So here’s the thing about Doctor Who, only old people can say they’ve watched all of it. These people have to be in their mid 60s now. No, you can’t have been a baby sat in front of a TV. You were a cannellini bean with a face on it who remembers nothing, shut up. Only old people can say they’ve watched it all because large chunks of the series are missing. Ten whole stories are gone, and a total of 97 missing episodes means there are 26 stories affected between seasons 1 – 6. Season 4 is the worst hit, with only ten episodes surviving across a series of 43, meaning things like the Second Doctor’s first story Power of the Daleks and companion Jamie McCrimmon’s first story The Highlanders are missing in their entirety. These are brutal losses to the canon of the show and an incredibly frustrating part of being a Doctor Who fan.
It all starts with people not understanding how technology is going to change things.
In the olden times, if one wanted to amuse oneself with Visible Fiction, one was forced to hire a variety of individuals to perform it for one. About the closest thing you had to taping back then was hiring a memory savant to watch it with you and then recite it back at a later time. Then along came things like film and videotape, which were a far more accurate means of recording than an autistic who would often recite the dialogue with little attention to pauses or emotional tones. The actors guild in the UK, Equity, actively worked against recording things because in times prior, broadcasting a repeat meant re-hiring and staging the broadcast again. They actually argued the idea that if people could just watch recorded repeats, this would reduce the amount of new productions and hurt their business. This meant that there were weird time limits on when a recorded TV serial could be rebroadcast giving any recorded material an artificial and brief shelf life.
It’s this, combined with the desire to save money by reusing the tape, that resulted in the first purge: the deletion of the masters. This is a bit of a shame but it exists within a context where it’s difficult to expect anyone around to have really known better. It would have been considered peculiar to insist the BBC buy new tape so that some loser 6o years later can see Marco Polo. The good news is that, while these deletions were absolute, there were many duplicates and backups of the originals made. Isn’t that nice. There’d have to be some kind of monstrous level of punishable stupidity to get rid of all of those.
So, between 1972 and 1978, monstrous stupidity occurred. BBC Enterprises had all the episodes as copies but got rid of them because it thought the BBC Film Library was archiving them. The BBC Film Library believed it only had to maintain copies of things that had originated on film and thought nothing of disposing of any of the copies it had. Had there been some basic archiving policy, or even just a bit of communication between the two, there wouldn’t be the hassles there are today. This destruction also followed no identifiable pattern or conceivable reason, which is why there is no order to what is missing. It’s incredibly frustrating but there are a few solutions.
One odd fact about this is that there exist audio recordings for every lost episode. Some are actual audio tracks which were recorded, copied or otherwise stored separately. Others are good, old-fashioned piracy. That’s right, where the producers of the original works were half-formed slobbermongs, incapable of preserving their own cultural legacy, the audience were making cheeky audio recordings of episodes themselves. Fuck yeah, piracy! This has resulted in one of the more common solutions to stories where only an episode or two are missing, like The Invasion, animated episodes. There’s a few of these covering missing episodes like The Tenth Planet episode 4 and even the entirety of Power of the Daleks. I’ve watched bits just to get an idea of what they are like and they do fit reasonably well. A tad Archer-y in their look and movement though which I can’t stop noticing.
I’m going to be using these as the canonical episodes for my recaps but that’s it. The other solutions, audio over stills or narration from actors in character, are simply too shoddy and distant from the original material to bother with. This is an article series that is about the television program too, and while elements of expanded canon may be interesting or brought up from time to time, this isn’t about books so I’m not filling in gaps with novelisations. You can, though, and some of the novelisations even have little extras that add more lore or tidy up a plot gap.
So that’s it, there are just missing episodes and you can give up on ever having the completionist’s dream of a full series. Giving up is lovely as it lets you set whatever reality you are in as the base line and then you can cope with whatever is going on a lot easier.
The most important tool in a torturers toolkit is hope. Hope is what prevents this rebalancing of normal. Hope is the primary vector of suffering and it is something that the world has seen fit to taunt the Doctor Who completionist with for decades now. Every time I resign myself to the situation, some lost episode is found somewhere goddamned weird and, once again, I’m taunted with the possibility of a one-day complete series.
The show was sold internationally to various broadcasters so episodes were cast to the breeze like dandelions creating a bizarre situation where missing episodes could actually be out there somewhere and there’s been just enough discovered to foster that belief. In 1991, the missing story Tomb of the Cybermen was found in its pristine entirety in a fucking cinema in Hong Kong. In 2013 the whole story of The Enemy of the World and most of The Web of Fear were found in a TV station in Nigeria. Fucking Hong Kong and Nigeria. It’s shit like this that keep that frustrating fire of hope alive. If episodes can be found nearly 50 years after they were aired locked up in a TV station in a country you wouldn’t ever associate with Doctor Who then they’re all out there somewhere goddammit.
But that’s hope for you.
Until then I’m skipping the missing episodes because they are missing.
You belong to us; you shall be like us,
1 replies to Delete. Delete. Delete.
Logan on 8th August 201708 Aug 17 said:
That was a fantastic read. Much kudos to you, Gabe. I might have to plagiarize that wonderful line, "The most important tool in a torturers toolkit is hope." In your retired years, I could easily see you as a veritable Indiana Jones of lost Doctor Who episodes.
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