Every Photo Tells A Story: Uncovering Doctor Who’s Photographic Legacy

If your one of the many fans who enjoy and appreciate the photo galleries on Doctor Who DVDs then the man to thank is Derek Handley.

Derek, who became hooked on the series back in the 1970s with Jon Pertwee regeneration story ‘Planet of the Spiders’, patiently sifts through publicity photo negatives and prints to put these lovingly-constructed galleries together.

He also provides pictures to Doctor Who Magazine, some of them never before published, and through his work has been instrumental in aiding our understanding of the show, especially when it comes to the missing episodes of the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras.

Most recently, he has found some previously unknown publicity pictures from Hartnell’s classic ‘The Celestial Toymaker’, which Wiped reported on at the start of May. You can read that story here.

Derek, whose favourite Doctor is, fittingly, Hartnell, spoke to Wiped about his work, and how, surprisingly, piecing together Doctor Who‘s photographic legacy has been in some ways as much of a challenge as restoring its televisual past.

Wiped – How did you come to be involved with the photographic heritage of Doctor Who?

Derek – “From the time I started buying Doctor Who Weekly with issue one I think I was always more interested in the photos than the text! I often used to buy two copies – one to keep intact and one to cut the photos out and store them in a scrap book.

“Over the years I bought up many photos that were offered for sale though looking back many of them were quite poor copy prints. My dad was interested in photography when I was young and had an enlarger and other dark room equipment and so I was able to print up copies of black and white prints. By the late ’80s I had a collection of a few hundred prints.

“When I saw the first Doctor Who recons (fan-made reconstructions) on video my interest in the missing stories really took off and I realised that I had photos that the early recons (such as COI’s ‘Marco Polo’) weren’t using.

“I soon became involved in helping the early recon teams out with photos for their projects and this led me to get in touch with Doctor Who Magazine, who were kind enough to help out by letting me borrow photos for scanning. In return, I used to give them scans from my ever growing collection of pictures.

“Some time later DWM put me in touch with Ralph Montagu, who was producing the photo galleries for the Doctor Who DVDs and I was able to help him out in sourcing unusual pictures. My involvement with the DVDs has grown since then and I now produce the majority of the photo galleries.

“Since the new series started, DWM mostly print only new series pictures, but they often ask me for any unusual pictures from older stories that they do the occasional feature on.”

Wiped – In what state was the Doctor Who photographic collection when you found it?

Derek – “Working on the DVD photo galleries meant that I had access to the BBC photo library to obtain scans directly from their prints or negatives.

“Only a relatively small selection of the total photos taken for each story were ever approved for use as publicity shots. The negative frames for these photos were cut out from the rest of the film and filed in the photo library; the rest of the film was junked (though most of the rejected films were kept form around ‘The Stones of Blood’ onwards).

“In most cases the frames of film either side of the selected image were left on the negative so that they could be handled easier when being printed. Many of these ‘alternate’ images are very similar to the selected ones, but sometimes show something entirely different.

“When I started gathering images for some photo galleries, it was apparent that the BBC no longer had negatives for all their publicity pictures, and in some cases they didn’t even seem to have surviving prints.”

Wiped – From that starting point, how did you set about trying to restore the photo archive?

Derek – “I decided to try to get a list together of all known black and white publicity prints and to check which ones were missing. Each picture was assigned a sequential reference number. Richard Landen (a well-known Doctor Who fan who recorded the audios to many missing episodes back in the ’60s) had drawn up a similar list in 1978, detailing all the prints he could find at that time. Obviously that was very out of date and there were known gaps in his list, but it made a good starting point.

“The Doctor Who pictures were separated out from the general TV publicity pictures many years ago and now have their own set of shelves in the library.

“There is a card folder for each story containing separate envelopes for each publicity picture in which the negative and any prints are stored. Using Richard’s list as a template, I checked off each picture, making a note of which pictures still had negatives and how many frames were on them.

“Compiling this list actually took over a year as I only usually visit the library once every few months and most of the time I spend there is taken with selecting images for the photo galleries.

“When I had finished the list I found there were well over 80 negatives missing! The question then was, ‘what could have happened to them all?’

“The first ones I found were some of Peter Purves (who played companion Stephen Taylor) from a photocall session he did for ‘The Time Meddler’. There is another section of the library that stores generic portrait pictures of actors and the two missing pictures of Peter were stored there.

“Most of the TV publicity pictures for other shows are filed together in sequential order, and later by year and programme title. Armed with a list of the missing negative numbers I began searching through these shelves to see if any of the Doctor Who pictures had been mis-filed back with the other TV shows.

“Straight away I struck gold – a missing neg from ‘Marco Polo’, and then another from ‘The Daleks’! Then I found another envelope, from ‘Keys of Marinus’. Unfortunately that one was empty with no prints or negative inside but I plowed on through my list and found a further six missing negs.

“As I was searching I did find a that few of the picture envelopes were mis-filed on the shelves. Several different numbering system had been used over the years. In the mid-1960s these were of a format like ’66/T1/1192′ – with ’66’ meaning ‘1966’, ‘T1’ meaning ‘TV BBC 1′ and the final part being the sequential number for that year.

“On the picture envelopes these numbers are printed as ’66|T1|1192’ and the strokes can easily be mistaken for number one and vice versa. This particular number relates to a picture of Ben and Polly from ‘The War Machines’ and I found the negative on my next visit, mis-filed as ’66|T1|192′.

“I then proceeded to make up a list of alternate numbers that the negs could have been misread as and checked these out on my last visit. However, when I checked the envelopes with these numbers I found that most of them contained no negatives at all, only prints of other shows.

“I then remembered seeing another section of shelving marked ‘Early TV Negatives’ and I discovered that prior to 1968 the prints and negs were stored separately. Getting out my original list of missing negative numbers I now started searching through these shelves.

“I couldn’t believe my luck! Almost all of the missing negs from this era were there on the shelves with the other negs. They had either never been relocated to the Doctor Who section or had been mis-filed back here after being used.

“I found around 50 missing negs on that visit, including one from ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ of the two clowns giving flowers to Dodo. That neg wasn’t listed on my list and as far as I know has never been printed until the latest issue of DWM.

“There are now only 10 Hartnell negs, two Troughton, seven Pertwee negs, and a few odd ones, still missing.”

Wiped – How much can photos aid our understanding of missing episodes?

Derek – “We are very lucky that there are audio recordings and scripts available for all the missing stories, but Doctor Who is a TV show and the visual aspect is a crucial part of that.

“Its very unlikely that we will find many more of the missing episodes, so photos and telesnaps play an essential part in visualising what was on screen. Very few of the missing Hartnell stories have existing telesnaps and so we are very fortunate to have a wealth of pictures for stories such as ‘The Celestial Toymaker’.

“From the existing photos fans such as the Loose Cannon recon team have been able to reconstruct extremely accurate representations of what the episodes were originally like.

“My favourite find must be discovering the ‘Marco Polo’ telesnaps – you can’t really better finding 400-plus images from your favourite story!

“There are also some great alternate shots on the BBC negatives; many of these have now been printed or appeared in the photo galleries, but there are still a lot that have yet to be seen.

“There are some fascinating behind the scenes pictures taken during the studio recordings of ‘Planet of the Daleks’ that will be seen on the DVD photo gallery when it comes out. Ralph Montagu found these in a filing cabinet in the photo library marked up as ‘Doctor Who Exhibition’.”