Missing Episodes and Anniversary Marketing

The weekend before last, all was quiet in the world of Doctor Who, well, as quiet as this fandom ever gets. That was until the teaser announcement was published that a couple of “stings” had been made (essentially a 10-second insert to be shown between BBC programmes) and a hashtag developed to mark the beginning of the televisual publicity for the 50th Anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor”. Now, to be honest, making a ‘thing’ of a hashtag, even as we sit here in 2013, already seems like a bit of a lame idea: it strikes me as being a predictably lazy bit of marketing. Making the logo ‘golden’ to represent the anniversary was probably just as predictable. Either way, that weekend, for a few seconds just before and just after BBC One’s new Saturday evening fantasy show, Atlantis, we got to see the first snippet of build up to the 23rd November. In less than seven weeks’ time the anniversary will be upon us and this was the first thing shown on the BBC as part of their anniversary celebrations.

Of course, after the brouhaha about the trailer that was shown to a select few at this summer’s Comic-Con in San Diego, there are those who feel this is still too little and most definitely too late. However, I am of a quite different opinion. While it might not have been sparklingly original, this is exactly the kind of marketing for the TV show I would want and expect. It sets people’s tongue’s wagging, it was broadcast bookending a new fantasy show in Doctor Who’s time-slot, and came with a promise that a new, specially shot trailer was in offing. Alongside the announcement of all the other programmes across BBC television and radio, and the fact that I am among the lucky ones to have snagged tickets to the Official Celebration Event at the Excel on the big weekend itself, I was quite content and happy to #SaveTheDay, safe in the knowledge of what was to come, with a lovely big episode to round things off.

And then comes this glorious news about some missing episodes being found.

We don’t have details of how many have been found, of what has been found, or even of how they were found but we have plenty of speculation, although it is nigh-on impossible to sort the fact from the fiction with any degree of certainty. We are promised a Press Conference on Thursday (already postponed from today), where more details, hopefully *all* the details will be revealed. Being a regular lurker and sometime contributor to places like Gallifrey Base, I do stumble upon discussions / arguments / light-hearted chatter / rants / good humour / occasional vitriol that is largely hidden from those fans and non-fans who choose not to frequent such online establishments. One such corner of Gallifrey Base in which the whole gamut of emotions has been seen unfolding is the “Missing Episodes Megathread”. I’ve been lurking there for months watching rumours coalesce and collapse, and feeling emotions run high or run out. To describe it as a roller-coaster would be a disservice: it has been so much more than that: from unbridled joy at the certainty of the discovery, to the depths of despair when the rumour was scotched as being a hoax. Head over there this evening and all you will see is a “Celebration Thread”, in which there is a “strict ban on any speculation or discussion about which episodes they are, who found them, how they were found, where they were found, what the release plans are, or any other as-yet-unreleased details”… it’s actually kind of beautiful to see absolutely everyone there so dizzyingly happy. The power of Doctor Who, at its very best.

However, it all got me to thinking that the timing of the announcement, given that the speculation has been rife for months, might not be any kind of coincidence or natural conclusion to a process at all. I wonder whether the announcement of this find, whatever it may constitute, has been timed to deliver on the promise that Doctor Who would take over TV for the anniversary. All the news services that are running articles about the missing episode haul, without exception, are quite rightly making mention of the show’s impending, historic milestone at the same time. Whatever is revealed in the Press Conference (whether all these episodes will be available for legal download on Friday, whether it’s two episodes or nine episodes or ninety episodes that have been whispered in some quarters), one thing is for sure… while there’s no such thing as bad publicity, this news is bloody outstandingly marvellous publicity, and hats off to all concerned who’ve helped make it happen. It’s going to be one helluva 46 days.

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