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Doctor Who | News | 10 January 2004

Missing episodes

Are more missing episodes likely to be found?

Following the recovery of The Daleks' Master Plan episode two, Day of Armageddon and The Crusade episode one, The Lion, are hopes that further lost episodes might be rediscovered realistic? We take a look at the possibilities.

First off, let's correct one of the most common misconceptions among hopeful fans. The BBC didn't strike dozens of prints of the episodes it sold overseas.

Just because Doctor Who was distributed to about fifty countries - including destinations as diverse as Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Sweden - doesn't mean that they each got their own pristine set of prints.

In fact, generally only a handful of copies were created and these were passed around from country to country. And the contracts between the BBC and the foreign stations required them to return the prints to the BBC after the rights to show them had expired or to certify their destruction - which means that searching the Australian and New Zealand archives over and over again is not the answer.

Communication with many of the far-flung countries which showed the programme has been difficult due to the ever-shifting political climate, especially with those in the Middle East. So, it's possible that some material may reside in the archives of these stations, but the chances of being able to check or of having it returned are slim.

Naturally, it's been far easier to check the records of co-operative English-speaking countries and it has often been possible to track the progress of many individual prints around the world, until the trail went cold or they are logged as destroyed. Fans of the show have gone to extraordinary lengths to find missing material and it's more often than not been their efforts which have resulted in previously lost episodes being unearthed.

It's got to be remembered that, compared to many equally popular series of the fifties and sixties, Doctor Who has fared rather well. The BBC archives have retained only a handful of episodes of long-running drama series like Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars for example.

Seminal BBC soap operas The Grove Family and Compact, (both shows that were as popular then as EastEnders is today) are represented by a couple of random examples. Early episodes of perennial favourites like Hancock's Half Hour, Dad's Army and Till Death Us Do Part are also missing.

Doctor Who was relatively lucky in that it still has a dedicated, semi-organised fan following that actively seeks out lost material. Although more than a hundred episodes are still missing, every Doctor Who episode at least exists in audio form thanks to the efforts of a couple of fans who made contemporary recordings.

Telesnap photos for many missing episodes exist, too. They were taken by freelance photographer John Cura, who used to make them available to performers and crew members who wanted a pictorial record. The BBC kept master copies of this material but, twenty-odd years later, there are significant gaps.

In fact, there are some episodes where only a couple of stills exist, with 1969 Patrick Troughton story The Space Pirates has probably faring worst, as no images from four of the six episodes survive.

One more episode in the archives means that there's one less episode out there, waiting to be discovered. The next missing episode might be discovered in ten years' time, or it could turn up tomorrow. And, at this late date, it has to be accepted that some may have gone forever. Of course, what we really need is a time machine - then it would just be a matter of quickly popping back and grabbing them!

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