Not so much a lost episode of Doctor Who, as an unfinished one. Near the end of Tom Baker’s sixth series as the Doctor, all BBC productions were pretty much shut down due to a technicians’ strike. Work on this episode had gotten only as far as filming the exterior scenes in and around Cambridge, and a day or two of videotaping on sets in the studio before everything stopped.
By the time the strike had ended, too much time had passed to resume it and the episode was scrapped. For years, all of it that could be seen by the viewing public were a couple of filmed fragments recycled and repurposed for The Five Doctors (which I intend to review some time soon). That was all I’d ever seen of it.
Written by Douglas Adams and part of what was considered one of the best eras of Doctor Who, it quickly passed quickly into the legendary realm of lost TV treasures.
Other recreations have been attempted over the years, but at last in 2017, someone took the trouble to piece the filmed segments together, and fill in the sections that were never done with animation. The surviving actors returned to do voice-work for their characters, and there’s a nice surprise at the very end that they certainly wouldn’t have been able to do in 1978.
The 25-minute episodes that this story would have originally been broken up into are gone from this restored/animated version, but it must have been a 6-parter since it runs nearly 3 hours. Rather than write one very long blog, I’m going to break it up into sections.
The story starts, not with cartoons, but with some 1970s special effects: a spaceship approaching a star. The star looks too red to me, but from subsequent events I believe it’s meant to be Sol.
Inside the ship, a group of men in white uniforms with different designation icons on their chests sit in a circular module with a little silver sphere on top, apparently in suspended animation. One man (Christopher Neame) wakes. The other members of the sleeping crew jerk and twitch convulsively. It looks like he’s killed them, although we’ll be seeing them again later. He strides out of the chamber, taking the little sphere; it rises and floats after him.
On Earth in St. Cedd’s College at Cambridge University, a young man named Chris Parsons (Daniel Hill) who’s studying physics, drops by the rooms of Professor Chronotis (Denis Carey) to borrow a book or two. The professor is elderly and seems a bit forgetful and eccentric. He has a quirky sense of humor, offering Chris a cup of tea, then asking him “one lump or two?” before asking if he wants sugar.
That’s probably why Chris doesn’t seem very surprised about the police box in the corner of the room, although he’s obviously curious about it. It’s only when he’s on his way out with the books he’s chosen to borrow that he asks what it’s doing there.
“I don’t know,” the professor replies. “I suppose someone must have left it there while I was out.”
Now let’s see who left it. The Doctor is punting on the river Cam with his current companion, Romana (Lalla Ward). This sequence is one of the two recycled for The Five Doctors, when Tom Baker dropped out of participating in that 20th-anniversary story.
They exchange some banter about the great minds that attended Cambridge, including Isaac Newton–“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction… so Newton inventing punting!”–then the Doctor thinks he hears a “strange babble of inhuman voices” and nearly falls off the punt into the water.
He doesn’t see anything that might have caused the voices, but the punt is just passing under a bridge; that alien guy from the spaceship in the opening scenes (whose name, we’ll eventually learn is Skagra), is striding purposefully across it, looking fabulous in his shining white outfit with boots, hat, and cape. He’s carrying a carpetbag which is making a weird, whispering, buzzing noise that might be the “babble” that the Doctor heard.
The Doctor and Romana return to the Professor’s rooms in St. Cedd’s. The college porter remembers the Doctor from his previous visits to Chronotis, going back quite a long way–at least, he recalls the times when the Doctor was there in that particular body.
All of this has been live action so far. The first animated sequence shows us Chris riding his bike down streets to arrive at the lab where he does his research work.
One of the books he’s carried off from the professor’s rooms is more animated than the others. It jumps off top of the stack to draw his attention after he sets them down.
The text is not in English nor any other language that Chris recognizes, which makes me wonder why he picked it out. It then closes itself when he leaves it open and jumps away when he tries to stab it with a scalpel.
Lost episodes have been recreated with animation before (for example, William Hartnell’s final episode), but this is the first one I’ve seen in color. The black and white ones I’ve seen look like a graphic novel in motion, but this is kind of goofy-looking, reminding me of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons I used to watch as a child. Most of the people’s faces don’t look quite right, and I’m only able to recognize them by their clothes. The Toon Doctor when we see him does resemble Tom Baker, slightly caricatured, but I think it’s the best job of the bunch.
Back in the live-action part of the story, the Doctor and Romana have tea with the professor, and we learn that he too is a Time Lord. He’s been at Cambridge since he retired from Gallifrey, occupying the same rooms at St. Cedd’s for 300 years. No one’s noticed–or if they have, they thought it impolite to mention it.
This idea would be recycled much later on, when Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was in semi-retirement and lecturing as a professor at another university for longer than anyone could remember. He kept the Tardis parked in his rooms too.
Chronotis had sent a message to the Doctor, asking him to come, but he sent it so long ago that he doesn’t remember what it was about. They discuss the weird voices, but the professor hasn’t heard them and doesn’t know what the Doctor’s talking about. They have nothing to do with his reasons for asking his old friend to visit… or so he thinks for the moment.
After a while, Chronotis does remember that his message was about a book which he brought away with him from Gallifrey along with some others. Since he no longer has a Tardis of his own, he wants the Doctor to return it for him.
Its title: The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey.
