18 November, 2020

Excavating Battlefield

Doctor Who: The Collection - Season 26 blu-ray set was released in January 2020. I was commissioned to write the production information text for the season's opening story, Battlefield.

Battlefield was my eleventh set of production info text, and the third for ‘The Collection’ blu-ray boxed sets. My previous blu-ray work included Earthshock and The Trial of a Time Lord. The latter was a collaboration with another writer on all 14 episodes that consumed a great deal of time throughout the first quarter of 2019. Following that experience, I welcomed the prospect of working on a story with fewer episodes and comparatively untroubled production development. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to continue to do this work without having to venture beyond my home in Auckland, New Zealand.

Battlefield holds a special place in my memories. I first saw the story one Saturday afternoon in early October 1989 in the company of a small group of fan friends. An off-air VHS recording of all four episodes had arrived that morning via airmail from the UK (ten days after it was broadcast). During the preceding two years I had been watching VHS recordings of Doctor Who that had yet to screen in New Zealand but always by borrowing the tapes from friends after they had already watched them. Battlefield marked the first time that all of us watched Doctor Who for the first time together.

Whereas the last time I’d seen Battlefield was in 2008 when it was released on DVD. In early April 2019 when I started work on Battlefield, I hadn’t watched the story in over a decade. I was therefore coming to it with relatively fresh eyes. On my first run through in preparation for writing the info text, I made notes on anything I spotted that might be worth covering in the subtitles.

The story is loaded with references to Arthurian legends of course, which would all need to be explained, but there are also numerous call-backs to the series’ own mythology with the return of UNIT, Bessie, and Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart.

While I needed to explain the numerous bits of Arthurian lore that crop up in Battlefield, I didn’t want to spend more time than was necessary on researching this complex topic, especially given the relatively limited space available to me in the info text. My university degree in the 1980s had included a paper on early English history which gave me a basic understanding of the subject, but I needed to read up on the details. 

There are many contradictory versions of the legends of Arthur. Battlefield doesn’t follow one text but rather borrows bits and pieces from a wide variety of different sources. I was delighted to find in the stacks at my local library a copy of The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, edited by Norris J. Lacy, which documents the origins of the various fragments of the legend, helpfully arranged by topic. This was invaluable as Battlefield scriptwriter Ben Aaronovitch was on record as having used Lacy’s book for research. The library’s copy was a revised and updated edition from the 1990s. Curiously, one of the additions is a write-up about Battlefield in a section about the depiction of Arthurian legend in television series. (The authors seem to have been unaware that one of Aaronovitch’s sources was close to home.)

The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, edited by Norris J. Lacy (1996).


During my initial watch-through something that caught my attention was a scene in the first episode where Elizabeth Rowlinson (played by June Bland) is sitting in the bar of the Gore Crow hotel reading a book written in braille. Thanks to the improved picture definition, it was possible to make out sections of the braille text. My expectation was that it was just a random publication that the BBC happened to have in their prop stores. What was the book? I couldn’t find anything about Battlefield that answered this question. The script’s directions simply note that Elizabeth is reading ‘a braille book’.

Despite being able to make out parts of the braille text I didn’t have any success trying to decipher it using translation websites. I then sent an email to the Blind Foundation of New Zealand asking for help. I promptly received a reply from Maria Stevens, the Foundation’s Accessible Formats Manager. Maria examined the screenshots I sent her and was able to interpret a few short fragmentary phrases from the text (for example: “…high in a stone of marble…”; “… this, he blessed him and said, …”). These were enough to positively identify the text. Remarkably, it wasn't just some random braille book but Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D'Arthur and had therefore been specially selected to fit the story’s subject. It’s the discovery of brand new, hitherto undocumented facts like this that is for me the single most exciting aspect of the job.

Elizabeth Rowlinson (June Bland) reads the opening sentences of Book IV, Chapter VIII  of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur.

Having researched many 1980s episodes there was something slightly poignant about getting to write about the last on-screen appearance of the 1983-89 version of the TARDIS console room. In doing so, I got to debunk a commonly repeated misconception about this scene. It is often suggested in articles about the story that the room is in darkness to help disguise the fact that the usually rigid walls have been replaced with a cloth cyclorama, but in fact this lighting effect is specified in the script.

In earlier drafts of the script, Peter Warmsly is accompanied by a large, slobbering dog. The animal, written out before production commenced, was called Cerebus. At first glance, the name looked to be a typographical error. In Greek mythology, the dog ‘Cerberus’ guards the entrance to the underworld, whereas ‘Cerebus’ is an aardvark from the titular comic strip. If this was a typographical error it was a remarkably consistent one, as the name remained the same throughout the scripts. I decided that as with other instances in the story (Avallion for Avalon, for example), the name was likely intended as a variation on a commonly accepted spelling. Curiously, Marc Platt’s novelisation reinstates the dog and names him Cerberus, so perhaps it was a misspelling after all.

Another head-scratching moment comes when the Doctor orders a drink of water from the hotel bar. There’s an unscripted moment of business when Sylvester McCoy holds up his glass and scrutinizes its contents before taking a drink. My initial interpretation was that it is a response to a line earlier in the same scene about the hotel’s beer getting an entry in the CAMRA guide. McCoy is making a visual joke out of treating the water with the same level of appraisal that might be accorded to Arthur’s Ale. My editor suggested an entirely different take on this, however, proposing that it was instead a topical reference to concerns over contamination of drinking water which was a major issue in 1989. Fortunately, there was enough time on screen at this point to offer both explanations.

The Doctor scrutinizes his drink.

