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It remains the biggest sin the BBC has ever committed. Reams of tape, hours upon hours of vintage, innovative programming, burnt like a Guy Fawkes effigy and turned to ashes. Unwanted by those who owned them, loved by those who watched them.
A screengrab of the Doctor Who title sequence from the Hartnell Era.
Hundreds of shows that should have been treated with all the care and attention that went into making them in the first place, wiped. Never to be seen again.

How the BBC and its cousin stations ever got away with it we will never know. So many classics, gone. Dad's Army, Hancock, Not Only But Also, The Likely Lads, Top Of The Pops, shows which changed the television landscape and influenced generations. Then there is the granddaddy of them all, our favorite show, Doctor Who. Thanks to the shortsightedness of bosses and normal everyday people doing what they were told, 106 episodes from the shows infancy remain missing believed wiped.

Those of you reading this all know the story, but let me refresh your memory. Up until 1972 the BBC held every single episode of Doctor Who made up to that point in it’s archives (All except The Dalek’s Master Plan installment ‘The Feast of Steven’) all of which were 16mm tele-recordings made for commercial sale to foreign networks. The original episodes had been stored on videotape yet since video was at this time a very expensive commodity; the shows were transferred to film so the original tape could be used again on future recordings. Both the BBC and ITV were storing their shows in this way. What happened between 1972 and 1978, however, is nothing short of a tragedy.

BBC Enterprises, thinking that nobody wanted these episodes and that other copies had been made and sold the countries who wanted them, or kept at the BBC Film Library, started systematically destroying the prints. Other factors including copyright problems and wrangling's with Equity also contributed to the films fate. Even the need for space for other shows to be stored, with the BBC not having a facility to store them in was a key factor in their demise. These black and white gems were also seen as redundant with the introduction of colour TV and with no outlet from repeats or a commercial market to profit from (pre VHS and DVD times) there fate was sealed.

It wasn’t until 1978 when the BBC began to catalogue what it had in the archive that the junking stopped. The intervention of super-fan Ian Levine (who saved the very first Dalek story among many others) and the efforts of Sue Malden means that today there are far more episodes of Doctor Who in existence than there would have been. Between 1963 and 1969 the BBC recorded 253 episodes of Doctor Who and before the intervention and recoveries; fewer than 50 were known to exist within the BBC. Within a few years and following enquiries to other stations plus the British Film Institute, who returned three complete Patrick Troughton stories, that figure had doubled.
A previously missing Doctor Who film reel from 'The Evil of the Daleks' (1967).

Already, Doctor Who was in a better state than other shows. Many editions of Z-Cars - nearly 500 episodes gone - United! and Not Only But Also were completely missing. Although most of the latter would eventually be recovered, the former no longer exists.

Throughout the 1980s episodes began to turn up in the unlikeliest of places. Two episodes of the classic; The Dalek’s Master Plan were found in a church basement. A film collector bought The Evil of the Daleks; Episode 2 and The Faceless Ones, Episode 3 at a car boot sale while The Wheel in Space; Episode 3 was also found by a film buff.

Those discoveries lead to the prediction that engineers and workers, horrified by what they were being asked to destroy, literally stole the prints, saving them from a fiery end. Some fell into the hands of film collectors who did not know, and possibly still don’t know, the rarity of their collections.

As time went on more episodes returned from abroad. Three William Hartnell stories were returned from Nigeria in 1984 and a few years’ later four episodes from The Ice Warriors were found in a cupboard in Villiers House, which the BBC was in the process of moving out of. One was even in the wrong can and one that should have contained Episode 6 of Fury From The Deep had something completely different in it all together. Who knows, perhaps more episodes exist to this day in unmarked or misleading cans.

Publicity still from 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' (1967).
By the end of the eighties the recovery of lost Who episodes began to dry up. It seemed as if the well had truly gone dry until all four episodes of Patrick Troughton’s The Tomb of the Cybermen, were returned from a television station in Hong Kong in 1992. Fans were understandably elated with the news since it was thought of as one of the all time great stories, and even though some were disappointed by its production values it’s reputation remains on the whole untarnished and it is still to this day is the earliest surviving Troughton story known to exist.

