The return to the BBC archive of The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World in 2013 was heralded with a mixture of delight, shock and amazement. The joy came from not only Doctor Who fans but all fans of classic television and 1960’s culture the world over. It was a fantastic find, a find that sent shockwaves through fans of the classic series, not least because of the likelihood of two near-complete stories ever returning to the achieve had been very slim.
It was an incredibly optimistic Doctor Who fan who believed that an entire story would ever be found again before the onset of the so-called omnirumour in late 2012. That being the the “super rumour” that the near entirety of the missing Doctor Who archive had been found whose origins shall remain respectfully nameless. Fans hoped that an occasional episode may materialise, the odd private collector may return what had been “acquired” or another church may give up its hidden secrets, but not entire stories… that could never happen, could it?
But it did.
In 1992, Tomb of the Cybermen was returned to the archives from Hong Kong, as stunning a find then as Enemy and Web was in 2013. While its backstory may not be littered with bombs, shootings and wild adventure the world over, it is undoubtedly an interesting, unlikely and even controversial tale. Until the recovery of The Enemy of the World, it remained both the last story recovered in its entirety and the last episodes recovered from a television archive.
Held in the same regard as Web, Tomb of the Cybermen was considered one of the quintessential lost classics of the series and heralded as one of the all-time great serials of the series by fans during the 1970s and 1980s. Tomb was seen as the epitome of the Troughton era, the classic base under siege by monsters that gave children nightmares at night. It was a black and white B-movie classic with stunning visuals and long-lasting images of icy Cybermen emerging from their tombs, the mummies stalking the Telosian pyramids. Such was the regard for Tomb amongst fans of the series, they voted it first to be released on VHS in 1983, Revenge of the Cybermen taking its place as the historic first Doctor Who home video.
Broadcast between September 2 and September 23, 1967, and junked on September 22, 1969, Tomb of the Cybermen was never repeated and was only ever sold to four countries abroad. This made it one of the least likely stories to have survived.
Australian censors viewed the films in January of 1968, reclassifying them due to the violence in the serial as did New Zealand censors in October of 1969.
It is likely that of the four countries airing the episode, there were only three prints in existence, one each for New Zealand and Australia, both of whom disposed of them by 1975 and one that was bicycled between Singapore and Hong Kong. With Hong Kong being the last hope for the serial abroad, all looked lost when in 1978 ATV in Hong Kong seemingly returned The Web of Fear Episode 1, allegedly telling the BBC that nothing else of note existed in its archive. It would be revealed that this episode however never hailed from Hong Kong as Philip Morris found those prints in Nigeria many years later.
Despite the unlikelihood of its recovery, Tomb was often at the centre of a great many rumours during the 1980s, mainly from notorious hoaxer Darren Gregory who once claimed to have the serial on Betamax! One such tale in Doctor Who Magazine #178 would claim tantalisingly that Tomb had been seen “in the far east” as late as 1978, a rumour that would prove well-grounded. Though, whether the episodes were actually broadcast or it was lucky guesswork remains unknown.
Rumours also persisted after Tomb’s 1992 recovery that a copy had long existed in the British isles. These rumours started after Richard Landen (who’s off-air recordings have been invaluable) told archivists and researchers Paul Lee and Steve Roberts that the serial had existed in the hands of a well-known collector before its recovery during a drinking session at the legendary Fitzroy Tavern. The rumours ended up in the Metamorph fanzine soon after. According to Lee, Doctor Who Restoration Team member Paul Vanezis subsequently told him the conversation was merely a “wind up” by those present. The rumour developed into the urban legend that a poor second copy had been handed back after Tomb of the Cybermen’s discovery had been announced, the owner having originally paid £40,000 for the episodes.
In December of 1991, Asia TV in Hong Kong contacted the BBC to enquire as to what should be done about BBC material still residing in their archives, material they had seemingly been “missed” in 1978 and that was contractually unrepeatable. BBC Archive Selector Adam Lee (not to be mistaken with Paul) was faxed a list of the material Hong Kong had recovered. Still, as yet there was no confirmation that the four episodes of Doctor Who they held were indeed missing from the archives.
