Doctor Who: The Missing Episodes UPDATED

As I’ve blogged before, I started watching Doctor Who around 1983 or so.  Back then, being a fan of the show could be frustrating.  This was in the days before the BBC began releasing the show on videotape.  The only episodes one could see here in the States were those showing on the local PBS channels.  In my case, that was WLIW Channel 21, which was airing the Tom Baker and Peter Davison stories.

As far as obtaining information on older Doctor Who, sources in the 1980s were limited.  I had to rely on the Target novelisations, the occasional issue of Doctor Who Magazine that showed up in the comic shops, and the odd sci-fi reference book containing a few black & white photos offering tantalizing glimpses of 1960s and early 70s stories.  Oh, yes, a couple of years later I got my hands on the two-volume Doctor Who Programme Guide by J.M. Lofficier.  That was an invaluable wealth of information in those pre-Internet days.  I read those two books so many times that my copies are totally dog-eared!

In 1985, another PBS channel began airing the Jon Pertwee stories on Sunday mornings.  I was thrilled to be able watch those early 1970s serials, many of which had been alluded to in the Peter Davison stories.  But the material from the 1960s still remained beyond my grasp.

Adding to my frustration was word-of-mouth from older fans who had seen those stories when they first aired.  Those fans had such nostalgic memories of the material, and many held the opinion that then-current Doctor Who stories of the 1980s could not hold a candle to the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories from two decades earlier.

(I’ve mentioned before the phenomenon of “the memory cheats” cited by John Nathan-Turner, which of course turned out rather truthful.  But back in the mid-1980s I had no choice but to rely on the opinions of people who had actually grown up watching the series in the 1960s).

The difficulty with being able to view many of those early stories was that throughout the 1970s the BBC systematically erased or destroyed the majority of their master tapes for the early Doctor Who episodes, along with numerous other television programs.  There were a few reasons for this.  The BBC wanted to save on storage space.  Also, contracts with unions typically prevented shows from being broadcast more than once or twice, as the feeling by organized labor was that reruns would rob actors of new jobs and income.  Finally, no one had any idea that DVDs and Internet downloads would one day exist, providing the BBC with completely new distribution outlets, not to mention a huge source of revenue.

So, back in the mid-1980s, it was commonly believed that the majority of the Sixties stories no longer existed.  I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to watch “The Daleks’ Master Plan” or “The Evil of the Daleks” or “Tomb of the Cybermen,” serials which older fans decreed were The Greatest Doctor Who Stories Ever.

What I didn’t realize was that, behind the scenes, both the BBC and fans of the show had begun searching for copies of the many missing episodes.  By the 1990s, quite a few had been recovered, either from various foreign countries (many of the shows had been sold overseas by the BBC) or from really unlike locations such as church basements and the trunks of old cars.

Hmmm, missing episodes, missing episodes.... I was sure I wrote down where I put them somewhere in my diary!
Hmmm, missing episodes, missing episodes…. I was certain that I wrote down where I put them somewhere in my 500 Year Diary!

In my blog post Unearthing the Tomb of the Cybermen, I related how huge a deal it was when all four episodes of that story were discovered in 1992 in the archives of a Hong Kong television station.  And by that time, I’d also had the opportunity to see a number of the other complete Sixties serials, which finally started airing on PBS around 1990.  And I realized something: some of them truly were classics, but others were of variable quality, with a few being very mediocre, padded-out efforts.  Which, really, is something you can say about most periods in the show’s history.  Yes, even present day Doctor Who, which can range between the brilliant and the underwhelming.  That said, it is a shame that such a significant number of early Doctor Who episodes are lost.  I would like to be able to view them, and make up my own mind.

When I wrote an earlier version of this post, back in January 2010, of the 253 episodes filmed in the Sixties, 108 were still missing from the BBC archives.  The odds seemed slim that any more would surface.  But the most recent discovery of a lost episode before that was only six years earlier, in 2004.  So I observed it was conceivable that a few more episodes might be floating around somewhere in the world.  And I was much relieved when, in December 2011, it was announced that two more episodes had been found, “Galaxy Four” part three and “The Underwater Menace” part two.  At least now my earlier forecast didn’t seem quite so foolish!

