The Doctor Who missing episodes – A brief, frustrating history
A while back I wrote a lengthy article covering all the Doctor Who season 9 news and rumors. In that article I also included plenty of information about other Doctor Who news, including a section on the Doctor Who missing episodes.
With the benefit of hindsight, this was kind of a mistake. The Doctor Who missing episodes deserve a post of their own. There’s nothing else quite like it. News of the episodes even has its own name: the onmirumor, or omni-rumour.
As a little kid in the 80s, I would go to conventions with my brother and we would talk Doctor Who with other fans. I devoured the novelizations of the lost episodes with fervor. I bought every comic, magazine, and fan book. I don’t claim to have any inside information about the Doctor Who missing episodes, and my sources are no better than most. I have been a freakishly big Doctor Who fan since I was a kid though, so I understand the obsession surrounding the search for the missing eps.
With the rise of online chat rooms and BBS groups, my brother even managed to join a fairly incredible network of fans around the world that would trade VHS tapes of their favorite, obscure shows long before peer-to-peer sharing. It wasn’t all Doctor Who, but for people seeking out obscure entertainment media, missing episodes were the Holy Grail.
The yearning for the missing episodes is so intense that over the years people have created their own reconstructions of the episodes. Some painstakingly synced the audio (which still exists) with still images from the missing episodes. Others animated episodes on their own.
There’s really nothing else in entertainment quite like the story of the Doctor Who missing episodes. For decades it has bred a following that is passionate and intense. With the advent of the Internet, the search has expanded. For better and worse.
For those that started their Doctor Who obsession with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, or even more recently with Peter Capaldi, the Doctor Who missing episodes won’t mean much. They are a footnote in the more than half century long history of the show. To fans of the classic series though, they represent infinite possibilities. They are the Schrodinger’s Cat of fiction, and as long as they remain unseen in the box with the radioactive pill, they can be the best of the best.
When Doctor Who debuted in November 1963, the format of the show was heavily serialized. Each week Doctor Who aired a 25 minute episode, and multiple episodes made up a single serial story. Eventually four episodes became the average, but it varied, especially in the early days. The First and Second Doctor had serials that ranged from two episodes to 12, and every missing episode comes from that era.
As the BBC’s programming began to grow internationally in popularity, the network began to send out copies of its shows to stations around the world. Those stations would frequently return the film after a set period of time, which meant that the BBC archives would frequently be absolutely stuffed with canisters upon canisters of film. Some were films from popular shows, others could be something as random as a gardening program from the early 60s.
The cost of storing older film became an issue. This was before the rise of home media, so the BBC was limited in what it could even do with the older film. Its best option was to send it to foreign stations, but that didn’t really serve the British taxpayers that paid for the BBC. So in the late 70s and early 80s, the BBC decided to purge much of its archived film. As a result, thousands – maybe even tens of thousands – of canisters of film were destroyed. Among those lost were several original prints of Doctor Who.
Say what you will about the BBC, but it is an efficient organization. When it decided to destroy old film, it was thorough. Old copies were sent back from around the world, and as far as the BBC records show, all traces of the old Doctor Who intended for destruction have been destroyed.
Despite the BBC’s best efforts though, some episodes survived. Doctor Who was always something of an international hit, so prints were sent around the world. Private collectors had a few, while others have been discovered at locations that for one reason or another couldn’t send them back to the BBC. A recent find in Nigeria, for instance, is the reason we have the recently discovered Second Doctor serials Enemy of the World and Web of Fear.
Since the initial purge, fans have been trying to rebuild the collection. In the subsequent decades, 50 missing episodes have been recovered, but 97 remain missing, leaving 26 serials incomplete.
Or there there are just seven missing episodes and the 90 others are currently being restored.
Or there are around 14 more episodes on the way despite being being partly held up in negotiations.
Or they have all been destroyed.
There are countless rumors and stories about the missing episodes. There have been for years, but the Internet has turned the hunt into a constant exercise in disseminating truth from lies. And it is not an easy task.
Here is a list of all the episodes missing along with links to a description, courtesy of the BBC:
The First Doctor
Marco Polo – all seven episodes missing
The Reign of Terror – episodes 4 and 5 (out of six) missing
The Crusade – episodes 2 and 4 (out of four) missing
Galaxy Four – episodes 1, 2 and 4 (out of four) missing
Mission to the Unknown – single episode story, missing
The Myth Makers – all four episodes missing
The Daleks’ Master Plan – episodes 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12 (of twelve episodes) missing.
