The fate of Doctor Who’s 97 missing episodes from the 1960s has always been a topic of discussion amongst fans of the BBC show, with entire websites devoted to figuring out what happened to the “junked” material. Forum threads run into tens of thousands of replies, and dedicated fans enthusiastically discuss where these episodes may still survive around the globe, passionately debating every potential rumor. Now, a piece of gossip published in the Plymouth Herald has enflamed interest, with claims surfacing online that 17 episodes still exist in the Middle East.
In 2013, the year of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary, BBC announced the discovery of the Patrick Troughton serials “The Enemy of the World” and “The Web of Fear” in Nigeria. Physical copies of these episodes were sold to networks in the country back in the 1960s and so survived even after the BBC junked its old film material, the corporation believing then that the shows would never be aired again and not foreseeing the rise of home media like DVD, to say nothing of streaming.
It was something of a miracle that the serials were in such excellent condition. Both were quickly released on DVD minus “The Web of Fear Episode 3,” which was somehow “stolen” during its transit back to the UK.
Now one fan, Craig Cabell, has claimed that the missing “Web of Fear” episode isn’t the only material out there. The suggestion is that 17 lost Doctor Who episodes are still around in the Middle East, with parties there having acquired the material from others in Japan, New Zealand, and Australia in 1967 and 1970.
Lost Doctor Who episodes found in the Middle East?
Writing on Facebook, Cabell says that the material is in Arabic, and while he didn’t disclose any information regarding a location, he referenced “war zones.” This perhaps indicates the site is Yemen or Syria. Despite the comment, it seems more likely the location is Iran, as there has never been any evidence that Doctor Who was broadcast in Syria. An unnamed broadcasting agency allegedly confirmed that the episodes were indeed sent to the area.
While Cabell didn’t disclose exactly what episodes we’re talking about, they are believed to include the first two episodes of the classic William Hartnell story “Marco Polo,” one of the stories that fans would most like to see. Other material is said to come from the Patrick Troughton era, the Second Doctor.
Those who know Doctor Who‘s missing episodes will understand that some of the claims might just be possible. “Marco Polo” was broadcast in Australia in 1965; the fate of the film prints is unknown, with no documentation surviving. Extensive investigations have concluded that the material is almost certainly no longer in that country. The episodes were also broadcast in Aden, the temporary capital of Yemen, later that year. Again, no documentation survives to suggest it was ever returned to the BBC or junked. However, it seems likely that the two episodes being referred to were also sent to Iran.
After viewing the two episodes of “Marco Polo,” a studio in Iran purchased the entire package on offer from New Zealand. However, the Arabic package didn’t include “Marco Polo,” meaning the rest of the story would not be there. It is also possible that Iran sent the two sample episodes elsewhere in the Middle East.
Is the latest Doctor Who missing episodes rumor true?
However, it should be noted that the history of Doctor Who fandom is littered with hoaxes, false leads, and fantasy. The claim that the material includes Troughton-era stories is intriguing, as the pre-dubbed Arabic package that the BBC sent to the Middle East in the 1960s only had stories featuring William Hartnell stories, who played the First Doctor. There is no evidence that any Patrick Troughton serials were broadcast anywhere in the Middle East. As for the episodes being broadcast in Yemen, the belief has always been that the country was supplied with fresh prints rather than having them “bicycled” from another country.
All of this ambiguity is standard when talking about missing episodes. In 2013, rumors swirled that “Marco Polo” had been found alongside “The Web of Fear” and “The Enemy of the World.” Later gossip suggested that as many as 100 or more episodes had been uncovered. These rumors were false and stirred up a lot of bad blood in the fandom. The person responsible for starting the rumors has never been identified.
Some more pessimistic fans, perhaps remembering the false hopes of yesteryear, have pointed out that Cabell has a Doctor Who book coming out next year. Other naysayers have urged Cabell to stop his efforts as they are impeding other investigations.
Should Cabell’s claims be valid, he warns in one of his posts that recovering the episodes might be difficult for political reasons, since the organization that currently has them considers them a political asset and is unwilling to part with them, with offers of money having already been made.
Since making these claims, Cabell has deleted his comments.
While classic Doctor Who fans should certainly not get their hopes up, many will undoubtedly be hoping for another miracle ahead of the show’s 60th-anniversary celebrations next year. With these episodes missing for over 50 years, it is a testament to the appeal of the show that interest remains so high.