Doctor Who Archivist Still Thinks Some of the 97 Lost Episodes Can be Recovered

By Tom Pritchard on at

It's no secret that back during the 60s and 70s the BBC was a bit cavalier when it came to erasing classic shows. Tapes were expensive, and the BBC figured it was better off to erase old shows that it thought had little value than to buy brand new tapes. The most notable show affected was Doctor Who, and as it stands there are 97 episodes of the classic series that are seemingly gone for good. But one archivist thinks there's still a chance those episodes are out there.

Paul Vanezis discovered four previously lost episodes back in the 80s, when the missing episodes were still in triple digits. He thinks that those old black and white episodes are still out there, but are in the hands of private collectors. If you've paid attention to the history of recovered Doctor Who episodes, you'll know that a large number of the episodes that have been recovered were done so because the BBC sold them to international broadcasters that ended up keeping the tapes when they were supposed to return them.

But it's not unheard of for episodes to be recovered from private collectors, including former BBC employees. Episodes of The Dalek Master Plan, Evil of the Daleks, The Wheel in Space, The Abominable Snowman, and even 1974's Invasion of the Dinosaurs were recovered by making copies of film held by collectors or buying them outright. So the chance of others being held in private hands isn't unlikely - though we've no idea how likely.

Vanezis claims he knows some collectors who have episodes, who may eventually be interested in handing over the film, but made it clear when speaking to the Radio Free Skaro podcast that it's only likely to be one or two episodes - rather than some major stockpile.

“I don’t want to make it sound like there are lots of missing tins of Doctor Who out there that I know about. You know, we’re talking about one or two episodes.”

The Mirror speculates that the episodes could be episode four of The Daleks' Master Plan and episode four of The Tenth Planet  that saw Doctor Who's very first regeneration. Both episodes were borrowed by Blue Peter and allegedly never returned, though the only evidence we have are clips that were rebroadcast. Vanezis, however, has emphasised the fact that fans shouldn't be too critical of collectors who have episodes in their possession:

"But they’re not the kind of people that you should be pressuring.

There’s been a lot of criticism of film collectors by people who should really know better. Without them, these things would have been lost or destroyed years and years ago.”

There have been multiple reasons why old TV episodes were lost, including the cost. In olden times back when your parents were kids, they didn't have the fancy seemingly-unlimited digital storage we have today. Back then tapes were expensive and multiple TV companies, including the BBC and ITV, wiped them for resuse. This was also back in the time before home video, meaning some felt it wasn't worth keeping these shows around. BBC archivist Adam Lee told Today I Found Out that the BBC felt the dawn of colour television meant black and white programming lost its value:

"They saw it as something that was transmitted, went out live, and was finished." As a result, when the BBC began to air programs in colour, they enacted a policy of erasing old black-and-white shows. They couldn't imagine that these would ever be valuable. And that even included what would become cult classics like Doctor Who."

I hope they do recover older episodes, the more the better, but in the meantime Doctor Who fans can be happy in the knowledge that audio recordings of lost episodes have survived through various outlets, and meant the BBC has been able to animate the missing episodes and recreate them for DVD release. Except The Underwater Menace which they released unfinished, for some stupid reason. [Mirror via Screenrant]