The Doctor Who Episode Erased From Existence

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

The Celestial Toymaker in Doctor Who

When we mention a Doctor Who adventure getting wiped from existence, casual fans may think we’re referring to one of the madcap plans from a classic villain such as The Master as he wipes our collective memory. However, longtime fans know that it was a different villain involved in a real-life debacle that completely wiped an episode of classic Doctor Who out of existence. As Den of Geek reports, that is why fans currently have no way of watching the episode that introduced the Toymaker, a classic Who villain that is being revived for the show’s 60th-anniversary specials.

The Toymaker, returning for the upcoming Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials, debuted in an episode that has been lost forever thanks to an old BBC policy.

This Doctor Who villain’s origins go back to the days of William Hartnell’s First Doctor. The Toymaker premiered in a serial adventure called “The Celestial Toymaker,” and while many of this early Doctor’s adventures can still be watched by fans, more than a few of them have been lost to history. They didn’t fall into a space vortex or anything cool, but in a somewhat ironic twist, space of a different kind was at the heart of the problem.

Back in the days before modern digital media, the BBC had to store Doctor Who and all of its other programs on good, old-fashioned tapes. And they soon faced a logistical issue: too much content and not enough room to store it. Since Doctor Who was considered a relatively unimportant children’s TV show at the time, the BBC had no trouble making the decision to tape over episodes when they needed space.

Doctor Who

To Doctor Who fans, this was a major tragedy because those episodes were aired back before most people had any reliable home recording technology. So when the BBC taped over these William Hartnell episodes, most were lost to history forever. Of the First Doctor’s episodes, 106 were originally lost in this way, and while some were recovered, a staggering 97 eps remain lost to fans.

Lost Doctor Who episodes have come back in different ways, either as audio dramas or as novelizations.

And you guessed it: those 97 lost Doctor Who episodes included our introduction to the Toymaker. This adventure lasted for four episodes and three of them remain lost, with the fourth episode surviving due to simple luck. Because that episode was titled “The Final Test,” an Australian broadcaster ended up mistakenly storing it along with some Cricket footage.

Over the years, there have been various efforts to help fans relive these lost adventures. For example, some fans recorded audio of the “The Celestial Toymaker” episodes, and remastered versions of the audio have been sold on both vinyl and CD. It also received a book adaptation from Target Books, who also adapted an unproduced Colin Baker Doctor Who episode that would have brought the Toymaker back.

The Doctor Who 60th anniversary special will be the first appearance of the Toymaker in the main series since 1966.

As you might have guessed, the Toymaker has also popped up in the extended universe of Doctor Who media, including novels, short stories, comics, and audiobooks. However, his upcoming appearance in Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary will be the first time the character has returned to the screen in 57 years (in the capable hands of Neil Patrick Harris, no less), and this will be the first time that many fans will see the character at all. Given that he likes to shrink his foes down into toy playthings, is it too much to hope fans will get an exciting new line of action figures out of all this?