With this being the 50th anniversary of the launch of DOCTOR WHO, a lot of fans had wishes and dreams for how the milestone would be celebrated, with many (most?) invested in the hope that there would be a very special episode filmed using all of the surviving actors to create a multi-Doctor story to air on Nov. 23. With those hopes now dashed — although I am certain the story that will air will be a lot of fun — many fans despaired of a seeing a “proper” celebration.
But now comes word — and I cannot stress strongly enough that this is all just rumor at this point — that the BBC may have uncovered a huge trove of missing episodes in Africa, where they were sold into syndication in the late 1960s and ’70s. And by huge, I mean lots of episodes. Supposedly even full serials that were lost when the BBC either junked the masters or recorded over existing tapes. The story is that an “eccentric” broadcast engineer who loved science fiction took a lot of DW tapes into his personal custody for “safekeeping” — a move that turned out to be more necessary than he could ever have dreamed.
On its face, the story sounds like the ultimate in fan wish-fulfillment, which makes me highly skeptical; it sounds just too good to be true! No one is suggesting that all of the 100-plus missing episodes have been recovered, but supposedly a gigantic chunk of them are being returned to the UK and readied for broadcast in the fall. And wouldn’t that be sweet!
Of the initial 253 episodes broadcast in the series’ first six years, a shocking 106 installments no longer exist! The massacre of episodes was so complete that we have nothing from 10 full serials! Patrick Troughton‘s Second Doctor’s era is missing 62 episodes and four complete serials; William Hartnell’s reign as the First Doctor lacks 44 episodes and six whole serials.
The sheer volume of the missing episodes and what it would mean to fandom to have most of them returned is what’s keeping me cautious. I want it to be true so bad that I’m afraid to hope that it is.
The current rumor says that the complete “Evil of the Daleks” has been recovered! (Oh, to hear Deborah Watling‘s Victoria scream at the naughty pepperpots again!) I have visions of near-mythical Hartnell tales like “Marco Polo” and “The Myth-Makers” or Troughton stories like “The Macra Terror” and “Fury From the Deep” finally brightening modern TV screens. And what about witnessing the complete final episode of “The Tenth Planet,” featuring the very first regeneration of the Doctor?
The last time any episodes were recovered was December 2011, when single chapters of “Galaxy 4” and “The Underwater Menace” turned up in Australia. Last December, Britain’s Radio Times magazine announced an organized search for missing episodes to coincide with the show’s anniversary. Could this project have yielded the mother lode?
One can only hope!
ETA: Denials and backtracking on missing episodes.
ETA Again: Or, maybe it’s all true after all!