A criticism frequently levelled at the story is the sequence where the armoured Ancelyn is blown straight up in the air by a grenade and crashes through the wall of the hotel’s barn. This looks absurd, but an examination of the scripts reveals that this would have made sense if the script directions had been followed. As written, the knights including Ancelyn were envisioned as wearing technologically advanced armour, perhaps not unlike that of Iron Man. On screen the knights are instead dressed in traditional medieval-style armour. If Ancelyn had been wearing powered armour that gave him the ability to fly, then the oft-mocked sequence makes a great deal more sense. A remnant of this original intention makes it into the finished story’s dialogue when Ace asks, “Is it an android?” when first sighting Ancelyn in his armour.

The knight Ancelyn (Marcus Gilbert) in his decidedly not technologically-advanced-looking armour.

Another example of a lack of attention paid to script directions comes in the sequence when Mordred (Christopher Bowen) conducts the ritual to summon Morgaine (Jean Marsh) from another dimension. He lights up an eight-sided shape on the ground. This was meant to have been an octagram, an eight-pointed star sometimes used to invoke magic. Due to an apparent misreading, the shape was instead realised as an octagon!

Octagram, not octagon!

Part of the brief for the info text is to cover the career highlights of key cast members. Researching the cast for this story yielded some interesting details, such as the fact that two of its actors later auditioned for the role of the Eighth Doctor, and another went on to a prestigious directing career working on such programmes as Luther, Being Human, and Fear the Walking Dead. It was a sobering moment while researching the career of Dorota Rae, the Polish actress who plays the UNIT helicopter pilot Lavel, to discover that she had died mere months earlier.

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I like to slip a mention of New Zealand into the subtitles. Obviously, there needs to be a justifiable, legitimate reason for doing so. Battlefield is the third story in which I’ve managed to do this. According to the script, Ace was to have disparagingly referred to the Brigadier as “Colonel Blimp”, which allowed me to explain that the 1930s cartoon character was the creation of New Zealander David Low, for London’s Evening Standard.

The Doctor’s speech about the horrors of nuclear war presented an opportunity to do something creative with the subtitles. The scene features shots of a countdown display showing the seconds remaining until destruction. In an early edit of the recorded material, McCoy's speech was reduced in length, removing around 13 seconds. The cut meant however that the counter was no longer in synch. 

Watching the clock!

The production documentation shows that this had not escaped the attention of producer John Nathan-Turner, who wrote to director Michael Kerrigan advising that this was something that needed to be fixed. “Whenever we have countdowns on Doctor Who, our younger viewers tend to count with the clock,” Nathan-Turner wrote. “If the little horrors are counting then they should reach number 1 at the same time as our visuals.” Kerrigan fixed this by replacing the shots of the counter. Inspired by Nathan-Turner’s words, my subtitles invite viewers to count along. Is the countdown timed correctly though? Try it and find out!

An earlier version of this article was first published in issue 510 of Celestial Toyroom, the fanzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.

06 April, 2020

About a Book

This piece originally appeared in Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who. I wrote it shortly after my Mum, Janet Elayne Scoones, died on 6 April 2010. I've republished it here to mark the tenth anniversary of her passing. Miss you, Mum.

It is 1975.

I’m seven years old, sitting on the step that connects the living room at the front of our house to the passage at the rear. Mum comes over and says that she has a book for me.

It is a Doctor Who book, with a man, a dinosaur, a terrifying-looking lizard man and an exploding volcano on the cover.

I know a bit about Doctor Who. It is a mysterious and scary television programme I’ve recently seen for the first time. Mum likes Doctor Who. She grew up watching the show. It’s okay to be scared when Doctor Who is on because she watches with me.

Mum bought the book for herself but after reading thought I might like it. I’ve never read a book this long before. There are some pictures to help explain things, but most pages just have words and the writing looks tiny.

On the back of the book Mum has neatly crossed out a single word with a black felt-tipped pen: 

“… Tyrannosaurus rex, the biggest, most savage mammal which ever trod the earth!” 

Whoever wrote that got it wrong, Mum tells me. Dinosaurs were not mammals. 

Mum thinks I should try reading the book by myself. If Mum thinks I can do it, I must be able to.

I start reading, trying to finish a chapter a day. I take the book to school. I read it during lunchtime in the classroom on a rainy day while eating peanut butter sandwiches. The story is enthralling and terrifying in equal measure.

The bit with Morka watching Fur Under Nose, Frock Coat and Silver Buttons is odd and unfathomable. Major Barker and Masters getting sick and succumbing to a deadly virus is terrifying. I read the book through again, several times.

Soon after, I discover that my local library has other Doctor Who books. I read them all. I’m well and truly hooked.

It is 2010.

I’m 42 years old, standing in front of a group of mourners who have gathered to remember and farewell Mum.

I speak of how Mum inspired me to set out on the journey that led to where I am now. My life-long fascination with Doctor Who has led to professional work associated with the series. I am a freelance writer, working for the BBC on production notes subtitles for the DVDs and writing a book about the comic strips.

It all started with my Mum and a book called Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters.

Originally published in Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who, edited by Steve Berry (Matador, 2012, reissued by Gollancz, 2013).

31 March, 2020

Unearthing Earthshock

Doctor Who: The Collection - Season 19 blu-ray set was released in December 2018. I was commissioned to write the production information text for the season's penultimate story, Earthshock.

Eight minutes into the second episode of Earthshock, there’s a continuity error hidden in plain sight. It’s initially on screen for just four seconds and reappears in four even shorter shots over the next half-minute. Blink and you might miss it.

