I first heard via a text when the rumours were still unconfirmed. ‘Two missing episodes have been recovered!’ it said. ‘I don’t know which ones yet!!!’
If I had any hope that I wasn’t a Who-geek, this would’ve been quashed by the fact that I didn’t bother asking what this announcement was in relation to: for many fans, the Holy Grail is a return to the archives of ‘lost’ Doctor Who episodes.
I say ‘lost’, but, as you’re likely to already know, the BBC quite deliberately junked a good deal of its black and white footage in the seventies. It was an Act-Quickly cut, intended to save money, with no real consideration for the long term effects.
I texted back my three word wish list – Troughton. Daleks. Yeti. – and I imagine many other fans were thinking the same hopes. It probably never occurred to anyone to think ‘plankton’. The episodes that have been returned to public scrutiny (although there’s a great deal of work and restoration to be done before we all see them) are Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace, and Episode 3 of Galaxy Four.
Now, the latter is a somewhat un-regarded William Hartnell story (although receives a very decent re-appraisal from Toby Hadoke and Robert Sherman in their fun Running Through Corridors) while the Troughton story is celebrated by long-term fans as one of the most carefree and – frankly – barmy of all Who adventures, partially because it has the Doctor dressing up as a soothsayer, but mostly because of the villain who declaims in the best Saturday serial style: ‘Nothing in the world can stop me now!’
In real terms, it’s very unlikely that anything else still remains from Doctor Who’s silver age era to be found. But one major point crops up to contradict that belief: this discovery largely stemmed from an accidental conversation from two friendly enthusiasts.
One might have thought that the subject of lost Doctor Who episodes would’ve come up before. Ralph Montagu, the head of heritage at Radio Times, was chatting with a former engineer from STV who mentioned, almost in passing, that he ‘might’ have an old episode of the series. When one assumes that both men would likely have been very aware of the hunger for missing episodes (so much so that a DVD release, Lost in Time, was sold as much on what was absent as what has survived from the first six years of the show), it’s surprising that it hadn’t occurred to anyone to bring this up in conversation before.
All of which means that there’s a cruel temptation to think that one day, the entire original series could be restored. This is almost impossible (even Z Cars is missing episodes up until 1975), but not unimaginable: the series was sold on to many countries, and there’s no reason to think that there couldn’t be a full set of Fury from the Deep gathering dust somewhere in India or Australia. And, as Paul Vanezis – of the Doctor Who Restoration Team – points out, there are other, more ‘culturally important’ discoveries to be made from the early days of television, not just Doctor Who – but if people hunt down black and white television in general, not just their favourite TV show, they’re ironically more likely to get what they’re looking for.
Finally, my friend texted back what, if I’d spent a lot less time in front of the screen, would have been a wilfully obscure reference: ‘Drahvin home for Christmas’. I winced. And then shared the gag with anyone I thought would get it.
There are still many gems that fans would like to see returned – Marco Polo, The Celestial Toymaker, and The Tenth Planet from the Hartnell era, or pretty much anything to do with Daleks/Yeti/water from Patrick Troughton’s years. For even one episode, most of us would trade all of The Twin Dilemma.
In fact, let’s ask that question: what later story would you be happy to lose, and what Hartnell/Troughton story would you want to get in its place? Or, are you content with the way things stand? Remember, nothing in the world can stop you now.
Let us know below…