Over the weekend, Whovians had an early Christmas present when two episodes thought to be long gone surfaced and were shown at the ‘Missing Believed Lost’ event held at the British Film Institute. The two episodes were from the very early days of ‘Doctor Who’ and include unique footage showing William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton as the Doctor.
In the 1960’s, using video tape to record shows was still considered an expensive process, so most studios would wipe the tape and reuse it for another filming. When television began to transmit shows in color, they didn’t think that anyone would want to see something in black and white so archiving a black and white episode was considered folly. A few examples were kept to show what television was once like but routinely, original full episodes that aired were either destroyed or filmed over.
This was the case with the initial years of ‘Doctor Who.’ Of the first 253 episodes that aired of the series, 108 were believed to be gone, wiped by the BBC once the rights to repeat them had expired. In most cases, the copies that are seen today are ones that have survived from copies made on film for foreign distribution, so to find something actually from the BBC that long ago is news for celebration.
The two episodes that were recovered were ‘Air Lock’, which is part three of a story called ‘Galaxy 4’ starring William Hartnell (the first Doctor), and part two of ‘The Underwater Menace’ starring Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor). This find is considered Troughton’s earliest episode to have been discovered.
So how were they found? Former TV engineer, Terry Burnett, bought a box of old film while at a fair in the 1980’s near Southampton, England. When he brought the box home, he found the two Doctor Who episodes. He managed to clean them up, watched them a few times then placed them in his archives where they remained until he met Ralph Montagu, head of the Radio Times Heritage Division. When the subject of Doctor Who came up, Burnett mentioned he remembered having an old episode. He bought it to Montagu who researched the name of the episode, ‘Air Lock’, and found it was part of a missing storyline called ‘Galaxy 4’ from the Hartnell era. If that wasn’t news enough, imagine the excitement when two weeks later, Burnett came by with another film can which turned out to be ‘The Underwater Menace Part 2’ starring Patrick Troughton.
The film cans are said to be from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Australia’s ABC channel) who returned the film to the BBC once the episodes aired so long ago. It’s theorized that an enthusiastic fan, at the time, may have saved them from destruction. Although considered in good condition, the episodes do need a little more work before they can be commercially released. There is film damage and some missing clips that the ABC channel removed due to censorship. Apparently these missing clips have been retrieved and will be incorporated into the restored episodes.
‘Air Lock’ and ‘The Underwater Menace Part 2’ are the first full episodes to have been recovered since ‘Day of Armageddon’ was found in 2004. Details of when the public will be able to see these episodes will be made sometime next year by the company 2 Entertain according to Dan Hall, the company’s DVD Commissioning Editor. But if you can’t wait, we have clips from both episodes that you can see here!
So, Whovians, what do you think of this tremendous discovery?
(clips courtesy of BBC)