Doctor Who — lost and found | Tower of Technobabble

Doctor Who — lost and found

It’s a fact: the only reason I get up in the morning is to watch Doctor Who, the British sci-fi TV show that is currently celebrating its 48th anniversary.

In particular I love — no, TREASURE — episodes from the first six seasons, 1963-1969. Back then the show was shot in black-and-white and on a budget that would push most modern family units into the welfare line. We’re talking bubble wrap monsters and cardboard spaceship time.

On the podcast we have discussed how in the 1970s pretty much all of those first six years were tossed out of the BBC archives and burned. Completely destroyed.

Why? Go on … ask me: why?

Short answer: To PISS ME OFF!


Long Answer: All of the original tapes were just sitting in a BBC warehouse, collecting dust, and not being used. Due to crazy contracts with actors’ unions, the BBC did not have the rights to rebroadcast any old show — not without paying a huge fee. (The story I heard was actors in the 1950s were terrified of being put out of work by constant TV show re-runs, so their contracts had all manner of insane re-run payment clauses.) In some ways, it was almost cheaper to make new episodes. Also, nobody … NOBODY at the time could imagine something like a future home video market.

So from the BBC’s point of view, the old tapes were worthless, just taking up space. They should be wiped and re-used.  Perfectly sound business solution, those f—s. And so the purge began.

Fortunately Doctor Who fans are insane and loyal — even from day one — and a few people working at the BBC noticed large piles of episodes destined for the junk pile. They saved as many as they could. Also, many episodes had been loaned out to TV stations in former British Commonwealth nations like Australia and Hong Kong, so they were able to retrieve a lot of film copies from overseas.

But when all was said and done, roughly THREE YEARS worth of black-and-white Doctor Who was still missing, presumed lost forever. Roughly 108 episodes at last count … that is until last week when two episodes were returned to the BBC.

I was, to say the least, HAPPY. Over-joyed … in ecstasy. F’IN YEAH!!!!!

I heard the news late on Saturday night (Dec 10-11), and ran out in the streets screaming and yelling — and oddly ran into a group of people doing the exact same thing. I thought to myself: “Wow, Doctor Who really HAS made the leap into the hearts of America!!”
[NOTE — I live in Indiana … turns out that was the night Indiana University beat University of Kentucky in a sportsball game. Oh …]

So now, out of the 253 episodes of Doctor Who made in the 1960s, only 106 are still missing. An amazing night.

And it’s amazing because this rarely happens anymore. As fans, we have been told over and over and OVER to NOT get our hopes up, there’s probably nothing else out there to find, everything that could possibly still exist has been turned back in to the BBC, etc. And by and large that IS true … then but something like this happens! And we get a glimmer of hope.

The last time anything was found was in 2004, when a lost Dalek Masterplan episode was turned in (see photo at right … check out how AWESOME it is!!) . I still recall exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news, it was so emotional for me. I mean, I can remember what I was wearing, what my feelings were, the tears that welled up … which is strange that I can remember all that and not a thing about when my first child was born.

It’s also kind of funny where they find these fugitive films too … they may turn in up in a former BBC employee’s attack … sometimes an episode is found in a garage sale. And about four episodes were found hidden behind a chest of drawers in a church basement.

These two newly found episodes had been hiding in a film buff’s collection. Old-timey film collector Terry Burnett had bought them in the mid 1980s at a town fair, and had no idea that they were “lost” or unique. He watched them once, and then put them into storage. Now, like most people with a hobby, film collectors get together in clubs and have meetings where they discuss their collections with other enthusiasts. At a recent such meeting Burnett mentioned that he thought he had a couple of old Doctor Who episodes. A fellow buff attending the meeting just happened to be on the BBC team that restores old Doctor Who episodes for DVD release. Interested, he asked to see them — although he did not have high hopes (because this scenario happens a lot, and what usually happens is the film in question ends up being a copy of an already existing episode). But not this time … pay dirt!! Two episodes that had not been seen since the 1960s, recovered.

My god I could have cried. I mean, there is SO MUCH great stuff we have never seen and considered lost forever … stuff with terrifying Yetis, and amazing Dalek stories … not to mention the very first regeneration from the first to the second Doctor. It’s all been erased — and the idea that two new episodes were found just sent me into tears of joy!

Then I found out which ones they found, and the sniffles sort of dried up a bit …

We have returned to us: “Galaxy 4 – Airlock” part 3, an episode from 1965 starring first doctor William Hartnell, and “The Underwater Menace” part 2, a real stinker from 1967 starring Patrick Troughton.

Now, as you may have guessed, these two newly-found episodes are from stories generally not well regarded in fan circles. In fact, The Underwater Menace is considered to be Doctor Who‘s equivalent of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” … complete with an insane scientist using a bad German accent, and featuring quote-unquote “fish” people with glued-on sequences fins, who quote-unquote swim via wires.

OK, so the episode isn’t as potentially cool as The Power of the Daleks, but damn it, I don’t care. These were thought lost forever … FOREVER. It is STILL awesome to have these little gems returned. And in all honestly, I’d rather watch black-and-white Fish People pretend to swim on wires than a 3-D CGI action adventure explosion fest. Because those Fish People were artists, with integrity. Plus it’s kind of funny.

The returned episode from Galaxy 4 is interesting because up til now, no episode from the four-part story was thought to exist. But now we’ll be able to see the cute robotic chumblies menace the quote-unquote “beautiful” all-female alien soldiers the Drahvins.

Yeah. Like I said, beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to this stuff!

So anyway, I really am excited. Because in every episode of Doctor Who — even the ones considered “poor” — I can always count on ONE aspect to love. And that aspect is the performance of the lead actor. Simply put, the guys playing the first two Doctors were really good, so to get back any lost examples of their performances really is a gift. ESPECIALLY Underwater Menace, because it features my all-time favorite Doctor: Patrick Troughton. (He’s the guy reading the book in the photo below … he refuses to use a Kindle … which is why he’s cool!) The sad fact is that most of his episodes were destroyed in the purge; only about year’s worth of his three years playing the Doctor still exist. And that REALLY sucks because Troughton’s performance was so visual … I swear, he could make standing still look interesting.

So I’m literally over the moon because I get a chance to see him again, I get to see more Troughton!! Even if it is lodged in with 20 minutes of questionable sci-fi fish people. I say: BRING IT!!!

(To read an official-type story, look HERE)

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One Response to “Doctor Who — lost and found”

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