Doctor Who missing episodes

97 of the 253 episodes from Doctor Who’s first six seasons are currently missing, which is to say there are no known copies of them. Between 1967 and 1978, the BBC routinely destroyed tapes of their old programs, for a few reasons (they could be cheapskates and reuse the tapes for new programs; in many cases contracts existed which meant they were only allowed to repeat episodes a limited number of times; the transition to colour TV meant the BBC believed they wouldn’t be able to sell old black and white episodes to overseas broadcasters any more; and before VCRs were in­ven­t­ed, the BBC had no idea there’d ever be a market for selling old episodes directly to consumers). A compounding factor may be the existence of rival divisions within the BBC who saw it as each other’s responsibility to preserve the tapes, if such a thing was desirable at all. BBC Film had an actual mandate to preserve programming, but only programming originally recorded on film, which Doctor Who wasn’t. BBC Engineering held copies of the programs recorded on videotape, with no particular mandate to keep it. BBC Enterprises held videotape copies of programs that they hoped to sell abroad, but they didn’t see it as their job to keep copies of programs that they believed had no market. As such, BBC Engineering and BBC Enterprises each destroyed their own copies of episodes without coordinating with each other to make sure things were saved somewhere.

No episodes produced during the 1960s still exist on their original video­tape; every single one that still exists is a copy of the original. And while every Third Doctor serial is now complete, a number of his episodes were also destroyed, and exist now thanks to copies. Some of his episodes exist only in black and white, despite having been originally shot in colour, as a result of this.

Full audio recordings of every missing episode do exist, due to fans who made these recordings when episodes were broadcast on TV. The quality of the recordings varies widely, but there are multiple for each missing episode, and some of the recordings are decent. There are also “telesnaps” for most of the missing episodes, taken during filming by John Cura. These were photos, used mainly for promotion or keepsakes for cast and crew.

Reconstructions of a number of the missing episodes have been made by combining the audio with the telesnaps, along with short clips where those survive. Other episodes have been “reconstructed” by means of animation. Using these strategies, the BBC has been able to produce and sell commercial DVDs of serials that include missing episodes.

When the BBC abolished its purging policy in 1978 and first took stock of what they still had in their archives, a larger number of episodes were missing (including two Third Doctor ones, the first episodes of the 1974 serials Death to the Daleks and Invasion of the Dinosaurs). Originally, 152 were missing. 55 episodes have been able to be recovered since then, mostly from television stations outside the UK which had bought copies of Doctor Who serials and failed to return them.

Episodes Still Missing

  • Season 1 (9 of 42 missing)
    • Marco Polo (all 7 episodes missing)
    • The Reign of Terror (episodes 4–5 missing)
  • Season 2 (2 of 39 missing)
    • The Crusades (episodes 2 and 4 missing)
  • Season 3 (28 of 45 missing)
    • Galaxy 4 (episodes 1–2 and 4 missing)
    • Mission to the Unknown (a single-episode story that is missing)
    • The Myth Makers (all 4 episodes missing)
    • The Daleks’ Master Plan (episodes 1, 3–4, 6–9, 11–12 missing)
    • The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve (all 4 episodes missing)
    • The Celestial Toymaker (episodes 1–3 missing)
    • The Savages (all 4 episodes missing)
  • Season 4 (33 of 43 missing)
    • The Smugglers (all 4 episodes missing)
    • The Tenth Planet (episode 4 missing)
    • The Power of the Daleks (all 6 episodes missing)
    • The Highlanders (all 4 episodes missing)
    • The Underwater Menace (episodes 1 and 4 missing)
    • The Moonbase (episodes 1 and 3 missing)
    • The Macra Terror (all 4 episodes missing)
    • The Faceless Ones (episodes 2 and 4–6 missing)
    • The Evil of the Daleks (episodes 1 and 3–7 missing)
  • Season 5 (18 of 40 missing)
    • The Abominable Snowman (episodes 1 and 3–6 missing)
    • The Ice Warriors (episodes 2–3 missing)
    • The Web of Fear (episode 3 missing)
    • Fury from the Deep (all 6 episodes missing)
    • The Wheel in Space (episodes 1–2 and 4–5 missing)
  • Season 6 (7 of 44 missing)
    • The Invasion (episodes 1 and 4 missing)
    • The Space Pirates (episodes 1 and 3–6 missing)

Episodes Recovered

  • 1978: The British Film and Television Institute handed over the full serials The Krotons and The War Games (as well as The Dominators, which hadn’t been missing). This returned seven episodes which had been missing from the BBC’s archives.
  • 1978: Episode 2 of The War Machines was returned to the BBC from a private collector in Australia.
  • 1981: The first episode of Death to the Daleks was recovered from a TV station in Canada.
  • 1982: Four episodes from The Reign of Terror were found in Cyprus. Another episode was recovered from a private collector in the UK.
  • 1982: Episode 2 of The Abominable Snowman was recovered from a private collector in the UK.
  • 1983: Episode 1 of Invasion of the Dinosaurs was recovered from a private collector in the UK.
  • 1983: Episodes 5 and 10 of The Daleks’ Master Plan were recovered from the Mormon Church.
  • 1984: Episode 3 of The Wheel in Space was loaned to the BBC by a private collector so a copy could be made. The process was repeated in the 1990s to make a less-shit copy.
  • 1984: Episode 1 of The Celestial Toymaker was returned by Australia’s ABC.
  • 1985: Episodes 1, 3 and 4 of The Time Meddler and episodes 1, 3 and 4 of The War Machines were returned from a TV station in Nigeria (completing both serials).
  • 1987: Episode 3 of The Faceless Ones and episode 2 of The Evil of the Daleks were returned to the BBC from a private collector.
  • 1988: Episodes 1 and 4–6 of The Ice Warriors were discovered in a cupboard at the BBC.
  • 1992: The full serial Tomb of the Cyberman was found in Hong Kong.
  • 1999: The Crusade episode 1 was returned to the BBC after a collector had purchased it from a stall at a film fair in New Zealand.
  • 2004: Episode 2 of The Daleks’ Master Plan was returned to the BBC by a former BBC employee who’d taken it home instead of destroying it years earlier as instructed.
  • 2011: Episode 3 of Galaxy 4 and episode 2 of The Underwater Menace were returned to the BBC by a collector in Australia who’d bought them in the mid-80s, unaware of their uniqueness.
  • 2013: The full serials The Web of Fear and Enemy of the World were found in Jos, Nigeria. By the time they were given back to the BBC, one of the episodes had “gone missing”, presumed sold to a private collector. Nonetheless, this represented the return of nine previously-missing episodes.

As well as this, over the 1970s and 80s Canadian TV stations returned copies of over 30 Pertwee-era episodes that had only existed in lower-quality formats in the BBC’s archives.