Does a despot hold the keys to the TARDIS?
Many early episodes of the cult British sci-fi series Doctor Who were destroyed by BBC personnel in a misguided effort to save storage space and money long before home video was a consideration. But some people are beginning to suspect that Zimbabwe may hold the Holy Grail for fans: Those long sought-after episodes that were thought to be gone forever.
Zimbabwe at one point was on good terms with the West, but these days the African nation is a pariah due to the repressive regime of President Robert Mugabe. The internationally unpopular strongman has banned BBC workers from entering his country, making it unlikely the truth will be discovered anytime soon.
All told, 27 Doctor Who serials from the 1960s are missing episodes. Many stories exist in only partial form — such as “The Tenth Planet,” which saw the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell (pictured above), regenerate for the first time after collapsing from exhaustion during a battle with the Cybermen. The crucial final episode of that story exists only in audio form: A VHS version was released in 2001 with a slideshow of photographs accompanying the soundtrack.
Other stories are missing altogether: Of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton’s first two seasons, only “Tomb of the Cybermen” exists in full, and that’s because a print was returned to the BBC from Hong Kong. (The full episode has been released both on VHS and DVD.)
There’s another kind of “lost” Doctor Who story: the kind that was planned but never made. You can read more about those, and how some of them will soon live again, in another article: Sound decision: Revisiting the lost adventures of ‘Doctor Who’