The story of Doctor Who‘s junking is a long, interesting tale, and perhaps one I’ll tell another time. But at the end of the day, there’s a basic truth that needs to be understood: in the early 70s the BBC chucked a huge amount of the Doctor Who episodes from the 60s in the bin, before the development of home video and the popularity of the show on Betamax and VHS made them realise they’d made a big mistake. Of the 253 episodes that were made in the 1960s, 108 managed to hang around the BBC archives and survive junking, 48 were thought lost but have since been recovered from international broadcasters and private collectors, and 97 are still at large, likely never to be seen again.
Although 97 episodes of Doctor Who cease to exist on film, thankfully every one has a surviving soundtrack, recorded off-air by fans holding a microphone up to the TV set. This has enabled the BBC – and groups of Whovians – to find various ways of ‘reconstructing’ the lost episodes in an attempt to bring each serial back to what it once was. While watching a telesnap recon or sitting through an “audio drama” can seem off-putting at first, delving into Doctor Who‘s junked past can be a truly rewarding experience – and most of the time, you forget you’re not even watching the real thing. So, how can the missing stories be watched? There’s a number of methods to choose from, depending on what suits you best…
Please note that this section only covers stories with one or more episodes that are not animated/fully reconstructed and released on DVD. If a story with missing episodes has been animated (or, in the case of The Web of Fear, reconstructed) and officially released on DVD by the BBC, other methods in which it can be experienced are not listed here – although they do exist.
Lost in Time DVD Boxset
This method applies to: The Crusade, The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Celestial Toymaker, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, The Wheel in Space, The Space Pirates.
The Lost in Time DVD is the essential starting point for anyone looking to get into the lost stories. It’s the release with all the ‘orphan episodes’ – that is, episodes from serials where only only one or two (or, in one unique case, three) episodes survived. Additionally, it contains any surviving clips from all the missing stories, as well as soundtracks from the missing episodes of The Crusade and The Moonbase (however they disappointingly lack linking narration). Of course, while the found episodes can obviously be viewed with this method, the missing episodes need to be supplemented with one of the other methods below in order to experience the full story.
Note: This set does not contain episode three of Galaxy 4. It also features bridging material for The Crusade when the “play all” option is selected on disk one, meaning that the viewer can potentially go without watching the two missing episodes from this story and watching the material instead.
Official Condensed Reconstructions
This method applies to: Marco Polo (available on The Edge of Destruction DVD), Galaxy 4 (available on The Aztecs: Special Edition DVD)
Condensed recons are a real treat, and by far the easiest and one of the most accessible options for watching a missing story. They basically take the complete story soundtrack, get rid of most of it, attach some telesnaps/promo photos and turn it into a short story (in the case of Galaxy 4 the entirety of the existing episode three is included in the recon), and are included as a special feature on a selected DVD from the same era. Of course, taking hours of material and cutting it down considerably will never be the same, but they’re actually surprising in that they manage to retain a lot of the original story line.
Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition – The Missing Episodes
This method applies to: Marco Polo, The Crusade, The Savages, The Smugglers (First Doctor), The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones (Second Doctor: Volume One) The Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, Fury from the Deep, The Wheel in Space (Second Doctor: Volume Two)
This is also an “express” option available for stories fortunate enough to have surviving telesnaps, and is great in that you get the entire story written out and presented nicely with every snap that exists. In the cases of stories where telesnaps don’t exist for every episode or some of it already exists in the archive, the guide instead contains a reasonably detailed synopsis of said episodes. This is a really great way to go if you’re not super hardcore, but the downside is that all three hard copy volumes of this magazine were released in 2013, and are therefore hard to obtain now if you don’t own them already. But good news if you own an Apple device! The official DWM app still has the guides available, however they’re going for a fairly hefty price.
Loose Canon Reconstructions
This method applies to: All missing episodes
If you want to go a step further you can “watch” every episode in full with missing episode recons. It takes all telesnaps, photographs, surviving clips and other surviving visual material from the episode (some of which is specially created with low-level CGI or photomanipulation) and puts them against the complete soundtrack in an attempt to ‘recreate’ the episodes. If you want to watch a story properly this is definitely a good way to go, and is my preferred method for revisiting the missing episodes. As far as obtaining the recons goes, there used to be a way to get them on VHS directly from Loose Cannon, but that method has mysteriously disintegrated along with their website (I emailed them recently, however, and they assured me that they were still active). Those recons are still out there though, floating around on the internet, and you don’t have to look too closely to find them…(hint: a hero who goes by “eldoctorio” can help you out).
Official Full “Audio Stories”
This method applies to: All missing episodes
This option is essentially the BBC’s answer to the missing episode issue. It takes the complete off-air episode soundtrack and incorporates linking narration by a companion (normally either Peter Purves (Steven) or Frazer Hines (Jamie), but occasionally William Russell (Ian), Anneke Wills (Polly) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe)). To help with completeness, in cases where one or more of the episodes still exists in the archive the soundtrack and linking narration for the existing episodes is still included. While there’s nothing wrong with this option, I personally don’t think it’s any better than the Loose Cannon recon, unless you’re in a situation where you’d prefer an audio story or have difficulty reading a few scrolling captions (anyone for listening to The Massacre while doing the gardening?)
To make things even more complicated, AudioGO (the company who made the soundtracks) went bankrupt in October 2013, and as such anything produced by them has become much harder to obtain. The licenced BBC material is being chucked around a bit, with Big Finish Productions grabbing a few of the Doctor Who soundtracks and selling them via their website, and Random House Publishing apparently getting rights to sell them everywhere digitally and physically except for North America, Australia and New Zealand. On the bright side, at least they can still be purchased (with a bit more difficulty), and it’s also worth checking out your local library to see if they carry any of AudioGO’s releases.
Official ‘Photonovels’ on the BBC Classic Doctor Who Website
This method applies to: The Crusade, The Savages, The Smugglers, The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, Fury from the Deep, The Wheel in Space
For many of the missing episodes with telesnaps, the BBC has combined all the snaps, video clips and, in some cases, sound effects, and created a free online “photonovel” for each episode. This is fairly similar to the DWM special edition, it just isn’t as nicely presented. The major drawback of this method is that it can get extremely frustrating clicking the “next” button all the time and waiting for the page load, even if you have a fast internet connection. It is, however, free, and we can’t complain about that.
Note: In late 2014 the BBC began to merge the old Classic website with the New Series website. This meant they archived the old http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/ website and redirected most of the links to it to the New Series home page. Although much of the previous content (such as the production documents) have been transferred to the new site, at this point it’s looking like the photonovels aren’t going to make it. The titles above link to the photonovels on the old site (which as this point still work) but be aware that they’re volatile and will probably eventually redirect to the new site.
I make an effort to ensure the information presented here is timely and accurate. However, if there is an error or any critical information I’ve overlooked please feel free to leave a comment on this page so I can correct it.