The Cybermen have remotely-activated their bomb hidden in the caves on Earth. The Doctor is inside the TARDIS frantically working to block the signal to prevent the bomb’s detonation. The tension mounts as the action cuts back and forth between the TARDIS, the Cybermen and the bomb.

But wait - there’s something not quite right about that bomb. Perched on top of the device is the magnetic clamp device from the TARDIS toolkit. An item that the Doctor is seen fixing to the top of the bomb just after the nine-minute mark. A full minute after it is first seen sitting on top of the bomb!

The Cyber bomb, with the Doctor's magnetic clamp in place on top.

Later, the Doctor places the clamp on the bomb.

I’ve viewed Earthshock a lot over the past three and a half decades. I think it’s one of Peter Davison’s best stories. Each time I've watched, the mistake with the bomb has completely passed me by. As it undoubtedly did for the production crew at the time and has subsequently done for countless viewers. I checked reference books, magazines and websites that contain lists of such things, and not one of them makes a mention of this error.

I only noticed it because I was paying exceptionally close attention to the story. I was making notes for the production information text commentary (or ‘info text’) I wrote for the Season 19 blu-ray set in 2018.

Info text is just one of the many special features included on the ‘classic’ series Doctor Who blu-rays, and the DVDs before them. The text appears on screen as subtitles, but rather than transcribed dialogue it provides a commentary about the story’s production. The text points out pertinent, specific details about moments in the episodes as they appear, as well as general information about how, when and where the story was made.

With all of the entertaining special features on the wonderful new blu-ray sets, the info text tends to get a bit overlooked. Which is a shame, because this feature delivers a lot of interesting new information that you won't find elsewhere.

In some cases, the text that originally appeared on the DVDs has undergone only minor revisions for the blu-ray collections, but certain stories have been given brand new info text subtitles. The Season 19 blu-ray has new info text for three stories: Four to Doomsday, Black Orchid and Earthshock. I was commissioned to write the text for the Cyberman story.

I previously worked on the Doctor Who DVDs, writing info text for eight stories released in the latter half of the range. I mainly covered 1980s stories. I’m particularly interested in this decade of Doctor Who as a researcher and as a fan of the series. When the DVD range wound down around 2013, I thought that I’d written my last lot of info text. I was surprised and delighted to be invited back to work on the blu-rays.

I approached Earthshock with a little trepidation. It had been five years since I’d last written a set of info text, and I had to re-familiarise myself with what was involved in the process. I was aware too that the story didn’t appear to have gone through any significant alterations during its development. I’d never before worked on a story with such a close match between what appears in the rehearsal scripts and on-screen. There were no early script drafts or major rewrites, and no deleted scenes. Such material offers a wealth of detail to discuss in the info text. Part of the challenge I faced with Earthshock was to find other aspects to discuss in the subtitles.

The work involves viewing the story with fresh eyes. I work using timecoded copies of the episodes in order to specify the exact moment a subtitle appears and disappears on screen. Because of the precision involved in placing subtitles around shot changes, my preferred approach (which I must add isn’t necessarily that used by other info text writers), is to start with a slow, close watch through each episode noting down the exact timecode (measured in 25ths of a second), when each new shot commences. Earthshock has an exceptional number of these per episode, ranging between 167 shots (for Part One) and 245 shots (for Part Two). It takes me most of a day to work through a single episode. I’m not just noting down timecodes. I also use this slow-time viewing to annotate a copy of the script with any observations that I think are worthy of inclusion in the info text. The benefit to this stop-start scrutiny is that otherwise overlooked details, such as the aforementioned continuity error with the bomb, tend to spring into focus.

It was while doing this slow watch-through that I noticed an error with the life form scanner that appears in Part One. While Lieutenant Scott and his party are exploring the caves, on the surface Walters is tasked with monitoring their progress. Each individual is represented by a dot of light, which winks out when that person is killed. When first seen, the screen shows a cluster of 13 dots, representing Professor Kyle, Lieutenant Scott and eleven troopers. Over the course of the episode smaller groups split off and are picked off by the androids, so the display changes accordingly. There are however a couple of shots of the scanner where the dots don’t correspond to the number of troopers. The number drops by two when there is no reason in the story for this change, and afterwards the scanner screen is once again displaying the correct number of dots.

Count the dots... there ought to be 11 in the cluster at the top right of the picture, but only 9 are displayed.

Those dots, when displaying correctly, are an accurate reflection of how many troopers are present in the story. By comparing various items of production paperwork, I was able to determine that there are 14 in total. Unusually for this era of Doctor Who, it’s an evenly balanced group, with an equal number of men and women. The cast lists initially caused some confusion, as they included six credited and 11 uncredited performers playing the troopers, making a total of 17. The reason for this became clear when I discovered that three of the walk-ons had to be replaced during production.

The troopers wear name tags on their uniforms but in all but a few cases, we don’t get a clear enough look at these tags to see make out the names. Most of the group never take their helmets off so it’s difficult to tell them apart. Some are named in the credits, and others are identified in dialogue, but a few remained nameless. Thanks to a scene breakdown document that lists the characters involved in each scene, however, I was able to put names to all of the troopers. New Fact! The non-speaking female trooper who goes to the freighter is called Austin.

Trooper Austin (left) played by Nikki Dunsford, seen here with Lieutenant Scott (James Warwick).

