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Dr Who beats extermination by TV censors

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1999-01-14 Times main.jpg


DR WHO has cheated time again to make a surprise reappearance. Thirty years after the last print of a much sought-after 1965 episode was thought to have been exterminated, The Lion, starring William Hartnell, the original Doctor, has materialised in New Zealand.

The BBC risks embarrassment when it releases the programme on video later this year. It is not Daleks that challenge the Doctor's wits but Islamic warriors. The BBC wiped the programme from its archives in 1969 and banned its distribution to Arabic-speaking countries.

Bruce Grenville, a film buff who stumbled across the 16mm print at a film collectors' fair in Auckland last year, lent the print to the BBC for restoration.

Its content worried BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial wing, which expected to make a large profit from general video sales. Now it is being aimed at Dr Who collectors as one of the 110 "lost" episodes.

the Lion was the first episode in a four-part drama, The Crusade, written by David Whitaker, the series' first script editor. Julian Glover played Richard the Lionheart. In the missing episode, the Tardis lands in Syria during the Crusades. The Doctor teams up with the Crusaders to rescue his assistant, Barbara, who has been captured by the Kurdish despot Saladin.

Steve Cole, the BBC's Dr Who project range editor, said: "It is especially unusual this story has turned up, because it was not widely distributed abroad. The depiction of Arabic warriors is not acceptable today.

"The actors have quite clearly 'blacked up' for the parts. The sensitive subject matter ensured that it was not distributed to Arabic-speaking territories."

The BBC said that the episode was destroyed because it had "exceeded its commercial value", along with hundreds of other black-and-white programmes, as colour television was introduced. There are no plans to screen it on television. The BBC believes that it sent a copy to the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in 1967, but, although the censor approved the episode, it was not screened. Mr Grenville bought the print cheaply from another collector who was unaware of its rarity.

The discovery of The Lion is the first time that a complete missing episode has been recovered since 1991, when all four episodes of The Tomb of the Cybermen were found in Hong Kong. Internet sites were buzzing yesterday as enthusiasts of the science fiction series debated the importance of the little-seen episode. Douglas Sutherland, a Dr Who expert who has seen the episode, said: "It would probably be offensive to Arabic countries. Saladin was actually a very decent man, by all accounts. The historical accuracy is not great, but it is still excellent news for fans."

Alexandra Looseley-Saul, manager of the Who Shop International in East London, the largest emporium of Dr Who memorabilia in Britain, said: "It's like winning the lottery, and the phone hasn't stopped ringing all day."

The print is being prepared for video release by the BBC's Dr Who restoration team. Steve Roberts, a member of the team, said: "It is a little bit battered, but we hope to restore it to something like its former glory. It's heartening to know there still are some full episodes out there."

The original print will be returned to Mr Grenville, who intends to auction it. Bids of up to £5,000 are expected from collectors.

The Lion is not quite the most valuable lost episode. Mr Sutherland said: "Tenth Planet is the one we all was:. It has the first regeneration of the Doctor, from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton."

Dr Who was first aired in November 1963. The children's series quickly gained a cult audience, but, after seven Doctors, the corporation said that the costs of a high-quality science-fiction series were not matched by the ratings. It ended the series in 1986.

Caption: Hartnell: pits his wits against Islamic warriors

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  • APA 6th ed.: Sherwin, Adam (1999-01-14). Dr Who beats extermination by TV censors. The Times p. 7.
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