Doctor Who’s Mark Gatiss talks missing Troughton episodes

Mark Gatiss, Debora Watling and Frazer Hines on Doctor Who stories The Web Of Fear and Enemy Of The World

A Yeti strikes in The Web Of Fear
A Yeti strikes in The Web Of Fear

With the 50th anniversary celebrations looming, 2013 was already a good year for getting nostalgic about Doctor Who. But with the discovery of 9 missing episodes from the Patrick Troughton era – all 5 missing episodes of 1967 serial ‘The Enemy Of The World’ and 4 of the 5 missing episodes of 1968’s ‘The Web Of Fear’ – there are even more reasons to head down memory lane.

The newly found stories are truly remarkable. No amount of novelisations and audio tracks can match the infectious joy of seeing Troughton’s Doctor strip to his long-johns and dive, whooping, into the sea. These wonderful Troughton performances arrive perfectly timed to coincide with the end of the Matt Smith era. Smith has often said that he based elements of his Doctor on Troughton, and seeing the two side by side like this is uncanny. What better reminder that, despite various Doctors, companions and writers, we’re still watching the same story 45 years later. The man in the fez is still the man in the long-johns.

For most of us, these episodes are a great little added extra to the hours of entertainment Doctor Who has given us over the years. For Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, the actors who played companions Jamie and Victoria, it’s a chance to relive their own past as they got together for a screening of the episodes.

“I thought ‘No, it’s just another hoax,’” remembers Watling at the super-secret press conference for the missing episodes. “It won’t be me. Because a lot of my episodes were trashed or recorded over. There’s only one whole story of mine, which is Tomb Of The Cybermen… And then I got it from a higher authority and I thought, ‘My God, we’re back on the screen again all these years later, and I can see some of the work I did as a young 19 year old.’ And it’s amazing.”

It’s also a chance to marvel at the man who current Doctor Who scribe Mark Gatiss refers to as one of the “very greatest Doctors at the height of his powers”.

Both Hines and Watling praised their former co-star, with Watling saying, “Pat had a wonderful sense of humour and he always had the twinkle in the eye. He was comic in a way, but he was a very, very good actor.” Gatiss, a Doctor Who fan long before he joined the writing staff, was thrilled by “the tiny nuances of [Troughton’s] performance, the little flirtations, and the deathless, never-celebrated line: ‘Whose law? Whose philosophy?’ – that’s the Doctor, that is. No-one ever talks about that. It’s amazing to see it all come together.”

With new and old Doctor Who staff sitting down together, it was inevitable that talk would turn to comparison. Undoubtedly, Hines and Watling were working in a more heroic, romantic era of television, a world where in Hines’ words, “We couldn’t rehearse, everything was just done. You jump in the helicopter and you fly off and that’s it. No rehearsal.”

Whole episodes would be filmed, from beginning to end, in one day. “It was terrifying,” Watling agreed. “But you got used to it, you had to do it. No re-takes, nothing.” It was the sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants TV that simply doesn’t exist outside of live news and sports these days.

While both Hines and Watling watch – and enjoy – the current incarnation of the show, they both agree that something has been lost. “Ours was in black and white,” Watling says. “And that was atmospheric, I thought. I know the budget was on a shoe string, let’s be honest, and the set sort of wobbled a bit, but it was innocent and it was fun for the kids and they were enthralled. There was a charm and magic about it.” Hines, meanwhile, echoes the thoughts of a lot of Doctor Who fans as he bemoans the loss of serial stories in favour of short done-in-ones.

But really, it’s the similarities between the two eras that surprise more than the differences do. Gatiss stresses that, CGI or no, Doctor Who “has to always be story-led, and it should be.”

When asked about why their era is considered a classic, Hines and Watling give exactly the same answer that the current Doctors and companions give: chemistry. “It came across on screen, as you can see today, that we all got on so well,” Watling says fondly. “We really did. Pat, Frazer and myself, we were like a family. And Pat was always, to me, like another dad or uncle. We had a chemistry and I don’t think you can beat that.”

Helicopter pilot Astrid in Enemy Of The World
Helicopter pilot Astrid in Enemy Of The World

And watching Hines and Watling together, it’s clear that chemistry can’t be taught. 45 years later, and they’re still teasing each other about their matching kilts and recounting stories of on-set pranks and eccentric crew members (“And he proceeded to down this brandy, and then proceeded to eat the glass. So that was Mad Mike.”). The message is clear: Doctor Who might have wobbly CGI instead of wobbly sets these days (“There’s never enough money and there’s never enough time” Gatiss laments), but the heart of the show is the same as it always was: The characters.

There has always been a magic about Doctor Who that enchants viewers and stays with them their whole lives. There are children today who will always be afraid of statues thanks to the Weeping Angels. For Gatiss, one of the rediscovered stories gave birth to his long-standing interest in one particular aspect of London transport, and even fed into the new series of Sherlock: “In fact the first episode of Sherlock – because I’m obsessed with the Tube and it all comes from [The Web Of Fear] as a kid – is explicitly about the London Underground for exactly that reason. Because I love the Underground.” The show is still inspiring viewers – and influencing British TV – half a century later.

These new old episodes also had one last, unexpected piece of magic to deliver to one particular viewer. The Web Of Fear features a supporting performance from Jack Watling – Deborah Watling’s father. “Saw my Dad again, on the screen,” she says, smiling. “That’s brilliant.” It’s a gift worthy of the Doctor himself – a trip through time to re-encounter a long-lost family member. These rediscovered episodes are more than just corny old black and white adventures – they’re our shared history, still informing our current entertainment, fears and passions. And even 45 years after they were last seen, these stories still hold some surprises.

You can download all 9 episodes on iTunes now for £1.89 each or £9.99 per story. ‘The Enemy Of The World’ is set for DVD release 25 November 2013, pre-order it now for £13.75 from Amazon.co.uk, while ‘The Web Of Fear’ is due 24 February 2014. Pre-order it now for £13.75 from Amazon.co.uk.