The BBC today announced that 9 episodes from Patrick Troughton-era of classic Doctor Who (1966-69) were found earlier this year at a Nigerian television station and will be available for immediate purchase via Apple iTunes.
The episodes come from two multi-part serials for which only one episode each was known to exist: “The Enemy Of The World” and “The Web Of Fear.” As a result of this discovery, “The Enemy Of The World” serial can now be watched whole in the UK for the first time since it was originally broadcast, and for the first time ever in the United States. Episode 3 of “The Web Of Fear” serial is still missing even after this discovery, but a reconstruction from stills and program audio is included to complete the story. All 11 episodes from the two serials exist on film and were digitally restored prior for this release.
Rumors about some kind of discovery of Classic Doctor Who episodes have been floating around since as early as June. Early reports threw around numbers like 100 or 106 episodes found that seemed theoretically possible, but highly unlikely. In any case, talk of recovered episodes remained unconfirmed at best, and denied at worst. It still remains unclear whether these are the only previously “lost” episodes to be recovered, or merely the first to be released.
The causes behind the missing Classic Doctor Who episodes reach back decades. Back in the 1960s, the BBC mastered all Doctor Who episodes to video tape and then made film copies from the tapes to offer to television stations around the world for re-broadcast, primarily in its remaining colonies, the British Commonwealth, and other nations formerly part of the British Empire. British copies of the master video tapes were all wiped between 1967 and 1974 for re-use to record new television. BBC-held versions of the film copies were destroyed due to bureaucratic mismanagement as early as 1972 until the possible availability of home video tapes made them valuable for preservation in 1978. With this most recent discovery, 97 episodes of Classic Doctor Who from the 1960s still remain lost. Fans are left with only with audio tapes, stills, and novelizations to discover the Classic Doctor Who history they contain.
The current batch of episodes were discovered using some detective work worthy of Indiana Jones. Efforts to recover episodes have centered on locating film copies in television stations outside the United Kingdom since the 1980s. The most recent attempts by investigators at the Television International Enterprises Archive used shipping manifests to track where films went around the world. These particular episodes were traced in this way, first to Hong Kong and then to Nigeria. Upon discovery, the BBC was then able to negotiate with the current owners to get the films for copying and restoration.
Both serials are considered memorable parts of Patrick Troughton canon of Doctor Who. From 1967 and 1968, “The Enemy Of The World” is reviewed by Philip Sandifer in The TARDIS Eruditorum as one of Patrick Troughton’s absolute best. In it, he plays a dual role, both as the Doctor and a 21st century global dictator known as Salamander. The serial is also known for its distinguished production staff: it is written by David Whittaker (the series first script editor), directed by Barry Letts (later producer, director, and writer during the Pertwee era and executive producer at the end of the Tom Baker era), script edited by Peter Bryant (who became producer immediately after this serial) and produced by Innes Lloyd (who left when this serial finished).
“The Web Of Fear” from 1968 is a sequel to a previous Patrick Troughton story (“The Abominable Snowmen”), and is known for the concepts and characters it introduced to Classic Doctor Who. It features the second appearance of the Great Intelligence in the classic series, this time bringing robotic Yeti to the London Underground of the 1960s. These concepts were retconned in the 2012 Christmas special “The Snowmen.” To fight them, the Second Doctor gains an ally in Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart played by Nicholas Courteney. Once promoted, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart would go on to appear with Patrick Troughton one more time in “The Invasion,” then become a series regular for five seasons with Jon Pertwee, and finally appear sporadically during through the Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and Sylvester McCoy eras. “The Brigadier” appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2008 and is last mentioned in “The Wedding Of River Song” in 2011 as passing away. In all, it is a fantastic run matched by no other character in Doctor Who. “The Web Of Fear” is where all that starts.
DVD releases for both serials were also announced. “The Enemy Of The World” will be available on DVD on November 25, 2013, with “The Web Of Fear” following on February 14, 2014.
The BBC released a promotional videos for “The Enemy Of The World” and “The Web Of Fear” along with the announcement. Watch them here below.