Doctor Who completionists have had it rough. While fans of modern TV series can expect to add a DVD box set of the entire run to the shelves, even for shows that only survive one season, Doctor Who has been airing since the 1960s. And unfortunately, back in those days the BBC wasn’t thinking in terms of future DVD sales, nor were they aware that they had a classic piece of television history on their hands. The original black-and-white videotapes of the programs were erased, leaving a significant gap in the show’s run for fans hoping to see the whole enchilada — 108 of the 253 1960s episodes are unaccounted for.
Thankfully, every few years a copy of a thought-lost episode will turn up behind a shelf or in a private collection or in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.” Thankfully, now not one, but two lost episodes have been uncovered: “Airlock, the third episode of Galaxy 4, starring William Hartnell; and episode two of The Underwater Menace, starring Patrick Troughton.
Radio Times’ Ralph Mantagu uncovered the missing episodes in the collection of a friend and former TV engineer. The BBC is now working to restore the episodes as best they can. It’s a significant challenge given the age and quality of the tapes. “Airlock” is marred by scratches and is missing the final 27 seconds of the episode. The copy of The Underwater Menace is missing 20 seconds because of cuts made by censors, but BBC producer Paul Vanezis is attempting to reconstruct the episode from copies of the cut footage available elsewhere.
Here are some brief plot synopses from Radio Times, and you can click over to that website to read more about the episodes and the restoration process.
Galaxy 4, a four-part season opener from 1965, is fondly remembered by those fans old enough to have watched it. Various factions vie to leave a barren world before it explodes — a race of bad girls called Drahvins, cute domed Chumbley robots and the benign warthog-like Rills.
The Underwater Menace part two is arguably the more intriguing find. Not only is it the first Troughton film print since the recovery of The Tomb of the Cybermen 20 years ago, it’s actually now the earliest surviving episode to feature the second Doctor.