The missing Doctor Who episodes of ‘The Smugglers’ make up the First Doctor’s last historical story. What happened to this classic adventure, and will we ever see it again?
By 1966, the BBC had started to erase Doctor Who from its archives and, shortly after transmission, ‘The Smugglers’ was also scheduled to be destroyed. Of course, Doctor Who wasn’t the only programme that was the victim of this policy; it was standard practice for the BBC (and indeed many organisations) to wipe its tapes for re-use, or dispose of the unwanted ones to make space in its archive.
That is why there are so many missing Doctor Who episodes – 97 at the last count, with the four episodes of ‘The Smugglers’ among them. And whilst these might not be at the very top of many fans’ wish lists, they are significant in that they launched Doctor Who‘s fourth season in 1966, and represented the first proper adventure with Ben and Polly as the Doctor’s companions.
Moreover, these missing Doctor Who episodes were among the last of the purely historical Doctor Who adventures. Throughout the First Doctor’s era, the BBC felt it important to tell stories that were rooted in real history in order to educate the younger viewers. However, as the Doctor Who formula evolved, these types of stories were gradually phased out, and indeed the very last of these (‘The Highlanders’) was broadcast only 11 weeks after ‘The Smugglers’ was first transmitted.
But what is ‘The Smugglers’ about? Simply put, these missing Doctor Who episodes see the First Doctor, Ben and Polly in 17th century Cornwall getting embroiled in a swashbuckling adventure involving a group of pirates on the hunt for buried treasure. It’s more of a ‘loose’ historical compared to other adventures like ‘The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve,’ and aims simply to tell an entertaining story against the backdrop of a familiar time period.
And like many classic Doctor Who episodes, it has garnered much interest over the years by virtue of the fact that it is missing! All that currently remains of ‘The Smugglers’ is a collection of audio recordings, telesnaps and short film clips. The audios were captured by dedicated fans who literally put microphones against their TV sets when the programmes were shown.
The telesnaps, meanwhile, were photos that were taken by a man called John Cura who used to capture images of everyday shows and sell them to the actors involved as proof of their appearances. Indeed, because of Cura’s meticulous work, we now have photographic collections of many of the missing Doctor Who episodes. And these, when accompanied with the original audios, have made it possible to ‘recreate’ a number of classic stories.
Finally, we have a number of short film clips from ‘The Smugglers.’ These survived when these missing Doctor Who episodes were sold for transmission in Australia, and because ‘The Smugglers’ was a particularly violent story, a number of sections had to be excised before the episodes were deemed suitable for transmission. Moreover, it was a legal requirement for these extracts to be retained, and consequently they survived even though the original film copies were destroyed.
But how can we be certain that all the copies of ‘The Smugglers’ were junked? Well, we can’t be – not completely, anyway. Whilst the BBC’s original tapes of these missing Doctor Who episodes were routinely wiped, the fate of the film copies that were made for overseas transmission is a little more vague. The story was sold to Sierra Leone and Australia, and both countries informed the BBC that they had junked their copies after they had used them, such was the requirement at the time.
And whilst no one can be certain as to what happened to the prints that were sent to Singapore, it is highly likely that these missing Doctor Who episodes were also junked after transmission. However, if there is to be any hope of finding ‘The Smugglers’ after all this time, Singapore might be the best place to start looking.
That being said, miraculous recoveries can always happen. After all, it was believed for over 40 years that all the remaining copies of ‘The Web of Fear‘ had been destroyed, until they were found perfectly preserved at a TV station in Jos in 2012. Equally, three episodes of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan‘ have survived against all the odds, with two copies being discovered in a Mormon church, and a third in the hands of a private collector who had (quite literally) rescued the film from the skip.
This, then, it perhaps the most likely route for the return of missing Doctor Who episodes. If fans are ever going to see ‘The Smugglers’ again, it is more likely than not that the cans will come from a private collector who may, perhaps, be unaware of the significance of the material they possess. This was certainly true for other missing Doctor Who episodes such as ‘The Evil of the Daleks‘ episode two, and ‘The Underwater Menace‘ episode three.
And then there is the animation route. Over the years, many missing Doctor Who episodes have been recreated via the magic of animation, starting with the missing sections of ‘The Invasion’ in 2006. And whilst it seems that all future Doctor Who animations have been put on hold for the time being, it is always possible that some organisation (or even a fan movement) could fund an fully-animated recreation of ‘The Smugglers.’
Indeed, this story would fill a very important gap in Doctor Who fans’ collections. ‘The Smugglers’ not only launched Season Four, but it was also the penultimate story to feature William Hartnell as the Doctor. He would soon regenerate in the closing moments of the subsequent story ‘The Tenth Planet‘ – an event made necessary by the actors’ ailing health, and the BBC’s desire to inject new life into the three year old series.
Do you think we will ever get to see ‘The Smugglers’ again? And how would you feel about an animated version? Let us know in the comments below.