The missing episodes of Doctor What were destroyed (aka. taped over) by the BBC during the 1960s - 70s. But why? The official line is "for economic and space-saving reasons", but in reality it was all part of a sinister masterplan to erase Doctor Who orchestrated by a global terrorist network.
There are 26 incomplete Doctor Who stories, with 97 episodes from the first six years of the programme missing. Shit, I'm never going to get to see The Macra Terror, am I? ;_; To give some sense of scale, Star Trek: TNG only ran 178 episodes, so you can see why this really sucks donkey balls and why no one has forgiven the Beeb.
Thank god for the Animated Second Doctor, huh?
The missing episodes are believed to no longer exist because there are no known film or videotape copies. The BBC erased them because they where too cheap to buy new videotapes and the film archiving department, which had film copies of all the episodes, thought the videotape department had them all, and thus threw most of theirs in the skip. There was also no use in saving them for repeats, because the actors' union thought they were the devil and would lead to the end of new TV (the union has never apologised for their role in all this, by the way). There were also other, secretive time-and-space-saving reasons, but we'd be erased if you told you about them. One real son of a bitch at the BBC even kept erasing episodes after his department was told to knock it the fuck off. Although his name has never been released, we believe it to be Ian Levine, a villain so base as to do even more damage to Doctor Who when he was later jokingly hired as “continuity adviser.” He took the job very damn seriously thank you very much, which led JNT to mistakenly begin to listen to what he had to say.
Efforts to locate missing episodes continue. They usually show up in unlikely or remote places. If you find a shitty, defunct TV station operating out of a broom closet in a corner of the globe people have forgotten existed, there's bound to be a few missing episodes of Doctor Who in there.
A Bright Spot: Audio Recordings Exist
Many more episodes were originally thought lost until copies were recovered from various sources, mostly overseas broadcasters, people's basements and Ian Levine's secret storage units raided by BBC Commandos, so at least there's that. And fortunately, every single goddamn missing episode of Doctor Who survive in audio form, recorded off-air by fans at home, HOORAY! We definitely owe our grandparents a debt of gratitude that we can never repay for having made these tapes, but sadly they’re really not half as good as having the real thing. The surviving soundtracks of missing episodes have been released on cassette and CD.
A Not-So-Bright Spot: Reconstructions
Fan groups and the BBC have also released reconstructions of these missing episodes, but these are usually visually boring, dull affairs using tiny snippets of surviving footage and photographs from the episodes paired to the recorded audio, usually to poor effect: photo of the Doctor looking bored while he's shouting on the audio, cut to a photo of the guest-star in his monster costume, cut back to a close-up of the same photo of the Doctor, cut to a publicity still of Jamie, etc. The lousy Flash-animation reconstructions are little better, being stiffly-pantomimed cartoons that blithely ignore the stagy tedium of 1960s British television in favor of uncharacteristic camera motion and zooms that would have brought on a heart attack for anyone viewing such wanton excitement on their telly during that bygone age.
Mainly however, reconstructions lose the charm of the acting; let’s face it, when the script is poor, the sets tawdry and the costumes embarrassing, what’s left to keep it interesting? What’s the one thing this programme literally can’t afford to do with out?
Both options kind of suck, but it could be worse I guess, right?
Nowadays, almost all of Loose Cannon's recons are on their DailyMotion channel (and most of those are also on YouTube), so you can just see for yourself.
In some cases, BBC/2e made a cut-down recon, if you're not patient enough for 25 minutes of staring at telesnaps and repeated publicity photos while people talk, but can handle 10 minutes that gets most of the gist of the story across.
Also, some of the soundtrack CDs have added narration for bits where nobody's talking because of exciting action or slow pans over the scenery or sets (and let's face it, this is 60s TV, so there's more of the latter). There are fans who splice these CDs over the Loose Cannon recons to get the best of both worlds, but I don't know where to find them online.
An Exactly-As-Bright-As-You-Can-Imagine-It Spot: Targets
For most of the prehistoric era, it didn't really matter which episodes were missing. By the mid 80s, you could go to conventions or local meetups and find people to trade with so you could make a fifth-generation analogue copy off them, probably a PAL-NTSC-PAL conversions (because the BBC rarely did repeats but some PBS stations in America did), and… look, you don't know what any of that shit means, but trust me, it's a lot worse quality than DailyMotion. And before that, there was really no way to watch videos at home.
So, what did people do? Well, most people didn't give a shit, but kids under 10 and nerds read the Target novelisations. When Peter Davison or Peter Capaldi or some other guy named Peter says he's a huge fan of some early story, what he really means is he's a huge fan of the novelisation of that story. Sure, he may also have caught some of the episodes, but there's no way he actually remembers that; the Target, on the other hand, he read 116 times until the cover fell off, and even when he's so senile he can't remember his own name, he will remember the phrase "wheezing, groaning sound" from that book.
Surprisingly, there's no law saying that you can't still read the novelisations. And you can find them dirt cheap. Half of them are on Amazon for £0.01. I just got a box full of them for 15p at a yard sale, and, even though it turned out I already had most of the books, I didn't already have the early-80s English nudie mag that I found hidden under the books where one of the girls looks kind of like Tegan. Seriously, this kid couldn't find a girl who looked kind of like Nyssa instead? Or maybe he did, but he kept that one, and left the Tegan one forgotten in a box of old books at his mum's place, I can understand that.
So, yeah, Target novelisations. If you can't handle recons, or if you really want the true Classic Who experience, or if you like digging through a decades-old box of crap, there's no better way to experience the missing stories.
Other alternatives that don't give you the full story, but may be worth it anyway (maybe as a supplement to the Targets):
- Photonovels: On the BBC's old Classic Doctor Who website, there are 17 "photonovels" that give you a stripped-down version of the story with captions attached to the telesnaps.
- Images: Tragical History Tour and a bunch of other sites (DWIA, Mind Robber, the BBC site, …) have collections of telesnaps, publicity photos, etc. related to each episode that can give you an idea of what each episode looked like without having to watch a recon.
- Linking Narration: For some partially missing stories, the BBC created narration to fill in the gaps. For example, the VHS for The Crusade has an older Sir Ian, in character, telling what happened in the missing bits. It doesn't really give you a feel for the story, but William Russell is GOAT, so honestly at least this one is worth seeing even if you watch the recon or they later recover the episodes.
The real tragedy is that the missing episodes were the only canon episodes of Doctor Who.