It used to be that the biggest archeological discoveries would be a fossil of a dinosaur that was previously unknown, the Dead Sea Scrolls or the recent discovery of the remains of Richard III. To some people, though, one discovery would trump them all: finding old Doctor Who episodes that were thought lost for decades.
That’s why Thursday’s (Oct. 10) announcement that two long-lost Who serials from the 1960’s have been found is a big deal. Not only can UK fans see a rare look of the Doctor’s past, so can the entire world.
The BBC released two serials, “Enemy of the World” and “Web of Fear” on iTunes. Fans have wanted to see these stories for decades. “Enemy” is the only story where Patrick Troughton played the Doctor and a doppleganger, an evil dictator called Salamander. Of course, both try try to pass themselves off as each other. “Web” was the return of the Yeti, and the debut of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who’d be a big part of the show for three decades. Episode three is still missing, but that’s been recreated through audio and still photos. Individual episodes from these stories were featured in the “Lost in Time” DVD set. The website io9 has a trailer from “Web of Fear.”
It’s a miracle these shows have survived at all, because there was a time where TV networks would get rid of old episodes because they didn’t have the storage. No one from 1962 ever thought, for example, that anyone from 2013 would want to see an old episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, such as his first one.
That’s what’s missing now, and people wish it was still around. Others may want to see a tape of the first Super Bowl, but that’s been missing because no one thought anyone would want a copy for historic reasons- and that included the NFL!
At one point in history, the BBC had all Doctor Who episodes in their archives. Then, around 1967, it started erasing episodes to reuse the videotape. This continued for eleven years until the network decided to keep the original videotapes thanks to the emergence of home video.
The episodes we have of the first two Doctors is due to kinescopes that were found through various sources, while it took some doing to get a complete set of the third Doctor’s adventures. In my copy of a Doctor Who book commemorating the 20th anniversary, it had a section that listed 163 episodes that were missing at the time. It’s great to enjoy our current Doctor, Matt Smith, and anticipate the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi, but dedicated fans want to experience the roots of the show with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.
That’s why it’s always exciting to find “lost episodes” from various sources, whether it’s in private hands or far-away places like Hong Kong and Africa. When rumors started to emerge a few months ago that nearly all of the “missing episodes” had been found as kinescopes, Who fans were praying it would be true. More skeptical people dismissed the rumors as a false hope.
That was until Philip Morris, director of Television International Enterprises Archive, used listings of shipments made by the BBC to Africa to find the episodes. “The tapes had been left gathering dust in a store room at a television relay station in Nigeria,” he said. “I remember wiping the dust off the masking tape on the canisters and my heart missed a beat as I saw the words ‘Doctor Who.’ When I read the story code I realized I’d found something pretty special.”
While finding “Enemy of the World” and “Web of Fear” is a big triumph, it’s too bad the BBC didn’t reveal if it had found other titles. If it had, it’s probably waiting until those episodes are restored for digital release. If the BBC did find the final episode of “The Tenth Planet”, where we see the Doctor regenerate for the first time, or “Marco Polo,” “The Highlanders,” or “The Ice Warriors,” it should say so. Maybe we won’t see them now, but they know we’ll be ready when they are shown.
By the way, the BBC will show both serials in the UK next month, while there’s no word if and when they’ll be on BBC America. “Enemy of the World” will be sold on DVD just before Thanksgiving, while “Web of Fear” will be available next March.
If you’d like to see these episodes now, just go to itunes.com/doctorwho. Episodes are 1.99 apiece or 9.99 for the whole story.