This isn’t like the last time there was a report of lost episodes of Doctor Who returning from a tour of outer space after their original broadcast, as reported by BBC News | Science/Nature – on April Fool’s Day. No, this time two old episodes from 1965 and 1967 have surfaced in the form of film archives purchased by a collector. The missing episodes are from Patrick Troughton’s time as Doctor Who, and from William Hartnell’s performances. Troughton was the second actor to play the time travelling adventurer, and Hartnell the first.
Episode 3 of the William Hartnell adventure “Galaxy 4” and Episode 2 of Patrick Troughton’s “The Underwater Menace” have been returned to the BBC archive. The episodes were thought lost forever, but had been purchased by film collector Terry Burnett in the early 80s – Burnett hadn’t been aware that the canisters contained the lost footage.
Television used to be recorded on film – when it was recorded at all – using something called a kinescope. It was basically little more than a black and white television with a motion picture camera strapped to the business end, with the whole thing mounted on an improbably large box full of inefficient electronics and electrical parts that made the whole thing synchronize the video frame rate with the film frame rate, and recorded the sound along with it. Naturally, the results weren’t much to look at – but it’s all they had.
It wasn’t until the early sixties that shows began to be recorded on video tape, but the tape was so expensive that the studios would keep the recordings only as long as necessary, then wiped and reused the tape as many times as they thought they could get away with it. Editing video tape was often as not done with single edged razor blades and splicing tape.
The difficulty of making and preserving these recordings in the first place was why so many episodes of Doctor Who from the 1960’s – over 100 – remain missing today. However, many film prints sold overseas have since been returned. These latest discoveries are the first complete episodes to have been located since 2004.
The newly recovered episodes came from the ABC channel in Australia – but it’s still missing some pieces. The episode ” The Underwater Menace” is still missing some bits removed by the Australian censors. The missing pieces have been found by the National Archives of Australia and will be restored for the DVD release of the episodes.
Doctor Who is cited by the Guiness World Book of Records as the longest running science fiction series ever – but there was a nine year gap. It originally ran from 1963 to 1989, then absented itself from production until its revival in 2005, and is still in production today. A total of eleven actors have played the title role, the most recent being the wildly popular Matt Smith.
There are still lost copies of Doctor Who scattered all over the planet – the BBC Archives will likely never get them all back, but we can hope. And now, they’re two episodes closer.
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