Doctor Who may be one of the BBCs largest grossing TV show around the world, but this doesn’t mean that their storage facilities rival those of the Tardis! During the 1960s and 70s, episodes were regularly exterminated. 97 of these are still missing, or perhaps even lost forever. Only audio and video stills are all that remains of many of the now infamous missing Doctor Who episodes.
Why are there so many missing Doctor Who episodes?
Back in the 1960s and 70s, it wasn’t uncommon for the BBC (British Broadcasting Network) to routinely delete tapes, throw them away or even overwrite them in a bid to cut storage costs down. This practice wasn’t even confined to the BBC and countless other TV series suffered the same fate; it’s just that Doctor Who is just the best-known series this happened to. Archiving was in no way what it was today and neither was customer consumption. Before the days of social media or binge watching Netflix, TV series were seen as a ‘one-time thing’. Broadcasters would air them once (twice if they felt like) and home video recording was in its early infancy.
Archiving was in no way what it was today and neither was customer consumption. Before the days of social media or binge watching Netflix, TV series were seen as a ‘one-time thing’. Broadcasters would air them once (twice if they felt like not enough people had seen the episode the first time) and home video recording was in its early infancy.
How can lost Doctor Who tapes even found?
Now, I know what you’re thinking: if the episodes were deleted or thrown away, then how can copies possibly turn up still? Well, as I mentioned, video recording was in its early infancy. So that’s not to say that it didn’t exist yet! Amateur video recorders and avid fans of the show occasionally would tape episodes (luckily for avid Doctor Who fans today!)
Episodes Turn up in the Strangest of Places…
A number of the ‘lost’ episodes were rediscovered in Devon, England. A 12-year-old boy and tech enthusiast recorded the episodes whenever they aired. He was so meticulous in his recordings that he wouldn’t even allow his Mum into the room so as to get the clearest sound possible!
Further missing episodes were discovered in Jos, Nigeria. In the 60s and 70s, it wasn’t at all uncommon for the BBC to regularly sell copies of Doctor Who episodes to overseas broadcasters. Episodes were often sent away as far as Australia for local broadcasters to distribute the episodes there. A number of the lost episodes have been re-discovered in this way. However, the majority of stations also deleted their copies of Doctor Who in an effort to cut down costs. Copies were never sent to Jos. Instead, no one knows how they ended up at a TV station halfway across the world from the original recipient, a station in Hong Kong!
Further recordings were discovered in the abandoned BBC building of Villiers House, Ealing. The premises had grown too small and the corporation had decided to move. However, one curious employee wanted to make sure that everything had been collected and thank goodness they did! Recordings of The Ice Warriors and Adam Adamant Lives were discovered, dusty, in the back of a disused room.
But perhaps the strangest location of them all was in the basement of a church! At the end of 1983, someone was presumably tidying up the basement of a church in London (as you do) and stumbled upon a couple of missing episodes. These were promptly sent to the BBC and confirmed to be the real deal.
Notable missing episodes
Of all the missing episodes, there are a few which I’d be particularly interested in watching!
The Myth Makers
There are some episodes which are missing altogether; this is one of them! The episode is set in the very midst of the Trojan war and has the Iliad as its backstory. Rumour has it that the director chose not to portray Helen during any of the scenes of Troy because “they couldn’t afford someone good looking enough”.
Audio of the Missing Doctor Who Episodes
Surprisingly (and luckily), the audio for all of the missing episodes is still around because they were stored in a different way to the film. This has led to partly recovered film clips being married to the audio and the rest filled in with stop-gap animation. With more and more clips turning up all the time, who knows what will be discovered next!
It’s certain that there are more missing Doctor Who episodes just waiting to be found… So, next time you’re at a flea market or perusing your grandma’s attic, just make sure to keep an eye out for unusual looking tapes…
Cover Photo: Doctor Who Logo 1963-1967