Are there missing Doctor Who episodes in New Zealand? In 1990 I had an opportunity to investigate this very possibility at the most likely source, that is, Television New Zealand ("TVNZ"), successor to the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. This is something I had wanted to do ever since discovering in 1985 that TVNZ still held a lot of 16mm films of television programmes that had screened in the 1960s and 1970s. However, as I was to discover, a direct approach, such as a letter or a telephone call or even a visit to TVNZ generally elicited the response that they held no such material.
The possibility that there may be missing episodes of Doctor Who in New Zealand was first raised to me way back in 1980 by John McElroy, then in charge of the Overseas Membership Department of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society: "...from various sources it would appear certain TV stations in your country may still have some of these rare black and white episodes...". He went on to suggest that I write to TVNZ on behalf of the Society to see if they had any information (I believe I was the only New Zealand member at the time - this seemed appropriate as I thought I was the only fan!). I dutifully sent off a letter, but as I didn't receive a reply, I worried that, being still at school, and not fully aware of the intricacies of formal letter writing, that they may not have taken my request seriously. Added to this was the concern that checking up on all screened Doctor Who episodes could be quite a major job, and not a high priority use of TVNZ's resources. I therefore sent off another letter, reminding them of the contents of the first. Eventually I received a reply saying that all episodes had been either "sent out of the country, erased or destroyed." I communicated this back to the DWAS (and I never did find out what John's mysterious "sources" were in his original letter). Although not totally convinced by the tone of the TVNZ letter, there was little else that could be done.
It was several years later, when writing an article for Salient, Victoria University's student newspaper, on TVNZ's production library of its own programmes that I first saw this stock of films for myself. While looking through the main vault storage area I noticed (it was difficult to miss) a large amount of material that, I was told, didn't belong to TVNZ. When I asked about it I was informed that these were overseas programmes, mainly black and white, from the 1960s and early 1970s that for one reason or another were still being stored on behalf of overseas distributors. However, my guide was not particularly interested in these programmes since they were the responsibility of another department at TVNZ (the Production Library was only concerned with TVNZ's own productions). His intriguing comment that "that is where all your Hancock's and your Doctor Who's are? for all I know", was therefore of less interest than had it come from someone who actually knew what was there - although my heart did miss a beat when he said it!
I was aware that after the discovery of the previously missing The Time Meddler and The War Machines in Africa in 1984 that the BBC had sent telexes to all countries that had screened Doctor Who, including New Zealand, asking them to check whether they still held any episodes. TVNZ did have a list of the missing episodes, and staff had looked for Doctor Who (and other missing series too, I think). But looking at the huge number of film cans in storage, it seemed possible to me that something could have been missed.
It more than two years later before I was finally allowed, after many requests, to sift through these old films and see for myself what was there. There were black and white episodes of UFO, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lassie, Get Smart, Peyton Place, Please Sir! to name but a few. There were also several episodes of a spy thriller called Tightrope, by Victor Pemberton (who wrote Fury from the Deep and The Pescatons). Overall, I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of the programmes were American. As I recall, the only BBC programme of which multiple episodes were held was Play School. I suspect this is because TVNZ staff had already removed the other BBC programmes that they had been able to find, when they did the original search. Many of the episodes stored were black and white versions of stories that I knew existed in colour, perhaps explaining why they had not been sent on to another country or returned to the distributor. Incidentally, the practice of screening used tapes received from another country (e.g. New Zealand often received films from Australia), instead of direct from the distributor, was very common practice during the 1960s/70s, but I understand is pretty rare these days.
I did not really expect to find any missing Doctor Who, but of course I hoped I might. I was therefore surprised and excited when I pulled out a film can labeled "Dr Who, Assassin at Pekin" [sic] (Marco Polo Episode 7) and then shortly after another one, labeled "The Moonbase - Episode 3". Unfortunately, the contents of the cans did not match the labels, which was a huge disappointment, as you can imagine! Ironically, the film in the "Assassin" can was a New Zealand film wanted by TVNZ for their archive. According to the people I spoke with, the episodes were almost certainly destroyed (presumably on the instruction of the BBC) with the film cans simply being reused. A much smaller possibility was that they were miss-filed in the wrong cans. The programme traffic records that I was allowed to access some two years later (in 1991) - again after many patient requests - indicated that at least some episodes of Marco Polo were sent to Iran (apparently episodes 1- 2, although it is difficult to imagine why a television station would not purchase a complete story from a single source). The handwritten documentation for The Moonbase isn't totally clear, but suggests the story went into storage following its screening.
To the present (2002): TVNZ no longer holds any of these films. The films were gifted to the New Zealand Film Archive ("NFA") not long after I went through them, since TVNZ needed the space for their own productions. The NFA kept a small proportion of the films for their own use and, I believe, disposed of the rest. Needless to say, there is no Doctor Who amongst the titles they've kept - I've checked. Nor do they hold any television related censor footage - I've also checked...
I guess finding the cans was a case of being
"so close and yet so far..."
Label from The Moonbase film can lid. Reads:
BBC tv enterprises
TITLE Dr. Who Series HH
TOTAL DURATION 26'-15" FOOTAGE 954
REEL 1 of 1
2nd Label from The Moonbase film can lid. Reads:
TITLE DR WHO
SUB TITLE THE MOONBASE
CAT. No. B-271-112
REEL No. 1 of 1
NEW ZEALAND BROADCASTING CORPORATION
Television Film Cue Sheet (found taped inside Assassin at Peking film can). Reads:
AK -8 DEC 1966
CHTV3 1-MAY 1967
TITLE: DR. WHO EPS NO 20
SUBTITLE: ASSASSIN AT PEKIN NO OF REELS: 1
DURATION: 24'-34" FOOTAGE 921 CEN CERT G CAT NO B.271
REEL 1 STARTS 8c ENDS 5c
Assassin at Peking Film can. Label reads:
TITLE DR WHO
SUB TITLE ASSASSIN AT PEKING
CAT. No. B-271-20
REEL No. 1 of 1