Sounds like a town from an old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, doesn’t it? But this country, one of the world’s top ten producers of diamonds and also producing gold (Cybermen beware!), may have also had an even greater prize for the fanatic Doctor Who fan – that is, until sometime in the 1990s: every missing William Hartnell adventure besides the remaining gaps in the 12-part serial, The Daleks’ Master Plan; its forerunner, Mission to the Unknown; and The Tenth Planet Part Four, featuring that iconic first regeneration.
Unfortunately, the country went through a civil war between 1991 and 2002, due to corruption in both the country’s government and the lucrative diamond trade. This civil war reportedly destroyed the television archives held there and thus lost is any probable chance of ever recovering whatever Hartnell prints the country may have once held. The facility was unable to be fully explored due to this conflict by episode hunters during this period, and it is rumoured to have met its doom in 1999.
Even sadder to hear is that the Sierra Leone archives may have been the final stop for the prints through Africa, as many were passed from station to station and country to country, a common practice by the BBC in those days and one of the great nuisances for missing episode hunters.
That is not to say that more missing gems from both the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras are not possible. In 2011, the news that a former television engineer bought a couple of Doctor Who episodes at a school fete sometime in the 1980s – that just happened to be missing instalments of Hartnell’s Galaxy Four and Troughton’s The Underwater Menace (both now released on DVD, the former only on the Special Edition of The Aztecs, however) – before realising they were not held by the BBC shows just how much might still be out there if we have faith. Similarly, we have Philip Morris to thank for travelling to Nigeria and recovering most episodes of The Web of Fear, and The Enemy of the World as a whole.
Home-grown finds might seem easier to come by as the show was produced in the UK, but of course several amazing rediscoveries have happened due to the BBC selling a good number of the early Doctor Who episodes to places all over the world. Finds such as the entirety of Tomb of the Cybermen in Hong Kong in 1991. Smaller recoveries are also possible such as the censor clips from New Zealand featured in the DVD box set Lost in Time, which were just edits made as scenes were thought to be too violent for New Zealand television in the 1960s, but which survived in the hands of a private collector.
So although the situation in Sierra Leone may seem quite dire as far as missing Who is concerned, be reassured that indeed if something is thought gone forever, one day it may come back. And as ever, more rumours of other leads are always making the rounds daily. Even if we might finally put the so-called “omnirumour” to bed. Or can we…?
(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in 2011.)