In 1996 Australian fan turned researcher Damian Shanaman discovered clips from missing episodes in the Australian archives which were cut because they were considered too disturbing for younger viewers. This enabled some clips to be edited back together with episodes held in the Film Library to make them complete again. 8mm recordings made by fans were also found, who obtained them by pointing a camera at the TV monitor as the show was originally broadcast.

Just 3 years later a film collector in New Zealand returned the first installment of The Crusade (The Lion). The film was rather scratched but its discovery meant that there are now currently only 2 episodes from the entire second season of Doctor Who still missing; ironically both are from the same story. Further clips were also found in New Zealand in 2002. These were also censor clips and then a year later a reel found at BBC’s Windmill Road archive led to the discovery of cutting room floor footage from Fury From The Deep and rather more intriguing a trailer broadcast the night before the first episode of The Power of the Daleks. Then eagle eyed viewers noticed footage from this story in a Tomorrow's World programme in 2005. These findings were almost as unexpected as the print of the pilot episode turning up 20 years previously.

Almost five years after the return of The Lion a former BBC employer announced that he rescued Day of Armageddon, the second part of The Dalek’s Master Plan in the seventies when he found it a room of films to be junked at Ealing Film Studios. Luckily he had kept in very good shape, which now left only nine episodes missing from the epic.
Episode title screengrab from the rediscovered 'Galaxy Four' (1965).

By 2011, 108 episodes were sill missing. Until the best early Christmas present for all Who fans was announced. I remember sitting in my local pub, watching my team get cheated out of a win (if you saw Stoke versus Spurs then you know what I’m on about) when I decided to check Facebook and see if my friend had uploaded her pictures of our night out yet.

As I was scrolling down my news feed, there it was in capital letters. MISSING EPISODES RETURNED TO THE BBC. THE EPISODES ARE GALAXY FOUR EPISODE 3 AND THE UNDERWATER MENACE EPISODE 3. MORE NEWS TO FOLLOW. I knew it could not be a hoax; it was from the BBC Doctor Who website. All of a sudden the end of seven game winning streak no longer seemed important and I raced home to witness the proof for myself, two lovely clips of each show. Happy Days!

What makes these discoveries all the more amazing is that the footage is now nearly 50 years old and the other the earliest surviving Troughton episode. The episodes have been shown at the BFI Missing Believed Wiped event earlier that day and the fact that these episodes will soon be seen again by a new generation of fans is equally exciting. We can’t wait to see these treasures. A film collector at a fete purchased them in the early eighties. They will now be restored to their former glory and we will await their release like a child on Christmas morning.

Still, it doesn’t seem fair that over 100 editions of Doctor Who remain lost while another long running programme like Coronation Street has a full archive of thousands of episodes. Doctor Who is blessed with an advantage over all the other shows that were wiped. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of fans, every single episode from the 1960’s does exist in audio form, recorded on tape recorders pointed at the television. These recordings have been painstakingly restored and released for commercial sale adding another quality to the show. As audio plays, the missing episodes are just as terrifying as when they originally went out and they encourage the listener to use their imagination and paint the pictures in your head.
Missing Doctor Who ReAnimated for 'The Invasion' DVD release (2006).

Some fans have even gone as far as reconstructing the missing stories through various means. Whether they are through telesnaps or even CGI (with varied results) the same amount of effort has been put in for no financial gain. These labours of love can be found on websites and YouTube and just goes to show the desire to see their favourite stories again.

With the introduction of DVD as a medium at the turn of the millennium, the range of Doctor Who stories to be released was obviously going to be effected by what was no longer held in the vaults. In 2006 Cosgrove Hall, the company responsible for children’s programmes like Dangermouse and Postman Pat animated the two missing parts of the 1968 story, The Invasion, which was then released with the other remaining parts. With the story now complete, 2|entertain have also commissioned Big Finish Productions and Theta Sigma to animate the two lost parts of The Reign of Terror. Those episodes were nearly saved, but the facility that held the only remaining copies in Sierra Leone was destroyed during civil unrest in 1974. Whether or not these reconstructions have been inspired by the fan remakes online, they are still one step further to the BBC having a full archive of Doctor Who again.

