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Missing Episode / Doctor Who

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Perhaps the most famous example of a TV series with missing episodes is Doctor Who. In the 1960s and 1970s, a large number of episodes from the show's early years were destroyed to clear out room in the BBC archives. Every so often, a copy of one of the episodes that was sent to foreign broadcasters turns up — the most recent recovery was nine episodes in 2013 — but it is likely that many of these episodes are gone forever. Doctor Who fans have joked that, ironically, the only way to watch every episode of the series would be with a time machine. There are also the sometimes-bizarre rumours regarding lost episodes being hidden away, such as The Sun's absurd claim that then-incumbent Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has a private stash of the entire first series. These purges resulted in the loss of episodes of other BBC series as well, but none seem to have similar notoriety (some fans of other shows get quite jealous of the Doctor Who missing episodes getting so much media attention, and afraid that surviving copies from other shows might be neglected or destroyed because of people only being aware of the Doctor Who issue).


The "true" missing episodes (currently standing at 97) are all from the first six seasons from 1963-69, the eras of William Hartnell as the First Doctor and Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. Of the first six seasons, the hardest hit by the mass erasure were the third (2845 missing), fourth (3343 missing), and fifth (1840 missing) seasons (by contrast, the first is missing 942 episodes, the second 239 episodes, and the sixth 744 episodes). There are no complete serials from Season 4, while Season 5 has only two complete serials. The missing episodes from this era include some significant firsts for the series:

  • The final episode of "The Tenth Planet", the only missing episode from the serial, features the Doctor's first-ever regeneration scene, from Hartnell to Troughton. Famously, a few seconds' footage of the regeneration exists because it was broadcast during an edition of the BBC children's show Blue Peter (at a time when one of its presenters was Peter Purves, who had played First Doctor companion Steven). This same feature that saved Hartnell's regeneration also preserved the most dramatic chunk of Katarina's death scene from "The Daleks' Master Plan" Episode 4 ("The Traitors"), because Peter Purves was Chewing the Scenery in it and the other Blue Peter presenters make fun of him (and his haircut) after it plays.
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  • Episode 3 of the Second Doctor serial "The Web of Fear", the only lost episode of the serial, includes the introduction of the series' longest-running recurring character, Colonel (later Brigadier) Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. Moreover, in something of a case of a missing scene within a missing episode, the first meeting between the Doctor and the future Brigadier takes place off screen. Frustratingly, this episode was found along with the rest of the serial, but was lost again before it could be returned to the BBC (the belief being it was removed by a private collector when news of the discovery leaked out), the immediate end result being that it was announced that all future Doctor Who episode hunts would be more secretive from then on.
  • Episode 1 of the completely lost "Fury from the Deep" features the first use of the sonic screwdriver (which, in its first appearance, was just that — a screwdriver which operated using sound waves); indeed, in the absence of episodes indicating the contrary, Jon Pertwee said in an interview in the 1980s that he believed for many years that he had been the first Doctor to use the sonic screwdriver until being told that Troughton had been the first.
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  • The two "holy grail" missing episodes, "Mission to the Unknown" and "The Daleks' Master Plan" episode 7 ("The Feast of Steven"), are pretty much guaranteed to no longer exist. They are both extremely weird episodes that the BBC never sold abroad, the former for being a teaser for "Master Plan" that sets up the events seen there (as well as being the first and only episode not to feature the Doctor or any of his companions, although William Hartnell was still credited per his contract) and the latter for being a bizarre, non-essential, and incomprehensibly British Christmas Episode; Saturday fell on a Christmas Day that year, and the production team decided to put a new episode of Who out on that date as per usual, but as they believed most regular viewers would not be watching, the resulting episode was completely divorced from the rest of the serial and was excluded from overseas sales of the story. note 

Furthermore, two episodes from the First Doctor era had alternate versions produced before their initial broadcast. Episode 1 of "The Daleks" ("The Dead Planet") had to be re-recorded after it was discovered the microphones had picked up backstage voices; the cliffhanger from the original version in which Barbara is menaced by a Dalek still forms the opening scene of episode 2 ("The Survivors"). Episodes 3 and 4 of "Planet of Giants" ("Crisis" and "The Urge to Live") were edited down into a single episode 3 after filming; the extra footage was discarded. This resulted in a one-episode slot opening up at the end of the second production block, which was eventually taken by "Mission to the Unknown".note  The original versions of these episodes are lost.

