There are currently two missing Doctor Who episodes from the 1967 story ‘The Underwater Menace.’ Is it possible to complete this classic adventure?
‘The Underwater Menace’ first aired in January 1967, making it 56 years old this year. It was broadcast relatively early in Patrick Troughton’s run as the Doctor, being the third story he ever starred in, and when a small batch of missing Doctor Who episodes was discovered in 2011, its second instalment became the earliest-surviving Second Doctor episode.
Prior to this, ‘The Underwater Menace’ episode three had been the earliest-surviving. Apparently, it was discovered by long-time Doctor Who fan Ian Levine who rescued it from destruction during an audit of the BBC’s archives. At the time, Levine had been trying to purchase Doctor Who episodes from the BBC to save them from destruction, and ‘The Underwater Menace’ episode three was one of the films that was saved from the incinerator. Alas, the other episodes weren’t so lucky.
So what happened to the other missing Doctor Who episodes from this story? Well, like almost all of the missing Doctor Who episodes from this time, the master tapes were wiped or burned, such was the BBC’s policy in the 1970s. This was because many programmes were considered worthless after their initial broadcast, and they weren’t allowed to be shown again. Plus, the BBC needed to free up space in its archive, and save money by re-using some of the tapes.
But fortunately for Doctor Who fans, most of the missing Doctor Who episodes were duplicated and sent abroad for overseas transmission, and indeed it is because of this practice that so many missing Doctor Who episodes now reside in the BBC archive. The copies of the First and Second Doctor stories that we now have (and many of the Third Doctor‘s) are in fact film prints that were returned from foreign TV stations.
This is how the second episode of ‘The Underwater Menace’ managed to escape destruction, although its existence was not known about for many years. The print had been returned from Australia and fell into the hands of a TV engineer called Terry Burnett, who ‘rescued it from the skip’ and added it to his own collection. Burnett had no knowledge of the episode’s significance and didn’t know that this was, potentially, the only copy in existence in the world.
When he realised, Burnett returned his missing Doctor Who episodes, which included the third episode of the First Doctor story ‘Galaxy Four.’ Thus, ‘The Underwater Menace’ part two became the earliest-surviving Second Doctor episode – but in a dramatic twist, it was incomplete.
Why? Well, the censor laws in Australia were such that the episode had to be trimmed prior to transmission to omit the parts which Australia deemed too scary for younger viewers. This would have been a problem for fans of ‘The Underwater Menace’ had the Australian government not required physical proof of the required deletions. As a result, the missing clips from ‘The Underwater Menace’ episode two (and from other parts of the story) were retained by the Australian censors, and were re-inserted into Burnett’s copy.
So what do we currently have of ‘The Underwater Menace’? As mentioned above, episodes two and three exist in their entirety, giving us 50% of the story. The soundtracks to episodes one and four also exist, as these were captured by dedicated Doctor Who fans during the episodes’ original broadcasts. And then there are telesnaps, which are off-air photos taken as the episodes were transmitted, plus the aforementioned censor clips. These disparate fragments have been combined to recreate the entirety of ‘The Underwater Menace,’ which was released on DVD in 2015.
Does this mean, then, that this is the only way we will ever experience these missing Doctor Who episodes? Not at all. ‘The Underwater Menace’ has just been released with animation filling the missing gaps.
And then there’s the possibility of remounting the episodes from scratch. Indeed, a group of university students produced a live action recreation of ‘Mission to the Unknown’ in 2019, and Ian Levine commissioned his own animated version of ‘Shada‘ before the BBC’s official release.
But for fans, the most exciting possibility is that the missing Doctor Who episodes themselves could make a re-appearance. But is this feasible? Could ‘The Underwater Menace’ episodes one and four be sitting in an overseas TV station, or in the hands of a private collector?
Certainly. The story was originally sold to Australia and Hong Kong, and we know that the Australia prints were returned because one of them fell into the hands of Terry Burnett. Therefore, the other missing Doctor Who episodes could have been salvaged by another collector before they were burned. This is a genuine possibility, as missing episodes hunter Philip Morris claims that “at least” six missing Doctor Who episodes currently reside in private collections. So the missing pieces of ‘The Underwater Menace’ could be among them.
And what about Hong Kong? Admittedly, it’s unlikely that any TV station will have been sitting on these film prints for 56 years without realising their significance, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Remember, ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear‘ had been hiding in a TV station in Jos for some 45 years before Philip Morris rescued them. And in 1992, ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ was discovered in Hong Kong after a mere 25 year absence.
Plus, now that we’re into Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary year, it’s always possible that the BBC could use the celebrations to announce the recovery of missing Doctor Who episodes. After all, ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear’ were held back for the 50th.
Would you like to see a completed version of ‘The Underwater Menace’? And which missing Doctor Who episodes would you most like to be returned? Let us know in the comments below.