Doctor Who – Lost in Time

This set came out in 2004, but I didn’t buy it at the time as it was a wee bit expensive. It’s now available for as little as £12 from Amazon, which was enough to persuade me to fill in the one gap in my Doctor Who DVD set. There are no complete stories here, just the surviving parts of some 1960s episodes and a load of supporting material.

It’s a sad fact of life, that in the early days of television, nobody was really interested in repeats. There was no home video market, and apparently there was some odd agreement which prevented the BBC repeating anything more than about three years old. And videotape was expensive in those days, so it was standard practice to erase and reuse. The only reason we have any episodes at all from the early years of Doctor Who is that episodes were transferred to film for sale overseas. Over the years, many of these film copies (in various states of preservation) made their way back to the BBC. But even those didn’t all survive – many were destroyed to save space….

The result of this is that over 100 episodes of the show are lost. There are soundtracks in existence for some of them (the result of dedicated fans with domestic tape recorders), but others would appear to be gone forever. From time to time, another odd one is found in a vault somewhere, but unless a Time Lord drops by and rescues those old tapes from the bul eraser, much must be regarded as lost forever.

This three-disk set was an attempt to gather together some fragments and give a taste of the missing stories. As such, it’s very much something for hard-core completist fans, rather than the more general audience who might buy the occasional DVD release.  Anyway, this is what you get for your money:

Disc One

This is the William Hartnell disc, and offers some more insight into the first Doctor. Contents include:

  • The Crusade – Episodes 1 and 3 are complete, accompanied by soundtracks of episodes 2 and 4. This was one of the pure historical stories which were originally intended to be a major part of the series. The video is in poor condition, and would have benefited from the magic of the restoration team. By current standards, the pace is slow and the historical characters seem rather wooden, but it’s entertaining enough.
  • The Daleks’ Master Plan – All that remains of this 12-part epic are episodes 2, 5 and 10. This story is noted for having the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney, who returned later as the Brigadier. It’s a long, complicated story, involving the Daleks chasing the Doctor and his companions through time and space, and includes a return appearance from the Monk from The Time Meddler, who’s not very happy with the Doctor at all. From the parts available, it looks like this would have been loads of fun. So if you’ve got the tapes or film of the rest of it in your attic, please get them to the BBC immediately!
  • The Celestial Toymaker – just the fourth and final episode of the Doctor’s fight against another of those superior beings who like to play with people in most unpleasant ways.  Good stuff.
  • Other than that, there are a few small clips from The Tenth Planet (First appearance of the Cybermen, and William Hartnell’s departure), The Smugglers and The Daleks’ Master Plan

Disc 2

On to Patrick Troughton now, and more fragments:

  • The Underwater Menace – Episode 3 only. Professor Zaroff (has to be a villain with a name like that) says he wants to raise Atlantis, but is really plotting to destroy the world. Interesting, with some moderately unlikely underwater beings.
  • The Moonbase – Episodes 2 and 4 are complete, with soundtracks for episodes 1 and 3. Fun with the Cybermen in a base on the Moon. Usual cyber tricks, people being taken over, great danger to the world, and all that kind of thing. Classic Doctor Who, and it’s a shame we don’t have it all.
  • The Faceless Ones – Just episodes 1 and 3 of an intriguing story which involves people disappearing from planes, aliens at Gatwick airport and unlikely weapons.
  • The Evil of the Daleks – Only episode 2 of this one, which involves the Doctor and Jamie being led to a trap in a very dodgy antique shop, where the Victorian goods on sale are brand new…
  • Other bits on offer are a trailer for The Power of the Daleks, odd little surviving clips from The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Underwater Menace and The Macra Terror[1]

Disc 3

  • The Abominable Snowmen – Just episode 2 of this story, set in Tibet. The Doctor returns to a Monastery and finds things are not quite as they should be. Why have the Yeti turned nasty?
  • The Enemy of the World – In which a megalomaniac called Salamander, who looks remarkably like the Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton with an alarming accent) is up to no good at all. As we only have episode 3, it’s hard to judge, but it looks like it might have been a good one…
  • The Web of Fear – Yeti in the London Underground[2]. This story is an important one – it features the first appearance of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, who would return in The Invasion. We only have the first episode here, which is a shame.
  • The Wheel in Space – More fun with the Cybermen, episodes 3 and 6 only
  • The Space Pirates – Just episode 2 of this one…
  • The Missing Years – a documentary about the lost material
  • And more odd clips from The Abominable Snowmen, The Web of Fear, Fury from the Deep, The Wheel in Space and The Space Pirates

So, there’s lots to see here, but it is all so incomplete that it really is a “serious fans only” package. On the other hand, if you’re curious about the early days of the Doctor, this might be a good starting point, and could tempt you into getting more Hartnell and Troughton DVDs. At the current price, I’m happy to recommend this, which I wasn’t at the original price of £30.

[1] You might recall that the rarely-seen Macra made a return in Gridlock a couple of years ago
[2] Nobody would notice these days…