Christmas may have come early for fans of classic Doctor Who. In the 70s, the BBC began a shortsighted policy of wiping old tapes for new use. Since all of the serials featuring the First and Second Doctors were in black-and-white, which was considered to have little potential for sales now that color TV was ubiquitous (and a home video market didn’t exist), they were some of the first episodes on the chopping block. (Even some Third Doctor material was wiped, though missing episodes were recovered, even if some were only found in black-and-white.) As a result, these early episodes are only extant thanks to private collectors or copies sent to other countries; anything not found has been reconstructed by fans based on telesnaps, fan-recorded audio, and other materials. Experts like Ian Levine believe that there will never be less than 106 missing episodes, mainly centered on the Second Doctor. And yet, there are now rumors that a whopping 90 episodes have been recovered.
Rumors have been circulating in the BBC about the recovery of 90 episodes — basically, everything except for the episodes missing from The Dalek Master Plan (nine episodes), Mission to the Unknown (one episode), The Invasion (two episodes), The Ice Warriors (two episodes), and The Wheel in Space (two episodes). That means that many sought-after serials would be restored, such as Marco Polo, The Evil of the Daleks, and most importantly, the fourth episode of The Tenth Planet, which features the First Doctor’s regeneration into the Second Doctor. (The regeneration sequence exists in low-quality, but that’s pretty much it.)
Of course, these were just rumors, rumors that were heavily discounted by experts like Ian Levine. He’s a long-time fan who helped put an end to the BBC’s tape wiping, worked with the Doctor Who Restoration Team, and co-wrote the silly theme music to the failed spin-off pilot K-9 and Company, among other things. Levine highly doubted the 90-episode discovery and tweeted as much…then suddenly changed his tune, claiming he had been given “3 tons of film cans” as proof. Supposedly, these episodes come from Africa, which is why Levine was skeptical, as there are records of which tapes were sent to which countries and they didn’t match this. But supposedly an “eccentric engineer” held on to some tapes for “safe keeping,” which explains where they came from.
Again, none of this is fact, and the BBC hasn’t announced anything yet. But the BBC did promise more surprises during Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary, and this would certainly be one of the biggest surprises possible. There is also a box set out this month called Regenerations, featuring every Doctor’s regeneration, and it would be far better if they could include the full version of The Tenth Planet instead of only the first three episodes and a reconstruction of the fourth. It’s still early, but I think it’s appropriate to get excited for the potential reveal.