The Doctor is alarmed when he hears this. It shouldn’t have been taken from the Panopticon archive, and he’s not clear on how Chronotis could even have managed to do it. The book is an artifact of great power from the days of Rassilon and may contain something of that first Time Lord’s secrets. “Things even we don’t understand,” the Doctor exposits.
“Then there’s no danger of anyone else understanding them,” Chronotis replies, unperturbed.
The Doctor and Romana ransack the bookshelves to try and find it.
Skagra comes to the college entrance and asks to see Chronotis, but he’s told that the professor is busy with another guest and sent on his way.
Toon Chris, meanwhile, is still playing with that peculiar book he took from the professor’s rooms. The book that they’re searching so frantically for, I think we can safely assume. He pops it into the microwave. Okay, actually, it’s an X-ray machine, but either way this is not a good thing to do, since the book makes it explode.
Chris phones a friend and asks her to come to the lab to see the book, which his experiments show has a structure “like nothing on Earth.” He feels sure it must be extraterrestrial.
Skagra continues to stride purposefully around Cambridge, but his fabulous outfit draws stares. Eventually, it dawns on him that he’s a bit conspicuous.
He mind-jacks a guy on the street and they get into his car and drive off. To my delight, they go to nearby Grantchester, driving down the same road through the village where I’ve often seen an extremely attractive vicar from the 1950s passing by on his way to the church or out to solve a murder. Too late for the vicar to solve the murder that must have happened in the car, since we never see or hear another word about that man Skagra picked up.
Skagra exits the car alone and strides out into to what looks like an empty field. But that’s where he’s parked his cloaked spaceship.
Once he enters the spaceship, Skagra becomes a cartoon. (The first time I watched this, I didn’t realize it was him; I thought that this was another evil alien whom Skagra was communicating with aboard the main ship still in space.) He tells his computer that he’s located the book and asks it to tell him about the Doctor, whom the college porter mentioned.
The computer shows him clips from previous episodes of Doctor Who as well as the earlier part of this same episode when the Doctor and Romana were punting on the river.
Skagra decides that the Doctor doesn’t have the power. “Only one does,” he says rather cryptically. Once he has the book, he’ll have that power, “and the universe will repair itself.”
While the Doctor and Romana continue to search for the book, they bring up the name of a notorious Gallifreyan criminal named Salyavin who was a boyhood hero of the Doctor; he admired Salyavin’s panache. Salyavin was imprisoned long before the Doctor was born, but he was a contemporary of Chronotis.
“Where was he imprisoned?” the Doctor asks, when Chronotis suddenly remembers Chris’s visit. The Doctor heads out on a bicycle to find him.
Claire Keighley, Chris’s friend, arrives at the Toon lab. He obliviously persists in calling her by her surname even though she’d rather they were on a first-name basis. Together, they examine the book and talk about its atomic structure, which can’t be analyzed. It looks like paper, but isn’t. It feels like plastic, but isn’t. Chris leaves the lab to ask Chronotis about it.
The Doctor and Chris cross paths on their bikes, but neither knows who the other is at this point.
Skagra emerges from his cloaked ship now dressed in the clothes he took from the presumed dead man in the car. He’s still carrying his buzzing-voices carpetbag. When he returns to the college, this time he’s admitted to see Chronotis.
The professor is alone in his room, since Romana has gone to fetch milk from the Tardis fridge for another cup of tea.
Skagra demands the book. When the professor refuses because he doesn’t have it and doesn’t know where it is, Skagra announces that he’ll have to deduct the information from Chronotis’s brain. He unleashes the silver floating sphere that he’s been carrying around in that carpetbag.
An amusing Prisoner-ref: the Blu-Ray extra features include some outtakes for this scene, with the sphere bobbing up whenever Christopher Neame opens the bag. “Down Rover,” he tells it.
The sphere floats across the room to Chronotis and attaches itself to his forehead to suck out the information.
Romana returns from within the Tardis with K9 to find the professor lying on the floor. Skagra is gone, but that’s when Chris comes in.
K9 describes what’s happened to Chronotis as a “psychoactive extraction.” The sphere has not just taken a bit of information from him, it’s taken part of his mind. By the way, K9 does not have John Leeson’s voice, and never sounds right to me.
Romana sends Chris into the Tardis to get a collar device that will help retain Chronotis’s autonomic functions. His brain is gone, but he still manages to send a message with his heartbeats (in Gallifreyan Morse code): Beware the sphere. Beware Skagra. Beware Shada. The secret is in the … Then he dies, but I think we can guess what that last word should be.
Back at his invisible ship, Toon Skagra reviews what he’s extracted from Chronotis’s mind and watches more clips from the show so far, including his live self.
The Doctor, meanwhile, shows up in Toon form at the lab to banter with Claire, and ends up taking the book away with him.
He’s on his bike heading back to St. Cedd’s when he encounters Skagra, who demands he hand over the book. The Doctor refuses, so Skagra sics the sphere in the carpetbag on him.
The Doctor takes off with the floating sphere in pursuit on a thrilling chase through the scenic streets of Cambridge. He passes by a glee club gathered to sing Chattanooga Choo Choo, and they take no notice of the sphere that following the speeding cyclist.
The book falls out of the Doctor’s handlebar basket, and Skagra picks it up.
Eventually, the Doctor abandons his bike and heads down an alley looking for someplace to hide, until he hits a dead end. He tries to climb over, then under, the chain-link fence blocking the end of the alleyway as the sphere comes closer…
This was probably the cliffhanger at the end of the second episode, so I’m going to stop there for now.