Doctor Who - The Tale of the Africa 90

(Or at least the Nigeria 9!)
WARNING! This post does not include any new information about the location or future release dates of any missing episodes. Just in case you got too excited.

Africa 90 sounds a bit like the name of a football tournament but is actually the unofficial name given for a supposed haul of most of the missing episodes of Doctor Who in Nigeria. It’s the most fluid Doctor Who related news story there’s been in years and by the time you read this it may well have changed again. It’s a tale of dangerous expeditions to Africa, of financial intrigue in the UK and of how key movers in the Doctor Who world can close ranks with surprising effect. It is about blatant denials from various sources. It’s a better plot than anything last season! The one immutable fact is that some of these episodes have seen the light of day. `Web of Fear` and `Enemy of the World` both containing previously missing episodes were made available in the autumn of 2013 first via iTunes and subsequently in 2014 on DVD.  The rest is less certain.
It was back in June 2013 that a story began circulating regarding the discovery of a large cache of missing Doctor Who episodes by “an eccentric engineer” in Nigeria who liked science fiction and so had acquired a collection that included anything up to 90 episodes presumed wiped many decades earlier. The haul was said to have included other series apart from Doctor Who. It was a solid enough tale for Ain’t It Cool website to declare confidently they could “confirm that the recovery of missing episodes does appear to be the case.” Initially the story was greeted with a flurry of denials from the BBC, the Restoration Team said to be working on the quality of some of the episodes and even Philip Morris, the self- styled archive television specialist said to have found them.
Originally from Liverpool, Philip Morris worked on oil rigs in Asia and Africa for twenty years and became known in 206 as one of eight people kidnapped by Nigerian terrorists and held hostage for four days until a ransom was paid. Rather than return to that job he understandably did something else, specifically he set up a company rather grandly named Television International Enterprises Archives dedicated to finding missing television shows. They now claim to be the
“world’s foremost archive recovery company”. It’s worth noting that years ago, Philip Morris asked on the Mausoleum Club forum whether anyone had thought of looking for missing episodes in Africa, a not unreasonable question that apparently received little serious consideration. 

"Missing episodes? Moi? I was just on holiday, la"

Before too long Morris boldly returned to Nigeria – this time with bodyguards- to negotiate with the country’s national television company and was able to rescue a large number of previously lost episodes including Basil Brush and The Sky at Night amongst others as well as Doctor Who. Morris was reported to be negotiating with the BBC over the return of the episodes.
However after the flurry of stories, he issued a statement in capitals (the online equivalent of yelling from the roof) denying that he or his company held any missing episodes or indeed that such episodes could possibly exist. “They are not missing but destroyed. The End” concluded the statement.
An alternative account claimed that the delay in releasing any of the episodes was the amount of work needed to clean them up though with the Restoration Team had already denied they were working on anything related to the series. The stories grew more bizarre as time went on; o
ne particularly odd rumour was that Morris was making the return of episodes conditional on Steven Moffat’s departure from the show. This has continued even since the release of the initial stories. He even seemed to kick start a story that Anthony Horowitz (creator of Foyle;s War and the Alex Ryder books) was taking over which gained enough exposure for Horowitz to have to deny it. While it’s unlikely Morris would be quite so deluded as to make such a demand or even believe it would be possible, he does seem to have it in for the show runner.  He takes the classic stance of starting off by praising Moffatt’s qualities as a writer before describing the current show as “beyond tired”.
Inevitably one of fandom’s big beasts who got involved was Ian Levine who himself had been instrumental in some previous missing episodes being found and had become a sort of national cheerleader for the cause. He initially seemed doubtful any episodes had bene found. “I was wrong” he later Tweeted suggesting he had been lied to by `someone official`. In three days his position shifted from “I am 99.9% sure this a hoax” to “I have never been more wrong in my life”.  He added that he’d been given proof that the episodes were returned as far back in 2011. Then again it is a bizarro world he inhabits.
Other sources have since started to drip feed nuggets about the episodes’ return. How true they are is another matter.  One source claimed that Morris had approached the BBC for funding and when they agreed he gave them the missing `Web of Fear`, `Enemy of the World` and also `Marco Polo`. Yet this story – published on Bleeding Cool.com in November 2014 -also claims Morris did not have any other episodes than these despite claiming that he did.  Instead the allegation is that he over hyped his position by including poor quality un-releasable copies of parts of `Power of the Daleks` and `The Massacre` that he does have.  Other rumours suggest an episode of `The Smugglers` has been found and actually if you search long enough you can probably find a claim for everything being discovered.
After months of denials it was subsequently announced that missing episodes of `Web of Fear` and `Enemy of the World` had indeed been found and returned to the BBC- by, yes, Philip Morris- and were to be released after work currently being undertaken –by, yes, the Restoration Team. The unfortunate consequence of both parties’ initial denials is that any subsequent statements they make on this matter are treated with scepticism. 
"Please, I don't have any missing episodes!"
The episodes’ return brought the number missing down to 97. Both were released to coincide with the 50th anniversary initially on iTunes and in early 2014 on dvd. Philip Morris was feted by fans and the media though his  status took a knock when rumours started to circulate that he was effectively refusing to return any more episodes because he was asking for too much money though this conflicts with the suggestion he was receiving iTunes royalties rather than any direct payment. Which also seems to collide with recent tales that some actors or their estates are seeking better royalties for these archive releases.
So d
oes Philip Morris have any more episodes and if so will we see them? This question remains unanswered nearly two years after the initial news of the `Web` and `Enemy` releases. By mid- 2014 Morris had returned to the sort of guarded hints of the previous year. During a Facebook Q&A, asked directly whether he had any further episodes he replied with a politician’s slipperiness; “Fans will just want a yes or no, haven't you or have you. But it's complex. All I can say is the wind is blowing the right way. Be patient.”  Nobody is sure what wind he is on about or what exactly is so complex about having discussions about film cans.
He outlined some of the issues surrounding the situation which, he said, fans might not have appreciated; “During the last announcement, I was in a very hostile part of the world and suddenly I was everywhere on TV. My anonymity was compromised, which made the team a target,” he said, “So we must plan these things carefully for the greater good of the project and the safety of the personnel involved.”
he BBC has also publicly downplayed the prospect of further missing episodes turning up in the foreseeable future. “BBC Worldwide does not have any of the 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who and none are being restored for release,” they said in mid -2014 adding “naturally we hope that all of the missing episodes are out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered.” It seems as if fan opinion was leaning in the same direction. In December 2014 Ian Levine Tweeted this message ; “I guess it looks like Philip Morris has really found no more Doctor Who”.

