Lost To Time by Alan Decker

Alan Decker contributes this Saturday's post as well as writing for his regular Sunday spot.  Which is fitting because Corinne is currently away visiting Alan - it's an Alan Decker Thanksgiving and you're all invited!

Lost To Time

This past Thursday (October 10, 2013) was an exciting day for Doctor Who fans as the NNC announced that episodes of the show that had not been seen for 45 years and thought lost forever had been found.  Here are more details on the find.

A bit of backstory: In the 70's, the BBC had a policy of wiping and reusing the video tapes of their old shows.  Due to this policy, most of the episodes of Doctor Who showing the first two Doctors (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton) were erased. However, the BBC also had a policy of transferring shows to film and sending them out to broadcast affiliates in other countries that leased the shows. Thanks to that process, as well as the occasional tape or film reel found in someone's attic, many episodes have been recovered. Before today, the most recent recovery was of 2 episodes in 2011. (These were half-hour episodes, but back then they did multi-part stories of between 4-8 episodes usually.) After that find, there were still 106 episodes missing.
For a while now, there have been rumors that a new cache of episodes has been found. Ridiculous numbers were flying around. One source claimed that every missing episode had been located. For various reasons, that's pretty much impossible. But just this week the BBC finally confirmed that "a number" of old episodes have been recovered. I find the older stuff tough to watch sometimes, but still it's exciting that these parts of the show's history have been located. It's been decades. Finding anything at this point is near miraculous!

The recovered episodes are available on iTunes now. They're from "The Web of Fear," where the popular character, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, was first introduced, and "The Enemy of the World."  Thanks to this find, "Enemy" is now complete (The BBC only had one episode before), and "Web" is only missing the third episode.

As wonderful as this turn of events is for fans of the show, I am still stunned that this situation exists at all.  I know the BBC had their reasons for wiping out the old episodes.  Tapes were expensive, budgets were tight, and they didn't think anyone would care to see old shows again or ever be able to watch them in their own homes.  This last bit was just remarkably short-sighted.  The BBC had video tape technology, and didn’t seem to consider the idea that maybe a home version could be developed...which it was...less than 10 years later.  Not only that, but they wiped early episodes of Doctor Who while the show was still in production and popular with audiences.  It’s just baffling.

Even more egregious to me is the lack of respect this entire policy showed for the work of the people who made shows for the BBC.  Doctor Who is far from the only show affected.  Hundreds of episodes from that era of British television are just gone.  This is the work of actors, writers, directors, make-up artists, set designers, stunt people, special effects experts, costumers, grips, camera operators, and on and on.  Did no one responsible for BBC budgeting think it was worth a few extra pounds to archive these shows?

I have to believe someone objected, but (and I know I’m being cynical here) most likely the suits carried the day over the artists.

I suppose it’s nearly impossible to tell what will be important to future generations when you’re in the middle of the day-to-day grind of your life, and I’m certainly that the first Doctor Who production team in 1963 didn’t even consider the idea that their show would still be popular half a century later.  No one can predict the future, but the BBC’s incredible lack of foresight or respect for their own works have left us emptier.  Hopefully more episodes will be found in the future, but some may be lost forever…

…or at least until I can get my hands on a TARDIS

- Alan Decker