Throughout much of 2013 the world of Doctor Who fandom has been filled with whispers that something big had happened, and that it was only a matter of time before the BBC let us all in on the full story. Several of the venerable sci-fi show’s 106 lost episodes have been found.
Today, several of them are available for you to download exclusively from iTunes. The remastered episodes released today make up two early Doctor Who stories: “The Enemy of the World” and “The Web of Fear.” Both star Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.
First, the backstory: Doctor Who premiered in 1963, and sometime in the 70s the decision was made to trash many of the original tapes in order to free up some storage space. This was long before it was really even possible to consider selling past episodes of TV shows on home video, nor to rebroadcast past material through cable and the like. And so the episodes weren’t considered all that useful to the network, and with space at a premium the BBC decided that newer episodes took priority.
The severity of this has been keenly felt, and in the decades to follow it was Doctor Who fans who led efforts to scour the world in search of other copies of the lost episodes. For some stories it was the entire, multi-episode tale — while others survived in part, with only some installments of the story lost to history. Some of these, meanwhile, survived in a rough audio format — recordings that fans had made during the original broadcast.
Many of the lost episodes have been found over the decades, including a stash in the early 1990s. As of 2011, 106 episodes remained lost.
Today the BBC made it official when it confirmed that the rumors are true (and provided the concrete details): The master tapes for eleven episodes have been found in a storage room at a television relay station in Nigeria. Philip Morris, director of Television International Enterprises Archive, is credited with the discovery. To do so, Morris tracked records of tape shipments made by the BBC to Africa for transmission.
“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,'” Morris said. “When I read the story code I realized I’d found something pretty special.”
The BBC has been spending much of this year remastering several of the episodes, today releasing two (mostly) complete stories on iTunes — not seen in the U.K. in 45 years. Here are the details:
“THE ENEMY OF THE WORLD” — 6 episodes (first aired 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.
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 would-be 21st century dictator 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.
“THE WEB OF FEAR” — 6 episodes (first aired 1968). “Also starring Patrick Troughton alongside Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling the story introduces Nicholas 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.”
The TARDIS narrowly avoids becoming engulfed in a cobwebby substance in space. It arrives in the London Underground railway system, the tunnels of which are being overrun by the web and by the Great Intelligence’s robot Yeti. The time travellers learn this crisis was precipitated when Professor Travers accidentally caused one of the Yeti to be reactivated, opening the way for the Intelligence to invade again. The travellers work alongside army forces as they battle the alien menace, hampered by one of their number who has fallen under the Intelligence’s influence and is a traitor in their midst. The Intelligence’s goal is to drain the Second Doctor’s mind. The Doctor sabotages the device with which it intends to achieve this, so he can drain the Intelligence’s mind instead, but he is rescued by his friends before he can bring his plan to fruition. The Intelligence is repelled into space and the Doctor and his friends leave the army to clear up the mess.
Click the links to find the episodes on iTunes, where they are available in standard definition for $1.99 each ($9.99 for a complete, 6-episode story).
“The Enemy of the World” will be available on DVD November 22, with “The Web of Fear” following in 2014.