On the subject of unnamed characters, what about the Captain, memorably played by Beryl Reid. What’s her name? She's called Briggs in the script and on the closing credits, but that name never appears in the story itself. There’s evidence too that the story's writer Eric Saward might have had another name in mind for the Captain. At one point in Part Two, a scripted direction intended for Briggs instead refers to her as ‘Stien’. It seems likely that in the original version of the script this was the Captain’s name and this solitary mention was overlooked in revisions. Saward clearly liked the name enough to reuse it in Resurrection of the Daleks. In Part Three, there’s also evidence that the Captain may have originally been male, as the Cyber Lieutenant says ‘his’ rather than ‘hers’, a mistake in the script that wasn’t picked up on during production.

The unnamed Captain Briggs (Beryl Reid), or should that be Captain Stien?
The scripts also helped to get to the bottom of an anecdote concerning a familiar Doctor Who catch-phrase that first crops up in Earthshock. The Doctor’s “Brave heart, Tegan” interested me because in a 1984 interview for Doctor Who Magazine, Eric Saward claimed that “Brave heart” was something spontaneously ad-libbed by Peter Davison during the recording of the scene. The memory clearly cheats, as the line’s already present in the rehearsal script, prepared before the cast began work on the story!

Another Tegan-related phrase, “I’m just a mouth on legs”, stumped me. According to various sources, including most recently the Doctor Who – The Complete History partwork, this phrase was included in the story after an American fan had used it to describe Tegan. This struck me as unlikely given that fandom had only recently seen Tegan on screen for the first time when Earthshock was written. I checked with a number of people who were likely to be in the know, including Janet Fielding herself, but no one knew the answer. The info text must be as accurate as possible so, as I was unable to verify this particular claim, you won’t find it in the subtitles.

Researching info text can be an eye-opening experience. I go into each story thinking I already know it well, but after a close rewatch, and reading through the scripts and the production paperwork, I realise that I’ve learned so much more. The most enjoyable aspect of my work on the info text is getting to point out fresh discoveries to viewers. There’s a lot about Earthshock I haven’t touched on here, so pop in the blu-ray, turn on the info text and find out more!

This article was first published in issue 498 of Celestial Toyroom, the fanzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.

10 January, 2019

Rescuing the Lion (Archived Interview from 2001)

Last week I celebrated the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the film print of The Lion, an episode of Doctor Who from 1965 that was among the series' missing episodes until Neil Lambess and I found it still existed in January 1999.

In revisiting some of the material associated with the find, I noticed that one of the interviews I did many years ago about the discovery disappeared off the internet at some point. The website that hosted the interview, Whoniversity.co.uk, is no longer active, but I was able to retrieve the interview I did in 2001 using the Wayback Machine.

I'm no longer in contact with the writer of the interview, Mark Parmerter, but I trust he won't mind me preserving the interview here.

Rescuing The Lion 
Written by Mark Parmerter 
May, 2001

Many Doctor Who fans may be hesitant to admit the fact, but be honest: who hasn't fantasized at least once about being the next to discover the whereabouts of a missing episode and successfully returning it to the BBC and fans around the world? For two New Zealand Doctor Who fans, this fantasy became reality in January of 1999 when Paul Scoones and Neil Lambess located the otherwise missing first episode of a 4-part William Hartnell adventure first broadcast on BBC-1 on March 27, 1965. The dramatic story of how The Crusade, Episode One: The Lion was rescued and loaned to the BBC for copying purposes is related in great detail in an article written by Paul Scoones for the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club; here in this article, however, Scoones has kindly agreed to further discuss The Lion's rescue, highlighting his initial reactions to the find, remarking upon the worldwide attention generated by the discovery, and speculating upon the possibility of future missing episode returns.

Very early in 1999, Scoones was contacted by fellow New Zealand Doctor Who fan Neil Lambess, who asked Paul to bring his video camera and join him in a visit to private film collector Bruce Grenville. Acting on a lead, Lambess had reason to believe that The Lion was included in Grenville's 16mm film collection. Scoones explains that prior to this event, "I had spent a great deal of time over the last 12 years researching Doctor Who screenings on New Zealand television (we were the first country outside the UK to screen the series), and I knew from what myself and other NZ researchers had found that most Doctor Who film prints in NZ had either been exported or destroyed many years ago, so I didn't hold out much hope of ever finding anything. Neil Lambess had always clung to the belief - long before The Lion was found - that there were missing episodes here. He still hasn't given up searching."

When Paul and Neil sat down with Grenville, who was unaware of The Lion's rarity having bought it cheap at a film collectors fair, they watched the 16mm film print in question and knew immediately that they were viewing a genuine missing episode. Paul's first thoughts during these exciting moments? "My first thoughts were along the lines of "Oh my goodness - what are we going to do?" I think when I was sitting there watching the episode that first time what was running through my head was how to get it back to the BBC. At that time we weren't sure if Grenville would even loan it out. I was really worried that he might very well decide to hoard it away, and the only copy anyone would ever get to see would be my handi-cam version recorded off the screen. Fortunately, that wasn't the case." After contacting Steve Roberts of the BBC's unofficial Doctor Who Restoration Team, negotiations were underway with Grenville for the BBC to borrow the film print for copying, and news of the discovery literally spread around the globe.

The Season Two historical adventure The Crusade has always been highly regarded and praised. In Peter Haining's twentieth anniversary book Doctor Who - A Celebration (1983), Jeremy Bentham writes "Director Douglas Camfield pulled off a considerable coup with this story. Armed with what he considered to be the finest script he has ever worked with, he managed to persuade big-name actor Julian Glover to play the part of King Richard I - Richard the Lionheart. The grand confrontation between Glover, as Richard, and up-and-coming actress Jean Marsh as Joanna made for one of the finest moments of television drama ever witnessed in Doctor Who." In the Doctor Who Handbook - The First Doctor, authors Howe, Stammers and Walker exclaim "David Whitaker's scripts are brilliant, Douglas Camfield's direction immaculate and Barry Newbery's sets superb. William Hartnell...turns in one of his best ever performances as the Doctor." And upon its discovery, Gary Russell proclaimed in Doctor Who Magazine #275 that The Lion "Is an example of historically detailed Doctor Who at its very best, with charm, wit, style and conviction."

