Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Archaeology of Doctor Who

It's been decided. The archaeological find of 2013 has been made and there's no chance that a better, more culturally significant discovery will be made before the end of the year.

No chance at all.

Forget your gold, your jewellery, your bog bodies, your diamond-encrusted underwear (if you have any), this find will, in my mind at least, rank amongst the greatest of all archaeological discoveries ever. "And what is it?" I hear you ask. It is quite simply this: nine, yes nine, episodes of the BBC Sci-Fi drama Doctor Who, thought to be lost forever, have been found, alive and well, in Nigeria.

I'll let that thought sink in for a moment.

Dr Who is one of the longest running and certainly one of the most successful TV series of all time, but it has a tragic past. In the late 1960s and early 70s, parent company the BBC, believing that the introduction of colour to TV screens around the world meant that no one would ever want to watch black and white again (and before they ever conceived the significance of repeats, home video and DVD sales), made a conscious and determined effort to wipe all original programmes from its archive. This meant that, not just the entire back catalogue of Dr Who, but also other dramas, classic situation comedies, sporting finals and even major historical events (such as the 1969 moon landings) were at risk, many being subsequently wiped, burnt or otherwise exterminated.

Luckily, before the cultural vandalism began, the Beeb had copied the original transmission tapes of programmes such as Dr Who onto film for sale to foreign broadcasters, some of whom, it transpired, were less determined to delete the past.

And so, earlier this year, Philip Morris, director of a company called Television International Enterprise Archive, whilst sifting through the accumulated debris of a neglected transmission relay station outside the Nigerian city of Jos, discovered television's Holy Grail.

"I remember wiping the dust off the masking tape on the canisters" Morris has said, "and my heart missed a beat as I saw the words, Doctor Who. When I read the story code I realised I'd found something pretty special."

And so he had.

Only episode three of the Patrick Troughton story "The Enemy of the World" broadcast in 1967 - 8, had survived the BBC purge, now the Nigerian discovery of episodes one, two, four, five and six means that the complete version can now be securely placed within the film archive. 

The further revelation that episodes two, four, five and six of the 1968 story "The Web of Fear" had also been found, sent (as I can confirm) shivers of excitement through the world of fandom (in fact upon hearing the news I had to have a lie down with a cold flannel). Bar episode three, which sadly still remains out in film limbo, the Web of Fear is one of the most missed (and fervently-hoped-for) of all lost Who, featuring, as it does, robotic Yeti in the London underground (and yes, I can still recall the nightmares).

The latest find means that the number episodes still missing, presumed wiped, of Dr Who has now dropped from 106 to a slightly more manageable, but still unacceptable, 97.

Somewhere out there, more discoveries are waiting to be made, but in the meantime, Mr Morris, we at Archaeospeak salute you and hope you accept the accolade of archaeological discovery of the year.


  1. We haven't seen the last of the finds yet either; very strong rumours abound for there being several more adventures yet to be announced, with Marco Polo or The Crusades being revealed this weekend. Fingers crossed for Power and Evil of the Daleks....

    1. Always, always keeping my fingers crossed (which makes writing difficult) - any story from either Doctor would be brilliant. Am recovering from Dr Who overload (is that possible?) from the 50th anniversary need to return to the (less interesting) real world.

  2. I am corrected as previously I thought that it was only scams and junk mail that came out of Nigeria

    1. I do hope you're not suggesting that the £10,000 I wired last week to that Nigerian general looking for investment opportunities was in anyway dodgy?