Speaking of a full archive, it is a misconception that only the first two Doctors were affected by episode wiping. When the archives were audited for the first time in 1978 it was discovered that the videotapes containing early Jon Pertwee seasons had also been destroyed. In fact, all of Pertwee’s seasons had at least one story that was incomplete. However, these stories had been recorded onto 16mm film and although this now meant that the original colour copies didn’t exist it does mean that all of the episodes broadcast in the 1970’s onwards are complete, a luxury which deserted The Goodies and other shows. Also, since the stories had been broadcast in colour at home and abroad, colour tapes from countries such as America were returned and are used as a guide when colourizing the black and white footage for DVD releases.

There have been many 'so near, yet, so far moments' along the way when episodes were junked, just before they were saved at the BBC. The Wheel in Space; Episode 5, The Power of the Daleks; Episode 6, The Ice Warriors; Episode 3 and The Celestial Toymaker; Episode 2 were fated to junking as were all four parts of Galaxy Four (or so we thought) and the fourth part of The Dalek’s Master Plan, ‘The Traitors’ was never returned after being loaned to Blue Peter and not the final part of The Tenth Planet as the fan myth goes.

Of all the episodes no longer in existence the one that is most sorely missed is that final part of Hartnell’s last story. It is also the only story to be just one episode away from completion. Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet, which shows the Doctor regenerate for the first time, and only represented by a clip and a few poor quality 8mm film trims, is on the BBC’s top ten most-wanted list of missing footage which includes the corporation’s footage of the moon landing.
A surviving still from the lost fourth episode of 'The Tenth Planet' (1966).

There was, of course, that incident when a Mr. Roger Barrett (the real name of Pink Floyd’s former frontman Syd Barrett) claimed he had the episode on videotape and ended up conning the BBC and Doctor Who fandom when this turned out to be a hoax. Its whereabouts remains a mystery to this day. But one day it will come back, yes, one day...

The most disturbing factor in the junking is its sporadic nature. Seasons 1, 2 and 6 are incredibly well represented, with The Space Pirates being the only story from season six to be represented by an orphaned part. The reason behind the lack of episodes from Seasons 3, 4 and 5 (especially Troughton’s first two seasons) is that there were less television stations around the world who purchased them. In fact, only seven Troughton episodes exist from Season Four and The Tomb of the Cybermen is the only complete story from his first two years in the role.

Even stories involving the eternally popular Daleks (The Dalek's Master Plan, The Power of the Daleks and The Evil of the Daleks) were destroyed and Season Five, which has long been described by fans as one of the best in the entire series, remains decimated.

So, what does the future hold in our quest? These latest findings have given an injection of hope to Who fans everywhere, that more will turn up, it’s just down to a lot of hard work and luck and getting in touch with the right people. Richard Molesworth’s brilliant book; Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes, has shed new light on where the films were originally sold and which ones are likely to turn up. Furthermore, the discovery of footage belonging to other shows may also encourage film collectors and TV stations to look through they’re collections again. A former BBC cameraman returned footage of a long lost David Bowie performance on Top Of The Pops the same week it was announced that Galaxy Four and The Underwater Menace had been returned. A couple of years ago, a man purchased a World War One propaganda film made by Charlie Chaplin over 90 years ago, previously from eBay for just over three quid! So you never know, Doctor Who episodes may still be turning up way after our lifetime.

In my own personal view I think it is an impossible dream that the BBC archives will have a full quota of Doctor Who episodes again. Having said that, I, like many other fans, still believe that more episodes are out there. I do think that one day; there will be below 100 episodes missing but not many more after that. Time has passed since their original broadcast and junking and if episodes are sitting in attics, garden sheds or cupboards, the condition will only keep deteriorating as time goes by. Maybe one of the many prints made of Marco Polo is in a far-flung country? Maybe the two lost episodes from The Ice Warriors are in a loft somewhere? For all we know The Tenth Planet; Episode 4 could still be sitting in an unmarked can somewhere in London!

So, I implore you dear reader, let’s keep the good work going. Ask around, take comfort in the fact that so many black and white gems do exist and in the inspirational good work of Ian Levine, Sue Malden and Paul Vanezis among others. Pull your sleeves up – we’re going on a treasure hunt!

© Copyright Hayden Gribble & Doctor Who Online, 2012.
Page Updated: 31/1/2012

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Hayden Gribble

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