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Opinion: Will Finding the Missing Episodes See Us Lose What it Means To Be A Fan?
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By Dave Stevens

If you are anything like me, your day now includes an eager visit to the home pages of your favourite Doctor Who websites, or the relevant Doctor Who chat rooms, to catch up with the very latest rumours around the missing episodes of Doctor Who that have been recovered or recorded in miraculous circumstances. The 1964 adventure Marco Polo recorded off-air! The 1966 adventure The Massacre found in a TIE distribution hub! The legendary 1966 adventure The Power of the Daleks recovered!

For these last few months have been like no other in fandom’s memory. Practically every missing episode of Doctor Who has been rumoured to have been recovered in one way or another and whereas in the past we would have quickly quashed such rumours as highly unlikely to be true (however much we prayed they were), now the mood music has changed. Such was the brilliant surprise of the news that Philip Morris has been able to recover in one go nine episodes of Doctor Who that we feared had been destroyed forever that we now seem to give credence to the rumours that we once dismissed. Even The Feast of Steven – the Doctor Who episode that was destroyed earliest – is being said to exist and fans are giving the rumour the time of day. Forum chat rooms are so frantic with discussion of these rumours that some have been closed down. How things have changed!

So, let’s imagine for one moment that the rumours are right and that a significant haul of Doctor Who missing episodes have been found and will be released to eager fans over coming weeks and months. Extraordinary news! But what then? Could the recovery of Doctor Who’s lost past mean that we view our beloved series in a different way?

Clearly the recovery of any episodes will give cause for a reassessment of the stories themselves. The discovery of The Tomb of the Cybermen in 1992 led to a down-grade in that story’s status among fans. What was once considered as a classic, is now seen as being above average. I watched the recently recovered The Enemy of the World for the first time on DVD yesterday and I now rate that story much more highly than before when I just had the soundtrack and its pedestrian third episode to rely upon. Such reassessment is a natural and quite proper process.

But I’m talking about something more than that. Would the recovery of all of Doctor Who’s past lead us to view the series as a whole as something less special? At present there are over ninety episodes of Doctor Who that we can really only imagine. We can only imagine how brilliant Douglas Camfield’s direction of The Nightmare Begins must be, how sinister William Hartnell’s interpretation of the Abbot of Amboise is, or how radical Patrick Troughton’s debut as the Second Doctor might be. Just think how many of the pillar stones of Doctor Who are built from our imaginations: the first companions to die do so in missing episodes that we now have to imagine, the first regeneration happens in a missing episode that we have to imagine, the first appearance of the Yeti is in a missing episode that we have to imagine, the first proper appearance of The Ice Warriors is in a missing episode that we have to imagine. And I think these moments are special because we can’t see them. We have to work to access these moments: listen to soundtracks, watch tele-snaps, read the novelisations, and then dream. Those missing episodes feel mythical as a consequence. And part of Doctor Who’s strength is that mythical status. It is the show that can’t die.. an idea that can’t be withdrawn, de-accessioned, and junked. Destroy the episodes if you will, but the ideas remain. Cancel the show if you dare, but the ideas continue to thrive. I think that this makes Doctor Who really special. As fans, we all carry this hugely special set of ideas with us. In today’s Wikipedia culture where everything is available at the touch of a button, Doctor Who stands out because it is never completely obtainable.

Don’t misunderstand me, I fervently hope the rumours that so many lost episodes have been recovered are true. I can’t wait to see anything that’s been found. But I also wonder whether in regaining these treasures, we might also lose something of the magic of our show too.

  • November 28, 2013 at 04:12

    Who is the idiot that would write such crap.

    We are all dying to see what is lost.

    If the writer thinks it is better to lose and long for… go burn your photos and erase your videos. You’ll be happier.

    The rest of us will go forth with sassy new videos of the Celestial Toymaker, etc.

    Bone-headed tripe.


  • November 28, 2013 at 04:14

    Nonsense really. Can’t wait to see them all come back, if possible. It will be wonderful. Especially for those who saw them in the past as children and haven’t been able to rewatch them. Bring them on.


  • November 28, 2013 at 16:48

    Bit like saying you’d prefer to be poor and starving (wondering what a good meal tastes like), rather than be comfortably well-off with food on your table.

    But on the subject of missing Dr Who episodes that may or may not re-materialise (forgive the lousy pun) . . . sure, there will be some surprises and some disappointments along the way. I remember telling my friends that something like Web of Fear was a standout Patrick Troughton story. Guess what? Now that the story’s available for viewing (in near entirety), they all love it and think it’s superb!

    On the other hand, Enemy of the World (which I’m old enough to have seen, as I watched the show from the very first episode), is not a story I ever remember watching. Having seen it this week, I can understand why it’s likely to have remained forgotten to me. It’s not a bad story (the change of pace is somewhat refreshing), but would hardly rate as a classic, in my opinion. But each to their own.

    Stories I’m very much looking forward to seeing again (if they show up) . . . Marco Polo, The Massacre, Celestial Toymaker, Macra Terror, Evil of the Daleks and Fury From the Deep.

    I don’t want these to remain as fading memories of the distant past, to be longed for with some kind of ‘holy grail’ mentality. I want to see them again, now!


