There’s nothing quite like a Doctor Who missing episodes story to get everyone excited. I remember the craziness that erupted in the summer of 2013, when a completely unbelievable rumour began to circulate. The BBC had apparently recovered ‘Marco Polo,’ ‘The Enemy of the World,’ and ‘The Web of Fear,’ and was preparing them for a DVD release.
But that was just the tip of the ice berg. According to Ian Levine (who has recovered many Doctor Who missing episodes over the years) the actual number of recovered films was 90, and the BBC had cherry-picked these stories as their first releases. It was all very strange. And insanely exciting.
Of course, as Doctor Who fans, we were used to being disappointed, and exotic missing episode rumours were nothing new. Immediately, the “voices of reason” took to the Twittersphere decrying “nonsense!” whilst the rumoured episode recoverer himself – Philip Morris of Television International Enterprises Archives Ltd. (TIEA) – wrote a long and emotive Facebook post saying that he didn’t hold any Doctor Who missing episodes and that “they’re not missing, they’re destroyed, the end.” Boom.
On top of this, the BBC released its own statement on the matter, which was vaguely-worded enough to send the forums into the stratosphere. “There are always rumours about missing episodes of Doctor Who but we cannot confirm any new finds,” it said – leaving the keyboard detectives of the internet (myself included) with the endless task of working out what “cannot confirm” actually meant.
After this, things started to get surreal (as if the situation wasn’t odd enough already.) Ian Levine shared evidence of a large shipment of old films that had been sent from Africa to Philip Morris in Liverpool. And Philip Morris had, indeed, been in Africa looking for Doctor Who missing episodes – as well as other programmes that had been sent there under the Television International Enterprises banner.
And then suddenly, all kinds of people came out of the woodwork verifying the story that the BBC and TIEA continued to deny. Some of these individuals were more reliable than others. Intriguingly, it was those with a good track record (who actually had contact with individuals within the BBC) who were the loudest voices, insisting – in the face of blistering criticism – that the whole tale was indeed true, and that ‘Marco Polo,’ ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear’ were being prepared for DVD, to coincide with Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Then something even weirder happened. The story actually came true. The BBC announced that a number of Doctor Who missing episodes had been recovered. In Africa. By Philip Morris, of TIEA. And yes – ‘The Enemy of the World’ had been found in its entirety, and was coming to DVD. As was ‘The Web of Fear’ – albeit with Episode Three still missing. This was one of those rare occasions in which a ridiculous Doctor Who rumour actually turned out to be true (at least partly.)
And this is where it all starts to get a bit foggy. After all of the excitement had died down (and fans had watched the ‘new’ Patrick Troughton classics more times than was healthy – myself included) people started to wonder about the other rumours. What about the motherload? Where was the haul of 90 Doctor Who missing episodes, at the centre of the so-called “omnirumour”? What else had Philip Morris uncovered during his tour of Africa? And where was ‘The Web of Fear’ Episode Three? Or, for that matter, ‘Marco Polo’?
‘The Web of Fear’ Episode Three – we have since learnt – was actually stolen shortly after its recovery. Philip Morris found it in Nigeria, and an employee at the TV station in Jos (where it was unearthed) is believed to have procured it and sold it on the black market to a private collector. He was subsequently fired by the TV station.
‘Marco Polo,’ on the other hand – continues to elude us. Now obviously, its rumoured recovery was in 2013, and the fact that seven years have passed without any announcement doesn’t bode well.
But the question remains: if the recovery of ‘Marco Polo’ was indeed “nonsense,” then why did the rumour persist? Why did all those individuals and websites with credible sources (who had been proven right about many things, including the recovery of ‘Enemy’ and ‘Web’) get the ‘Marco Polo’ element so wrong? Were they lied to by their sources? And if so, for what reason? And if they weren’t lied to, then what exactly happened to ‘Marco Polo’?
One theory about these Doctor Who missing episodes is that it’s the estate of one of the artists involved in the material that’s created a roadblock. In fact, this isn’t even a theory; this was actually reported at the time of ‘Marco Polo’s’ non-return – again, by individuals and websites with credible sources. And whilst we can all speculate as to which artist this could be, there’s no way we can conclude anything.
Although I do think it’s worth mentioning (and this is just pure speculation, you understand) that we haven’t had a First Doctor DVD release since 2013; all of the animated releases have been Second Doctor adventures. Just saying.
But what does Philip Morris have to say on the matter? Well, to my knowledge, he’s never denied having found any more Doctor Who missing episodes. On the contrary, in fact; he gives Doctor Who fans lots of reasons to remain optimistic, promising that “the wind is blowing in the right direction” and that people should “stay tuned” – even going so far as to tell Julian Glover (actor in partially-missing story ‘The Crusade’) that he should expect “good news sooner rather than later,” on the subject of recoveries.
Furthermore, Morris has confirmed that he knows of at least six missing episodes that are in the hands of private collectors, and he’s confident that the total number of missing episodes will not remain at 97. So there’s still hope.
The fact remains, though, that we’ve not had any Doctor Who missing episodes returned since 2013. So if there is a motherload of recovered material sitting in a vault somewhere, it’s likely to remain there for a while – and we can only guess as to what the truth is behind the hold-up.
And bear in mind that the BBC set an unhelpful precedent for missing episode secrecy in 2012, when it found two films (‘Galaxy Four’ Episode Three and ‘The Underwater Menace’ Episode Two) in the hands of a private collector, and kept hold of them for months without saying anything. Prior to this, they’d been quite open on the subject of recoveries, and quick to report them.
So it’s certainly possible that the BBC knows of further recoveries and is unable (or unwilling) to announce them. But at the same time, the BBC continues to animate Doctor Who missing episodes at a rate of knots, which would be an odd thing to do if they had all the originals sitting in their archive.
That being said, I am convinced that we don’t know the whole story behind the omnirumour, and I am equally convinced that we have not heard the last of it. Please prove me wrong. (Actually – please don’t!)
But what do you think? Was ‘Marco Polo’ really recovered in 2013? And do you think we’ll ever see any more Doctor Who missing episodes returned to the archive? Let me know in the comments below.
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