Doctor Who was first broadcast on 23 November, 1963, and despite the main role being played by several different actors, it continued until 1989, when it was cancelled due to dwindling viewers. However, the programme still has a huge fan base, its appreciation society is still going strong today as much as it ever was, the monthly magazine still continues and interest in the programme remains as high as it ever was, possibly even more.
In 1996, a TV movie was made, but no further attempt was made in this format. However, Doctor Who did return to television with a new series in 2005, making a successful return to the BBC. A year or so after the original series ended a range of new original novels continued from where it left off and subsequently from the end of the movie, and also from other eras from the series. Independent film makers have made spin off adventures based around the series using actors, characters or monsters from the programme. There have been a couple of radio adventures and now new audio dramas of Doctor Who are being made featuring the original stars of the programme. There are also board games, computer games, plays, CDs featuring music from the series, everything in fact, apart from the series itself. However, this is not what this article is about, what it is about is what happened during the 1970s at the BBC.
Losing Doctor Who
The BBC, wanting to make room in their archives, junked a huge amount of programmes in order to create space for new productions. With all overseas sales exhausted, the contracts with actors only allowed for one repeat, and with home video yet to come, old episodes of Doctor Who were considered worthless and were tragically destroyed. By the time anyone realised what a mistake it was, it was too late.
So the search was on for the lost episodes. Some were returned from countries from where they had been sold; some were in the hands of private collectors, and so on. Gradually some episodes were returned. At first the BBC only wanted complete episodes, but now since it appears that some no longer exist, anything from a lost episode is welcomed. Episodes have been found in countries that never even bought them in the first place - some have even been found in the cellar of a Mormon church.
The last complete episode found was called 'The Lion' from the story 'The Crusade'. It had been passed from collector to collector until someone realised that it was an episode thought by the BBC to no longer exist. There was also a collection of clips returned from Australia, originally cut out as being too violent.
At this present time there is something like 109 episodes still missing, a great shame. It is a belief by some fans that all episodes will eventually be returned and it's just a case of time. Others believe that they will always remain missing.
A Little Light in the Darkness
The news, however, isn't all that bleak. All episodes made from 1970 (when Jon Pertwee was the Doctor) exist, also in 1970 Doctor Who was made in colour, but some episodes from this time can only be seen in black and white. Luckily, in America some of these episodes were recorded by fans, but the quality isn't that good, so using new techniques the colour from the American versions was combined with the quality black and white versions, and are now almost as good as the originals were. Unfortunately, a few episodes still only survive in black and white.
The Doctor Who fans of the sixties have a huge debt owed to them, for some of them recorded the audio soundtracks of Doctor Who episodes and therefore all the audio soundtracks from the missing episodes do exist, some of which were better than the BBC's own archives and have been used in their place. Some have been released on tape and CD, so at least we can hear the episodes.
There are also photos taken from the episodes called telesnaps, around 60 photos were taken per episode. In the days before the home video recorder, the only way a director could give an example of his work was to show these photos. Despite clips used in other episodes and programmes, and other bits and pieces returned to the BBC, there are still cases where the entire episode is missing. Some of the episodes that exist now are slightly shorter than they were, due to being reconstructed and cuts made.
So the average Doctor Who fan is ever hopeful that complete episodes will return. Should you know or come across any Doctor Who material that you think no longer exists then make yourself heard, and for more information, the Doctor Who Restoration Team is the best starting point: www.restoration-team.co.uk is their web address.
In the meantime, there are moves to recover whatever material exists to create as near-complete reconstructions as is possible. For some stories, this is just a case of matching a home VHS colour copy to a black-and-white master-tape, but in other cases much more creative solutions are required. For more information, read our entry on the different reconstruction methods for lost material.