Cardiff BAFTA Screening Report
We collar Moffat and review Air Lock and The Underwater Menace part two.
Last November, Doctor Who fans were given an unexpected early Christmas present when the BFI screened five minutes of a missing-believed-wiped episode of Galaxy Four, and a whole episode of another lost story The Underwater Menace. How do you top that? By teaming up with BAFTA Cymru to present a special screening of both episodes in full, in various states of repair thanks to the Restoration Team's Paul Vanezis and Peter Crocker, down the other end of the M4 corridor. At Cardiff's swanky arts venue, Chapter, we found it complete with a panel consisting of Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills and special guest, Steven Moffatt, chaired by Gary Russell.
The great thing about Doctor Who events is that, contrary to the longstanding cliché that Doctor Who fans are introverted, anti-social and anti-sexual nerds (well, okay, that's not entirely without foundation…) they're very jolly affairs (usually being relative to the proximity of a bar). The great thing about the Who community is it's pretty egalitarian - fellow fans mingle with the 'professionals' – brand manager Edward Russell here, an off-duty Tom Spilsbury there – because we all love the show. There's very little of an 'us and them' atmos, and it's quite unlike any other pop culture phenomenon.
We're all a bit too self-conscious to admit that, when it comes down to it, we're here to sit down and watch 50 minutes of ancient television, but it is pretty exciting – new-to-our-eyes old school Who, with some hardcore Chumblie action to boot! This is A Big Deal.
Gary Russell introduced the guests and Edward Russell gave a cursory bit of spiel about the significance of these recent finds – stating that the episodes might appear on iTunes in the next month or so – and Galaxy Four: Air Lock is cranked up from the projection room. It's not in the major league of classic Who stories by any means, but it's always a joy to see Maureen O'Brien as the keen and gamine Vicki, with those saucer-like eyes of hers, and William Hartnell is just INSANE! His approach to his dialogue borders on freeform jazz, riffing variations on 'quite so, quite so' and other cherished Billy-isms.
The real revelation with Air Lock is how well director, Derek Martinus, works with some very obvious limitations. He's no Douglas Camfield, but it's a studied piece of direction for early Who – there are some very effective overhead camera shots, cross-fades and superimposed images, and a stylish dissolve to a flashback scene. The real revelation in seeing this episode, as opposed to listening to it on the CD, is Stephanie H Bidmead as the chief Drahvin, Maaga. She's an imperious space bitch of the first order and steals the episode with a monologue that, on audio, has never been given any merit, but delivered straight to camera, is a hypnotic soliloquy that deserves wider praise.
There's a drastic tonal shift as we go headlong into The Underwater Menace part two. Barely two years separate this from Air Lock, but that's only about the same period of time that divides Beatles For Sale from Revolver, and the effect is not dissimilar. The Fab Four had gone from rhyming moon and June and spoon to turning off their mind and floating downstream, and here the show's relinquished its atmosphere of benevolent Reithian values for a more liberal and liberating flavour; with its first outright anarchic Doctor, a general sense of lightening up and – Heaven forfend! – companions and supporting characters (two rebel miners of indiscriminate dialect) that sound like 'real' people.
The Underwater Menace has won more caveats than kudos on the evidence of its previously sole surviving episode, thanks to the Fish Peoples' farcical aquatic ceremony and that infamous cliffhanger. But part two suggests that the earlier episode wasn't a misjudged misfire, but how the story was pitched all along - a template for what has defined Doctor Who at its best, as a show that doesn't take itself too seriously, takes the piss out of authority and wants to have a good time in the most inclusive sense. As Peter Purves observed in the panel afterwards, Doctor Who was always 'quirky' but when Troughton came along, it became 'funny.'
Ah yes, Troughton. In one word, that's the difference between hearing The Underwater Menace and experiencing it on-screen. The Trout doesn't have much material to work with – and the joy of watching this episode is seeing how he fills his part with so much business that just doesn't come across on audio. There's his delightful 'oopsie' faux-clumsy expression after 'accidentally' sabotaging Zaroff's electronics, his little mime when indicating that the Professor is one sandwich short of a picnic, his donning a sou'wester, and his sheer expressive glee when offered a chance to don some outrageous headgear, complete with a 'How do I look? Oh, please yerselves' moue that's pure camp. Troughton glistens throughout, and it's a revelation to see not only just how young Troughton looks, but also as to how uncannily he resembles Iggy Pop on the cover of Lust For Life.
Air Lock is an episode to be appreciated rather than revelled in, but The Underwater Menace part two provided no end of relish for the guests and the audience alike, how could it not? Troughton defining the role on the spot, absolute dynamite from beginning to end, with the hottest trio of companions, full-stop.
A fun Q&A panel followed – the rediscovery of these newly found episodes providing a freshness to the banter that meant well-polished convention and DVD commentary anecdotes were at a minimum. Peter Purves was full of praise for William Hartnell and provided some fascinatingly detailed and interested recollections from the studio production of Galaxy Four, as you'd expect from a man who has proved to be exceedingly informed on his DVD commentaries, and wittily self-deprecating on his limited contribution to the episode ("I thought I slept very well in this one"). Anneke Wills was, as ever, an experience – utterly lovable and barking mad; and Frazer Hines a hoot, his spot-on Troughton impressions momentarily made it as if the good Doc was in the room with us. Spooky!
Steven Moffat deferred to the companions for the most part of the chat, save for when called to comment on the similarities and differences between '60s Who and NuWho. The 'commonality' between Troughton and Smith was mentioned, of course, as was what an utterly different beast the show was then, production-wise, compared to now. The retrospective, fannish nature of this event also allowed his own fan side to creep through, although still hand in hand with his brusque exterior, best summed up in his reflections on what had been revealed that evening:
"When you watch that stuff, you can't be objective like an 'ordinary person' – I don't think there's an ordinary person in this room! I don't see it as something from long ago, I see it as something I love, and there's NOTHING wrong with that. But can you imagine making Doctor Who 'as live' now? Well, continue imagining, 'cos it ain't gonna bloody happen on my watch!"
Post-screening, inevitably notes were compared on this brilliant evening. The general consensus was that while neither episode could be described as classic Doctor Who – more of a table wine than a vintage – there was only so much justice that can be done by experiencing the audios of these stories. It's the little bits of purely visual business, from Derek Martinus' direction to Patrick Troughton's dumb-shows and Anneke Wills' fantastic false eyelashes, that make all the difference between listening to Doctor Who and feeling it in sound and vision.
The last word goes to the Moff, when an attention-seeking twat collared him at the bar for a soundbite for this website: "Delightful! Brand new old Doctor Who!"
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