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Doctor Who – Where Are The Lost Episodes?

Coronation Street, Panorama and Blue Peter are the only UK television shows that have run longer than Doctor Who. These institutions have become family friends. However, it’s only Doctor Who that has managed to scare the living daylights out of its younger audience since 1963. A whole industry revolves around the Doctor Who phenomenon with websites, exhibitions, magazines and almost 160 novelisations of the series. Sales of DVDs go back to the beginning, but that’s where the problem begins.

The BBC found that tape was an expensive item to keep, so they simply taped over the original recordings of Doctor Who causing many to be missing and listed as lost.

Two episodes found!

In December 2011, two lost episodes were found; Galaxy Hour part 3 and The Underwater Menace part 2. For the British audience and worldwide Doctor Who fans, this was bigger news than the Americans finally withdrawing from Iraq.

The British Film Institute (BFI) has a section called Missing Believed Wiped. They were the first to show the missing episodes. They were bought by film collector, Terry Burnett, from a Southampton village fete almost thirty years ago. He knew what was on the tapes, but didn’t know the canisters contained important media missing from the BBC. He has now loaned them to the BFI. Featuring the first doctor William Hartnell and second doctor Patrick Troughton, Christmas came early for Dr Who fans.

Looking for over 100 episodes

Of the BBC list of 783 episodes, there are still over 100 missing, all from the 1960s. It was thought that old black and white tapes of episodes would be of no interest to the public once the tapes had been through any possible chance of repeats, so the tapes were habitually wiped clean – the BBC wiped the first 253 episodes during the 1960s – so they could be used again. Luckily, copies of shows were sent to various countries around the world, so other tapes still exist, and almost 150 have been found but no others have been found since 2004.

Of the first 27 series, 10 complete series remain unfound, but material from all but three episodes exists in part. The BBC used to record on two inch tape before wiping the episodes. Fortunately, at some stage they transferred recording to 16mm to send overseas. It is these tapes that have surfaced on occasion.

In the mid seventies, the BBC decided to keep tapes, perhaps foreseeing a future of selling pre-recorded VHS/Betamax tapes. Now called the BBC Film Library, they held 53 of the early episodes until they incredibly managed to completely lose six of them.

Audio versions exist

There is good news for those who want to listen to the lost tapes as audio recordings exist in one form or another for all of the missing tapes – recorded by enthusiasts from television output. Fans have reconstructed some episodes with a mixture of audio recordings, photographs from the lost episodes and animation.

The recent find is the first of the Galaxy 4 tapes to be found, while the Underground Menace episode is the earliest find of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor.

These tapes were originally sent to the ABC channel in Australia who censored and removed some small sections of the Underwater Menace tapes. The National Archives of Australia will add these scenes back in for the DVD release.

Fan groups and the BBC have released reconstructions of missing episodes, matching photographs from the episodes with the soundtracks. Two episodes of The Invasion were reconstructed using animation and released with the surviving episodes of that serial on DVD.

When the BBC started asking for the lost tapes in the late 1970s, good copies have been returned by television companies around the world particularly Nigeria, Hong King and Australia. Some censored (cut) clips from Australia and New Zealand have been found, but not necessarily the rest of the episodes.

Seeking Daleks

The Daleks’ Master Plan episodes were not sold abroad. No-one wanted them. Only Australia asked for viewing copies but didn’t run the series. Two episodes have come to light – found in an LDS church group in the early 1980s – which were passed back to the BBC. Finally, Episode 2 was returned in 2004 by a former BBC engineer who simply took the tape home after being told to dispose of it.

One Australian filmed direct from his television in 8mm film and has brought forward copies of lost episodes. The BBC also found 16mm films in their archive that weren’t listed but other episodes that they listed as stored were missing.

The search continues. The others might exist somewhere or they may have been lost forever – a sad thing for Dr Who fans.

Doctor Who tour

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