As hinted at earlier this week, the BBC has officially announced that nine episodes of 1960s-era Doctor Who—unseen since their first broadcast 45 years ago, and thought to be lost or destroyed—were found by archivist Phillip Morris in storage at a Nigerian television station.
The episodes found are all part of two, six-part serials from the series’ fifth season, starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor and Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling as his companions Jamie and Victoria. They include five from “The Enemy Of The World” and four from “The Web Of Fear,” completing the former serial and leaving the latter missing only one segment. Both serials are already available for download via iTunes, with DVD copies to be released in a few months. (The still-missing third episode of “Web Of Fear” has been reconstructed out of surviving audio and still photos.)
The new find reduces the total number of missing Doctor Who episodes to 97. Originally produced as part of the first six seasons of the venerable British sci-fi show, the episodes in question were erased soon after broadcast as part of a policy to reuse then-costly videotape and reduce storage expenses. (This affected many other British series of the era, including The Avengers, Dad’s Army, and Z-Cars.) The missing episodes leave large gaps in the tenures of both Troughton and his predecessor, William Hartnell, who originated the role.
For years, the lost shows were known to survive only in partial clips, and as audio recordings made by fans during the initial broadcasts, some of which were later used as the basis for animated reconstructions of a few serials. Over the years, copies of some missing shows were found as film copies sold to foreign markets, in private collections, and even obscure corners of the BBC’s own archives. Missing episodes have turned up in places as far-flung as New Zealand, Hong Kong, and a Mormon church basement. Most recently, in 2011, segments of the serials “The Underwater Menace” and “Galaxy Four” were found in Australia.
Before this, fewer than 10 episodes had been found in the last 25 years, so there was reason to be skeptical of the news before it was officially confirmed. Rumors of large caches of Doctor Who tapes in Africa have circulated in fan circles for years, and a report on the website Bleeding Cool earlier this year suggested a much higher, less believable figure of 90 episodes found.
“Enemy Of The World” features Troughton in a dual role, pitting the Doctor against a future dictator, Salamander, who happens to look exactly like him. In “The Web Of Fear,” the Doctor fights to stop an invasion of London by the disembodied Great Intelligence, and features the first appearance by longtime Doctor Who co-star Nicholas Courtney as the stiff-necked Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart, then still a colonel.
Launched in 1963, Doctor Who is the longest-running science-fiction series of all time. A 50th-anniversary special, “The Day Of The Doctor,” will broadcast worldwide on Nov. 23, teaming the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, current star Matt Smith and his predecessor David Tennant. Smith’s final episode will be the annual Christmas special, when Peter Capaldi takes the reins of the character as the Twelfth Doctor.