  • November 28, 2013 at 18:58

    I saw all the 60s ‘Doctor Who’ episodes when they were originally transmitted and when I saw ‘Web of Fear’ and ‘Tomb’ again in recent times I was not disappointed. They were just as good as I remembered them. In fact I much prefer Classic ‘Who’ to the more recent offerings which in my opinion are too complicated and hard to follow with their emphasis on multiple timezones, revelations about the Doctor’s past and long story arcs etc. I look forward to enjoying all these missing stories in the near future.


    • November 28, 2013 at 20:59

      I suspect the writer of this feature, we’re responding to, is someone who wasn’t old enough to have viewed these treasures first time round (as he talks about ‘imagining’ what the missing stories might be like). To my mind, something like ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ still stands up as one of the classic Troughton stories (I was not disappointed when I saw it again), though its mythical status (to those who didn’t see it at the time of its original transmission) may have been too hard a reputation to live up to (I’m thinking specifically of younger viewers weaned on post-Star Wars production values). 1960s Dr Who is a product of its time, made on a lower budget, with primitive special effects and resources. The strength of the writing, characters and performances are what we remember best. They may look dated now, but are a part of the show’s history – which is why we want to see all the missing episodes show up and help consolidate the show’s history.


  • November 29, 2013 at 08:52

    Have to agree that this is crazy talk. The return of Enemy and Web were the highlight of the 50th anniversary and I cannot wait to see more!


    • December 5, 2013 at 20:10

      An article that has caused something of an adverse reaction! I understand exactly what the author means but he is far too negative. For every episode that is recovered – yes, inevitably there is a reappraisal – but the stock of episodes both rises and falls compared to our imagination. It is not a linear process. I wasn’t disappointed by Tomb – but am aware of some of its production shortcomings. I thought the Ice Warriors was better than I thought it could have been and Celestial Toymaker 4 was something of a disappointment. By contrast both Enemy and Web have surpassed my expectations – for different reasons. For every disappointment contrasting with our imagination – there is the delight of some often “quirky” visual treat.

      Doctor Who 1963-66 will simply be seen for what it must have always been: a mixture of the brilliant, fantastic, experimental and downright rubbish and failure…

      What the author means is that we may no longer be able to “romanticise” missing episodes in the light of their reality. Doctor Who – even when disappointing – fires our imaginations. I am all for the reality. Nothing can compare to my astonishment at how good Web of Fear was, how nuanced Troughton’s performance actually is – and how brilliantly directed the action sequences are.

      For every clunky moment, there is an re-discovered gem of an experience.

      All this does – is open a brilliant new chapter and re-invigorate the programme. The thought of seeing “old” Doctor Who I have never seen before at the age of 44 – fills me with unalloyed joy: I have had the best of both worlds: The episodes of my imagination, growing up, aided by soundtracks, telesnaps and animations – and now, the prospect of the episodes themselves – with my memories of my fevered imagination of what they might have been like.

      It’s win, win, frankly.

      We are lucky that the episodes were wiped – in a sense!


  • December 5, 2013 at 12:15

    I think I get what the author is saying, and I’m surprised at the criticism.

    For someone like me, who never saw any of the episodes during their original broadcast, the missing episodes have a sort of mythic quality. Even though we know what happens in them, and can hear the audio, and sometimes view telesnaps or clips, the episodes remain unknowable, untouchable, just out of reach. Their non-existence forces the viewer to fill in the blanks, and because of this, they can excersice a strong hold over the imagination. I’ve probably spent more time thinking about episodes that don’t exist than watching the ones that do.

    Being a fan of the Hartnell or Troughton years means being prepared to engage with the show in a way that goes beyond casual or passive viewing. Someone might casualy watch some old 60s era Doctor Who – but they will not casually listen to audio reconstructions of missing stories. The recovery of these episodes can ‘redefine what it means to be a fan’, making them accessible to a much wider group of people, but changing the nature of fan activity in the process.

    Sometimes, I will imagine an episode differently each time I listen to it. Having now been able to compare my imagination with the existing episodes of Enemy and Web, I can say that sometimes what I imagine is better than whats onscreen, sometimes it is worse, and sometimes it is just different. The point is that once the episode exists, all those other ways of imagining it are wrong. They were always wrong, and the way that it happens onscreen obliterates those other ideas.

    Like reading a great novel, and then having the images from the film version take over in your mind, to the point where you can’t picture the original anymore.

    Of course we all want the missing episodes to come back. Of course what we gain from having them back is far more important than anything we might lose. But maybe something is lost in the process as well, and we should acknowledge that.


  • December 10, 2013 at 18:50

    Two schools of thought at play here . . .

    Those of us who saw the stories first time round:

    “I wonder if they’re as good as I REMEMBER them to be?”

    . . . and those who didn’t:

    “I wonder if they’re as good as I IMAGINE them to be?”

    In the case of the latter, there are example episodes (from incomplete stories) that provide enough information to give you an idea of what to expect – should the missing episodes turn-up some future point.

    In the case of Web of Fear (prior to the bulk of the story being found), the opening first episode was always a good indicator of something very special for those who never saw the story on the small screen.



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About The Author
Michael East
Michael East is the founder of Doctor Who Worldwide. Best selling author, great statesmen, Ambassador to the Netherlands… Michael is none of these things. He was however named TIME Person of the Year in 2006 and 2011, is an award winning web designer and a comedy Marxist. He enjoys beards, retrogaming and classic TV. He is not a hipster.