On November 23 1963, the day after John F Kennedy was shot, the first ever episode of my favourite TV show was broadcast here in the UK – “Doctor Who”.
I’ve been a fan of the programme all my life – in fact I think my earliest memory is of Jon Pertwee battling the Sea Devils as they rose out of the chilly water. If you haven’t heard of “Doctor Who” then there’s really not much time to explain. Basically, a guy with a screwdriver travels around time and space in a phone box, usually accompanied by a female “assistant” who falls over and twists her ankle.
Great *great* TV. And in 2005 it came back after umpteen years away, re-invigorated and re-imagined and better than ever before.
Some of the early episodes of the show from the 1960s were junked by the BBC, because they thought at the time that no-one would ever want to watch old fashioned black-and-white television shows. When videotape and DVDs were invented they quickly realised their mistake, and started campaigns urging people to look down the back of the sofa, or in church hall crypts, hoping that someone, somewhere, had squirreled away recordings of the show.
I remember one day as I was hanging out on a Doctor Who fan forum (sorry, I don’t have a life) that someone suggested a novel solution to the problem of the missing episodes.
When the BBC first broadcast “Doctor Who” in 1963, electromagnetic signals travelling at virtually the speed of light were beamed into our living rooms, and onto our TV screens. But some of those signals bounced off Earth’s crust and shot up into the sky and forever onward. Within an hour they would be passing Jupiter, and five hours later they would escape our solar system.
The lost episodes of “Doctor Who” have been travelling through space for almost 45 years. As a light year is about 4 trillion miles (take a yard or two), that means they are about 180 trillion miles away.
All we need is a rocket, carrying a TV receiver and a video recorder, and get ahead of the signals. That could mean breaking the speed of light, of course, but for a chance to see “Doctor Who and the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” on my TV I think it’s worth it.
If we can’t do this, then the only people who are enjoying classic lost episodes of television shows like “Hancock’s Half Hour”, “Dad’s Army” and “The Quatermass Experiment” are bug-eyed monsters, supping their Pina Coladas on the edge of Betelgeuse 5.
I was thinking about this when I looked at the contents of my Gmail spam quarantine this morning and saw a parade of “Watch the video”-type malware emails:
It’s a pretty sad state of affairs. You have to wonder, if some alien race stumbles across the crumbling remains of the human civilisation in millions of years time, and its archaeological teams uncover the fragments of our email inboxes and spam quarantines – what are they going to make of us?
With only 1 in every 28 business emails legitimate, it’s unlikely that the personalities and achievements of Shakespeare, Mozart and Ghandi, or the talented folk of the BBC drama department in the 1960s, will outshine those of Paris, Lindsay and Angelina.
My message is this: Don’t watch the video nasties. Take a break from clicking on video links on your computer and do something more sociable, and less likely to harm your computer, instead.
And if you could look down the back of your sofa for the treasure missing from the TV archives that would be great. Thanks.