Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Ian Levine’s Twitter account is increasingly puzzling.

He was quite disapointed that the Tuesday press conference got put back to Thursday. “SELFISH FUCKING BBC”, he explained. Now that it has been officially confirmed that “a number” of lost Doctor Who episodes have indeed been found his remarks have become even more cryptic.

One thing I can tell you. If we have ANY hope of seeing any more, each and every fan needs to download those iTunes episodes on Friday...or whenever they become available. If people wait, or try to get them for free, or stick them on YouTube, it will kill any chance of...more. EACH AND EVERY Doctor Who fan needs to download those episodes on Friday. Something like fifteen quid to secure Doctor Who's...treasures - we must stop anyone who tries to illegally abuse this. Please everyone do your bit. We have never had this chance before REMEMBER EVERYBODY !!!!! THE FATE OF THE OTHER MISSING EPISODES IS IN YOUR HANDS.

Can anyone parse this? I believe I am correct in saying that every episode of Doctor Who in the BBC archives has been made available on VHS and DVD, with mostly excellent critical apparatus. Either it's commercially viable for the BBC to do this; or the BBC thinks that it’s worth doing even though it doesn't make them very much money. (The Lost in Time “orphan” episode collection can hardly have been a massive money spinner.) The problem has never been "The BBC won't let us see all the episodes it has got". It has always been “There are some episodes we can't see because the BBC hasn't got them." 

So in what way is Doctor Who’s fate compromised if, on Friday, I say “I don’t think I’ll download the complete Web of Fear today -- I’ll stick the DVD on my Amazon list for Christmas”? How is this different from me not having got around to buying "Reign of Terror" yet? If they published the incomplete "Ice Warriors"; why on earth would they sit on a complete "Web of Fear"?


It sounds very much like a conspiracy theory. The BBC have always known about these missing tapes, but they've been "hoarding" them, because they don't want anyone to see them. I don't know why. Possibly they reveal that Doctor Who was married to Susan Foreman and gave birth to the Merovingian dynasty. Or maybe the idea is that some big name fan has all the tapes, and the money from the downloads is going directly to him, and if he doesn't make enough, he'll take his secret stash back to Ethiopia?

Conspiracy minded Doctor Who fans have long believed in the existence of this Secret Stash. There would, at least, be a motivation for a fan having episodes but not sharing them: consider the prestige you would have at Doctor Who conventions if you had the copy of "Underwater Menace" that no-one else had. I certainly went to DWAS meetings in the 70s at which videos of black and white stories were shown, long before the BBC had officially released them, so the story had a certain narrative plausibility. Recently, a strange man on the internet claimed to have, or have access to, all the lost stories, but said he would only let you see them if you went onto his website and purchased photographs of ladies with no clothes on. (True.) Many prominent fans were said (quite wrongly) to be the owners of the Secret Stash; some of them are still quite vocal on the internet. It all seemed a bit Purloined Letter to me: the Secret Stash is only any use to you if you don't let anyone else see it; but once you've let someone else see it, it isn't secret any more. 

Recently recovered 1960s TV material would be on cine film, correct? And probably in pretty poor condition. You can't just take a 50 year old film and "release" it. Work would have to be done turning into modern downloadable format. Quite a lot of jiggery pokery has been done to the stories that are already on sale: a damaged tape eked out with other clips; a sound track from one source married to pictures from another. I seem to think that a whole scene was missing from the "War Machines", and the restoration team sort of faked it and pretended so you wouldn't notice. So it makes some sense that a big box of tapes were found in July, but next Thursday is the earliest date on which episodes can actually be released into the wild. And I don't imagine that they found a box clearly marked "Season 6, Story 5, Episodes 2-6". I imagine there's a big box with dusty Who tape muddle in with On the Buses and footage of Haile Selassie's coronoation. Maybe a little man in a white coat called up the BBC and said "Sorry, there's no way I can have 10th Planet Episode 4 cleaned up before Thursday" or "Cancel the press conference for Tom's sake, there's more here than we thought."

Of course, Ian Levine is a very important person indeed and has a perfect right to be to be told exactly what archive material the BBC has got its hands on the monment that they do. But for the rest of us -- well, it makes sense for the BBC to want to wait until they can show off their exciting, and very valuable, new find to the best possible advantage.

The love of a fan is very, very close to hate. People convince themselves that they know a movie star or a singer and are shocked and disappointed because the star doesn’t know them. There have been terrible cases of fans literally killing the thing they loved; and many more of people swearing to burn their collection of Swamp Thing because Alan Moore wasn’t sufficiently pleased when they told him they were his biggest fan.

I like Doctor Who very much indeed. But I have never, ever felt remotely tempted to behave as if my fannish love means that I somehow own it.




