I think that three of my last four trade news posts have been related to “Doctor Who,” but that’s because I prioritize correctly. This latest is new old news as opposed to new news, in that copies of two different “Doctor Who” episodes from the sixties have been discovered. This is news because at the time television hadn’t yet realized that they were producing a cultural artifact of any kind and because film wasn’t cheap, they just recorded over old episodes once they were broadcast. So only about half of the 235 episodes of “Doctor Who” actually exist in their original master tape form.
And because this era predated VCRs, DVRs, YouTube and every other bit of technology that we use now to casually create personal archives larger than the sum of human creative output before the twentieth century, many of these episodes simply do not exist at all other than in the memories of fans. They were broadcast out onto the air and then destroyed.
Many of these have been recovered in some form or another from copies of copies of copies found in attics over the decades, but the number has tapered off as simple time as worked its attrition. Ironic given the subject. One smiles to think though that given the long memories and nostalgia of science fiction fans, that much as cellular phones developed to look like Star Trek communicators, the first test run of a time machine will probably be to save the original copies of “Doctor Who.” Killing Hitler will wait until it’s out of beta.
But in any case, the news at hand is that two more episodes were found, a Hartnell and a Troughton to be precise, both in the hands of an audio engineer who had bought them off someone else in the eighties. They’re both prints made by the Australian Broadcast Corporation for rebroadcast down under. They’re both damaged, with missing bits and pieces, but every bit that made it is one we didn’t have before.
No word yet on whether charges of copyright piracy will be brought. I’m kidding. Mostly.