The Massacre – all four episodes missing
The Celestial Toymaker – episodes 1, 2 and 3 (out of four) are missing
The Savages – all four episodes missing
The Smugglers – all four episodes missing
The Tenth Planet – episode 4 (out of four) missing
The Second Doctor
The Power of the Daleks – all six episodes missing
The Highlanders – all four episodes missing
The Underwater Menace – episodes 1 and 4 (out of four) missing
The Moonbase – episodes 1 & 3 (out of four) missing
The Macra Terror – all four episodes missing
The Faceless Ones – episodes 2, 4, 5 & 6 (out of six) missing
The Evil of the Daleks – episodes 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 (out of seven) missing
The Abominable Snowmen – episodes 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (out of six) missing
The Ice Warriors – episodes 2 and 3 (out of six) missing
The Web of Fear – episode 3 missing
Fury from the Deep – all six episodes missing
The Wheel in Space – episodes 1, 2, 4 and 5 (out of six) missing
The Invasion – episodes 1 and 4 (out of eight) missing but re-animated
The Space Pirates – episodes 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (out of six) missing
Enemy of the World and Web of Fear
To the omnirumor followers, British businessman and archivist Philip Morris is either a hero or a villain. Sometimes he is both. Regardless, his place in Doctor Who history is certain.
Morris is the President of the Television International Enterprises Archive (TIEA), a British-based group that restores film footage. He and his group are responsible for the recent discovery and subsequent sale of the Second Doctor serials, Enemy of the World, and Web of Fear (minus one, still missing episode), all of which were discovered in Nigeria. That alone should make him a legend amongst DW fans, but there is more to it.
Part of what makes Morris a polarizing figure is the rumor that he actually recovered 90 missing Doctor Who episodes, and he is holding on to them. This is, of course, completely unconfirmed. In fact, it has been denied many, many times, but the rumors persist.
A lot of the uncertainty is because of Morris’ vagueness. In July 2014, Morris took part in a Q&A on Facebook. One of the first questions was direct and to the point.
“Let’s get the obvious one out of the way- have you found more missing episodes of Doctor Who?!!” someone asked. “A simple yes or no would be fine.”
Morris danced around the question.
“[A] tricky one to answer. And fans will just want a yes or no haven’t you or have you. But its complex all I can say is the wind is blowing the right way, be patient,” Morris replied. “I dont wish to jeopardise the ongoing project in any way. And feel the fans of all lost TV will be very happy with the outcome.”
Another thing that fuels the rumor that Morris recovered more than the two serials stems from an even earlier rumor that proved to be partially correct.
Long before the official announcement that Enemy of the World and Web of Fear were on the way, it was leaked that the serials were coming, but there was a third serial mentioned as well. Along with the Second Doctor episodes, it was reported that the First Doctor adventure Marco Polo would be released along with them. When the official announcement came though, there was not a word about it.
Stories persisted, and weeks after the announcement of the restored episodes reports surfaced that it was still on the way.
It may have been that Marco Polo needed more work than the others, or it may have always been a rumor. Regardless, the fact that it was mentioned as part of a rumor that proved to be true has suggested there is more to the story.
For fans of the omnirumor, whether or not you believe that Morris has more episodes depends on your view of Morris himself.
Update 10/7/15: Morris recently confirmed that he actually did recover the third episode of Web of Fear, but it disappeared before it could be returned to England. Morris believes that the local station manager stole the reel, probably to sell it to a private collector. He hopes that the release of the serial will encourage the collector to return it.
Morris also claims that this, and events like this, are the reason for his emphasis on security and vague statements.
In 2006, Morris was working as a crane operator in Nigeria on the Aban Pearl oil rig, when a group of Nigerian militants took him and seven others hostage. For two days, the hostages were held in a remote village in the jungle until a $200,000 ransom was paid. Morris and the others were released unharmed two days later, but the experience by all accounts was properly horrible.
Morris returned to the UK were he sought counseling for PTSD. He was later arrested for assault and criminal damage at his then-girlfriend’s house, but the arrest was expunged six months later. Around this time, Morris’ father passed away.
Between the settlement he received from his employer along with his inheritance, he was wealthy enough to essentially retire. He then purchased TIEA, and began to travel around the world looking for lost film.
Here’s where the accounts of Morris differ wildly.
Based on who you believe, Morris is either a very nice guy that is a pleasure to work with, or a he is a nightmare to deal with, and almost completely incapable of negotiating without going into a panic attack. The truth may be somewhere in the middle, but the depictions of Morris are so contradictory that there is likely some deliberate slander involved.
Many blame Morris for delaying the release of further episodes, claiming that he is hoarding dozens of episodes partly because he has trouble negotiating. Others claim he is refusing to release more episodes until they are properly restored, while the BBC is anxious to simply clean them up a bit and sell them. Others still claim he is demanding an exorbitant amount of money from an indifferent BBC. And this is assuming he actually has any episodes.
