We’re taking a look back at some of the lost Doctor Who episodes from Patrick Troughton’s era. What was so special about ‘The Abominable Snowmen’?
Doctor Who‘s fifth season is often referred to as The Monster Era, typified by its ‘base-under-siege’ stories where exotic aliens would hound the Time Lord and his friends, often threatening to destroy the world with horrendous schemes. But today, most of these episodes are lost, and ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ is no exception. At the time of writing, only the second episode survives in the BBC archives.
And as lost Doctor Who episodes go, these are much sort-after. ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ might typify the ‘base-under-siege’ style of The Monster Era, but it is a standout adventure for many reasons.
For a start, it is the first to feature the dreaded Yeti – bear-like robots with spherical cores, all of which are controlled by the mysterious Great Intelligence. In ‘The Abominable Snowmen,’ the Yeti are besieging a monastery in 20th century Tibet, and it’s up to the Doctor and his friends to defeat them. The furry fiends proved popular with viewers, and were quickly brought back for a second showdown in ‘The Web of Fear‘ just a few weeks later.
Another important thing to note about these lost Doctor Who episodes is that it is they are the first and only example (to my knowledge) of a Doctor Who companion sharing the limelight with their father. In ‘The Abominable Snowmen,’ the Doctor and his companions meet a man called Professor Travers, who’s searching the Himalayas for traces of the elusive Yeti. This was Jack Watling, dad of the current Doctor Who companion Deborah Watling, who played Victoria. Deborah had in fact recommended her father for the role after reading the script – although later admitted that she had a hard time acting opposite his fake beard, which caused her to giggle.
And like the Yeti, Travers proved popular enough in these lost Doctor Who episodes to be brought back for ‘The Web of Fear,’ albeit in a much older form with even more facial hair.
Meanwhile, the filming experience on ‘Snowmen’ proved tough for all concerned. Nant Ffrancon Pass (a mountainside in North Wales) doubled for the chilly Himalayas, and was arguably no warmer. According to legend, actor Frazer Hines (who played the Doctor’s companion Jamie) had to wear rolled-up trousers underneath his kilt. Although it was a much more comfortable experience for the Yeti, who were clad in large, furry suits. Indeed, the padding was so thick that it saved one of the actors from injury after they fell several feet while filming, the costume being thick enough to break their fall.
So how is it that these have come to be lost Doctor Who episodes? Well you probably know the story by now, but in short – it was felt that ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ had no further commercial value after its initial transmission, and it was the BBC’s policy at the time to junk or wipe footage that took up valuable space. Thus, ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ was destroyed in its entirety in the late 1960s, and remains missing to this day.
That being said, one episode did escape the incinerator. Like many lost Doctor Who episodes, ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ part two survived because it was retained by a BBC employee – in this case, a retired projectionist. A film copy was discovered in the man’s collection in 1982, a version that would originally have been made for overseas sales.
And yet, mysteriously, the film print is still incomplete. There is a scene in which the Doctor is examining a deactivated Yeti, and he says, “Well you’re right about one thing, Victoria…” But for some reason, this line of dialogue is missing from the film print. Or at least, the audio is. The line plays out in complete silence, picking up at the tail-end of “Victoria.”
The reason for this is omission is unknown. Interestingly, the error was also present in the original master tape, meaning that the episode was broadcast without the audio. We know this because of fan-made recordings that were made during the original transmission. (In the 1960s, dedicated Doctor Who fans used to capture the audio of episodes as they were broadcast, sometimes just by putting microphones next to their TV speakers. The same thing happened with ‘The Abominable Snowmen.’)
As such, the chances of returning these lost Doctor Who episodes to their intended form is almost impossible, unless – by some twist of fate – an audio recording of Patrick Troughton’s dialogue exists somewhere.
But several workarounds have been used over the years. The original VHS release removed the broken line altogether, to prevent consumer complaints of faulty tapes. The DVD version, however, features a reconstruction of the missing line made up of words and sounds spoken by the Second Doctor in other episodes. This painstaking task was undertaken by Mark Ayres of The Doctor Who Restoration Team, and whilst it’s not a perfect substitute (by Ayres’ own admission), it is better than losing the dialogue altogether. It will be interesting to see how this issue is addressed if the BBC ever animates this story.
But will we ever see these lost Doctor Who episodes again? Well, Australia and New Zealand reportedly junked their copies in the late 1960s, but the survival of episode two raises the possibility that others could have fallen through the net. At the same time, there’s a big question mark over the fate of the Nigerian prints, which have still not been accounted for. So there are lots of reasons to be hopeful.
In the meantime, though, check out this interesting deep-fake recreation of a scene from ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ by Kieran Highman. Could this become the standard for recreating lost Doctor Who episodes? Let me know in the comments.
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