Sunday, January 31, 2016

Star Trek at the BBC: The Written Archive Centre

The BBC's Written Archives Centre at Caversham holds files and scripts dating from 1922 when the BBC was founded. Its focus is understandably on BBC produced programmes, and imported series like Star Trek get less attention.

I wanted to try and confirm some details about Star Trek's transmission by the BBC and they very kindly sent me relevant sections from the daily Programme as Broadcast (PasB) sheets. These sheets contain a wealth of information about the schedule; cast lists; start and end times of programmes, to the second; details of trails for upcoming programmes; even snippets of information about what wasn't shown (like the Grandstand outside broadcast from Aston Hill on 18/10/1969 "not transmitted due to the A.B.S strike").

I don't want to directly reproduce the PasBs which I have been sent to avoid infringing BBC copyright. There are plenty of examples online, including on the BBC site itself. Click here and you'll see the Pasb forms for Patrick Troughton's last Doctor Who story The War Games; frustratingly the PasB scan for episode 10 cuts off just before it gets to details for the Star Trek trail shown immediately afterwards.

Unlike BBC programmes the entries for Star Trek are restricted to a few lines. The entry for Wednesday 16 December 1970 reads

19.20.07 FILM: STAR TREK (3) PARADISE SYNDROME (16/4/0/1603)
SOURCE: Desilu
Footage: 4,541' 35mm
First Transmission

Not terribly useful right? Wrong. BBC Genome lists The Empath as being broadcast, because this is two weeks after the showing of Miri which generated complaints and resulted in the BBC pulling Miri, The Empath, Whom Gods Destroy, and Plato's Stepchildren from broadcast until 1993. BBC Genome results are generated from the Radio Times listings, which went to print in advance of broadcast and could not reflect last minute schedule changes. This change seems to have been so last minute that even the daily papers list The Empath rather than The Paradise Syndrome.

We can also see that this was the first transmission of The Paradise Syndrome, and that it was transmitted from 35mm film with a print length of 4,541 feet; using a film length calculator this gives a running time of 50 minutes 27 seconds. So, the BBC seems to have shown an unedited print.

The (3) seems to be an internal BBC episode number, indicating that this is the third episode shown from some arbitrary date. Three episodes prior to The Paradise Syndrome was Miri, but this is listed as (27). In other cases the number denotes the position in the BBC transmission order, so The Corbomite Maneuver is (15) and was the fifteenth episode shown in "series one". That system doesn't work here. Mirror, Mirror -shown three episodes before Miri- is numbered (24), but is the 25th episode shown in 1970. The long number in brackets (16/4/0/1603) is obviously a BBC internal code. It's also interesting that the source is listed as Desilu, several years after that studio was absorbed into Paramount.

I only requested PasBs for five episodes, because I didn't want to push my luck. So I picked five episodes which I hoped would clear up some of the more obvious scheduling mysteries.

The Corbomite Maneuver: Confirmed by Pasb as being first transmitted on 18/10/1969. The documentation says it was shown from a 16mm print, rather than the normal 35mm. Robert Justman and Herbert Solow, in Inside Star Trek, do mention that 16mm prints were made of episodes (one to go to Canada, and one for Burbank as a backup copy) but I don't know if syndication copies were often 16mm. The episode title is given as The Corbonite Maneuver.

The Doomsday Machine: First transmitted on 06/12/1969. BBC Genome, and the television listings for the Daily Mirror both list Court Martial. Again this must have been a very last minute change with Court Martial being held back to start BBC1's "series 2" on 06/04/1970.

Mirror, Mirror: First scheduled for broadcast on 15/06/1970. Mirror, Mirror was bumped for a repeat of England's terrible 1970 World Cup loss to West Germany. PasBs confirm the first transmission was on 11/11/1970.

The Alternative Factor: Definitely not transmitted until 08/12/1971. There's no obvious reason why the BBC sat on this first season episode for so long. It's transmitted a year after Miri which went out on 02/12/1970, before that the last season one story shown on BBC1 was The Enemy Within on 13/04/1970. The transmission of The Alternative Factor is so delayed that it comes after the first repeat of nine season one stories. It's easy to be glib but given this is generally regarded as one of the worst of season one could the BBC have delayed transmission for quality reasons? Interestingly the footage length is given as 4200 feet, well under the normal length of around 4500 feet for Star Trek episodes. 4200 feet works out at a running time of 46 minutes and 40 seconds, compared to the normal time of around 50 minutes. Was the BBC supplied with an edited syndication copy of The Alternative Factor, or did they do some editing of their own?

I also asked if there was any information about the complaints which the BBC received after showing Miri but I was told that this material is not in the scope for researcher access, and so cannot be located. I've been told by a friend with more experience of the WAC this is a very BBC reply and could mean one of about 73 different things. The important one being, the information is not available to me.

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