Monday, 12 December 2011

Two lost Doctor Who episodes - FOUND!

The BBC announced last night that two of the many missing episodes of Doctor Who have been recovered, and returned to the BBC archives in their entirety. Well, we call them 'lost' or 'missing,' but destroyed is a better term - the BBC committed wanton acts of vandalism against its own product throughout the Sixties and Seventies, wiping, and sometimes even incinerating, old video stock. The list of lost Doctor Who eps tallied a whopping 108, until two more were recovered recently. Staggeringly, according to the news story, both episodes were bought at a school fete in the Eighties, and have been kept pristine since then, with the owner unaware that they were missing from the archives. These aren't the original transmission tapes, which have all invariably been destroyed. However, film transfers for overseas sales resurface from time to time, very often having been sold on by foreign television stations and now residing in private collections.

Doctor Who isn't the only series to have suffered such a fate - Dad's Army, Hancock's Half Hour, Softly Softly, Not in Front of the Children, Adam Adamant Lives! - dozens of series are missing episodes. There's a list in this wiki entry, and we can see that cop shows were hit particularly badly - Dixon of Dock Green is missing 381 episodes, and Z-Cars a whopping 466! Although this does show just how prolific the creators of these series were, to have made so many episodes in the first case. Monty Python's Flying Circus almost lost its entire first series, according to the tales, but the engineer charged with the task of wiping it decided to pinch it, and took it home instead. Good forward thinking, that man. Emergency Ward 9 also turned up in this latest haul, along with a Pete and Dud sketch - slowly, the BBC is getting its goods back.

So, Doctor Who is missing over a hundred episodes from the Sixties, featuring the original Doctor, William Hartnell, and his successor, Patrick Troughton. Thankfully, one episode for each has just been discovered. For Hartnell fans, we have Air Lock, the third episode of Galaxy Four - a major find, as this was one of the truly lost stories, with only tiny fragments of film remaining as a visual record. Troughton lovers can look forward to seeing Episode Two of The Underwater Menace, which joins the third episode in the archives, leaving episodes one, four, five and six still unaccounted for. Menace is widely considered one of the worst stories of the Sixties, but still, it's a laugh, and it's great to be able to actually see the lunacy again. Clips from both shows can be seen at the Doctor Who News Page.

So, this leaves 106 episodes still missing from the archives. It's unlikely there are many more out there - not all can be as fortunate as these, and been saved from a second act of destruction and acquired by collectors. Still, they do turn up from time to time - the last time this happened was back in 2004, when the Dalek episode Day of Armageddon surfaced. Until the next lucky find, we can make do with the off-air soundtracks - fortuitously recorded by industrious fans during the original broadcasts.

Best have a quick check in the loft though, just in case Grandad hid the complete Marco Polo up there. You never know.

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