Another popular rumor is that the BBC and TIEA both want to complete their search before announcing anything. That might seem unlikely, but Morris (and presumably others) are frequently traveling to dangerous areas, so much so that he needs bodyguards. By his own accounts, he was recently in Syria when a mortar shell exploded feet away from him.
Morris also confirmed that when the leaks revealed that he had found Enemy of the World and Web of Fear, he was in Nigeria. The news brought unwanted attention, which supposedly made his trip much more difficult.
Of course, that all assumes that he really did discover more episodes, something he has denied.
While Morris is the current reigning king of lost Doctor Who episodes, Ian Levine runs a close second.
Levine is a British musician who briefly worked on the classic Doctor Who as a consultant. He is also credited with stopping the destruction of several Doctor Who episodes back in the late 70s, including the seminal serial, The Daleks. Despite Levine’s place in DW history, he has become a figure of huge controversy in the omnirumor community.
Levine has claimed he co-wrote episodes of Doctor Who, something that has been thoroughly refuted. He also claimed that he was instrumental in saving the episodes that survived the purge – and he certainly helped save a few – but not as many as he claims. Levine’s most controversial statements though, are centered on Morris.
In 2013, Levine took to Twitter to state that he had seen proof that dozens of episodes have been recovered. He claims that Morris sent back over three tons of film from his Nigerian find, which seemingly confirms the rumor that 90 Doctor Who missing episodes have been recovered.
The problem is that there is no proof that the three tons of footage are related to Doctor Who. Morris has found episodes from other older programs as well, and the shipping manifest Levine saw had no details.
In a Facebook post on May 5, 2014, Levine accused Morris of hoarding several episodes.
“Yes indeed, [Morris’ search] has obviously yielded huge massive results, but what earthly use are these results if he hoards them, locked away for no-one to see or enjoy or benefit from.”
Morris fired back at Levine. In a series of Twitter posts, he criticized Levine for inflating his role in stopping the destruction of the old prints, and went on to state that his own work can be completely documented, insinuating that Levine’s cannot.
Levine appears to have conceded defeat, but he couldn’t resist getting one more dig in at Morris on Twitter in December 2014. “So after all the hot air, I guess it REALLY looks like Philip Morris has found no more Doctor Who whatsoever after seven years of searching.”
Levine then went on to claim that Morris lied to fans when he said the “wind is blowing the right way.”
This is why the omnirumor is both fascinating and frustrating. There is always something to talk about, even if most of it isn’t true.
The search continues
Although the BBC doesn’t really have much to say on the matter of the Doctor Who missing episodes, it isn’t oblivious to the appeal of the classic show. When Web of Fear was released, it instantly became the best-selling classic Doctor Who DVD release of all time.
The BBC was also working on releasing the second Doctor serial The Underwater Menace, using the two remaining episodes along with animated versions of the two that are missing. The release was recently cancelled though, due to financial problems within the third-party animation studio hired for the job. The BBC may or may not look for a new group to handle the animation, but it shows that it is looking for ways to capitalize on the missing episodes. So if there are more to be found, the BBC is likely very keen to get them.
To confuse fans even more, BBC Worldwide recently tweeted this:
We’re hoping to release more classic Doctor Who and we’ll let you know when we have news.
— BBC Worldwide (@BBCWPress) June 26, 2015
That could simply mean that BBCWW is planning a new release of existing classic episodes – maybe a Blu-Ray release. But for the fans hoping for more, the ones that have been waiting for years to watch the lost episodes, it is one more ember that refuses to go out.
So to summarize, despite plenty of talk, there is nothing new to report. But that’s beside the point. This is the omnirumor.
Doctor Who missing episodes rumors and news
In this section, if/when new news (and possibly some rumors) begin to circulate, I will post them here. If you hear of any, and you can cite legitimate sources, please let me know. We will post it and give credit where it’s due.
- Of all the serials rumored to have been found but not yet released, Marco Polo and The Underwater Menace remain at the top of the rumor list.
- One story is that Marco Polo is being delayed by a handful of cast and crew from the original episodes demanding a cut. This seems unlikely given the BBC’s contracts and the number of classic episodes already in play, but it is a rumor that won’t go away.
- There is a story that The Underwater Menace has been recovered, but Morris refused to let the BBC release it due to the poor quality.
- Some fan creations of the First Doctor story The Smugglers have been pulled from YouTube, feeding speculation that the BBC is planning a release. This could also be a standard copyright issue.
- The BBC is releasing an animated reconstruction of the Second Doctor serial, “Power of the Daleks.” Its release on November 2, 2016 will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original broadcast in 1966.
If you see anything I’ve missed, or you hear any news about the missing eps, please let me know in the comments below, or email me directly.
Originally published October 7, 2015.