Please consider backing my Kickstarter Project: a £20 pledge gets you 400-450 pages of my Whovian writings, including brand new material never released on the internet, and encourages me to carry on writing. You know it makes sense. 



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7 comments:

  1. There's extensive sociology research into conspiracy ideation. Unfortunately I only overlap with the bits which concern climate science denial, so I don't have any really appropriate papers to point you to. I expect you can find lots of useful stuff on google scholar though.
    This may be a good starting point.

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  2. I was probably using "conspiracy theory" in quite a general sense -- at one time, quite a lot of Doctor Who fans did believe, wrongly but not unreasonably, that the BBC or some individual had all the "lost" Doctor Who stories and wasn't letting anyone else see them; some peopel continue to speak as if that is true even though it pretty clearly isn't.

    The Daily Mail's "Cultural Marxism" theory -- which overlaps with International Jewish Conspiracy in one direction, and with climate change denial on the other (*) in the the other -- is much more like a "proper" conspiracy theory, in that it actually warps the believer's perception of reality. (I was once told that you were no longer allowed to display St George Crosses on your car by a man with a St George Cross displayed on his car.) Will follow up on some of your links.

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  3. Reading between the lines, and the only way I could see Ian's comments to make sense, would seem that the collection of episodes lie in the hands of a private collector and that there is (or has been) some sort of negotiation between the BBC and the owner.

    I *guess* that it's possible for the collection to have been divided into lots and that "Lot A" has just been sold to the BBC with the condition that sales of "Lot A" will determine the value/price of "Lot B". So, if "Lot A" doesn't make enough, it could mean a no-sale for "Lot B" at this time.

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  4. Levine is an idiot, of course, but something like Kev's explanation has been doing the rounds for a while -- basically that the person who's retrieved/is retrieving these episodes from Africa needs his costs covered, the BBC are haggling over how to do that, but that he's handed over Enemy Of The World and all but one episode of Web Of Fear as a show of faith.

    Some people are also saying that some, but not all, episodes are still in Africa and won't be brought back unless the costs of doing so are reimbursed.

    I don't think, from what I've heard, that this is the case, but it's got wide enough traction that it *may* have been the case at one point, and that it's not in itself an unreasonable thing to think.

    Levine's *behaviour*, on the other hand, is completely, mind-bogglingly, bizarre...

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  5. I kinda like the idea that they are lost... I really do....

    They are diminished by their physicality....

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  6. So this is the first time I've even heard the rumor. (Don't do Twitter, don't read too many Doctor Who sites, and don't live in the United Kingdom where I'm sure it was bigger news.) I would have found about it very shortly anyway, I'm sure, but I was still delighted to see this post.

    While I was at it, I signed up for a hardcover of your Kickstarter project.

    It's hardly surprising that conspiracy theories should swirl around Doctor Who. It was first broadcast right in between the events which would eventually form the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories, after all. In fact, I've often thought Jack Ruby may have had a hand in wiping all of those Doctor Who episodes.

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  7. By the by, without defending Mr. Levine's tendency to go off half-cocked (undoubtedly only exacerbated by Twitter), I do want to defend Mr. Levine himself, who is surely one of the good guys, regardless of some occasionally irritating mannerisms. Not only did he do yeoman's work back in the '70s and '80s, spending a fair amount of his own money, in restoring a great deal of material that we now take for granted, but also see this thread from 8 years ago when Phil Morris (with some of the worst writing I have ever seen, even on the internet) tries to contact Ian Levine about his plans to look for missing material in Africa.

    Almost everybody on the thread, including Richard Bignell, is rather discouraging to Mr. Morris (in part, I am sure, because his writing did not inspire confidence, but in part out of despair that anything would ever be found again). Mr. Levine then enters the thread in a very encouragining manner and tells him to email Paul Vanezis in order to get in touch with him. At that point, the record of what occurred leaves the open internet.

    I have no idea what the story between the three of them has been in the eight years since and certainly I'm not trying to give Mr. Levine the credit for this find which clearly goes to Mr. Morris, Mr. Vanezis, and others who worked with them, but I think it's clear Mr. Levine at least was responsible for a certain amount of inspiration for Mr. Morris's choosing the career he did.

    I would join in Mr. Hickey's speculation that Mr. Levine believes it's possible that Mr. Morris and/or the people who are in possession of episodes he might have found are in negotiations with the BBC to reimburse them for the costs involved (and perhaps a finder's fee). The more the BBC can see that new finds will benefit them financially, the more likely they are to be generous in those negotiations. I don't have any idea whether that is true or not and, probably, neither does Mr. Levine, but I think that's the assumption he is making.

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