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Doctor Who: The Lost Episodes and The Book Adaptations

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BBC Radio 4, 26-27 December 2009
 
Whether by coincidence or by deliberate scheduling, Radio 4 broadcast two programmes dedicated to the long-running science fiction series within two days (accompanying BBC One's Christmas scheduling of a new tale). The first looked at how the BBC in their wisdom decided to wipe most of the early episodes from the series in the 1960s. Over one hundred no longer exist; the only record of them consists of sound recordings made by fans, who put microphones next to their black-and-white sets and made off-air recordings on to reel-to-reel tape. Many of these recordings have now been cleaned up and rereleased on sound only, accompanied by linking narration from some of the Dr. Who actors (including Peter Purves, Elisabeth Sladen and Tom Baker).
 
The second programme looked at the novelizations of the Dr. Who series, published during the 1960s and 1970s by Target Books. They were extremely popular with readers both young and old; in the pre-video and DVD era, they were the only means by which the experience of the television series could be relived. Simon Hollis' documentary interviewed Terrance Dicks, one of the slew of writers responsible for the novels. He recalled that some of them were based directly on the shooting scripts, with very little extra text inserted; others, however, included more character-development, focusing attention on the minor as well as the major figures in each story. By contrast the television versions tended to focus solely on the main protagonists. Dicks also suggested that the book versions adopted a plurifocal narrative technique: the stories were told from different characters' perspectives, allowing readers to make their own decisions as to what was happening. The only person whom no one ever knew was the Doctor himself; this was hardly surprising, given his name (Doctor Who) and his abilities to think about many different things simultaneously. No one could ever understand him.
 
Presenter Mark Gatiss recalled that these novels not only helped him relive the experience of the television series, they also gave him the taste for reading - something he believed was denied to many of today's youngsters brought up on DVDs, PCs and Sony Playstation. More importantly, the programme reminded us that adaptations - of whatever text - should be approached on their own terms and not simply as imitations of an 'original' (whatever that means). The term 'original' is problematic, particularly where Dr. Who is concerned, when many of the 'original' recordings have been lost, and all we have are copies made by fans.