Many big (and impressive) Doctor Who missing episodes rumours have surfaced over the years, all of which turned out to be false. Here’s the lowdown on some of the most memorable.
The first of these plagued the internet back in 2013, and was probably the first big Doctor Who missing episodes rumour of the social media age. This involved a Twitter account going by the name of Rogue Cyberman who claimed that they had a copy of ‘The Macra Terror’ on VHS. Quite how ‘The Macra Terror’ ended up on VHS tape when it was film recorded was never explained by the hoaxer, but the escalating claims were being supported by a number of other Twitter accounts, most of which were (likely) run by the same person.
Ironically, 2013 did actually turn out to be a big year for Doctor Who missing episodes. In the November of that year, the hunter Philip Morris revealed that he had found nine Doctor Who missing episodes at a TV station in Jos, which turned out to be five episodes of the Patrick Troughton story ‘The Enemy of the World’ and four episodes of the subsequent story ‘The Web of Fear.’
Naturally, rumours about these Doctor Who missing episodes were also doing the rounds on social media, but in a world where anyone can go online and claim anything (and in the aftermath of ‘The Macra Terror’ debacle) the vast majority of Whovians were sceptical, to say the least. Of course, when the rumours turned out to be true, it was the perfect gift for Doctor Who fans, as 2013 was the year of the programme’s 50th anniversary.
So it is possible for Doctor Who missing episodes to be recovered en masse. ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear’ survived because they had been sold to the TV station in Jos in the 1960s, when Patrick’s Troughton’s Doctor was at the peak of his powers. Officially, these film copies should have been destroyed or returned to the BBC but, as is often the case, this hadn’t occurred.
And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fact that these TV stations didn’t destroy their films is one of the main reasons we have them today. Others, meanwhile, were returned to the BBC but smuggled away by curious employees or (in one bizarre case) found in the basement of a Mormon church.
So could more Doctor Who missing episodes be sitting in a mass stockpile in an overlooked TV station? Well, there is an enduring rumour about the TV station in Sierra Leone that was supposed to house a motherlode of Doctor Who missing episodes, with some people even speculating that virtually every lost Hartnell episode could be waiting to be unearthed.
And this isn’t a baseless rumour. In Africa, the Doctor Who films were on something called a ‘bicycling system,’ where used film prints would be passed from TV station to TV station for transmission in their various countries and districts. Sierra Leone was a ‘final destination’ for many Doctor Who missing episodes and, assuming the TV station didn’t destroy its prints (a la Jos), it’s possible that a whole pile of Doctor Who films could be awaiting discovery.
But don’t get too excited. Sadly, Sierra Leone went through a civil war between 1991 and 2002, and the TV station in question was destroyed. In addition, the civil war made it impossible for Doctor Who missing episodes hunters to actually explore the archive, so we will never know if The Complete Hartnell Collection was sitting on its shelves. Of course, there is always the possibility that some sympathetic smuggler managed to rush the precious film cans to safety and (for some reason) decided not to tell anybody.
And this idea isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. For example, one standing Doctor Who missing episodes rumour states that ‘The Web of Fear’ episode three is actually sitting in the hands of a private collector, who is refusing to admit to / hand over their material.
And this is a rumour that could well be true. Indeed, the Doctor Who missing episodes hunter Philip Morris found and photographed this episode in Jos, where it was discovered alongside the other episodes from this story. It was only when he went back to collect the film that he discovered it had mysteriously disappeared.
Since this occurrence, Philip Morris has said that he believes at least six Doctor Who missing episodes are sitting in the hands of private collectors and, presumably, ‘The Web of Fear’ episode three is one of these.
And whilst some of these stories can seem a little unlikely or far-fetched, sometimes the truth is stranger than reality. For instance, the surviving episodes of ‘The Ice Warriors’ were literally found at the back of a cupboard at BBC Enterprises, where they had been stored and forgotten about. People had been searching the world for these Doctor Who missing episodes which were sitting but a few rooms away. You couldn’t make it up. Other lost episodes were found at car boot sales, where they were in the hands of elderly dealers who didn’t understand the significance of what they were selling (as was the case with ‘The Evil of the Daleks‘ episode two.)
As such, it can be difficult to spot a made-up Doctor Who missing episodes claim. It might sound impossible, but sometimes the impossible does happen. Ultimately, it comes down to the proof; if someone is claiming to have the entirety of ‘Marco Polo’ on Blu-ray, send us the disc!
And with the programme’s 60th anniversary fast approaching, the likelihood of some far-reaching Doctor Who missing episodes claims is increasing. But then, so is the possibility of a genuine return. ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear’ came back for the 50th, after all.
In the meantime, what is the biggest Doctor Who missing episodes rumour you’ve ever heard? And which ones would you most like to be returned? Let us know in the comments.
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