Over the years, many attempts have been made to breathe new life into the Doctor Who missing episodes. But what is the best way to enjoy these lost classics?
Where can I watch lost episodes of Doctor Who?
With Doctor Who missing episodes, we are fortunate that we still have all of the episodes’ original soundtracks. This is solely down to dedicated fans who, even at this early stage in Doctor Who‘s popularity, were passionate enough to capture the episodes’ audio at the time of transmission, in some cases literally putting a microphone against their TV’s loud speaker.
This means that Doctor Who missing episodes will always be available to us in audio form. But for those of us who prefer something visual, there are a number of different options available to us…
1) Telesnap reconstructions
Back in the 1960s, there was a prolific photographer called John Cura who used to take photos of TV programmes as they went out, snapping key images at regular intervals. He would then sell these ‘telesnaps’ to the actors involved as a record of their work – something that they could pass on to future casting agents, in the days before showreels.
Naturally, this involved the Doctor Who missing episodes, and indeed most of the Doctor Who episodes from 1963 to 1968. As such, we now have an accurate visual record of many of the lost classics. This means that, when accompanied with the original soundtracks, we are able to enjoy the most visually and audibly-accurate recreations of the Doctor Who missing episodes, even if they are somewhat static.
The DVD release of ‘The Underwater Menace’ episodes one and four was the most basic of reconstructions, foregoing subtitles that described what was happening on-screen and sticking instead to the purity of the still images and the audio. But other reconstructions have been more dynamic; the fan-led company Loose Cannon was incredibly thorough in their reconstruction of Doctor Who missing episodes, and even invented ‘new’ telesnaps for sections that had no visual reference.
This proved particularly effective for classics such as ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan‘ for which there were no telesnaps, and Loose Cannon relied on photo-editing mastery (drawing from production stills and surviving episodes) to breathe new life into this missing story.
In 2006, the BBC took Doctor Who missing episodes to the next level with its first animated recreation, beginning with the lost segments of 1968’s ‘The Invasion.’ These were professionally produced by the animation company Cosgrove Hall, which sadly no longer exists.
For these productions, the company tried to retain the look and the feel of the Doctor Who missing episodes as much as possible, offering them in black and white and trying to deliver an accurate representation of what episodes one and four might have originally looked like.
Of course, the advantage of doing an animated recreation is that the production is not bound by production costs, in the sense that it can create more lavish sets and impressive-looking monsters than would have been possible in the 1960s. And so for later animations like ‘The Macra Terror’ and ‘Fury from the Deep,’ the animators were much more imaginative and gave the Doctor Who missing episodes a much grander and more cinematic feel.
Obviously, the downside of this approach (depending on your point of view) is that the recreations are less accurate to their TV counterparts, particularly as these are delivered in colour rather than black and white. That being said, the animated episodes are also offered in monochrome so that fans can choose the version they prefer. This is true for the most recent Doctor Who missing episodes animation ‘The Abominable Snowmen,’ which sees the Doctor’s first encounter with the fearsome Yeti.
But these are relatively basic animations and, obviously, don’t reach the standards of major film studios with a much bigger budgets. However, with enough time and money, it could be possible to create more accurate-looking Doctor Who animations, perhaps using high-end CGI or even deep-fake technology.
In 2019, ‘Mission to the Unknown’ became the first of the Doctor Who missing episodes to be fully remade in live action with the original production values of the 1960s. This was down to students from the University of Central Lancashire, who took it upon themselves to reconstruct the original sets and costumes (Daleks and all) working from the episode’s script and production stills. Peter Purves, the original companion from the time, even dropped by the university to support the production.
The result was well-received, and the episode premiered on Doctor Who‘s official YouTube channel on the 9th October 2019, which was 54 years to the day after the episode’s original broadcast.
The advantage of recreating Doctor Who missing episodes such as ‘Mission to the Unknown’ is that (unusually) it didn’t feature any of the series’ regular cast such as the Doctor, Steven and Katarina, so the production team didn’t have to recast or recreate these memorable roles and ask the audience to suspend disbelief. In a sense, it stands as something of a mini Doctor Who spin-off; at the time, the BBC even gave it the unofficial title of ‘Dalek Cutaway.’
That being said, suspending disbelief is not always a bad thing. For the 2017 episode ‘Twice Upon a Time,’ the BBC actually recreated a number of key scenes from one of the Doctor Who missing episodes ‘The Tenth Planet’ episode four using different actors, with David Bradley standing in for the First Doctor William Hartnell. They even recreated the regeneration scene at the episode’s end, merging it with the original footage in the final moments.
Now, not every fan will want to see the Doctor Who missing episodes recreated in this way, as they forego the off-air soundtracks and (obviously) don’t feature the original actors. But they are the most visual way of enjoying these lost classics, and it would be fascinating if – some day – a production team endeavoured to fully remake the missing episodes, perhaps drawing on deep-fake technology to recreate the actors’ faces a la Peter Cushing in the Star Wars movie Rogue One.
But tell us what you think. How do you enjoy your Doctor Who missing episodes? Would you like to see them re-filmed someday? Let me know in the comments below.
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