Some of the First and Second Doctors' companions were hit particularly hard by the purges:

  • Only 18 of Steven's 45 appearances have survived, including three complete stories (four if "The Chase" is included).
  • Just one of Katarina's five appearances has survived ("Day of Armageddon", Episode 2 of "The Daleks' Master Plan", which was lost until 2004).
  • Equally short-lived companion Sara Kingdom fares only slightly better, with two of nine appearances known to exist ("Counter Plot" and "Escape Switch", Episodes 5 and 10 of "The Daleks' Master Plan").
  • Of Dodo's 19 appearances, only 11 survive, including three complete stories (in one of which she is absent for two episodes).
  • A mere 12 of Ben and Polly's 36 appearances have survived, including just one complete story ("The War Machines", in which they were not yet considered "companions"; their most complete story as companions is "The Tenth Planet", which is three-quarters complete).
  • Victoria fares a bit better, with 21 of 41 appearances known to exist, including two complete stories ("The Tomb of the Cybermen" and "The Enemy of the World").note 
  • In absolute terms, Jamie was hit hardest of all, but only because he had the most to lose: of the 113 episodes in which he appeared in the Second Doctor era, only 66 have survived, including seven complete stories. One of the missing stories is his debut ("The Highlanders"), of which no episodes survive.

Fortunately, audio for all of the lost episodesnote  and many telesnapsnote  still exist (although quality varies wildly), which has made reconstructing episodes possible. Loose Cannon Productions offers most of them for free (VHS only), complete with bonus materials and interviews. The BBC has also released a "Lost in Time" compilation DVD of all surviving material and clips plus a documentary, which is now somewhat out of date due to the shock rediscovery of "The Enemy of the World", most of "The Web of Fear", episode 3 of "Galaxy 4" and episode 2 of "The Underwater Menace" a couple of years after the DVD's release, as well as "The Moonbase" having a standalone DVD release with the missing episodes animated. All the completely missing or incomplete episodes have been released on audio CD, with linking narration by some of the surviving actors (William Russell, Frazer Hines, etc.).

Missing episodes for several stories that mostly exist have been reconstructed in animation for a DVD release. The BBC commissioned Cosgrove Hall to reconstruct the two missing episodes of Second Doctor serial "The Invasion" for DVD, in an animated format similar to Scream of the Shalka and "The Infinite Quest". In 2013, "The Reign of Terror" was released with its missing episodes animated by ThetaMation for DVD, and "The Ice Warriors", "The Tenth Planet" and "The Moonbase" had their missing episodes animated as well. Animated reconstructions were in progress for "The Underwater Menace", but were apparently abandoned, as the DVD was finally released after a long delay with only telesnap reconstructions. In 2016, "The Power of the Daleks" was reconstructed with animation, marking the first time a serial missing more than two episodes (six in this case) was restored in this way, let alone a story that is missing entirely. This was followed by "The Macra Terror" in 2019.

Also, proving that God does have a sick sense of humour, a great many film segments from missing episodes come to us from the Australian and New Zealand censor boards. Bits of episodes unfit for daytime television were physically trimmed from the reels and sent to the censor board as proof they were excised... and now turn out to be the only footage in existence from those episodes. In the case of several episodes which still exist, the only known copies are ones which were censored and the cut material has not resurfaced; approximately two minutes of material is missing from "The War Machines", and the DVD release patches this by using audio taken from the soundtrack combined with recycling video from elsewhere in the story, which is a tactic used with other cut stories (the DVD for "The Time Meddler" presents a reconstruction of the censored portion as a separate special feature, as it could not be reinserted into the programme itself).

While the 1960s missing episodes are the most damaging and notorious, it doesn't stop there — a lot of 1970s Who featuring Jon Pertwee was also "lost" in the purges. Luckily, Australia's The ABC (equivalent of the BBC) kept its copies of a number of episodes — except Australians didn't have colour TV until about 1974, meaning that while from 1983 every Pertwee episode existed in the archives, several of them only survived in monochrome.

Thankfully, modern colour recovery technology came to the rescue. The DVD releases of "Planet of the Daleks" in October 2009, "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" in January 2012, "The Ambassadors of Death" in October 2012, and "The Mind of Evil" note  in June 2013 mark the first time the full stories have been available in colour for over 35 years. Some have theorised that, in some cases, the black-and-whiteness of the stories may have done them some favours, with the BW version of "The Mind of Evil" having a gritty, Film Noir kind of coolness that the colour version lacks.

