Patrick Troughton

Musing on missing Doctor Who episodes

One of the first things I learned as I moved from casual viewer to Doctor Who fan was that there were a bunch of missing episodes out there. This fascinated me as much as it horrified me. Horror, because as a completist with a dash of OCD, Junior Burger me felt a sudden pang, genuinely deep in my soul, that I would never see everything that had ever been made under the Doctor Who banner. I remember this being quite maddening to me at the time. “How on Earth do you bloody go throwing away episodes of a TV show that, as early as a year or two in, you knew was special?” I would rage. And fascination, because it suddenly raised the possibility of a treasure hunt, globally, and wouldn’t it be great if they actually found some of this stuff? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Of course, a great deal of material already had been recovered, long before I was having these thoughts during dreary Year 7 classes. But as the years rolled by and I drifted in and out of fandom, I was always still close enough to the series to know when more missing episodes were found. This included bits and pieces – and sometimes whole stories! – of The Crusade, Galaxy 4, The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Underwater Menace, The Evil of the Daleks, The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Ice Warriors, The Enemy of the World, and The Time Monster, bulking out the Doctor Who library towards a completeness that never should have been incomplete in the first place. Sometimes the finds really excited me (I probably stopped breathing for a minute when I heard that Tomb was recovered), and other times it was more of a nod, a half-smile and I moved on.

Sitting here today, I’ve just done the maths and the most recent episode finds were six years ago and despite encouraging – but admittedly rather vague – language at times from the most high-profile hunter of episodes in the modern era, Phil Morris (founder Television International Enterprises Archive), nothing else has really been forthcoming.

Throughout this, however, the BBC hasn’t been sitting on its hands, hoping some tins of film have survived 50 years in some desert outpost. It has been animating episodes of missing Doctor Who for many years, using the original soundtracks of the episodes (as, thanks to fans recording off their TV sets back in the day, we at least have all the episodes in an audio format), and it was the announcement of an animated Fury from the Deep just recently that kicked along today’s column.

Returned or not?

You see, although fans believe – with good reason thanks to some actual historical precedents – that the BBC may receive missing episodes from time to time and sit on them before announcing them at some future date of its choosing, that it would be highly unlikely for the BBC to be in possession of films, or at least know of their impending return, and still choose to create an animated version of said episodes.

In this light, the smart money is on Fury From the Deep remaining lost. Same for The Faceless Ones, which is another upcoming animated release.

Less clear is something like The Wheel in Space. Over a year ago from the time of this post, a member from a Doctor Who group on Facebook emailed the (at the time) distributor of Doctor Who home media in Australia, Roadshow, for an update on what was coming down the pipe. You can see the response below, which clearly indicates The Wheel in Space as a 2019 release it was fully expecting to release here in Australia.

Roadshow

I took the Roadshow email to be legitimate and continue to do so, yet there’s no The Wheel in Space on the horizon anywhere in the world. What could that mean? Some have speculated that the release related to a tele-snap version of the story, rather than an animation. This means still images that somewhat fit the audio being displayed onscreen as you listen to the story. Tele-snap reconstructions abound online – mostly made by amateurs – and have even popped up on official releases, but are an unsatisfying option when compared to an animation or the actual episode being rediscovered. It would seem unlikely that a full DVD release could be based around such an unsatisfying medium.

Other fans speculated whether the 10 minute animation from The Wheel in Space (prepared for a 2018 event in the UK and subsequently released as a bonus feature on The Macra Terror), had actually been expanded to encompass the four missing episodes of the six-part story. Maybe?

Or what if – and this is the longest of long shots – the BBC had been preparing The Wheel in Space as a DVD release, then received word that it was back, or on the verge of coming back. Could that spike a release date? I think it could. But do note that is wild speculation on my part, based on nothing more than I’ve shared in this blog already.

