The original Cybermen story, ‘The Tenth Planet,’ no longer exists in the BBC archives. At least, not in its complete form. Frustratingly, Doctor Who was the victim of the BBC’s mass junking policy in the 60s and 70s, and the final episode of this classic adventure has fallen through a crack in time.
I’ve written about this in a bit more detail in another piece – ‘Can we find The Power of the Daleks?‘ – so be sure to check this out if you want to know more about the mass extermination of Doctor Who prints. But suffice it to say, the casualties were many, and ‘The Tenth Planet’ Episode Four is one of 97 episodes still missing from our collections.
It’s a key episode for a number of reasons. First, it concludes the debut adventure of one of the Time Lord’s most enduring foes. However, the original Cybermen looked a little different in ‘The Tenth Planet,’ sporting cloth-like faces and impressively bulky headlamps – a design that wouldn’t be seen again until the much later ‘World Enough and Time’ in 2017.
Second, ‘The Tenth Planet’ Episode Four is the last to feature the First Doctor William Hartnell, who regenerates in the closing moments. Fortunately, this crucial scene has survived the ravages of time in a variety of formats: an audio recording, captured during the original transmission; a series of telesnaps; a full clip, as featured in the children’s show Blue Peter; and a rather grainy off-air film recording, captured by a fan pointing their camera at a TV screen! Moreover, the regeneration scene was recreated in the 2017 episode ‘Twice Upon a Time,’ and we also have an animated reconstruction on the official DVD release from 2013. Nice.
As such, we have no difficulty in completing the original Cybermen story in some way – and indeed there are many options currently available. (Personally, I think the DVD’s animated version is pretty good.) But could we still lay our hands on a genuine copy of Episode Four? Is it possible for us complete this classic First Doctor adventure?
Well, I think there are a lot of reasons to be positive. ‘The Tenth Planet’ was sold to two countries – Australia and Singapore – and we still don’t know what happened to the Singapore prints. Technically, they should have been junked or returned to the BBC, but as far as I know there is no record of this. Now, Australia’s prints were sent back to the BBC in 1975, and I believe these are the copies that are held by the BBC – although why the corporation didn’t put a match to them is beyond me (although I’m glad they didn’t!)
As such, Episode Four is very conspicuous by its absence. Arguably, this film is of tremendous significance in the history of television, and indeed it is currently listed as one of the top 20 most wanted missing programmes (alongside the BBC’s coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landings.) And for any private film collector hell-bent on building a secret treasure trove of programmes, ‘The Tenth Planet’ Episode Four is a very attractive proposition. Many episodes have already come back to the archive via this route, and one episode – ‘The Web of Fear’ Episode Three – is currently known to be in the hands of a private collector, who hasn’t (yet) handed it over.
However, when it comes to the original Cybermen story, there is a lot of disinformation to sift through. This was certainly the case in 1992 when the BBC was hoaxed by a man claiming to have a copy, and the Beeb even went so far as to film a special introduction for its VHS release, with the actor Michael Craze (who played Ben in the story) confidently announcing the episode’s return to the archive.
Unless this is footage from a parallel universe, which is always possible.
Similarly, there’s another popular myth that the BBC lent a copy of Episode Four to Blue Peter, who never returned it. But, alas, this did not happen either. Apparently, the BBC didn’t have any surplus copies to lend out, and it was still offering the original Cybermen adventure in its complete form (to international broadcasters) until the end of 1973. After this, it presumably junked ‘The Tenth Planet’ en masse. But whether Episode Four joined its fellow episodes in the incinerator is a mystery.
So when it comes to completing the original Cybermen story, am I clutching at straws? Possibly. But when you think about it, we still have three copies of ‘The Tenth Planet’ Episode Four that haven’t been accounted for. We don’t know what happened to the Singapore print. The Australian print came back to the UK in 1975 – which is the copy we have today – but we have to question why Episode Four is missing from this batch. And even if the BBC did destroy its own copies in 1973/74, could a sympathetic BBC employee have smuggled it out of the skip? Absolutely. I refer you to ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ Episode Two.
So, if you are that employee, be sure to drop me a line. Or if you’re reading this from your own private film vault, having just finished watching the original take of ‘The Daleks’ Episode One, followed by ‘Planet of Giants’ Episode Four, I’d love to speak to you. No animosity. Just the most awesome exclusive interview ever. Help us to complete the original Cybermen story!
For further reading, be sure to check out our Cyberman guide: ‘Evolution of the Cybermen: The classic years.’
‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ Doctor Who scarf – Order now from the Lovarzi shop!
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