Fast forward to 2013.  For months now, rumors have been circulating that a number of missing episodes had been unearthed.  I really did not give these much credence because, let’s face it, the Internet is full of unverifiable “information.”  But the gossip really gathered steam in the past month’s time, claims that the BBC had located a significant number of episodes and was sitting on the news in order to make a huge announcement.  I totally dismissed out of hand the claim by UK tabloid The Mirror that “over 100 episodes” had been recovered.  Not only was that number really unrealistic, the supposed source of this information was someone who heard it from a friend… who, in turn, probably heard it from another friend, and so on.  And, y’know, The Mirror isn’t exactly known for its journalist excellence!

Then, on Monday of this week, it was announced by the BBC themselves that, yes, an unspecified number of episodes had been recovered.  However, the details would not be revealed until Wednesday.  No, make that Thursday!  At this point in time, I wanted to bang my head against a wall in frustration, and I started referring to this whole sequence of events as “The Great Doctor Who Missing Episodes Cock-Tease of 2013.”

Last night I arrived home from the New York Comic Con and immediately went online to see if the BBC had finally spilled the goods.  Yes, at last they had.  Eleven episodes had been located, lying forgotten in the storeroom of a Nigerian television station, and of these, nine were previously missing from the BBC’s archives.  What was recovered was the entire six episode serial “The Enemy of the World” and five of the six episodes comprising “The Web of Fear.”  Both of these starred Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, and Deborah Watling, and were originally broadcast during 1967-68, the show’s fifth season.

I have got to say, this is really great news.  Due to the manner in which the BBC sold Doctor Who abroad, there were far fewer copies of the stories from the third, fourth, and fifth years made and distributed.  There is an excellent two-part article in Doctor Who Magazine #444 to 445 (March & April 2012) written by Richard Molesworth that explains the whys and wherefores of this situation in great detail.  Suffice it to say, the end result of this was that much of William Hartnell’s third year on the series, and nearly all of Patrick Troughton’s first two years, have been lost for several decades now.  So to locate two of Troughton’s stories, one totally intact, the other nearly so, is a huge discovery.

Many older fans (as in, even older than me!) have long regarded Season Five, featuring Troughton, Hines, and Watling, to be one of the all time greatest years in the series’ history.  Of course, always hearing this would drive me nuts, because I could never actually watch the majority of it!  But now, of the seven serials from 1967-68, two are known to exist in full, namely “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Enemy of the World,” and two more are nearly complete, specifically “The Ice Warriors” and “The Web of Fear.”  The two missing episodes from “The Ice Warriors” were recreated via animation and the story was just released on DVD.  Hopefully the BBC can provide the same treatment for that one still-lost installment of “The Web of Fear.”

Optimism aside, I honestly thought it was unlikely that the missing episode count would ever dip below the 100 mark.  But now it actually stands at 97.

Look, Victoria, I'm telling you, I spotted some missing episodes over there. Or would you rather ask the Yeti that's chasing us for directions?
Look, Victoria, I’m telling you, I spotted some missing episodes over there. Or would you rather ask the Yeti that’s chasing us for directions?

In any case, there are now even more opportunities to view the existing material from the Sixties.  All of the complete stories have been digitally restored and released on DVD.  Many of the episodes from incomplete serials are collected on the three-disk set Lost in Time, released in 2004.  The nine newly found episodes are already available for digital download on iTunes, and apparently are racking up very impressive sales figures.  Complete audio tracks exist for every episode due to fans copying them off their televisions with tape recorders during the original broadcasts.   Several have been animated.  And the majority of the episodes have various still pictures called “telesnaps” taken by John Cura in the 1960s.  So it is possible to reconstruct the lost stories in one way or another.

By the way, the online piece Snapshots in History is a very informative profile on Cura and his important work.  Definitely take a look.  And I must offer a big “thank you” to Vivian Fleming, who writes the excellent, entertaining WordPress blog The Mind Robber, for having posted a link to it.

