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How It Happened

Article by Dominic Jackson
Copyright: Dominic Jackson.

It is tempting to assume that, as now, the BBC had an all-encompassing central storage facility at the time it first became necessary to archive Doctor Who episodes (i.e. in late 1963), however this was not the case. 60s (and early 70s) Doctor Who was usually videotaped for transmission and telerecorded from these videotapes for BBC Enterprises, for overseas sale purposes. At this time, the BBC Film Library was the only centralised archive for the storage of programmes and, as its name implies, it only had a mandate to keep programmes made on film (this was interpreted somewhat loosely – for example episodes such as The Crusade :3 and The Enemy of the World :3 were found when the film library was catalogued again in 1978; these episodes were originally recorded on videotape but were held by the film library on TR16, probably because viewing prints circulating through other BBC departments (originating from the BBC Enterprises negatives) were returned to the Film Library because they were film copies, even though the episodes did not originate there. However as it was filmed rather than videotaped, all four episodes of Spearhead From Space were quite properly kept by the Film Library). The important point is that the library (which is often referred to as ‘the archives’) did not concern itself with videotapes in any way – these came under the jurisdiction of the BBC Engineering Department until 1978 (when the Engineering Dept. videotape library was merged with the film library to become the BBC Film and Videotape Library – Engineering then became Television Recording and ultimately Post Production). After a programme (for example, Doctor Who) had been broadcast, the master videotape would be given to Engineering, who maintained a small library. They would make a telerecording of it for BBC Enterprises if Enterprises thought it had overseas sales potential (and when colour broadcasts started, a copy of the colour tape a programme was broadcast from would be made by Engineering for Enterprises to pass on to the purchasing country). After the telerecordings had been made the tapes would be placed in the Engineering Department videotape library. In about 1967, tapes from the Engineering Dept. library (for which there was no mandate) began to be wiped to make room for newer programmes, though the programme production teams were always consulted first, as were BBC Enterprises. The Film Library and Enterprises each assumed it was the other’s responsibility to keep copies of all programmes (not just Doctor Who) and hence when in c. 1972 it was decided to “tidy up” at BBC Enterprises (who had only a small amount of dedicated storage facilities and tended to let new film cans pile up in offices and corridors), those in charge did not check with the Film Library that they held duplicate copies of the material they were intending to destroy. By 1978, so many tapes had been wiped by Engineering that not a single videotape of any Doctor Who story prior to The Ambassadors of Death :1 was still held in their library.

After the problem came to light Sue Malden was appointed as the first BBC Archive Selector – essentially her job was to decide what to keep and what to junk (as things were previously done on a somewhat arbitrary basis), as well as attempting to locate other copies of material that had been destroyed. Malden and Ian Levine were responsible for many early recoveries. The full story of subsequent recoveries can be found in Richard Molesworth’s Doctor Who in the Archives articles in The DWB Compendium and Doctor Who Magazine #257.

As of August 1997, 109 episodes of Doctor Who are classified as “does not exist” in the BBC Archives – the majority of these are from seasons 3, 4 and 5 although some episodes are missing from seasons 1, 2 and 6. A full list of what is missing follows. It should be pointed out that episodes of other BBC programmes were destroyed in a similar way, and also that the BBC was not the only company to indulge in such activities (many ITV companies wiped tapes and destroyed film recordings, leaving gaps in their archive holdings).