The rumors are true, people! For months now there have been whispers and speculation about the BBC recovering a mess of previously lost Doctor Who material, with rumors that they were being cleaned up and prepared for release in advance of the show’s big 50th anniversary hootenanny next month. Now, finally — finally — the BBC has made it official. And the news is good!
As was rumored earlier this week, the BBC did indeed recover a large quantity of Doctor Who tapes in Africa — at the time the location was listed as Ethiopia, but according to the BBC’s press release, the material was actually found in Nigeria. All told, 11 Doctor Who episodes have been recovered, nine of which haven’t been seen in any form during the past 46 years. Two of those stories — The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear — are now available for purchase exclusively on iTunes.
Both serials feature the Second Doctor, played with disheveled aplomb by Patrick Troughton. The Enemy of the World first aired in December 1967. In it, the Second Doctor and his companions Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) face off against the evil Ramon Salamander…also played by Patrick Troughton! I love a good doppelganger. Here’s a quick synopsis from the Doctor Who wiki:
On Earth in the near future, the Doctor and his companions are enmeshed in a deadly web of intrigue thanks to his uncanny resemblance to the scientist/policitian Salamander. He is hailed as the “shopkeeper of the world” for his efforts to relieve global famine, but why do his rivals keep disappearing? How can he predict so many natural disasters? The Doctor must expose Salamander’s schemes before he takes over the world.
Only the third episode of the six-part serial was in the possession of the BBC Archives up until now; the newly discovered Nigerian stash has given us the full run with all five missing episodes.
The second story up for grabs this week is another six-part serial, 1968’s The Web of Fear. Again, only one episode was in the BBC’s possession — the first one — and episodes 2, 4, 5, and 6 have been recovered. Alas, that still leaves episode 3 AWOL, but this is still a huge coup for Who fans. Plus, episode three isn’t just a big blank void. As the press release explains, “the restoration team has reconstructed this part of the story using a selection of the 37 images that were still available from the episode along with the original audio, which has been restored.”
The Web of Fear featured the very first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart…eventually promoted to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. It serves as a sequel to the 1967 serial The Abominable Snowmen and features the second appearance of the Great Intelligence, which played a major role in the seventh modern season which wrapped up this past May. Also: a yeti!
Kudos must go to Philip Morris, director of the Beeb’s Television International Enterprises Archive, who tracked down the missing Who material by tracking records of tape shipments from the BBC to Africa. Morris recalls:
The tapes had been left gathering dust in a store room at a television relay station in Nigeria. I remember wiping the dust off the masking tape on the canisters and my heart missed a beat as I saw the words ‘Doctor Who’. When I read the story code I realized I’d found something pretty special.
If you’re a physical media sort, you’ll be able to get The Enemy of the World on DVD on November 22nd — a day before the 50th anniversary special airs — and The Web of Fear will hit DVD in early 2014.
Word has it that the remainder of the previously missing material will be rolled out in coming months, but there are no specific details as yet. Finally, GFR gives the highest of fives to the folks over at Bleeding Cool, who have been on top of this story and sticking to their guns about its accuracy for months now.