To understand the wiping of Doctor Who - and many other 1960s TV series - one has to look at how television was made and valued at the time.
On Doctor Who, an episode would be recorded directly to videotape from studio, with as much of the work we would now term “post production” occurring at the same time. This meant music, location filming, the titles and credits, and model or effects shots were pre-recorded and played-in to the studio recording. Bar some small edits, this was essentially a finished programme.
The videotape version was transmitted on the BBC, often after a very short period of time - as little as two or three weeks post-recording.
Most tapes were then sent to BBC Enterprises (the corporation’s commercial arm, now BBC Worldwide) for “telerecording” onto film - a much more durable and commonly-used medium - to be sold to international broadcasters.
Once both a UK transmission had occurred and an overseas sales film copy had been created, if neither Enterprises nor the BBC had any further interest in the episodes, the original videotapes were cleared for wiping.
While not an excuse for these acts of destruction, there is a wider context…
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The now-complete The Enemy of the World and the almost-complete The Web of Fear (with the one missing episode available as a reconstruction) are now both available for purchase in the iTunes store, with DVD releases forthcoming.
(I don’t even have a gif that properly conveys just how excited I am right now.)
Archive television recovery expert Phillip Morris, recalls how he found the film cans of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear sitting on a shelf, at a TV relay station in central Nigeria.
He goes on to explain how the prints - the largest single haul of episode returned since the junkings were halted - were part of the ‘bicycling’ system of sharing TV programmes between territories, and shares his fond childhood memories of Target’s Doctor Who novelisations. Stories that can now be seen on screen for the first time in decades…
BBC Worldwide North America announces that a stash of BBC master tapes from the 1960s featuring missing episodes of Doctor Who has been recovered in Nigeria, Africa. The BBC has re-mastered the tapes, and is making two stories, The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, now available exclusively on iTunes (www.itunes.com/DoctorWho).
Eleven Doctor Who episodes were discovered (nine of which have not been seen for 46 years) by Philip Morris, director of Television International Enterprises Archive, by tracking records of tape shipments made by the BBC to Africa for transmission. Morris says, “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.”
BBC Worldwide has re-mastered these episodes to restore them to the fantastic quality that audiences expect from Doctor Who.
The first recovered story, The Enemy of the World, is a six-episode tale which first aired on the BBC in December 1967. The story features Patrick Troughton as both the Second Doctor and his antagonist (Ramon Salamander), alongside companions Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling). Episodes 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 had previously been missing from the BBC Archives, and were returned by Morris.
Also recovered is the 1968 six-episode story, The Web of Fear. Also starring Patrick Troughton alongside Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling the story introducesNicholas Courtney for the first time as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (who later returns as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart). Episodes 2-6 were feared lost, but now episodes 2, 4, 5, and 6 have been recovered. With episode 3 still missing, 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.