Lost Doctor Who Episodes Being Hoarded By Fans?

By Charlene Badasie | Updated

Tom Baker, who played The Doctor from 1974 to 1981

CEO of television archive organization Kaleidoscope, Chris Perry, says several lost episodes of Doctor Who exist in the hands of private collectors. “We know where there is missing Doctor Who out there, but the owners won’t return it at the moment,” he said in an interview with Radio Times. “Every year, we find 50-70 lost programs, some famous titles and internationally known names and others not.”

There remain close to 100 lost Doctor Who episodes which the BBC has no master tapes of.

The lost Doctor Who episodes refer to a collection of episodes from the classic era of the British sci-fi series that aired between 1963 and 1989. During this time, many of the original master tapes containing these episodes were either erased or discarded by the BBC as a cost-saving measure. As a result, a significant number of episodes are considered missing.

Several factors contributed to the loss of these Doctor Who episodes. One common practice in the early days of television was to reuse or wipe tapes containing old broadcasts to make space for new programs. Additionally, the value of preserving television shows for future generations wasn’t fully appreciated at the time.

Of the 253 Doctor Who episodes that were originally missing, 97 remained officially unrecovered. However, there have been exciting moments when lost episodes have been rediscovered. Some missing episodes have been found in domestic archives and television stations abroad. Occasionally, episodes were sold or traded, leading to their rediscovery.

doctor who
Peter Davison played the hero of Doctor Who from 1981 to 1984

Some fans made audio recordings of episodes when they originally aired, and these audio recordings have been used to reconstruct some missing episodes visually using animation and still photographs. Over the years, the BBC and other organizations have been actively searching for missing Doctor Who episodes and have recovered several.

“We know where there is missing Doctor Who out there, but the owners won’t return it at the moment. Every year, we find 50-70 lost programs, some famous titles and internationally known names and others not.”

-Chris Perry, CEO of Kaleidoscope

Doctor Who is not the only show to have suffered losses in its archives. Until the BBC altered its archiving policy in 1978, numerous hours of programming across various genres were erased. Other BBC series, such as Hancock’s Half Hour, Dad’s Army, Z-Cars, The Likely Lads, The Wednesday Play, Till Death Us Do Part, Steptoe and Son, and Not Only… But Also were also affected by this deletion process.

The Future of Doctor Who

Meanwhile, BBC One is set to air the 14th season of Doctor Who during Christmas 2023. Ncuti Gatwa, known for his role in Sex Education, will take on the role of the new Doctor. Before that, David Tennant will return to reprise the role in November for three specials planned in celebration of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary.

Doctor Who is a long-running British science fiction television series that first premiered in November 1963 on the BBC. Created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, and Donald Wilson, the show follows the adventures of the Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, who travels through time and space in the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space).

The Doctor is a centuries-old alien who appears human and can regenerate, allowing the character to be portrayed by different actors over the years. This regeneration concept has allowed the show to continue for decades without the need for a complete reboot. Doctor Who is often accompanied by human companions that serve as the viewer’s entry point into the fantastical world of the show.

Together, Doctor Who and his/her companions have faced iconic villains like the Daleks and the Cybermen, all while encountering historical figures and exploring fictional and real locations in the universe.