10 years ago, a massive haul of missing Doctor Who episodes found their way back to the BBC archive, courtesy of media recovery specialist Philip Morris.
“There are always rumours and speculation about Doctor Who missing episodes being discovered – however we cannot confirm any new finds.” That is the statement the BBC released in the summer of 2013 as the internet suffered something of a minor meltdown.
And the BBC was not wrong. Rumours about missing Doctor Who episodes often circulate, and it isn’t easy to separate fact from fiction. For instance, in early 2013 a hoaxer known as Rogue Cyberman was causing a stir on Twitter by claiming that he / she had recovered a copy of ‘The Macra Terror’ on VHS. Quite the story! (Particularly as ‘The Macra Terror’ was never recorded on VHS…)
So when rumours began to circulate that some 90 missing Doctor Who episodes had been unearthed in Africa, the internet was rightly suspicious. Unlike the Rogue Cyberman, though, this was a story that refused to die, and all attempts to kill it only seemed to give the rumour new life.
Perhaps this was because this particular missing Doctor Who episodes rumour was grounded in truth. The story revolved around a Doctor Who fan and archivist called Philip Morris, the founder of Television International Enterprises Archives (or TIEA) who was working on a project in Nigeria to catalogue materials for the Nigerian Television Authority. According to the rumours, he had uncovered 90 missing Doctor Who episodes during his televisual excavations, and the BBC would soon be making an announcement to coincide with Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary.
Now, it was true that Philip Morris was in Africa cataloguing archive materials and, as many Doctor Who fans know, a large number of missing Doctor Who episodes had been shown in Africa in the 60s. So it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that he could have unearthed some lost material as he scoured the continent’s TV stations. Furthermore, the rumours surrounding Philip Morris’ supposed discoveries were given weight by other prominent Doctor Who missing episodes hunters on Twitter, including some high profile websites such as Bleeding Cool.
Indeed, such was the cacophony that TIEA was ultimately forced to issue a statement, denying that the company possessed any missing Doctor Who episodes and reiterating that all of the original video tapes had been wiped and that all subsequent film copies had been sent to landfill and destroyed. “They are not missing but destroyed the end [sic]” said the statement.
This arrived at the same time as the comment from the BBC saying that it “[could not] confirm any new finds” – a statement that was vague enough to give fans just a tiny glimmer of hope. And indeed, the rumour only seemed to gain more traction at this point, with various websites reporting that the missing Doctor Who episodes ‘Marco Polo,’ ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear‘ were being prepared for DVD release.
These were certainly wild claims but the people making them had good track records, which created something of a dilemma for fans who struggled to tally what they were reading with what they had heard from TIEA and the BBC. They would have to wait several months before they learned the truth of the matter.
As it turned out, Philip Morris had indeed recovered some missing Doctor Who episodes – not 90, but nine at a TV station in Jos. These were all five missing episodes from ‘The Enemy of the World’ and four from ‘The Web of Fear,’ with the serial’s third instalment still missing. The fan websites and Twitter posters claimed that something had ‘gone wrong’ with the ‘Marco Polo’ announcement, and the truth behind the origin of this rumour remains a mystery to this day.
Still, fans could now enjoy two formerly lost Patrick Troughton adventures, and they made a late-night debut on iTunes in October 2013, soaring to the top of the platform’s charts.
As for the origin of the rumour surrounding the supposed 90 missing Doctor Who episodes, this is also a mystery. But one thing that has become clearer in subsequent years is why there was such a need for secrecy in the build-up to Philip Morris’ announcement.
For a start, the archivist was working in a dangerous part of the world when the stories began to circulate, and understandably he didn’t want to draw undue attention to the work of his team. Reportedly, some particularly over-zealous fans were even telephoning TV stations to see if there was any truth about the missing Doctor Who episodes rumours.
And notwithstanding the safety of Morris’ team, there was also a threat to the archive material. There was a concern that if anybody in Africa learned the true value of these missing Doctor Who episodes, they could fall into the hands of private collectors.
And as outlandish as this idea might sound, it seems likely that this happened to the still-missing ‘Web of Fear’ episode three. According to Philip Morris, the film can was discovered in Jos at the same time as the other missing Doctor Who episodes, and was photographed. But when Morris went to collect it the next day, he found that ‘The Web of Fear’ episode three had mysteriously disappeared, and Morris believed that it had been secretly passed on to a private collector.
In fact, Philip Morris believes that at least six missing Doctor Who episodes are currently in the hands of private collectors, so who knows, maybe they will find their way back to the archive one day.
At the same time, fans need to be vigilant. With 2023 being Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary, the chances of wild missing episodes rumours is higher than ever before. As for us here at Lovarzi, we will be waiting until the last possible minute before returning our copy of ‘The Macra Terror.’ On Betamax.
Do you think any more missing Doctor Who episodes will find their way back to the archive? And which one(s) would you most like to see? Let me know in the comments below.