Scoones admits he was quite surprised at the time by the worldwide attention which The Lion generated. "It was a surprise, yes. For a few days, it was like what I imagine it must be to be a minor celebrity. My phone rang constantly with local and overseas TV stations all wanting an interview, and I was on both television news channels here in NZ, as well as the story appearing on the front page of the newspaper. The media attention was remarkable."

Even more remarkable is the colorful history behind the film print of The Lion. Research has revealed that this particular film print somehow managed to survive near-burial at a Wellington rubbish tip in 1975, thereby passing from one New Zealand film collector to another for the next quarter century, persevering through owners ignorant of its worth and poor storage conditions. As Scoones illustrates, "It is a remarkable story. Its survival is a combination of good luck and dedication on the part of the film collectors who originally rescued it from the dump. What's worrying, however, is that until 1999, no one whose hands the film passed through had any awareness that the film was in any way rare or valuable. Hopefully, due to the high media exposure its recovery received, film collectors are now aware to look out for Doctor Who film prints."

Hopeful fans would like to believe that perhaps more missing Doctor Who material is waiting to be discovered elsewhere in New Zealand, either via film collectors or TV archives. Scoones cautiously believes "It's always possible that something will show up, but I think the news stories about The Lion's discovery which circulated the globe probably did more to raise awareness than any BBC orchestrated campaign could have ever done, and if there were episodes in private hands its likely we'd know about it by now. And I don't subscribe to the belief that there are selfish film collectors knowingly hoarding away missing episodes. I think that's a fan myth. I'd like to believe that sooner or later, human nature would prevail, and the owner of any missing material would come forward and allow the BBC to take a copy. There's far more prestige in being a generous benefactor than a secretive hoarder."

And as for the likelihood of lost episodes still residing in New Zealand's TV archives, Scoones reveals that "TVNZ's own archives have been thoroughly catalogued and we know from internal records that no missing episodes survive there. About a decade ago, Graham Howard gained permission to go through a Wellington film store of old television episodes, and although he found two film cans labeled with missing Doctor Who episodes (Marco Polo Episode 7 and The Moonbase Episode 3), the film cans had unfortunately been reused and no longer contained the original films. I think if there are any more missing episodes to be found, they'll be residing in as-yet uncatalogued television vaults somewhere else overseas."

Once owner Bruce Grenville realized the value of his missing episode film print, he announced plans to sell it at auction. Initially, his plan was to auction The Lion in September 1999, but this event was canceled due to a surprising lack of interest. A second attempt to sell the print at auction was successful, and the print was sold by Grenville to another New Zealand collector for US$850. This same collector then auctioned The Lion on eBay.com with the final price reaching an astonishing US$3150! However, the winning bidder never paid up, and The Lion was offered again on eBay between January 1-15, 2000 (almost a year to the day that the episode was found). 43 bids were received, and the final price at which the film was sold was US$1275. Neither the buyer or seller's identity was disclosed...

The story of The Lion's dramatic rescue did not end, however, with its discovery. That was just the beginning, as Scoones discovered once attempts were made to transfer the film print from New Zealand to the BBC. "I'd always believed that the BBC would be prepared and set up to smoothly handle the recovery of missing episodes, but the reality is surprisingly different. I spoke at length in an article for The Disused Yeti over the problems I had with receiving reimbursement for mailing costs and the debacle over the crediting of the people involved in the find. I was for a time very pissed off about the whole thing; not so much for myself, but for my friend Neil Lambess, who actually tracked down the episode in the first place, and received negligible recognition. His name appears nowhere on the UK packaging or credits of the video." And what was the BBC's response when Grenville announced his intention to auction the print off? "Incredibly, the BBC threatened legal action over his ownership of the print - how's that going to encourage people to come forward with missing episode prints? Sheer incompetence, really." The BBC later reversed course regarding its threatened legal action, but the damage had perhaps already been done.

One may assume that the BBC has since developed new policy for facilitating the return of missing episodes, but Scoones does not believe this to be the case: "I recently was contacted by a BBC producer searching for missing episodes of Dad's Army, who sadly informed me that nothing has changed and that there's a very real risk that members of the public who approach the BBC through their general phone lines about missing episodes would be turned away through ignorance. It's a sad situation, but the BBC is a huge corporation full of people who don't care about the wider picture and are only interested in their particular area. Any approach to the BBC about missing episodes - unless made through people who care, such as The Restoration Team - is likely to fall on deaf ears."

On a positive note, fandom may now enjoy another long-lost look at Doctor Who's prestigious past while hope has been renewed that further lost episodes may still exist somewhere, waiting to be found. Justifiably, Scoones feels great pride in his and Neil's contribution to fandom: "Whenever I come across a mention of the story or The Lion in particular, in articles or reference books, it always provokes a tingle down my spine, knowing that I helped to recover it. I'll never forget the night before I sent the film print off to the UK; it was a strange sensation to have the film print sitting on my desk at home and thinking how unique it was, and how many hundreds of fans around the world would just love to get their hands on it!"

03 April, 2018


Our much-loved cat Monty died today.

