back to top

7 Strange Places The Missing Episodes Of 'Doctor Who' Have Been Found

Over the years, many missing episodes of Doctor Who have been returned to the BBC... some from unusual places...

Posted on

Since 1963, there have been over 800 episodes of Doctor Who. Although many of these are available to buy and watch on DVD, or via online streaming, there are 97 episodes which now only survive as audio soundtracks.

In the 1960s and 70s, programmes were rarely broadcast more than once, and there wasn't an option to buy them for viewing at home. As a result, the taps of old shows sat gathering diet - and taking up space - on the shelf, stored on expensive tape.

As a result, many programmes were 'wiped', either allowing the tape to be recorded on again, or simply 'junked' to get rid of them. This wasn't a practice confined to Doctor Who, or even the BBC, though the Time Lords travels are perhaps the most high profile case of 'missing episodes'.

Since the late 1970s, when the majority of junkings were stopped, numerous episodes of Doctor Who have been found and returned to the archives. Here's just some of the places that they've turned up...

7. Foreign TV Stations

BBC / The Tomb of the Cybermen

Although episodes were rarely screened more than once in the UK, Doctor Who was regularly sold to overseas television stations for broadcast in foreign territories. The series became popular from New Zealand to Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and beyond.

These stations had very specific contracts with the BBC, which allowed them to screen stories a set number of times, before following out instructions to return the films to the UK, send them on to another station, or destroy them.

In the 1980s, contact was made with many former TV stations around the globe, and several episodes were returned to the BBC which had survived the various culls.

6. ...but not always the ones who should have had them

BBC / The Web of Fear

Several missing episodes were discovered in a TV station in Jos, Nigeria, in 2013. Philip Morris, the man who discovered them described them as "just sitting on the shelf" and described the moment he spotted them; "I can remember now, seeing a piece of masking tape, and it said 'Doctor Who' on it, and I thought, 'oh! This is interesting!' I pulled the cans down, read the story codes - instantly of course, recognised what the stories were, The Web of Fear, and The Enemy of the World - and realised that they were missing from the BBC's archives."

The tapes should never have ended up in this location, however.

"These stories had come from Hong Kong, and had been on what's called a 'bicycle system'. So they'd travelled from this country, to the next country, to the next country, and they had come to be in Nigeria through this bicycle system. Not at the station in Nigeria that they were actually sold to, they were at a relay station."

5. A landfill

BBC / The Crusade

If stories weren't 'bicycled' on to other broadcasters, or returned to the BBC, then they were to be destroyed, and proof of the destruction needed to be sent to the BBC.

The New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation was the first station outside the UK to broadcast the series, and continued to purchase new batches of episodes for several years. 1965 adventure The Crusade was among seven stories purchased by the NZBC in late 1967.

Although we don't know what happened to the final three episodes of the serial, episode one - The Lion - remained at the television station until 1974, when it was among several cans of film being sent to a landfill site.

Luckily, a local film collector had been tipped off about the dumping, and was able to agree with staff on site to take several of the films for his collection, the Doctor Who episode among them.

4. A School Fete

BBC / The Underwater Menace

Some episodes didn't even make it as far as the landfill, and were taken from television stations by keen employees before they could be destroyed. In the years that followed, these prints sat in attics or sheds, and occasionally changed hands among collectors.

In 2011, film collector Terry Burnett was responsible for returning two episodes to the BBC - one each from the 1965 story Galaxy 4, and the 1967 story The Underwater Menace - when he happened to mention that he owned them to Ralph Montagu, a Radio Times employee, and fan of the programme.

Terry later explained to the Radio Times; “I’ve been interested in film since about 1947. I’ve built up a modest collection. I buy and sell, and keep the films I like. In the mid-80s, an electrician at TVS was organising a school fête over Marchwood way [near Southampton].

“Everybody down there knew I was a film buff, and he just mentioned to me, ‘I’ve got a box of films if you’re interested.’ So I said, ‘Bring ’em in.’ We did a suitable deal, I took them home and found two Doctor Who's among them. I cleaned them up, showed them in my [home cinema], and then they went into my archive. There they stayed until I mentioned them to Ralph.”

3. The basement of a church

BBC / The Daleks' Master Plan

Often when episodes are returned to the BBC, it's possible to track their journey through the last forty-or-so years via paperwork, and the people who have previously owned the films.

On other occasions, though, it's a complete mystery as to how some episodes ended up where they did. Counter Plot and Escape Switch, two episodes of the mammoth The Daleks' Master Plan arc, were returned to the BBC in 1983 after they were found in the basement of a church in London.

Since the return of the episodes was first announced in Doctor Who Monthly in late 1983, the story of these episode's return has become something of a fan myth, with the exact location of the church varying from the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' in Wandsworth to a 'Mormon Unification Church' somewhere in London.

Since the recovery of these two episodes, fans have speculated that the building could have been a former BBC property which was not thoroughly cleaned out before being transformed in to a church. This might not be a huge leap of the imagination, because...

2. In an abandoned BBC building

BBC / The Ice Warriors

In 1988, when the BBC were vacating premises at Villiers House in Ealing, an employee took one last search of the building to check that nothing had been left behind. During this search, they discovered a stack of old film cans, which were sent back to the Film and Videotape library.

The haul included four episodes of the 1968 adventure The Ice Warriors, as well as a missing episode of the 1960s series Adam Adamant Lives!.

Another can marked up as containing the final episode of 1968 adventure Fury From the Deep, turned out to contain an entirely different programme altogether.

1. The BBC's own archive...

BBC / The Seeds of Doom

Most episodes were only shown the once on British television before hair tapes were destroyed, but Part One of The Seeds of Doom, a 1976 story starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, almost didn't make it that far! It remains the only episode of Doctor Who to have gone missing before broadcast, though they located it in time for screening!

In a newspaper article at the time, producer Philip Hinchcliffe explained; "Our tapes for the entire six-part serial were tucked away safely - we thought - the actors had all gone away, and the sets had been dismantled. We rang the library asking for our first episode and, after a check, the answer came back that they couldn’t find it. It had just vanished!

”Panic? It was more like a mass rave. They started checking, and I started making plans to re-edit the serial - a mammoth job with very little time to spare. Finally, after two days, they found it. It had been wrongly numbered. But in that time, I’d aged about 20 years!"

There could be more to find!

Between 1978 and now, 42 episodes of Doctor Who have been returned to the archives, but there's still another 97 which could be out there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered.

Doctor Who isn't the only classic television programme affected by the junkings, either, with episodes of Adam Adamant Lives!, The Avengers, Dad's Army, and a whole host of other programmes also missing chunks of their back-catalogue. Indeed, in many ways, Doctor Who got off rather lightly - at least we can still listen to the 'lost' instalments!

So keep your eyes peeled! Check in the loft, and at vintage fairs, because you never know where the next missing episode may turn up...

This post was created by a member of BuzzFeed Community, where anyone can post awesome lists and creations. Learn more or post your buzz!