It turns out that “Doctor Who” fans are getting quite a nice 50th anniversary for their favorite Time Lord. In addition to the upcoming special starring David Tennant and Matt Smith, the other TV movie about the creation of “Doctor Who” in the 1960s and the announcement of the show’s 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, there’s been a development not even the show’s far-seeing producers could have predicted. Several early episodes of the series long thought missing forever have been found.
According to the BBC, a number of episodes of “Doctor Who"have been found in an unnamed African country, though many reports say they were found in either Ethiopia or Sierra Leone. A total of 106 episodes of the series are currently listed as missing, all of them starring William Hartnell (Doctor One) and Patrick Troughton (Doctor Two). The BBC plans to hold a news conference later this week to formally announce the find and reveal which episodes have been discovered.
If all 106 episodes are discovered, it would be the first time the entirety of the Doctor’s adventures would be available again. For years, the science-fiction show’s run has been hampered by missing episodes due to the fact that the BBC had a policy of erasing old videotapes which ended in the late 1970s. That policy, combined with poor storage, led to many episodes from the show’s first six seasons disappearing seemingly forever.
Enter the show’s global reach. Though the BBC’s central archive had long been missing many episodes, the show had been broadcast in many countries and used film transfers, which were shipped off for the remote broadcasters to use. Though the BBC in England may have mismanaged its back catalog of “Doctor Who” episodes, these foreign broadcasters have sometimes held onto the episodes without knowledge of exactly what they had. That appears to be the case with these final 106 episodes.
Over the years, various missing episodes have been recovered from these far-flung locales, such as the 1967 Patrick Troughton serial, “Tomb of the Cybermen,” which was found at a Hong Kong broadcaster in 1991.
Other serials have been pieced together using animation to fill in the missing chapters.
One episode die-hard fans are crossing their fingers is part of the find is the final chapter of “The Tenth Planet,” original star Hartnell’s final adventure as the Doctor and the first time the Doctor regenerated into a new actor (in this case, Troughton). Though the actual episode has long been missing, it was completed earlier this year using animation.
[For the record, Oct. 8, 4:59 p.m.: A previous version of this post stated that 106 episodes of “Doctor Who” had been discovered. The exact number of episodes found has not been announced.]