Find Doctor Who episodes and win a Dalek

The magnificent replica Dalek

You ever made a mistake? A really, really big one? One that makes you wake up in the night, curled in the foetal position, saying to yourself “No, no, no, no! I can’t believe I did that!”

I know I have.

The BBC has lots of those, buried in their collective subconscious. Here’s one of their biggest (somewhere down the list from booting out Greg Dyke).

The Beeb, in their infinite wisdom, spent a goodly portion of the 1970s erasing their archives. Apparently, they thought it a good idea to recycle their tape and burn their film rolls in order to save space.

I can even remember watching a clip on Windmill of them proudly demonstrating the giant magnet they used for the task: “You just press here, there’s a hum, the tape rotates, and we’re done!”

Ah, if only they’d been thinking of video and DVD sales at the time.

Once the silly billies came to their senses and started going, “No, no, no, no…” etc, they tried to undo their various bodges by asking, very nicely, if please, could they have copies of all the stuff they’d wiped. In it came, from all around the world, from TV stations that had bought the rights to broadcast their programmes, from private collectors, from boot fairs, from the NFT and dozens of other obscure places. Even the censors were obliging, handing over all the bits they’d chopped out of old episodes. Suckers.

Doctor Who, being quite a long-running programme, has quite a few episodes missing, thanks to the laws of chance and vindictiveness, although über-fan Ian Levine did manage to save quite a few episodes at the critical moment. Oft has he told the tale of how he saved The Daleks from being burnt by offering to buy it from the Beeb furnace men. Then there’s all the other Beeb employees who kept episodes in their attics to show the kiddies. Ah, these Whovians loved their show.

Through various means, 39 episodes made their way back to the Beeb, leaving just 108 to find. But now the torrent has turned into a trickle. The last missing episode to be located came from The Dalek Masterplan, the 12-part Hartnell epic (those were the days, huh?), in 2004. You may think it extremely geeky of me to know that, but this interesting fact was also a major plot point in the fourth series of Coupling. Seriously.

This absence of new old episodes has set the BBC pondering. “How,” they’ve thought to themselves, “can we get back all the remaining missing episodes, so we can flog them back to the public seven different ways and boost our revenues even more?”

They have an answer though. That answer is Blue Peter.

Everyone’s favourite promotor of middle-class values to children/seething hotbed of loyalist supporters (delete as appropriate) is offering a replica Dalek to any child who can find a lost episode of Doctor Who. Just in case you haven’t yet memorised all the titles of those missing episodes, you can find them on the Blue Peter web site: print it out, take it with you, as you invade the lofts of your nearest and dearest, looking for mold-encrusted film cans. Remember, the label may lie, so always open up the cans and spool out the film until you find the episode title. You shouldn’t need to go further than 10 metres or so in, I reckon.

Hmm. Replica Dalek in exchange for episode worth thousands in DVD sales? Not exploiting kids at all then, are they? They might even give you a DVD of the episode half-price if you’re lucky.

PS Incidentally, I love the way the BBC now refuses to admit that it wiped the episodes. From the Blue Peter site: “Doctor Who needs your help. Back when the series first started, no one imagined it would become so popular and sadly, some of the old episodes have been lost.” No, you stuck them on a fire. The first step to closure, BBC, is admitting to yourself what you did.

Lost – incinerated: these are not two sides of the same coin.