Several more "mislaid" Pertwee stories were recovered from NTSC copies sent to the United States and Canada. The machine on which the BBC performed the PAL to NTSC conversion was an arcane analogue machine of such complexity that it could only be reverse-engineered by computer in 2005, although this reverse-engineering process restores almost all of the lost quality. Hilariously, the first serial to be converted in this way was "The Claws of Axos", featuring monsters called Axons with advanced analogue technology... and the BBC engineer who designed the initial machine was named Dr. Axon. (A DVD extra on "The Claws of Axos" suggests that the missing episodes may have been part of an Axon conspiracy.)

It should be noted that the colour recovery process was not as successful for part 1 of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" as it was for the others, owing to the lack of usable chroma dots in the existing copy.note  Therefore the DVD version had the monochrome version as the default with restored picture quality, with a "best efforts" recoloured (but unrestored) version as an alternative extra.

There is also even a small amount of missing Tom Baker material, though due to the wide distribution of his material and the halting of the BBC's purging policy during his tenure, the amount is very little and mostly down to odd reasons.

"The Ark in Space" had a Deleted Scene where Noah begs Vira to kill him rather than allow him to be turned into the Wirrn. The scene was filmed, but cut due to being too dark (despite being fairly crucial to the plot and explaining why Vira and the Doctor are so pale and distraught in the following scene). The cut footage was destroyed in the purges. "Terror of the Zygons" also had a deleted scene (abandoned after a change in light levels on location made the intended split-screen effect to depict an invisible TARDIS impossible) featuring Sarah and Harry discussing where they were and the Doctor showing off his Scottish outfit and UNIT tracking device that was cut — but survived as a black-and-white film, which was hand-colourised and restored for "Director's Cut" insertion into the DVD edition.

Many Tom Baker-era incidental music has also been destroyed. All the stock music used in the early years survives, and Delia Derbyshire's theme and Malcolm Clarke's score for "The Sea Devils" are some Awesome Music that survives even in stem form, but the majority of music master tapes for Dudley Simpson's scores have been thrown away. Some were reconstructed in the 80s, on synths that have not dated particularly well, when the music was written for analog 70s synths and a conventional orchestra. If you want your soundtrack of "The Ark in Space" or "City of Death", you're going to have to put up with Tom Baker saying lines of dialogue over it.

The famous freeze-frame cliffhanger of the Doctor being drowned at the end of "The Deadly Assassin" episode 3 drew so much outrage from the Moral Guardians that the BBC edited their master copy of it and now holds no copy of the originally broadcast episode in its archive. Repeat broadcasts of the serial now omit the cliffhanger as a result, as did the VHS version. The DVD release restored the cliffhanger, reconstructing it from off-air recordings of the original broadcast.

The Fourth Doctor serial "Shada" is not so much missing as incomplete — industrial action at the BBC caused filming to be abandoned while partly complete. Douglas Adams had hated it and wanted it to remain buried, and only signed the paper allowing the BBC to release what was available by accident — as penance, he donated all of his royalties from the VHS sale to Comic Relief. Several reconstructions exist: the first had Tom Baker (as a museum curator) narrating the gaps (which are sadly significant, especially towards the end), and the second was an animated remake starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor (which can still be seen on the BBC Doctor Who website). A fanmade reconstruction uses animation for the missing segments and most of the original cast, save for Tom Baker who declined to participate and is replaced by an impressionist. In 2012, Gareth Roberts published an official novelisation, working from Adams' scripts. Adams himself largely recycled the plot for Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency in 1987. The BBC released an animated version of the story in 2017, with the original cast (including Baker this time) reprising their roles.

During the show's 30th anniversary, several audio reconstructions of missing episodes were released with later Doctors — Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, and Colin Baker. Tom Baker's reconstructions were the most notable, as he had only agreed to do it if he could do it in character as the Fourth Doctor recounting stories about his past, making it canonical Doctor material and the first time Baker had reprised the character in decades. The BBC initially planned the Fourth Doctor's reconstructions of "The Power of the Daleks" and "Fury From the Deep" to be rereleased on CD with some added extra narration and improved audio quality, but in a staggering bit of Irony, the Corporation threw out the master tapes, making this a case of a Missing Episode of a reconstruction of a Missing Episode.

These missing episodes were referenced prominently in Queer as Folk in which the token Doctor Who fan brags that he has a mate that got him "Planet of the Daleks" in colour, and Episode 4 of "The Tenth Planet".

I'm sure I left the Live-Action TV page around here somewhere...

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