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To Have Or Have Not: Breaking Down the Missing Episodes of Doctor Who

Patrick Troughton from Doctor Who

For the last few months there have been persistent rumors of a “major” discovery of missing Doctor Who episodes. These rumors went into overdrive over the weekend thanks to articles in The Mirror and The Radio Times claiming that an announcement was imminent.

It appears as though the Beeb wanted to keep this thing under wraps for a while longer, but the cat is out of the bag now and they had to act. Thus we arrive at today, a time when all of the classic Doctor Who fans are waiting like a groom at the altar for a bride they know is probably beautiful…but they’d like to see for themselves.

[ad#longpost]It is official that later today the BBC will reveal how many missing classic Doctor Who episodes have indeed been returned to their vaults from the find in Ethiopia. There are rumors that there could be other “lost” BBC programs also included in this find.

As you can imagine there is a big guessing game going on: speculation with no clear answer. The low end of these rumors has at least two episodes being returned: presumably one ep of “Web of Fear” and one ep of “The Enemy Of The World,” both Second Doctor stories from the legendary Season Five. The other side of the spectrum holds that 106 episodes have been returned. More rumors are surfacing that it could be only 42 episodes (still not bad and bonus points for the Douglas Adams nod).

Before we go on, a few quick things to put this into context in a simple way. First, there are 106 missing episodes total (including ten full stories) from the Hartnell and Troughton eras of the show, mostly from Seasons Three, Four and Five. These were wiped by the BBC archives between 1967 and 1974 because there was a commonly held belief that there was no reason for these stories to be kept.

In hindsight, the decision to wipe anything seems daft, but at the time there were several factors in play that explain their rationale. The main one being the notion that there was no long-term value in the programs, especially since black and white was deemed as a dead medium.

Patrick Troughton from Doctor Who, wearing toboggan

Then there are the Equity laws faced by the BBC. The agreement between Equity and the Beeb for overseas rights and distribution for these stories had expired. This combined by the advent of color television as a preferred medium doomed these episodes since the BBC had no contractual obligation to preserve them in their archives. As a result Doctor Who and thousands of hours of additional serials were destroyed.

The madness stopped when record producer and uber Doctor Who fan Ian Levine stepped in and urged the BBC to cease their wiping of archived material, namely the Who material. Fast forward to 1978 when the VCR tape became in vogue. Its invention and popularity saw the creation of a secondary market for older episodes of the program and as a result caused the BBC to begin actively searching for the now lost episodes.

Since the wiping of these episodes, Levine has been a champion of their retrieval and a thorn in the side of the BBC for his firm criticism of their actions. Levine is just one of hundreds of people who have devoted decades to searching for these missing episodes.

This brings us up to now…when things are getting really interesting. Deborah Watling (who played Victoria Waterfield during the Troughton era) has confirmed on her website that she and Frazier Hines (who co-starred with her as Jamie McCrimmon) will both be at the unveiling later today. On his Facebook page Hines states he is en route to London now!

In addition to the discovery of episodes from the missing Troughton years there is more chatter that the first Doctor epic, “Marco Polo,” may also now be recovered. Another turn happens here though as Peter Purves (who played Steven Taylor in the Hartnell era) has categorically stated that he has yet to be contacted by the BBC about any missing episodes.

Not having Peter Purves in person for the announcement could make this even weirder. Does his non-participation mean that he is not in any of the retrieved stories or is it a sign that the BBC leaned on him to sign a rigid non-disclosure agreement until they were ready for an announcement?

It really gets odd when you throw in into the mix that the BBC has yet to “officially” explain why they are delaying the release of several DVDs with linking animation to replace “lost” footage. These would be “The Tenth Planet,” “The Moonbase,” and “The Underwater Menace.” Episode Four of “The Tenth Planet” is listed as missing. It is an important story since it features the Hartnell regeneration into Patrick Troughton and is considered by many to be the holy grail of missing episodes. There is innuendo being batted about that this delay could mean that the “missing” bits of these stories have been recovered and would thus conflict with the scheduled DVD releases of these stories.

So for now we wait. All press has been embargoed by the BBC until midnight London time, or 7pm Eastern Time here stateside.

Until then, ironically, we have to deal with the slow ebb of time moving towards this announcement.