- Insufficient evidence Evaluating Dr Who’s lost adventures
The discipline of television archiving resembles, in some respects, a giant treasure hunt. Besides caring for existing content, archivists are engaged in a perpetual effort to recover material discarded by their predecessors when broadcasts were viewed as mere ephemera. As late as the 1980s, thousands of television programmes were destroyed each year by UK broadcasters who wished to minimise costs by reusing the videotapes they were recorded upon. The lack of value placed on programmes is reflected by the term, ‘junking’, used to describe their destruction. Episodes from many long-running videotaped programmes were lost during this process, including the majority of Doctor Whoepisodes broadcast between 1963 and 1974.
While fans of most series have been content to let the professionals do their work, Doctor Whofandom contracted a collective case of ‘archive fever’ once the destruction of episodes from the series became public knowledge in 1981. The revelation that 136 episodes from the programme were missing led to a substantial realignment within fandom, which became ‘more focused on the programme’s past glories of the 1960s and 1970s, rather than new material that was being offered up by the BBC’ (Molesworth 11). This transformation matched the symptoms of what Derrida later termed ‘archive fever’: ‘It is to burn with a passion. It is never to rest, interminably, from searching for the archive right where it slips away. It is to run after the archive’ (91). The compulsive thirst to reconstruct the BBC’s Doctor Whoarchive has resulted in some significant successes and surprising rediscoveries, most recently the retrieval of two serials from the programme’s fifth season, The Enemy of the World(23 Dec 1967–27 Jan 1968) and The Web of Fear(3 Feb–9 Mar 1968), from a Nigerian film store. [End Page 257]
The films were located by Philip Morris, a Doctor Whofan who has been conducting a search of African archives for missing UK television programmes. The intensity of the ‘archive fever’ developed in some circles is such that their return was a clandestine affair due to the risk that impatient fans would disrupt the retrieval process. Unfortunately, the BBC’s desire to quench their thirst for lost archives has had a negative impact on these DVD releases, which lack any of the special features associated with previous Doctor Whotitles. The need to satisfy demands for the earliest possible release date mean there was not sufficient time to prepare any.
This is unfortunate as the story behind the recovery warrants its own special feature. Although the BBC produced Doctor Whoon videotape, it also produced 16mm film prints for worldwide distribution because that format was cheaper to transport and could be handled by even the most primitive of stations. The BBC retained ownership of these prints and foreign broadcasters were supposed to return or destroy them after use. The Nigerian prints escaped this process because the country’s broadcasting services were restructured in the 1970s. The regional station that screened the two serials merged with other broadcasters to form the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). The NTA centralised its archives in Lagos but some of its inherited regional archive stores were missed during this process, meaning that their contents lay undisturbed for over 35 years. Unfortunately, the third episode of The Web of Fearwas missing from the material Morris found. While this has generated conspiracy theories within fandom, such instances are not uncommon in moving-image archiving. The fact is that individual reels do go missing due to reasons such as decomposition, misfiling or accidental disposal. Indeed, all major film archives hold some incomplete films within their collections.
The returned serials fill one of the many archival gaps surrounding Doctor Who’s third, fourth and fifth seasons, a key period when the programme abandoned its roots as semi-educational children’s series and focused primarily on sf. Season...