October 21, 2007

Boise Man Hooked on BBC’s “Doctor Who”

By Jeanne Huff, The Idaho Statesman, Boise

Oct. 21--It sounds like the lineup on Nick at Night, the TV show reruns from the 1960s meant to lure the baby boomer audience: "Star Trek,""The Outer Limits,""Twilight Zone,""Lost in Space."

It's a bit of a head-shaker, then, when you find out these are some of Lance Meenach's favorite television shows. Meenach, of Boise, is 21, much younger than the boomers, even younger than Gen X. He's an echo boomer, a millennial from Gen Y, the Internet generation.

"My dad raised me on 'Andy Griffith' and 'Godzilla' movies," Meenach says. And, says the Boise State University communications major, he was especially drawn to science fiction.

"I was originally born in Seattle but grew up on the Oregon Coast in Astoria. Our house was quite a ways outside of town, and, being a kid, I had no more transportation than what was in my mind, so that is what I used," Meenach says.

He started off with 1950s classics, watching "War of the Worlds,""The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "When Worlds Collide."

"All my friends thought I was crazy for getting into this old stuff. But those shows challenged people to expand human knowledge," Meenach says.

Meenach began collecting science fiction films and TV shows when he was 13, when his family moved to Boise. He was introduced to the British Broadcasting Co.'s "Doctor Who" series soon after. His dad bought him a "Doctor Who" video that featured the Daleks, the most popular villains in the series.

Meenach was hooked, and today, he searches the Internet, universities and garage sales for original episodes of the series, as well as other BBC show productions that seemed to have vanished.

From fan to collector

Immediately after Meenach watched his first video, he wanted to watch more.

"I went back and purchased as many as my allowance would afford," he says. "I particularly liked the early black and white episodes starring Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who."

Meenach says 10 different actors have played the role of the time-traveling Doctor Who over the years. The series began airing in 1963 and ran continuously until 1989. It relaunched new episodes in 2005 and continues today on BBC.

Something's missing

As Meenach watched more episodes of "Doctor Who," he began to notice that there were discrepancies in the series.

"I started to notice abrupt changes, almost as if chapters were missing."

Meenach did some sleuthing and found that more than 100 early 1960s black and white episodes of "Doctor Who" were not in the BBC television archives.

Erased and trashed

Meenach discovered that in the early days of television, the BBC had no official mandate to archive televised material and so, for the most part, it didn't.

Master tapes of shows were erased and reused to save money. The film prints sent to other countries were trashed after that show's viewing rights expired.

Trashing the tapes became a widespread practice at the BBC and at other Great Britain broadcasting companies up until the late 1970s.

"But by then, the damage had already been done," Meenach says.

First-time appearances by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Slade and The Sweet, the original BBC coverage of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, and many classic TV shows were lost.

Lost and found

But lost doesn't necessarily mean gone forever, Meenach says. There are ways that shows can find their way back. For one thing, the BBC launched a treasure hunt, asking people to look for lost episodes that may have been retrieved and hidden.

"Sometimes employees would grab a videotape that was in the trash to show family and friends," Meenach says. "Also, although expensive and rare, reel-to-reel videotape recorders were available as early as 1966," he says.

Some of these trash-retrieved and home-recorded videos and film prints found their way into attics, garages, basements, garage sales and antique shops. Some pop up on eBay or other Internet auction Web sites.

Then there are foreign film, university and government film records, although the archived footage is often in bad shape and uncatalogued.

Still, "who knows what might be recovered and saved?" Meenach says. "One of my all-time goals is to find a missing episode of 'Doctor Who.'"

Missing Believed Wiped

Meenach's mission also is important to a group at the British Film Institute. Every year, the group holds a screening of lost programs that have been recovered. The annual event is called Missing Believed Wiped.

So far, they've screened first season episodes of "The Avengers" that were believed missing since 1961. The lost episodes were found in the UCLA film archive.

Meenach has found some lost footage on his own and has taken on the task of looking for more. It's a work in progress, he says.

On eBay this year, he found a lost 1960s edition of a BBC show called Jazz 625. He also has quite a few old video spool reels that may contain some off-air video. One reel is dated 1967.

"I have an old BBC TV print which dates from 1959 of a kids' TV show, Captain Pugwash, which I am currently checking with BBC archives.

"I am not alone in this crusade," says Meenach, who says he has a few goals. He hopes to someday turn his lost video footage crusade into a career. Until then, this man obsessed with the past will be working on his guitar licks, too.

"I like old rock n' roll. I'd like to bring classic rock back," Meenach says with a smile.

Jeanne Huff: 377-6483


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