In 2013 — yes, 10 whole years ago now — Doctor Who fans rejoiced as the news broke that The Enemy of the World and most of The Web of Fear, two serials missing from the archives for decades, had been found. It was subsequently a joy to watch them on iTunes and then on DVD.
Before this, only Episode 1 of the six-part serial existed, plus various clips from censorship cuts for broadcasting in New Zealand. But in 2011, Television International Enterprises Archive founder, Philip Morris discovered 10 reels in a relay station in Nigeria, including every missing episode of the two Second Doctor serials.
Yes, Morris apparently found The Web of Fear Episode 3.
However, you won’t find that on a DVD or Blu-ray, because it was subsequently announced that Morris had found nine episodes, not 10. The fact that Episode 3 was missing was, of course, a massive shame, but at least we had nine whole episodes returned.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Morris dropped the bombshell that he had actually found The Web of Fear in its entirety. Negotiations for the return of the canisters took an estimated six months, and by the time they finally came back to the UK, Episode 3 was gone once more.
You’ll have no doubt noticed that some two years lapsed between the find and their being released on physical media; part of this delay was, supposedly, while Morris and co. attempted to locate the lost episode again. Rumours had begun a long time before this that a considerable number of stories had been found – some estimates were conservative, though most speculated that the vast majority of missing stories had been returned; this was the so-called “omnirumour” many will recall.
Either way, fans were pretty sure that something had been found.
Indeed, Morris reportedly believes that word got out about the discovery and a private collector stumped up serious cash to personnel at the Nigerian department. Essentially, Episode 3 was stolen.
(This would explain why the BBC released The Web of Fear on DVD using telesnaps and audio narration, instead of animating the sole episode, as the corporation has done otherwise, on titles such as The Invasion, The Tenth Planet, and The Power of the Daleks. Why spend loads of money and time on something that will eventually be rendered moot? And yet, in 2021, the BBC did animate it… though this animation wasn’t received particularly well. We’re sure most of the fans who bought that would fork out extra cash on a subsequent release if Episode 3 were located.)
Another rumour has it that Morris and/or the BBC were offered Episode 3, but at a grossly inflated price which the party concerned simply couldn’t justify.
Why was Episode 3 taken? You could understand if a whole serial went missing, but one lone instalment might initially seem strange – until you consider that one can easily go missing while being transported, and that Episode 3 introduced Colonel (later Brigadier) Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, played by Nicholas Courtney, a much-loved character who would form an important place in the history of the show.
If this were the case, whoever stole it would have had a solid understanding of its importance: if this were someone at the relay station (which has subsequently burnt down, albeit likely after the episode’s recovery), we’d have to question why the films had stayed there, undiscovered until 2011; it would make sense, however, for a collector – a fellow Doctor Who fan! – to have heard about Morris’ endeavours and then bought it in a private deal.
Interestingly, there was further talk that a third serial had been found, but also went missing before being transported back to the UK. And we’re quite inclined to think this is the case because the tale is one most associated with any rumours: Marco Polo, the First Doctor adventure that’s the fourth ever TV story and so the earliest one lost from the archives.
Nonetheless, Morris hasn’t confirmed this; neither has the BBC. It’s purely speculation, though “educated guess” might be more accurate.
Still, we feel pretty safe in saying: The Web of Fear Episode 3 is still out there somewhere.
It’s worth noting, too, that Morris reportedly has photographic proof that there were 10 tapes in Nigeria.
If you have any knowledge of what’s happened to the episode, or indeed any tapes currently missing from archives, please get in touch with the BBC or serial hunters such as the Television International Enterprises Archive. Philip has, in the past, stated that the episodes were in the process of degradation, so any more delays in retrieving the reels could mean Episode 3 is lost, forever.
Currently, 97 episodes of Doctor Who are missing, believed wiped, but we’ll always keep our fingers crossed.