He joined Rochelle and me at the beginning of 2006 when he was just a six-week-old kitten who had never been away from the rest of his litter. When we went to pick him out he stood out from his tabby siblings because of his distinctive black and white tuxedo markings and his amusing half-moustache.

It was immediately apparent to us that this kitten had an adventurous nature. While we were still deciding whether to take him, he made the decision for us by making a bee-line for the front door even though he’d never been outside, as if to say, ‘What are you waiting for? Let’s go!’ The people we got him from had called him Sylvester, but we decided to name him Monty, short for Montgomery Horatio Scoones.

We got Monty as a companion for our other tuxedo cat, Chester, whom we’d had for many years. Chester was elderly and wasn’t expected to last much longer, but he hung in there, and the pair had two years together before Chester died in April 2008; coincidentally, ten years ago this month. In Chester’s absence, Monty soon asserted himself as the ‘alpha cat’ of our neighbourhood, and befriended or bested every other feline in the vicinity.

We later acquired two female kittens to keep Monty company but these free-spirited young cats were barely tolerated by him, and the threesome took quite some time to work out how to share the same house.

Monty had so much personality and was hugely affectionate. He would immediately rub up against most human visitors and demand to be petted, even complete strangers.

He loved to go for walks around the block. He never wore a collar or lead, he just happily trotted alongside us. When he got tired, he’d just flop down on the ground and was content to be carried the rest of the way.

Monty was a large, heavy cat with a corresponding appetite. His all-time favourite food was fresh beef heart. His hearing was keenly attuned to the exact sound made by the kitchen scissors as we cut the chunks of beef heart up for him. Even if he was roaming a neighbour’s property, he’d immediately come charging inside and demand to be fed. We had to be very careful never to use those scissors for anything else!

Over a year ago, Monty had surgery to remove cancer from the end of his nose. He initially seemed fine but complications later developed and our vet put him on medication. This kept him in good health for many months, but we were aware that he was on borrowed time.

His health rapidly declined in recent days and, after a particularly bad patch over the weekend, we realised with great sadness that it was time to let him go. We took him to the vet first thing this morning and he was peacefully put to sleep. We’ve buried him in a sunny patch in our garden alongside his old pal Chester.

03 March, 2017

Colour Cave Monsters

Whenever the Jon Pertwee story Doctor Who and the Silurians has screened on New Zealand television, the episodes have always been in black and white. March 2017's screenings on The Zone channel is the very first time that this story has been broadcast in New Zealand in colour.

Colour television began in New Zealand way back in October 1973, but many programmes were still broadcast in black and white for a while afterwards.

Doctor Who and the Silurians was first broadcast here in April - May 1975, a full five years after the UK. It was the last Doctor Who story screened in black and white before colour episodes (beginning with Day of the Daleks) were seen later the same year.

Doctor Who and the Silurians story was originally made in colour but the BBC junked the colour recordings of this story in the early 1970s. Australia had previous screened the story in black and white, and it seems likely that New Zealand's copies were sourced from that country.

Doctor Who and the Silurians was next seen here a decade later, in May - June 1985, at which time only black and white copies were available. The story was repeated in this form in August - October 1991.

The fourth screening, and the first time the story was seen on Prime, was in September - October 2000. By this time the BBC had produced colour-restored copies of this and other Jon Pertwee stories but the episodes supplied to Prime were in black and white.

I alerted Prime to the existence of colour-restored copies of this and later Pertwee stories, and as consequence colour episodes were sourced and screened, but it was too late to do anything about the Silurians story which had already screened.

Consequently, March 2017's screening of Doctor Who and the Silurians is the first time it has been seen in colour on New Zealand television.

07 February, 2017

Twin Peaks in New Zealand

Twin Peaks screened on New Zealand television in 1991. I was in my early twenties and watched every episode as it went out, read the books, and frequently discussed the plots with similarly obsessed friends. I haven’t thought about Twin Peaks in a long time, but the anticipated arrival this year of a television revival and continuation has re-engaged my interest in this much-loved cult classic. A long-time friend and fellow New Zealander, Morgan Davie, has created a Twin Peaks re-watch blog at The Ruminator that counts down to the new series debut.

Morgan notes on his blog that Twin Peaks arrived in New Zealand in April 1991, a year after the show’s US debut. Despite this long delay, and incredibly for a series that was slow to divulge its twists and turns, I didn’t find out who killed Laura Palmer until it unfolded on screen. This was of course years before the internet became commonplace, so perhaps this wasn't so remarkable. Good luck trying to avoid ‘spoilers’ when the new series airs.

This renewed interest in Twin Peaks got me thinking about my memories of watching the episodes on their original broadcast, so last week I decided to look up the screening dates in the New Zealand Listener. This weekly magazine, which has been around longer than television, most usefully publishes comprehensive television schedules. (The Listener was an enormously useful resource many years ago when I researched the entire transmission history of Doctor Who in New Zealand.)

Leafing through the bound volumes of 1991 issues, I discovered some interesting, long-forgotten facts about how and when Twin Peaks was screened here. The episode billings had descriptions, but not episode names or numbers so a bit of head-scratching and cross-referencing with online guides was necessary to work out exactly which episode screened on any given date.

Twin Peaks screened on TV3, New Zealand’s first privately-owned television channel. In 1991 it was still relatively new, having launched in November 1989. The pilot episode was scheduled to air on Tuesday 2 April 1991, in a two-hour primetime slot from 8:30-10:30 pm. The Listener took the unusual step of including a note in the billing: "At press time, TV3 were unwilling to confirm that Twin Peaks would definitely play at this time on this day."

