Who History: New Developments in Missing Episodes

After waiting so long for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, time has seemingly sped up and it’s almost crept up on me!  Even if you’re staunchly avoiding spoilers and speculation, there’s still plenty of Who-related news to be had: The anniversary will be simulcast in many countries, including on BBCAmerica in the US (I’m just assuming they’re going to work out that East Coast/West Coast thing this one time).  Additionally, select theaters will be showing 3D versions of the Anniversary Special, but no one seems to know specifically where just yet.   

But the 50th Anniversary isn’t just the Anniversary Special; it celebrates all 50 years of Doctor Who.  Thus, it’s fitting that some of the most exciting buzz concerns not new episodes of Who, but classics instead.  For years, the internet has been alive with rumors that missing episodes of the classic series have been uncovered, in a variety of places.  Most of these rumors have featured pretty wild numbers and circumstances; one hoax even claimed that they were retrieving lost episodes via a signal that had bounced off of some faraway asteroid and finally beamed back to Earth!

The missing episodes are a source of stress and consternation for many Classic Who fans.  Imagine being a completist, and deciding you’re going to watch every episode of Doctor Who ever – only to find out it’s an impossible task, because some episodes have literally been lost, possibly forever.  You can almost hear the teeth grinding.

It’s all thanks to an early BBC policy of ditching and erasing old broadcasts after a certain amount of time.  It was long before reruns and home video were conceived of, and television was considered more disposable than film.  A little sci-fi series wasn’t thought to have any historical value, and summarily trashed.  Thus, large chunks of the first series are missing – even the episode that features the regeneration of the First Doctor!

Over the years, episodes have been found here and there, generally in other countries that had been sent episodes to rebroadcast.  Other episodes have been cobbled together with audio and still pictures, or animation.  But fans have been searching for many years now, and the chances of achieving a complete archive are growing ever smaller as the world shrinks.

There are a total of 106 missing episodes, so many of the recent rumors have included  increasing numbers of found episodes – 40, 60, and most recently, 106 (no, that’s not suspicious at all).  Thus, as the anniversary draws near, it’s easy to dismiss these ever-more-frequent rumors as more hoaxes.

…Except there’s apparently a grain of truth in them!  The BBC have announced that they have, indeed, recovered a number of missing episodes.  They’ll be giving the details at a press screening later this week.  Now, it’s most likely that the number of actual missing episodes retrieved is small – one or two would be in keeping with the finds from recent years.  But on the other hand, what if the BBC have quietly been sitting on any recent finds in order to bring them out as an Anniversary gift?  What if some of the rumors have actually been true, and there really are a dozen or more “new” episodes?  You don’t have to be a completionist or a member of The Goonies to get excited at the thought of “buried treasure.”

Even if the number of found episodes is only a few, it’s still exciting.  It just goes to show that the world is still vast, and there is still the possibility of new discoveries and “buried treasure.”  And as the 50th Anniversary looms, it’s somewhat nice to consider that this tiny television show has inspired so many real mysteries and adventures over time and throughout the world.

What about you?  Are you excited about the possibility of newly found episodes?  How many are you predicting?  Can you think of any other shows that have required sleuths and adventurers from around the world ? 

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