The Console Room

GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...

The world of Doctor Who has been going a bit loopy during the last two weeks, thanks to one of the best presents we could get for the 50th anniversary – the discovery of 11 missing episodes. When Air Lock (1965) and episode two of The Underwater Menace (1967) were found in 2011 it was expected that these would be the last to be uncovered. That discovery left 106 still to find and the new episodes announced last week pushed that down into double figures, making a significant dent in the total.

Rumours had been surfacing for a while that a new discovery had been made but then there are always rumours surrounding missing episodes. These however, must have been knocking around for a while as yet another embargo was placed on the news and straight after the announcement the episodes were suddenly released onto iTunes.

Okay, so a bit of background. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the BBC started junking a lot of its old film stock. Film was expensive and programmes often got only one repeat at most before they were reused. Home video didn't exist and there certainly wasn’t the rewatch culture of today. The idea of multiple viewings of anything was alien. The BBC also sent its stock to other countries and after a stated number of viewings, it would either have to be returned to the BBC for destruction or sent on to another country (a process known as bicycling). So multiple versions of the same stories exist and are likely to turn up anywhere if they were not returned, which is why we've had discoveries from all corners of the world and not just in attics of pensioners in Birmingham. This latest batch were found in a TV station in Jos, Nigeria. The full story behind the hunt can be found in Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes (2010) by Richard Molesworth.

Some hunters of lost episodes travel all over the world for work and ask for access to TV station archives to recover rare lost programmes, not just Doctor Who. Thanks to the fans however, the soundtrack to every single episode still exists and many have been released as audio, or coupled together with either telesnaps taken at the time or animation, in order to provide a finished product. The DVD range first dipped its toe in the animated water with the release of The Invasion (1968) in 2006 for which Cosgrove Hall animated the two missing episodes. Nothing happened for years and many fans thought that the idea of animating episodes was dead. Over the last couple of years however, missing episodes DVDs have started to get more and more frequent with the gaps animated by different studios. So far The Reign of Terror (1964), The Ice Warriors (1967) and The Tenth Planet (1966) have all been released, with The Moonbase (1967) still to come. In the case of Galaxy 4 (1965), even with the recovered episode Air Lock the story was cut down, with stills and CG used to animate it. As yet no release date has been set for The Underwater Menace.

So what exactly has been found then? Strangely enough both serials follow on from one another and come from the fifth series, starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon and Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield. First up is The Enemy of the World (1967/68), which is more James Bond than Doctor Who. This story is notable because it features Patrick Troughton in a dual role and was directed by Barry Letts who became producer of the show in the Jon Pertwee years. Troughton plays both Bond and Bond villain as the Doctor disguises himself as megalomaniac dictator Salamander in order to gather intelligence on the man’s evil schemes. Only episode three existed in the archives, but all six episodes have now been recovered.

The second story is the one that I most hoped had been recovered: The Web of Fear (1968). These days Richard E Grant’s morose mug may be the face of the Great Intelligence, but back in the 1960s it preferred to use robot Yetis (and who wouldn’t?). The Abominable Snowmen (1967) was the second serial of this season and proved popular, so the Intelligence and the Yeti were brought back for a runaround on the London Underground. This story is also notable for introducing Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart to the series. Until the recent discovery, only the first episode existed in the archives but now two, four, five and six have been found leaving only the third still lost. This gap has been bridged by stills set to a soundtrack for the iTunes release.

The iTunes release itself is an unprecedented move and has angered some fans, who for some reason believe that the missing episodes should be free. Would they demand the same thing if they were immediately released onto DVD? At least it was understandable why some were peeved when Galaxy 4 was released on the special edition of The Aztecs (1964). Perhaps the iTunes move is to make sure that they are released before the anniversary. Right now the store is selling them for £1.89 each or £9.99 for each serial. The DVD release of The Enemy of the World is set for 25th November 2013, with The Web of Fear following on 24th February 2014.

No matter the release schedule though, we should just be pleased that the episodes have been found and along with them comes the hope that yet more of may be out there somewhere gathering dust in some far flung corner of the globe or even buried under a pile of old newspapers in the house next door.