episodes was published. Richard Molesworth’s Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes explained why the episodes came to be missing, where they had been prior to their destruction and what efforts have been and are being made to recover them, as well as a huge amount of other information about anything and everything relating to the Doctor Who archive. Now, the book has been updated and revised, following the reduction of the amount of missing episodes to 106 in 2011…

"Somebody's jacket hastened the 2011 recoveries..."

Wiped! is certainly a very detailed and technical book – a glossary of terms is very helpfully included, but this is definitely designed for people with a strong interest in the subject matter. It’s not really suitable for your average fan’s Christmas stocking! But if you are interested in Doctor Who’s missing episodes, and you want to learn more and own the definitive guide, you’re in the right place. Early on, Molesworth explains the history of television and early attitudes towards it, which goes some way towards helping us to understand the wiping of programmes from a modern perspective. Back then, television was seen as no more permanent a medium as the theatre. A programme would come and go live, and the only way to repeat it would be to reassemble the cast and crew for a second time. But then videotape came along, and with it the potential to record programmes – either to pre-record rather than broadcast live, or to make a recording of a programme as it was shown live in order to prevent it from being lost to history the moment the credits stopped rolling. It is this technology which enabled Doctor Who in the 1960s to be pre-recorded ahead of transmission (albeit following an ‘as live’ production structure in the studio, which Molesworth explains in detail). But videotapes were expensive and large, which meant that they were seen as a financial and physical impracticality to permanently store. It is this which led to the practice of the tapes being either thrown out or wiped for re-use, sowing the seeds of the fascinating and tragic story which Molesworth explores in Wiped!

But what’s even more interesting is what happened next. The results of the BBC’s junkings are more remarkable than the practice itself, as film recordings of the episodes made for overseas sale were exported far and wide around the globe. Molesworth attempts to piece together the various sources of paperwork (which are often contradictory) to tell us which countries held what and when, and what happened to the films once the broadcaster in question had finished with them. This is fascinating to read and invaluable for reference, and there are a number of surprises along the way. The book also details the circumstances behind every single missing episode recovery that has ever happened, as well as looking at the restoration of those Jon Pertwee episodes which no longer exist in their original colour form. All highly interesting stuff, and now updated to include coverage of the latest restorations for DVD (for example, the forthcoming DVD of The Mind of Evil, restored to full colour). The icing on the cake is a number of appendixes to the book – one of them, for instance, looks at the BBC’s archival holdings for every Doctor Who story, as well as including information about anything which exists in private hands, and notable details about that story’s restoration for VHS or DVD.

"Wiped! is fascinating to read and invaluable for reference."

Of course, the main talking point with this new incarnation of the book is the information it contains about the rediscovery of Galaxy 4: Air Lock and The Underwater Menace Episode 2. Both these episodes found their way back into the BBC’s archive in 2011 (their existence being announced in December of that year), and this book’s chapter on the recovered missing episodes now includes comprehensive details of how this happened. We learn about the origins of the recovered prints, and the condition they are in. We discover the sequence of events which took place immediately after they were found. We find out why the last twenty-seven seconds of Air Lock are still missing, and how many frames are absent from The Underwater Menace Episode 2. The fantastic thing about this book is that no piece of information is too trivial for inclusion – somebody’s jacket played a role in hastening the recovery, for instance – with the result that pretty much everything you could ever want to know about the subject can probably be found within the 576 pages that make up the book.

What’s particularly interesting is that the story which this book tells could largely be seen as one big chain reaction, and so the additions made in this second edition are by no means confined to one part of the book. There are many additions, revisions and corrections throughout – some are side-effects of the 2011 recoveries (for example, Molesworth debunks a theory which he himself put forward in the original book three years earlier, based on evidence from the recovered print of Air Lock), and some consist of separate information which has since come to light. One notable addition is to the chapter about the overseas broadcasts of 1960s Doctor Who episodes, and specifically, to the section about Sierra Leone. I won't spoil it here, but a number of currently missing episodes existed in the country until their dramatic destruction at a time long after the BBC’s own junkings ceased. We also learn the answer to a mystery from the original book. Previously, the person from whom James Russell received his collection of off-air audio recordings of missing Doctor Who episodes was anonymous. But now, their identity is known, and this second edition explains all.

Wiped! may be a niche book, but for people interested in the archive and restoration of Doctor Who, it’s a fantastic one. This book was brilliant when it was released the first time around back in 2010, and the new updates it receives here make it unbeatable (plus, the addition of an index is most welcome). The research undertaken by Molesworth is staggering in its scale and detail, and a number of long-standing fan myths are either debunked or proven. If you want to know the comprehensive, accurate and candid story of why there are missing episodes, where the film copies were sent, where some have since turned up again and much more besides, look no further than Wiped! As long as you like lists.

9 OUT OF 10

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Thanks to Telos Publishing

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