Yet in 2015 the pendulum has swung back the other way with more credible reports that `Marco Polo`, `The Macra Terror`, `The Massacre` and some of `The Daleks Masterplan` (basically any story with the letter M in the title) are in a condition that could potentially be cleaned up for release. However arguments over their condition and also issues with cast and crew over iTunes payments are causing delays and until these are resolved no announcement can be expected or indeed is allowed.

As in nearly every occasion when Doctor Who fans get into the mainstream news the results do us little favour. Even though the series itself has become a cool programme, it’s fans remain characterised by their worst excesses. Like many before him has Philip Morris had his head turned by a little `fame` and praise and  does he now view himself as some sort of Doctor Who guru? As for the wider public one source has this somewhat illuminating perspective to put across; “There's already a lot of resentment towards Doctor Who in the wider archive TV community, as it tends to eat up attention and resources that other missing shows never get (and could easily be found if they did), and this has made things a hundred times worse. There are fans and collectors out there of everything from Doomwatch to Sunday Night At The London Palladium, and if the rumours about many other programmes having also been found are true, then it's more than likely that Doctor Who is the sticking point, for whatever reason, and you can imagine how well that has gone down. Also, nobody seems to know what is or isn't happening and that's actually depriving fans of releases of archive shows that do exist; recently I was commissioned to write a booklet to go with a set based around surviving material from a lost landmark comedy show, which was pulled just before release without a proper explanation being given. It was nothing to do with cost, rights or clearance, though, and I've since found out that it wasn't the only similar release affected in this way, so you do the maths. Look far enough into any discussion of the subject on a non-Who forum and before long you'll find someone ruefully saying that they'd wipe every last second of Doctor Who to get some more of The Wednesday Play back, and I'm not sure that they're entirely joking..."

It all makes me wonder what I’d do if I had missing episodes by some bizarre circumstance. I don’t see much point in hoarding them away where nobody else can watch them and I’m not sure about the ethics of negotiating money for something that doesn’t really belong to you. I suppose you could say that the BBC should be forced to pay for them as they destroyed the originals but they are a public service broadcaster so in a way those episodes belong to the nation. Considering his own past there is a delicious irony in the idea that he has dozens of these episodes at home but won’t release them till he gets the money he wants. If indeed that is the case. He may well be laughing like a drain at the furore he’s caused.
Of course all of the pros and cons of this have been debated in a lively and sometimes unpleasant manner online because fans want to see these episodes especially as 2013’s releases turned out to be so good. Had all parties been more transparent – and less melodramatic- back in 2013 instead of issuing blanket denials which were then made to look stupid then there would be more faith in them.
As to what conclusion we can draw from the above the answer is very little, just a lot of If’s. If there are more episodes, if Philip Morris is willing to return them, if they are releasable…For all we know the release of say, `The Macra Terror` may be happening in November. And if that happens, it was pure guesswork and that thing you saw in my garage was not a giant claw.

No comments:

Post a comment