I recently popped along to London’s Southbank to the British Film Institute ( BFI) on a cold, rain-soaked afternoon to enjoy the 25th Birthday of an annual event called Missed, Believed Wiped, where newly discovered gems television gems are shown to a highly enthusiastic audience. My main reason was to see a preview of the 10-minute animation of the Wheel in Space but it turned into a really interesting couple of hours. Dick Fiddy who is the BFI Archive Television Programmer was the host. I have seen him at previous Doctor Who events but he is a man who very clearly loves his job.
As it was I arrived slightly late and missed the introduction of Vince Hill, a traditional popular singer from the 1960s and 1970s, who now in his 80’s was there to talk about a recording he had found and donated to the BFI archive. The recording was Vince Hill at The Talk of the Town (BBC 1969), a BBC TV special filmed at the popular ‘Talk of the Town’ nightclub at London’s Hippodrome. The recording was a live show which he was performing at the time throughout the UK. Watching the black and white recording which probably lasted 45 minutes it reminded me how a lot of the shows of the 1970’s that I used to watch as a kid hadn’t changed from this style yet. So, in the 1970s you had for instance “the Cliff Richard show” and Cliff would be there in front with a microphone singing a variety of songs carrying the show on the strength of his own performances, really being an entertainer in the broadest sense. This recording was Vince Hill, on his own having to sing and entertain an invited crowd of 1960’s hip young people as well as an older audience. It was an enjoyable slice of nostalgic love songs, some from his favourite musicals along with some comic impressions he did of Tom Jones and Ken Dodd (singing and comedy royalty due to their longevity in show business.) The Talk of the Town also featured the only surviving performance of the song that was a hit for him ‘Edelweiss’ on BBC TV. I loved that Vince Hill got a standing ovation after the show finished at the BFI and thrilled that I got shake his hand.
There was a segment of a show called Stars and Garters, which to be honest was as mad as a frog on a chair. From what I can gather this was a British television variety show produced by ATV from 1963- 1965 set in a fictional public house with a mix of real pub singers and professional singers and compared by a comedian Ray Martine. The show opened with a lady singer, dressed in a showgirl costume holding a large python. Much hilarity ensued, probably unexpected as she sang and also tried to make the python slide around her neck and keep it there. It had other ideas! Despite the programme being incomplete, there was a teenager heart-throb performance from Adam Faith who seemed a bit bemused to be there, surrounded by people holding drinks and smoking profusely. My how times have changed.
Wheel in Space mini episode
Next was the main event for me the 10-minute animated Doctor Who mini-episode based on the now lost first part of the 1968 Doctor Who story, ‘The Wheel in Space’, starring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and Frazer Hines as Jamie. The episode was produced by Charles Norton and directed by AnneMarie Walsh who was there with the two other animators to introduce the feature. They were clearly enthused about the feature and Anne Marie Walsh was keen to emphasise the attention to detail they took. They also confirmed that they are animating The Macra Terror and the mini-episode will be included on the DVD
Onto the feature itself. It was in colour which was a bonus. The audio was crystal clear so when the theme tune kicked in I got a real buzz. I’m not an expert in animation but I think it looks similar in style to “The Invasion”. If it was a ten-minute feature it whizzed by. This is a condensed version from the first episode so you don’t see the reprise of Victoria leaving but it starts with the Tardis in flight as the mercury fluid link explodes and forces the Doctor and Jamie to evacuate the TARDIS to avoid mercury fumes. The Doctor turns the Tardis into to a regular police telephone box and they start exploring. Movement of the characters does feel a bit clunky and will never mimic real life such as when the Servo- Robot redirects the rocket from aimless wandering and the course change causes the Doctor to hit his head, concussing him.
There is a fair bit of time, probably slightly too much, spent on the Servo- Robot as it wanders around the corridors but it looks impressive as a 3D shape. Shapes are obviously easier to animate so come across well on the screen such the oblong canister that the Servo- Robot opens to release a group of egg-shaped white pods from into space. The dark blue shots of space, the rocket and the giant wheel after the pods are released does look really striking. I don’t remember much of the Wheel in Space from my Troughton a few years ago but even with just the audio of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines I was being drawn in and it was then abruptly over. Ohh for a little bit more.
There were a couple of very short clips of some of the earliest footage shot by I think John Logie Baird in 1927 and a short of newly recovered clips from home recording equipment. The last part of the session was a clip from It’s Lulu (BBC 1970), with a performance of Aretha Franklin singing ‘Spirit in the Dark’ which was in tribute to The Queen of Soul, who died this year. I love Aretha Franklin; her voice is so resonant with the experience of love and all its pitfalls. It was an awesome clip where Aretha, then aged 28 so deftly played the piano keys and sang with such longing emotion you couldn’t help but feel the song and her musicality. To the couple behind me who noisily tapped every musical note of Aretha’s performance I’m glad you enjoyed it but next time, if I see you, I may have to get the Cybermen to remove your emotions.
So, a couple of hours later I left with a new-found appreciation for all the hard work that the BFI do to preserve our televisual history. What I knew and it was reinforced really is that the archive is so much more than just collecting old clips. It’s a social history document that captures moments in time. The Doctor Who Wheel in Space mini-episode took its place in that history.