Anyway, in a dream world, what missing episodes would I like to see resurface?  At the top of my list of Hartnell material would be the last episode of “The Tenth Planet,” which has the Doctor’s very first regeneration.  That episode has been reconstructed via animation, but one day it would be nice to see the original.  It would also be great if at least one of the seven episodes from the lavish historical serial “Marco Polo” from the show’s first season was discovered.  It is very odd that none are currently known to exist, when practically the rest of the entire first year of Doctor Who is intact, except for two episodes from “The Reign of Terror.”  I would also like to be able to see another completely missing historical story, “The Massacre,” which gave the spotlight to companion Steven Taylor, portrayed by Peter Purves.  It also features an amazingly moving monologue by the Doctor in the last episode.  And the final apocalyptic episode of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” sounds like it was amazing.

Concerning the Troughton era of the show, I’d certainly be happy if any episodes surfaced from his debut adventure, “The Power of the Daleks,” as well as his second run-in with the fascist mutants from Skaro, “The Evil of the Daleks.”  Also topping my wish list is “Fury from the Deep,” another story from season five.  It is the only serial from that year of which no complete episodes are known to exist.  Based on the very creepy, atmospheric novelization written by the original writer, Victor Pemberton, plus looking at a handful of very brief surviving clips & behind-the-scenes footage, it was probably a heck of a story.  Finally, “The Highlanders,” which introduces long-time companion Jamie McCrimmon, played by Frazer Hines, would be a nice find.

It is extremely unlikely that we will see the recovery of every single missing episode.  I am sure that there are many that have been irrevocably lost.  For instance, several different sources all agree that “The Daleks’ Master Plan” part seven is gone for good.  Because it was a one-off Christmas interlude set in the middle of that mammoth twelve-part epic, the BBC considered it a throw-away episode.  Consequently it was never offered up for sale anywhere in the world and it was wiped soon after it was broadcast in 1965.

So, no, it really would be absolutely impossible to find every one of those 97 remaining missing Doctor Who episodes.  That said, I still hope that a few more are out there, waiting to be discovered.  But, in the meantime, let’s enjoy the ones we do have.

Strange Comic Books: Doctor Strange #37

Yipes, I’ve been so busy with my temp job and other stuff the past week, I haven’t had an opportunity to write anything for this blog.  I also ended up going to visit my parents in Connecticut, since they were pretty insistent that I begin clearing out some of the boxes of comic books I had stored in their basement.  A few of the things that I took back to Queens I’m going to keep, but most of it I’ll try to sell or give away.  Hey, anyone interested in any Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man stuff from the 1990s?  Let me know!

Anyway, coincidentally I recently finished re-reading the Essential Doctor Strange Volume 1 collection featuring the original stories of Marvel’s master of the mystic arts by Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and friends that were originally presented in the pages of Strange Tales back in the mid-1960s.  Having re-experienced those early adventures of Stephen Strange, I decided to take home with me the various more recent issues of Doctor Strange from my collection, and read those.  Having just experienced those early Ditko/Lee tales certainly gave me a different perspective on the later material by such writers as Peter Gillis, Roy Thomas, David Quinn, and J.M. DeMatteis.  In any case, one of those Thomas-penned issues, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #37, was a book I wanted to spotlight in Strange Comic Books for a while now.

Doctor Strange 37 cover

With a cover date of January 1992, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #37 is from the writing team of Roy & Dann Thomas and J.M. Lofficier, with artwork by Geof Isherwood.  The issue has the memorable story title of “Frankensurfer,” which might bring to mind images of Boris Karloff in full monster make-up catching a wave off the coast of Hawaii.  But it is actually a sequel to the classic Silver Surfer #7, by Stan Lee & John Buscema, which saw Ludwig von Frankenstein, a descendent of the infamous mad scientist, created a duplicate of Galactus’ herald.

