More lost than the ill-fated passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, many classic episodes of cult TV are sadly absent from the archives – missing, presumed wiped. The back catalogues of inspired programmes that had millions of spellbound viewers carbon-fused to their sofas every week back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s are now in a sorry state.
Like the admirable traits of Red Dwarf‘s Arnold Judas Rimmer, episodes are painfully noticeable by their absence, thanks to a general policy among broadcasters of junking shows to re-use valuable videotape and save space on their shelves. To us, with our shiny Blu-ray collections, it might seem like an unforgivable act of cultural vandalism but these were the days before DVDs and companies didn’t see any further commercial value in hanging on to the majority of their productions – especially those in, heaven forbid, black and white. They may be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten and so I present to you my list of the top 10 missing cult shows.
He might have saved Earth more times than Superman on speed, but even the Doctor couldn’t prevent the BBC from wiping a huge proportion of his early adventures out of existence. In total, 108 episodes are currently missing from the archives with second Doctor Patrick Troughton (1966-1969) faring the worst with only 56 episodes, and six complete stories, left out of 119 episodes aired.
To Who fans the saddest loss is probably The Tenth Planet part four (1966). The story, of which the first three episodes thankfully still exist, introduced the Cybermen and was first Doctor William Hartnell’s swansong. Other high profile casualties include all but one episode (two) of what was supposed to be the final end of the Daleks – Evil Of The Daleks (1967); the genuinely sinister Fury From The Deep (1967), where a thrashing weed creature tries to drag the Tardis crew to the depths of the ocean, and the Hammer-esque Web Of Fear, which had tons of atmosphere, introduced series icon Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and presaged the 70s action-packed Pertwee era with its contemporary Earth-bound tale of robot yetis invading London.
Created by the partnership that thought up the Cybermen, Gerry Davis and Dr Kit Pedler, this early 70s BBC show was more science fact than fiction, basing its hard-edged stories of threats to humanity on genuine scientific concepts and advances. Out of its three seasons only series two is complete and it’s a great shame because many of the stories had eco-peril themes, such as rising seas, pandemics, lethal chemicals entering the food chain and, err, killer dolphins, which would surely resonate with people today. The biggest disaster episode-wise is probably the loss of series one finale Survival Code (1970), just for the shock value of killing off main character Toby Wren (Robert Powell) in a bomb blast.
A For Andromeda
If this seven-part serial, broadcast in 1961 and famous for being the big break for actress Julie Christie, had survived complete to this day, it might have seemed a little slow and wordy for our taste. Nevertheless A For Andromeda is first-rate sci-fi. That’s only to be expected, as the story – about a mysterious alien radio signal beamed across the stars with the sole purpose of subjugating humanity – was devised by noted astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle. Hoyle made a lasting contribution to scientific understanding, but thanks to the BBC, his contribution to science fiction television, which drew in an average audience of over nine million viewers, is all but destroyed. One episode, The Face Of The Tiger, was returned to the archives in 2005, and a few clips from other episodes remain, but it represents nothing more than a muted echo of the creative legacy of the man who coined the term ‘Big Bang’.
Out Of The Unknown
Between 1965 and 1971 the BBC made the licence fee seem totally worthwhile for providing this intelligent sci-fi anthology series. The works of such heavyweight writers as Asimov, J.G. Ballard, John Wyndham and Frederik Pohl were realised for the small screen and were as notable for their design and direction as the stories. Of the 49 episodes made, 20 still exist complete. The roll-call of the fallen include adaptations of Asimov’s Liar!, John Wyndham’s Random Quest and Quatermass writer Nigel Kneale’s unnerving ghost story The Chopper (1971). To Who-fans 1969’s Get Off My Cloud is a particularly sad loss as it featured a dream sequence containing Daleks.
Out Of This World
Like Out Of The Unknown after it, this 1962 ABC Television series adapted stories by well-known sci-fi writers including Philip K. Dick and those yet to make their mark, such as Dalek-creator Terry Nation, who made his genre début writing for this series. All 13 episodes were introduced by horror movie legend Boris Karloff but the real horror is the fact that only one episode – Asimov’s Little Lost Robot – escaped junking.
The Quatermass Experiment
This is the granddaddy of TV adult-orientated sci-fi: the ground-breaking programme that proved there was more to television than highbrow plays and clipped accents. That’s not to say The Quatermass Experiment wasn’t cerebral. It was, but terrifying as well. People had never seen the like on the small screen and sofa sales rocketed just for people to get behind while watching the next episode.
Writer Nigel Kneale went on to pen three TV sequels, which all survive in their entirety, but the original wasn’t so lucky. The tragic tale of a national hero’s transformation into world-threatening alien blob went out live in 1953 and only the first two episodes of six were recorded for posterity, using the then-experimental process of tele-recording. Tele-recording involved pointing a camera at a flat screen TV and recording the output, which explains why, during episode two, you can see a fly crawling around for a few minutes – it had actually been on the TV screen at the time. Disappointed with the poor results, executives at the BBC decided to pull the plug on their own experiment and unwittingly deprive us of a true classic of television sci-fi horror.
Hancock’s Half Hour – The Horror Serial
The combination of comedian Tony Hancock and writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson created arguably the funniest sit-com of all time. Fifty years has done nothing to diminish the sparkling laugh-out-loud quality of the scripts but like many other shows, time ran out for a number of Hancock’s Half Hour episodes, both on radio and TV. For geeks The Horror Serial is a particular loss to be mourned as it was a brilliant parody of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass And The Pit. Broadcast four days after the climax of the superlative BBC serial in 1959, the episode saw a jittery Hancock convinced he’d unearthed a Martian spaceship in his back yard. Amazingly, an audio recording of the soundtrack was recently unearthed and returned to the Beeb, so at least we can hear, if not see, genius at work.
The UK’s answer to America’s The Invaders, without the budget, pace or backing from the BBC. Ten episodes of this series about a galactic peace-keeper’s attempts to stop a full-blown invasion of Earth were made, nine were screened and four were saved from wiping. What’s really annoying is that the unscreened episode – Out Of Mind – was one of the six jinked so this is a double missing episode: It doesn’t even reside in people’s memories.
Ace Of Wands
This spaced-out early 70s show might have been aimed at the kids but with its psychedelic visuals and bizarre story-lines adults ended up spell-bound as well. All the other shows in this list suffered obliteration in part because they were made in black and white. When colour came along, broadcasters reckoned old two-tone telly would end up as attractive to viewers as a prime-time drama adaptation of the telephone directory. Thames Television, however, can’t make the same excuse for wiping Ace Of Wands because it was broadcast in glorious colour from its début in 1970. Super-sleuth magician Tarot (Michael Mackenzie) battled outlandish villains over three series but only the last, and weakest, series still resides in the archives. Everything else has disappeared – and no waving of a magic wand is going to bring it back.
Probably the craziest, broodiest daytime soap to ever hit the screens, the goth equivalent to EastEnders enjoys a huge cult following both in its native America and in this country as well. Before the mid-70s, most American soaps were erased soon after broadcast but, amazingly, out of the 1,225 Dark Shadows episodes aired between 1966 and 1971, only one – episode 1,219 – is missing. That’s not to say the rest got away scot-free as many of the original colour videotapes were junked and all we’re left with are inferior black and white kinescopes (the American term for ‘tele-recordings’). An audio copy of 1,219 exists and has been used along with photos from the episode to make a re-construction, but the episode still gets in the missing shows list simply because there’s nothing more frustrating than being one item short of the full set.