The story of Doctor Who missing episodes is almost as gripping as the series itself.
In the late 1960s, the BBC began a systematic extermination of its entire archive, junking “worthless” films and videotapes that no longer had any commercial value. This was in the days before home video was really a thing, and the rights restrictions of the day meant the BBC was unable to make much use of its programmes. Often they were limited to one transmission, one repeat, and a few overseas sales. Beyond that, the tapes were just an inconvenience – gathering dust and taking up space.
And the BBC was efficient in its cleaning programme. In fact (correct me if I’m wrong) but I don’t think any of the original Doctor Who recordings before 1974 actually exist. Most of what we have are copies that were made for international distribution. Even the 1974 Jon Pertwee story ‘Death to the Daleks’ was incomplete for some time – in full colour, at least.
So, when we come to Doctor Who missing episodes like ‘The Power of the Daleks,’ we’re faced with the very painful reality of the situation. Not that I’d wish the BBC’s incinerator on any Doctor Who adventure, but this tale is considered (by many) to be the Holy Grail of Doctor Who missing episodes. For one thing, it’s a cracking yarn; go and watch the animation if you haven’t already.
But for another, it’s the first to feature the Second Doctor, having regenerated at the end of the previous story ‘The Tenth Planet.’ Plus, it’s solid Dalek action, and their appearance is never a bad thing.
As such, the idea of finding these Doctor Who missing episodes is an exciting one – and one that often seems like pure fantasy.
That being said, what we have to remember about Doctor Who missing episodes is that they turn up in the strangest of places, and the BBC currently holds a number of episodes in its archives that – to all intents and purposes – it “shouldn’t,” such is the unlikelihood of their survival.
‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ (1965) is a good example of this. Although the BBC made film copies for international distribution, only one country took them up on the offer – Australia. And even then these were just “audition” prints, with the Australian TV station viewing the story and ultimately rejecting it for being “too adult,” and too difficult to censor. Thus, it’s unclear whether these Doctor Who missing episodes were ever returned to the BBC, or whether Australia subjected them to the dreaded Time Destructor.
And yet we have three whole episodes of ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ in the BBC archives – that’s a quarter of the story! Their survival is quite miraculous (if not ridiculous) given that two of them were discovered in the basement of a Mormon church, and one was hauled out of a skip by a curious BBC employee.
So we needn’t lose hope with Doctor Who missing episodes, particularly when it comes to ‘The Power of the Daleks.’ For one thing, it was more widely distributed than ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan,’ with one set of prints being sent to Australia, and another being sent to Singapore.
Now, Australia reportedly returned its copies to the BBC in 1975, whilst the fate of the Singapore prints is unknown. And I hear conflicting reports about Singapore. (I say “hear” – that’s code for “what I can find on Google.”) Some say that Singapore has declared, officially, that it doesn’t have any Doctor Who prints. Well, this might be true, but I think the same thing was said about the TV station in Jos, where ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear’ were later recovered in 2013. Personally, I won’t be satisfied about the Singapore situation until Philip Morris (episode hunter extraordinaire) has gone into its archives with a fedora.
Plus, even if we assume “the worst” and can conclusively prove that all known copies of ‘The Power of the Daleks’ made their way back to the BBC, this is no guarantee of extermination. There is already a strong precedent for curious BBC employees fishing things out of skips; this was certainly the case with Episode Three of ‘Galaxy Four’ and Episode Two of ‘The Underwater Menace,’ which were returned to the archives in 2011. It’s worth noting, as well, that the latter was the Australian print, proving that it’s possible for material to be returned from Down Under for the sole purpose of junking – and still survive!
And if I were a betting man, this is where I’d put my money. If these Doctor Who missing episodes are to be returned to us, I think it will be via a sympathetic, ex-BBC employee, who saw the films languishing in a bin and smuggled them into the boot of their car. They’ve probably been sitting in a loft since the late 60s, right next to ‘Marco Polo’ and ‘Fury from the Deep,’ with the oblivious owner unaware of their value.
The other danger, of course, is that these Doctor Who missing episodes are in the hands of strange, private hoarders who are hell bent on keeping such material for themselves, and never letting anyone see them.
And sadly, this is a very real possibility. This is certainly the case with ‘The Web of Fear’ Episode Three – the only one of the missing Doctor Who episodes that we know, for a fact, exists. It was discovered in a TV station in Jos by Philip Morris – and photographed – only to mysteriously disappear shortly after. The fallout from this event resulted in the firing of one of the TV station’s employees.
So don’t give up hope, fellow Whovians. If anyone tells you that you have zero chance of seeing ‘The Power of the Daleks’ again, keep an open mind. They said the same about ‘The Enemy of the World’ and I’m now the proud owner of it on DVD. Twice.
What do you think? Will we recover any more Doctor Who missing episodes? And which ones would you most like to see? Is ‘The Power of the Daleks’ your missing episode holy grail? Let me know in the comments below.
For further reading, check out our special guide: ‘The Power of the Daleks: Everything you need to know.’
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