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And in the Doctor Who rumor news

November 29, 2013
marcopolo1

Please, please, please?

A week ago the Mirror released an article claiming that the BBC was on the cusp of announcing the release of the lost Doctor Who serial Marco Polo.  Now, being diplomatic, the Mirror is not exactly what I would refer to as the height of accurate journalism so I read the article with an extremely skeptical eye.  Going in depth on the story, which admittedly is not a whole lot given the source, the claim was made that the serial was a home camera 16 mm film made by a fan shooting a television screen.  My knee-jerk reaction to this was to call Hoax based upon my knowledge of how the movie King Kong was filmed.  A technique called rear or back projection was used to shoot a number of the scenes in the movie.  What this entailed was putting the actors on set with a giant screen behind them.  On this screen was projected the image of whatever it was they were reacting to which was then filmed by a camera in front of all of it.  This sounds easier than it is because there is a little trick in that you have to synch the movie camera with camera rolling the film behind the actors as they are both rolling at 24 frames per second (FPS) and it turns out you can just as easily shoot between the projected images resulting in your actors reacting to a background film with the top half of the image on the bottom and vice versa.  This was what immediately lept to mind when I first read the article so I had trouble seeing a kid with a home movie camera working this out.  However, having the time to do a little more digging (gotta use up these vacation days before the year ends) I learned that television actually runs at 25 to 30 fps and, on top of that, the home movie cameras of the period had settings that let you shoot as high as 32 or 64 fps.  OK, so at this point I’ll admit that my skepticism on the process, granting for a second that the article is actually correct, was misplaced.  I should also point out that this does absolutely nothing to confirm the veracity of the story.

As always, time will ultimately tell whether the rumor is true or not but, on the positive side, the BBC hasn’t straight up denied it so maybe that’s something.  I hope it proves to be true for reasons other than just that Marco Polo happens to be at the top of my recovered episodes list.  I have mentioned here before that as a kid, in those halcyon days before VCRs, I used to record audio cassettes of some of my favorite tv shows and movies.  Monty Python’s Flying Circus was my favorite at the time and I ultimately recorded every episode.  I guess I’ll also admit to having some sort of low end OCD, as well.  The point here is that I didn’t just record one episode of Monty Python, I recorded a bunch of them.  If the kid who was doing these Doctor Who films worked anything like me, which I don’t think is a bad guess given that we both had to go through roughly the same sort of mental engineering process to record this stuff in the first place, then he most likely did not just record one serial.  He probably stuck at it awhile and, with any degree of luck, may have done so long enough to catch the third season which is where the majority of the loses to classic Doctor Who material begins.  this is the point where I’ll state up front that I am not a big fan of The Dalek’s Master Plan.  In fact, it is literally at the bottom of my list of serials I would most like to see discovered which will probably piss off a good number of Doctor Who fans.  I’ll apologize for any hurt feelings but, when I went through it with the Loose Cannon reconstructions it was a real disappointment that even the return of the Meddling Monk couldn’t salvage for me.  They were trying to do a Flash Gordon style serial but, had already done it much better earlier with The Keys of Marinus by the same author, no less.  Now, having said all that, the really important piece here is the seventh episode of the Daleks’ Master Plan titled The Feast of Steven that was effectively the first Christmas special the series had ever done.  This bit of the serial was never transfered to film for international sales so, when the BBC wiped the tape it was really, really gone thus, making it one of the least likely Doctor Who episodes to ever be recovered.  If the story is correct and this individual continued with his film project there is a chance that this one episode may not be lost for all eternity after all.  Yes, I know that’s a bunch of ifs but, this is the real reason I am hopeful that the Mirror’s story is correct because, if it is, there is a good chance that more episodes of Doctor Who thought to be gone forever can actually be recovered.

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