In spite of this uncertainty the magazine promoted the screening with the front cover strapline, “Twin Peaks, Weirdsville, USA”, and a two-page article entitled ‘Strange Crew’ by Shelley Howells, profiling each of the main characters. This was the first of several feature articles about the series that appeared in the Listener that year. The others included interviews with Peggy Lipton and Julee Cruise, a look at the Autobiography of Dale Cooper book, and an item about Twin Peaks fandom.

As it transpired, the Listener were right to be uncertain: the pilot did not screen on this date, and instead went to air exactly a week later, in the same timeslot on the evening of Tuesday 8 April 1991. That date is curious because it is exactly a year to the day after the US premiere. 

Something prevented TV3 from screening Twin Peaks when originally advertised. No explanation was provided for the delay in the Listener, but I suspect that there may have been an embargo in place that prevented the series being screened here any earlier than the one-year anniversary. In their promotion for the series, the Listener mentioned the re-edited home video version of the pilot episode, advising viewers to “watch again – the telly version has a different ending”. So given that the video release was already available in New Zealand, were the rights surrounding this perhaps responsible for holding up the television broadcast?

Having effectively lost a week, TV3 seemed keen to make up lost ground, scheduling the first and second episodes of series one back-to-back in another two hour timeslot the very next day. From the following week, the series settled into a regular schedule of one episode a week on Tuesday evenings.

There was no break between seasons 1 and 2 as there had been in the US, which meant that NZ went from a year to only eight months behind. The double-length Season 2 premiere (episode 8) was split into two regular-length episodes here. A month later, the reverse occurred with two episodes (13 & 14) screened back-to-back. This reason for this appears to have been tied to the revelation of Laura Palmer’s killer at the conclusion of the latter episode.

The resolution of the ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’ storyline in episode 16 appears to have put a massive dent in the series’ popularity, at least here in NZ. Episode 17 screened as usual on 22 July, but the following week Twin Peaks was abruptly absent without explanation (at least in the pages of the Listener). Taking its place was an episode of the new US crime drama Law & Order. TV3’s decision to yank Twin Peaks from the schedule might also have been precipitated by its recent cancellation in the US, with the final episode screening there on 10 June 1991.  

Twin Peaks was off air for nine weeks, and when it returned it looked as if TV3 had lost all confidence in it. The series resumed without any fanfare on Monday 30 September, shunted into a graveyard timeslot of 11:05-12:05, as the last programme screened before the channel’s midnight closedown. Effectively it had been buried in the schedule. The final 12 episodes screened in this fashion, with the last episode going to air on 16 December, just over six months after the US. 

An ignominious end for what had been, earlier that same year, a heavily-promoted primetime series.

Twin Peaks on New Zealand Television - An Episode Guide

(Episode descriptions from the Listener)

Pilot: ‘Northwest Passage’
NZ: 8 April 1991 (US: 8 April 1990)
A surreal murder mystery series which probes the secretive lives of the townsfolk who live in Twin Peaks, a small US northwestern timber town. Pilot: FBI agent Dale Cooper is called to Twin Peaks to solve the brutal murder of Laura Palmer, the high-school homecoming queen.

Episodes 1 & 2: ‘Traces to Nowhere’ & ‘Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer’
NZ: 9 April 1991 (US: 12 & 19 April 1990)
Cooper and Truman find out more about Laura’s secret life, and release James from jail – along with the malevolent Mike and Bobby. At the sheriff’s department Cooper demonstrates an unusual deductive technique.

Episode 3: ‘Rest in Pain’
NZ: 15 April 1991 (US: 26 April 1990)
Cooper uses the deductive powers of his unconscious mind to break open the case, the townsfolk gather for the funeral and Truman reveals the secret of the Bookhouse Boys.

Episode 4: ‘The One-Armed Man’
NZ: 23 April 1991 (US: 3 May 1990)
Cooper tries to match his dream with Sarah’s vision; Hawk stalks the one-armed man; Hank goes before the parole board and Audrey decides to conduct her own investigation of Laura’s murder with help from Donna.

Episode 5: ‘Cooper’s Dreams’
NZ: 30 April 1991 (US: 10 May 1990)
Cooper and Truman meet the Log Lady and find a gruesome crime scene in the woods. James and Donna take Madeline Ferguson into their confidence.

Episode 6: ‘Realization Time’
NZ: 7 May 1991 (US: 17 May 1990)
Agent Cooper and Ed pay a special visit to One-Eyed Jack’s while Audrey Horne works undercover as a host there.

Episode 7: ‘The Last Evening’
NZ: 14 May 1991 (US: 23 May 1990)
Cooper and Truman’s investigation moves towards a terrifying end, Dr Jacoby’s meeting with “Laura Palmer” has bizarre consequences and Hank Jennings’s evil spreads to Josie Packard.

Episode 8 (part 1): ‘May the Giant Be with You’
NZ: 21 May 1991 (US: 30 September 1990)
Scorching questions remain in the mill fire’s aftermath; Jacques Renault is found dead; Audrey becomes a terrified prisoner and Donna puffs cigarettes.

Episode 8 (part 2): ‘May the Giant Be with You’
NZ: 28 May 1991 (US: 30 September 1990)
The community is shattered as several lives hang in the balance, Audrey is taken prisoner and Donna receives a strange message.

Episode 9: ‘Coma’
NZ: 4 June 1991 (US: 6 October 1990)
Agent Cooper gets some uncalled-for help, and some unwelcome news; Audrey is in more trouble than she thinks; Donna plans to meet a stranger; and a distressed Leland Palmer makes a frightening discovery.

