Missing Doctor Who episodes have shown up in the strangest of places, from TV vaults in Africa to basements of Mormon churches. Here are the some of the most incredible discoveries.
5. The Ice Warriors
‘The Ice Warriors’ was an unusual and, in some ways, frustrating discovery. These missing Doctor Who episodes had disappeared from the BBC shortly after their original transmission, and it was thought that all film copies had either been junked or burned, as was the policy at the time. However, few people could have realised that the majority of the story was actually sitting in a cupboard at BBC Enterprises – right on the corporation’s doorstep!
Well, they were in the back of the cupboard, to be precise. Episodes one, four, five and six were unearthed in 1988 in Villiers House, West London, when BBC Enterprises was in the process of moving offices. They had probably been sitting there since the 1970s, when they were returned from overseas and subsequently forgotten about. It is not known why they never made it to the incinerator (or what happened to episodes two and three) but it is great to have them back.
4. The Lion
‘The Lion’ is the opening episode of the First Doctor story ‘The Crusade,’ first broadcast in 1965. Of all the missing Doctor Who episodes, this discovery was the most ironic, coming just months after the BBC declared that it didn’t expect to find any more missing Doctor Who episodes. So the return of ‘The Lion’ in 1999 was a big surprise, and a welcome one.
The episode had actually been recovered many years earlier by the film collector Bruce Grenville in New Zealand, who had no idea of the episode’s value. It was only when Doctor Who fan Neil Lambess asked him if he had any episodes in his collection that Grenville revealed his possession, and duly returned it to the BBC. Apparently, ‘The Lion’ had been in his collection for some time and, thanks to its return, there are now only two missing Doctor Who episodes from William Hartnell’s second season.
3. The Daleks’ Master Plan
‘The Daleks’ Master Plan‘ is perhaps one of the most popular First Doctor stories. It is largely missing, although three episodes currently reside in the BBC archive. Two of these – ‘Counter Plot’ and ‘Escape Switch’ – were found in 1983 in the basement of a Mormon church, in amongst a number of other BBC film cans. And nobody knows why. It could be that the BBC had some tenuous connection with the building; perhaps it was used as a storage facility, or a rehearsal space? Or perhaps the episodes materialised as a result of prayer. Let’s not rule these things out!
In any case, it just goes to show that missing Doctor Who episodes can turn up in the strangest of places, and it’s never a bad idea to search your attic / garden shed / local place of worship on the off-chance. After all, ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ episode two showed up a few years later, this time in the hands of a former BBC engineer. It remains to be seen if any more episodes from this classic Doctor Who serial escaped extermination…
2. The Tomb of the Cybermen
For a long time, these missing Doctor Who episodes were some of the most sought-after. ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ was a serial that was shrouded in mystery, accessible only as a series of off-air audio recordings. There was little hope than any footage from this classic Cybermen adventure had survived.
And then, miraculously, all four episodes were unearthed in Hong Kong, having resided in their own TV ‘tomb’ for many decades at ATV. Previously, Hong Kong had claimed that it had no further Doctor Who films, having returned ‘The Web of Fear’ episode one back in the 70s. So the discovery of ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ was a shock, and came about after ATV contacted the BBC asking what it should do with all the old cans it was hanging onto!
These missing Doctor Who episodes were duly dispatched and arrived at the BBC in January 1992. Rumours about the return of ‘Tomb’ quickly started spreading throughout fandom, although a cover story was quickly issued to quell the discussion, with several sources claiming that the recovery was none other than a duplicate of ‘An Unearthly Child’ – the very first Doctor Who serial.
But of course, when the truth emerged that four missing Doctor Who episodes had been returned to the BBC (and that it was ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen,’ no less) there was an explosion of excitement. The story was released on VHS in May 1992 and topped the UK sales charts. The relatively good condition of the films meant that no major restoration work was required, although subsequent releases (such as the 2002 DVD version) were a marked improvement.
1. The Enemy of the World & The Web of Fear
The return of these missing Doctor Who episodes in November 2013 was truly staggering. They came after months of painstaking research by Philip Morris of Television International Enterprises Archives, who was in Nigeria assisting with the clear-out and preservation of one of its archives in Jos.
It was during this process that Morris unearthed 10 missing Doctor Who episodes – the five missing instalments of ‘The Enemy of the World,’ and the five missing instalments of ‘The Web of Fear,’ completing two classic serials from the Second Doctor era.
Staggeringly, one of these episodes disappeared before it could be returned to the BBC. Philip Morris found and photographed ‘The Web of Fear’ episode three in amongst the other cans, but when he went back to collect it, it had gone. It is believed to have fallen into the hands of a private collector, and remains missing to this day. The episode has since been animated for release on DVD and Blu-ray.
Still, the recovery of these missing Doctor Who episodes must be one of the greatest of all time. It is impressive to find just one lost episode, but 10 in one go is (almost) unprecedented. Moreover, this discovery came during the programme’s 50th anniversary celebrations, making it the perfect gift for Doctor Who fans.
What do you think is the most impressive missing episode recovery? And which Doctor Who story (or episode) would you like them to find next? Let me know in the comments below.
Cybermen Doctor Who scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!