And just a word on episode lengths in general. Certainly four episodes has been the magic number with Doctor Who animations of missing episodes. It’s been long established that the animations – as rudimentary as they are versus what Hollywood produces – cost enough money that trying to make more then four episodes of anything is cost-prohibitive. However, Fury From the Deep is a six-part story that cannot rely on any existing episodes, so perhaps the end goal of completing seasons for release on Blu-Ray is loosening the BBCs purse strings?

The Second Doctor

That said, the easiest Second Doctor season to finish would be Season Six as the only missing episodes are The Invasion – Episodes 1 & 4 (which have already been animated for a DVD release), and The Space Pirates – Episodes 1, 3 – 6. Although The Space Pirates isn’t the most highly rated of stories, there must be an allure for the BBC to knock out those five missing episodes and release Season Six on Blu-Ray?

Close behind Season Six is Season Five. Missing episodes from The Ice Warriors and The Web of Fear have already been taken care of (albeit in tele-snap format for The Web of Fear Episode 3) and Fury from the Deep is forthcoming. That just leaves The Abominable Snowmen – Episodes 1, 3 – 6 and The Wheel in Space – Episodes 1, 2, 4 & 5 needing animation or tele-snaps to finish off the season. It’s not that much, you know.

If I was the BBC, I’d animate five episodes and get Season Six out the door in the next year or two, but also have a very firm eye on getting Season Five sorted out. Both are great seasons that fans will eat up.

Season Four, meanwhile, is a nightmare and there’s no getting around that. Although we have animations and some tele-snaps assisting The Tenth Planet, The Power of the Daleks, The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase and The Macra Terror (with The Faceless Ones coming in 2020 of course), there still remains another 14 episodes to animate or tele-snap to finish off The Smugglers, The Highlanders, and The Evil of the Daleks. I think Season Four, despite being a heck of a season (and a shared Hartnell/Troughton season), will be some time off seeing Blu-Ray. I think the only thing that could speed it up for Blu-Ray release would be if multiple episodes of at least one, but ideally two, of The Smugglers, The Highlanders, and The Evil of the Daleks were found.

All of this assumes, however, that the BBC isn’t already in possession of any missing episodes. While it’s reasonably safe to assume it doesn’t have Fury From the Deep as we discussed earlier, for example, the jury is out on something like The Evil of the Daleks. I would argue that Evil would be more interesting (and a better seller), for most casual DVD buyers, not to mention fans. The fact it needs six of its seven episodes re-created would have been a stumbling block once – until the BBC green-lit Fury, a six-part story. Could it be that the BBC actually has Evil, or at least some episodes, and that’s why it hasn’t joined the slate of future releases for the time being? It’s an intriguing thought.

And to draw a line under the Cosmic Hobo for now, why are so many Troughton stories getting animated anyway? Arguably, he’s the Doctor with the most missing episodes, however, with Hartnell gems like Marco Polo, The Myth Makers and The Daleks’ Masterplan needing the treatment, is there some reason they are being held back? Rumours have long swirled around a Marco Polo find, however, it’s always hard to tell what’s real and what’s just a fantasy from fans who would love to see the story.

Final thoughts

Some thoughts in this piece are speculation and it’s frustrating that speculation is all we have. Personally, I’d be quite comfortable with the BBC announcing that, to pluck a random example out of thin air, it’s found two or three episodes of The Myth Makers and will be animating the others for a 2021 release. Quite comfortable, indeed! I don’t need the announcement to come a month, or even weeks, out from the actual release date. I dare say other fans are in the same boat. If we can sit out over a year between Series 11 and 12 of the current Nu-Who episodes, I think we’d be OK being told in advance of missing episodes coming to home video. The current silence, rather than a firm yes or no, on what’s happening with missing episodes is frustrating to say the least.

The Junior Burger me, who was frustrated all those years ago by the thought of not seeing all the missing episodes, has been replaced by someone who has made peace with not seeing those episodes, but would really love to know when he’ll be seeing their reconstructions!

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