Episode 10: ‘The Man Behind the Glass’
NZ: 11 June 1991 (US: 13 October 1990)
The trail to Laura’s killer takes a new turn; Blackie O’Reilly sees a golden opportunity; James Hurley and Madeline Ferguson strike an unforeseen chord; and Dr Jacoby undergoes hypnosis.

Episode 11: ‘Laura’s Secret Diary’
NZ: 18 June 1991 (US: 20 October 1990)
Ben Horne baffles Agent Cooper when he asks him to save Audrey’s life, Donna goes on another picnic, Lucy’s love life becomes difficult and Josie introduces her cousin from Hong Kong.

Episode 12: ‘The Orchid’s Curse’
NZ: 25 June 1991 (US: 27 October 1990)
Cooper tells Truman where Audrey Horne is, Donna and Maddy plan to steal Laura Palmer’s secret diary and Benjamin Horne gets a surprise visitor and a business proposition.

Episodes 13 & 14: ‘Demons’ & ‘Lonely Souls’
NZ: 2 July 1991 (US: 3 & 10 November 1990)
Cooper and Truman raid One-Eyed Jacks, Donna and Maddy are at the mercy of an angry Harold Smith, Shelly and Bobby “welcome home” Leo and Cooper’s bureau chief stops in Twin Peaks. With some vital help from the one-armed man, Cooper and Truman’s investigations finally uncover the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer!

Episode 15: ‘Drive with a Dead Girl’
NZ: 9 July 1991 (US: 17 November 1990)
The one-armed man helps Cooper and Truman’s search for Bob, Lucy returns home with company and Bobby sets out on a new money-making venture.

Episode 16: ‘Arbitrary Law’
NZ: 16 July 1991 (US: 1 December 1990)
Cooper asks Truman to give him 24 hours to prove who murdered Laura Palmer, Deputy Andy surprises Donna with his knowledge of French, Mrs Tremond disappears and Ben Horne’s fortunes hit an all-time low.

Episode 17: ‘Dispute Between Brothers’
NZ: 22 July 1991 (US: 8 December 1990)
Agent Cooper and Truman bid farewell and a wake is held for Leland Palmer. Nadine may be able to go back to high school, Tremayne embraces fatherhood, and Audrey tells a new-found friend all about her ice cream preferences.

Episode 18: ‘Masked Ball’
NZ: 30 September 1991 (US: 15 December 1990)
Truman defends Cooper’s activities at one-eyed Jacks, Mrs Briggs worries about Garland’s disappearance and Nadine is besotted with Mike Nelson.

Episode 19: ‘The Black Widow’
NZ: 7 October 1991 (US: 12 January 1991)
Cooper’s white glove test yields a clue, Deputy Andy and Dick Tremayne are concerned about little Nicky’s past and Bobby makes a quick buck.

Episode 20: ‘Checkmate’
NZ: 14 October 1991 (US: 19 January 1991)
Cooper and Truman arrange a trap for Jean Renault, Deputy Andy and Dick Tremayne pry into Little Nicky’s background and an old lover interrupts Ben Horne.

Episode 21: ‘Double Play’
NZ: 21 October 1991 (US: 2 February 1991)
Cooper tells Truman about the tragic history of his former FBI partner Windom Earle, Audrey sets up a business deal with Bobby Briggs, Leo Johnson comes back to vicious life and James is confused about Evelyn Marsh.

Episode 22: ‘Slaves and Masters’
NZ: 28 October 1991 (US: 9 February 1991)
Truman and Cooper try to track down Cooper’s former partner, Windom Earle, Ed Hurley cooks for Norma, Dr Jacoby changes the course of history, and James Hurley gets in trouble with the law.

Episode 23: ‘The Condemned Woman’
NZ: 4 November 1991 (US: 16 February 1991)
Truman watches as Cooper pleads with Josie for the truth, Ben Horne has a change of heart about the future of Twin Peaks, and James Hurley and Donna Hayward say goodbye.

Episode 24: ‘Wounds and Scars’
NZ: 11 November 1991 (US: 28 March 1991)
Agent Cooper and the sheriff’s department investigate caves at midnight, Truman wakes up to the murderous embrace of a naked woman and Audrey Horne and Donna Hayward witness a strange meeting.
(The wrong billing information was published - this was for episode 25. The error was noted in the Listener the following week)

Episode 25: ‘On the Wings of Love’
NZ: 18 November 1991 (US: 4 April 1991)
Cooper investigates caves at midnight, Truman wakes up to a murderous embrace and Audrey Horne and Donna Hayward witness a strange meeting.

Episode 26: ‘Variations on Relations’
NZ: 25 November 1991 (US: 11 April 1991)
Cooper and Truman try to understand the hieroglyph found in Owl Cave, and the local beauty competition draws hot competition.

Episode 27: ‘The Path to the Black Lodge’
NZ: 2 December 1991 (US: 18 April 1991)
Cooper and Truman continue their investigation of Owl Cave, Windom Earle takes a captive, Cooper and Annie find their romance blooming, and Donna discovers a scrapbook full of surprises.

Episode 28: ‘Miss Twin Peaks’
NZ: 9 December 1991 (US: 10 June 1991)
Cooper and Truman unravel part of the secret of the Black Lodge – but it might be too late. And the townsfolk gather at the Miss Twin Peaks pageant.

Episode 29: ‘Beyond Life and Death’
NZ: 16 December 1991 (US: 10 June 1991)
Cooper and Truman attempt to head off Windom Earle at the Black Lodge to save the life of Miss Twin Peaks. Nadine Hurley enrols in the school of hard knocks.