On his way home after the comic events of the Infinity Gauntlet crossover, Doctor Strange is seemingly attacked over the skies of Manhattan by the Silver Surfer.  Driving off his foe, the Sorcerer Supreme is extremely surprised to hear the fleeing Sentinel of the Spaceways declare his intention to return to Castle Frankenstein.  Perplexed, Strange decides, instead of pursuing, to engage in a bit of research.  He returns to his Sanctum Sanctorum and consults the Book of the Vishanti.  The mystic tome provides Strange with a detailed recounting of the long, twisted, and bloody histories of the Frankenstein families.  Along the centuries, we learn the history of the notorious creature constructed and brought to life by Victor Frankenstein.  The family’s run-ins with Dracula, Solomon Kane, the Invaders (a story which I covered in a previous blog post), Iron Man, and, of course, the Silver Surfer are related to Strange.

Finishing his research, Strange finally heads off to Castle Frankenstein.  There he encounters Victoria von Frankenstein, Ludwig’s daughter who has dedicated her life to making amends for her family’s terrible past.  Victoria and “the Children,” the deformed results of her father and grandfather’s terrible experiments, have been imprisoned in the castle dungeons by the “Frankensurfer.”  Victorian reveals this ersatz Surfer is actually Borgo, her father’s former assistant, who was horribly crippled during the events of the Lee & Buscema tale.  Managing to replicate Ludwig’s experiments, Borgo became a new duplicate Surfer, and has sworn vengeance on a world he feels has scorned him.  The Frankensurfer reappears, battling Strange anew.  During the fight, an innocent bystander is slain.  Borgo immediately recognizes her as the woman who cared for him after he almost died, one of the few people to ever show him kindness.  Horrified, the repentant Borgo uses his stolen powers to fly at full speed straight into the face of a nearby mountain, killing himself.

Doctor Strange 37 pg 5

As was later explained in a subsequent issue’s letter column, “Frankensurfer” had an interesting genesis.  It began life as a two part “Book of the Vishanti” back-up tale written by Roy Thomas and Jean-Marc Lofficier.  Afterwards, Roy and his wife Dann then wrote the twelve page story of Borgo the Frankensurfer to frame it, making the entire story an issue-long tale.  I think it works very well indeed.  Roy Thomas and J.M. Lofficier do an excellent job of taking material from a variety of comic books published by Marvel over the previous quarter century and weave it into a coherent, informative, intriguing faux-history for the notorious Frankenstein family.  And then Roy & Dann tie that in with an entertaining, haunting, tragic tale set in the present day, as Strange deals with the still-lingering legacies of the Frankenstein dynasty.

Of course, Roy Thomas is a veteran writer at Marvel, having written classic runs on numerous titles, among them Avengers, Conan, Fantastic Four, and X-Men.  So I always expect top-notch work from his pen.  As for J.M. Lofficier, with his wife Randy he wrote The Doctor Who Programme Guide.  Back in the early 1980s, when I was first getting into Doctor Who, in those pre-Internet, pre-DVD days, that two volume tome was invaluable in gleaming in-depth information about the early years of the series.  So when Thomas and Lofficier got together, you were pretty much guaranteed a tale that was both entertaining and extremely well researched.

The artwork by Geof Isherwood on “Frankensurfer” is just superb.  He has an illustrative style a bit reminiscent of the Filipino comic book artists.  I recall that when he came onboard as the artist on Doctor Strange in the early 1990s, it was a breath of fresh air.  When seemingly every other new artist wanted to do their riff on Liefeld, Lee, or McFarlane, here was someone with a much more classically influenced look to his work.  Although he had drawn a handful of the “Book of the Vishanti” back-ups, Doctor Strange #37 was actually Isherwood’s first regular issue on the title, and he stayed with the series until #59.  After that he moved over to Namor the Sub-Mariner, where he also did excellent work.

Doctor Strange 37 pg 21

If you can find a copy of Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #37, it’s definitely worth picking up.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t ever been reprinted, but I’m sure it can be located pretty easily on Ebay or at a comic book convention.  While you are at it, I’d recommend checking out some of the other issues of Roy & Dann’s run.  They did some good stories, both with Isherwood and, before him, the super-talented Jackson “Butch” Guice.