Just in time for the show’s 50th Anniversary, the BBC has reported that early episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ long considered lost have been discovered… in Ethiopia of all places.
The story first broke via The Mirror, the UK’s popular daily tabloid. According to the report, 106 episodes featuring the First Doctor (William Hartnell) and the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) were found in the studios of ERTA, the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency. However, 106 is the number of episodes that are actually “lost” from the series, so it seems unlikely that all of them were found. The BBC has confirmed that episodes and scenes have been recovered, though the agency hasn’t provided specific details yet. A more official announcement is expected later this week.
Finding classic episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ has been a treasure hunt for archivists. During the late 1960s and most of the 1970s, the BBC wiped cleaned all videotape masters of its television episodes – not just for ‘Doctor Who’, but for many of the network’s programs – in order to re-use the tapes for new programming in an effort to save money. However, prior to this happening, the BBC had transferred many of those episodes to 16mm film and shipped them off to various countries for international broadcast. The uncovering of these foreign copies has led to the prior restoration of other episodes previously believed lost. The Ethiopian discovery appears to be a huge coup for ‘Doctor Who’ fans everywhere.
As noted above, there’s no full list available as of this writing that details which episodes were found or how complete the footage is, but The Mirror has reported that some of the uncovered scenes come from episodes ‘The Crusade’ (Hartnell, Season 2), ‘The Enemy of the World’ (Troughton, Season 5) and ‘The Ice Warriors’ (Troughton, Season 5).
There’s also no word yet about whether the missing final episode of ‘The Tenth Planet’ arc, which is being animated for a new DVD release of the story this November, is part of the new find. This episode is considered a holy grail for fans, as it features both Hartnell’s last appearance and the first “regeneration” of the Doctor into a new body, in the new form of Patrick Troughton. The regeneration scene was previously restored and released on DVD, but the complete final episode has remained lost.