Arts, Culture & Media

'Lost' Doctor Who episodes found in Nigeria are delighting the Whovian fan cult

doctor who.jpg

Actor Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who in 1967.

Credit:

BBC

For those of you who don't know, Doctor Who is a nerdy British sci-fi show, celebrating its 50th anniversary next month.  And whether you've heard of it or not, I can tell you that fans, known as "Whovians", are close to nerdgasm today.

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That's because nine episodes that originally ran from 1967 to 1968 have been discovered in Nigeria, restored, and were released today for download on iTunes.

Doctor Who has become more popular over the years, while retaining its challenging premise and imaginative writing, and its quirky title character, the Doctor. While every season produces a new crop of diehard fans, critics dislike its formulaic pattern, cheap special effects and more-than-occasional bad acting.

The newly-discovered shows consist of two complete story lines, nine episodes in all.

They include the classic story, Web of Fear, from 1968, when yetis invade the London Underground.  Yes, abominable snowmen running amok on the London subway.

All the episodes feature Patrick Troughton, the second doctor. I say second doctor, because if you didn't know, the doctor regenerates every so often. It's a good way to cycle in fresh acting talent and keep the show going. The BBC just announced the next doctor will be played by Peter Capaldi.   

Boston-area fan, Dave Donohue, describes the lengths he and fellow fans went to before now to see the old episodes:

"They were reconstructed as slideshows of stills from the set, and the audio tracks," he said. "For the very early ones - the ones that were lost - it's often more like listening to a radio show."

Actually the shows were lost because the BBC, in its wisdom, destroyed the tapes.  It couldn't imagine back then that anyone would want to see them again.

That was, of course, before its new-found popularity among a growing international audience.

But copies were put onto film for global distribution. And that's how these lost episodes ended up in Nigeria and were found.

Phillip Morris is the man who made the discovery. "I wouldn't normally describe myself in the manner that other people do," he said. "They normally describe me as the Indiana Jones of the film world."

Morris is head of "Television International Enterprises and Archives," a company that scours the world for copies of lost shows.

He found these lost episodes of Doctor Who in Nigeria, "just sitting on the shelf. I can remember now seeing a piece of masking tape that said 'Dr Who' on it, and I thought, that's interesting. I pulled the cans down, read the story codes and realized they were missing from the BBC archive."

Fan Dave Donohue hopes this is just the beginning. "I want to hope that this kindles an on-going search, because how many more of these episodes are on some tape or some reel, even just unlabelled, in some relay station somewhere in the world."