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Expert Comment: Missing Doctor Who episodes returned

389 Mr Andrew Cooper Friday 11 October 2013

As nine previously thought missing episodes of 1960s Doctor Who are returned to the BBC, Liverpool Hope's Andrew Cooper looks at the story behind the recovery.

After months of speculation it was confirmed last night that nine previous lost episodes of Doctor Who have been returned to the BBC archive. Not only has the news caused widespread celebrations amongst fans of the longest running science fiction television series, but it also offers a chance for generations of people to view the cultural legacy of the show. The episodes which date back to the early years of the show's past demonstrate the mass change that television has undergone in the past fifty years.

Videotape was expensive and took a lot of space to store and the BBC had a policy of recycling old tape. The BBC did not believe there was significant reason to keep the original black and white episodes of Doctor Who and thus between 1967 and 1978 they incinerated many of the 253 episodes which starred the first two Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Now the audio is all that remains of these missing episodes, which is largely credited to the shows fans. As most stories contained more than two episodes this is the only way for people to enjoy a full story, as large parts had been deleted from the archive.

The BBC did however sell most of these stories around the world. In 1991 all four parts of the classic Troughton story ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ was found in Hong Kong. Before today’s announcement the total of missing episodes was 106, which has now decreased to 97. This has been due to teams of people travelling around the globe trying to find such episodes from a variety of BBC shows.

Non Doctor Who fans may wonder why has there been such a media storm revolving around this news story. Doctor Who will soon be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary and the production of the show has produced classic television moments as well as filming techniques. The production values, techniques and standards have dramatically changed in the past five decades. The magic of the show is that although it is the same continuing story, the special episode to be broadcast on the 23rd November is at the same time completely different to when it started in 1963. Although people may not describe themselves as fans, many people born during the classic series do look back with fondness of what was an important part of their childhood.

Hence since the speculation of missing episodes was released there has been mass excitement in the press and in digital forums of people hoping for different episodes to have been found which they remembered watching or had never had the opportunity to have done so.

The episodes which have been discovered have almost completed the story ‘The Web of Fear’, which now only has episode three of six missing and completes ‘The Enemy of the World’ which was another six part story. ‘The Web of Fear’ introduced the much loved character Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (later known as the Brigadier) who stared alongside all of the classic doctors apart from the first and sixth. The story also features the Yeti, controlled by the Great Intelligence, who returned to battle the current eleventh Doctor in the last series. ‘The Enemy of the World’ also feature Patrick Troughton as the main villain and was the first time that the lead role played two leading characters in a story.

Fans are never happy, and despite the amount of missing episodes now entering double figures, forums which had actively speculated which episodes had been found now actively write about how these should be distributed. The stories can be downloaded from the internet, but fans also now want to know when they will be released to DVD and what extras they may include.

In short, this news story has shown how a show which started fifty years ago, still grabs the public interest. It is an important find for the BBC and helps depict television history in the BBC archive as well as showing how strong Doctor Who still is in such an important year.

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