“The return of the material was arranged by Adam Lee at the Film and Videotape Library in Brentford. He knew, after being contacted by Asia TV that material was available and he had been sent a list which included four episodes of Doctor Who. There was also stuff like Softly Softly, etc. There was no indication of actual serial codes or titles of the films, just series titles.”
Paul Vanezis, The Millenium Effect
In January of 1992, Hong Kong duly returned the four mystery episodes to the BBC Film and Videotape library via sea, and David Stead of BBC worldwide’s Production Operations Department was the one to open the package on the 8th of the month. It was David Stead who had recovered The Wheel in Space Episode 3 in 1984 and ironically had just provided the BBC archive with a copy of Tomb (by way of Mike Smallman) on audio for imminent release on cassette tape. Having opened the package, Stead discovered that the film leaders read “Doctor Who MM”.
“I received a call from an old friend Bruce Campbell, who mentioned that there were some episodes on their way back from Hong Kong, but it wasn’t known exactly what. I then immediately popped down to despatch, and there were several packages wrapped in brown packing (some of which had been already opened! By whom and why it has never been ascertained. I checked those, then the other unopened ones and there were 4 plastic cans with Doctor Who story MM on them. To save them mysteriously disappearing, I grabbed them and locked them away after having the shock of my life discovering from the leaders that it was Tomb.”
David Stead, Missing Episodes Forum
It soon dawned on Stead that the films were the missing Tomb of the Cybermen, quickly informing Paul Vanezis, David Jackson (Head of BBC Video) and his wife, Alys. Stead is reported to have told Jackson of the “killing” they’d make by releasing the episodes out onto video, watching the episodes that same day himself.
In familiar echoes of 2013, rumours spread like wildfire through the BBC and into fandom that the episodes had been recovered and the Beeb quickly formulated plans to rush the story out on VHS in May of 1992. They went as far as formulating disinformation that the episodes were merely An Unearthly Child in Arabic. The cover story was to quell the information spreading around the BBC more than anything else, and neither Paul Vanezis nor David Stead was aware of it, both suggesting that Adam Lee may have been its originator.
Tensions were rising however within the BBC as the prints ended up in BBC Enterprises hands as opposed to the Film Library, a fact that infuriated Lee.
“I know that Adam Lee was not happy that the films had been sent to BBC Enterprises, but bear in mind that Asia TV would have been contractually obliged to return them to BBC Enterprises because the films were owned by Enterprises — that’s why they didn’t go directly to Windmill Road. Nor was Adam Lee happy that David Jackson had refused to send the Doctor Who films back to the Film Library immediately, but Enterprises were well within their rights.”
Paul Vanezis, The Millenium Effect
The films were all in “pristine condition” and complete and unedited (despite persistent fan rumours) as well as being in English, which in the days before VidFire negated much of the restoration work we would see in subsequent years. The films were cleaned via ultrasonic cleaner at The Film Clinic before being transferred to Beta SP at a facilities company by the name of JCA.
In March 1992 Doctor Who Magazine announced that Tomb of the Cybermen had been recovered in its entirety in Hong Kong. Adam Lee put an end to weeks of speculation by announcing the find and the release of the serial that coming May.
“I’m over the moon. Of all the stories we ever hoped to find, Tomb of the Cybermen was always top of the list. We all hoped, one day, to find perhaps one episode, but to get all four back at once — it’s just a dream come true.”
Doctor Who “super fan” Ian Levine, Dream Watch Bulletin (DWB)
Co-founder of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Jeremy Bentham meanwhile lauded the BBC’s quick action on Tomb.
“For me, the decision by BBC Enterprises to get Tomb of the Cybermen out onto video is as important as the find itself. This is what the whole recovery process should be about; locating episodes and returning them to the BBC so that whole stories can be ultimately assembled and released on commercial VT and new (and “old”…) generations of fans and viewers. By such deeds, everyone benefits”.
DWB also reported that there was some internal conflict over making the announcement. BBC Enterprises wanted to hold off until the repeat screening of The Mind Robber on BBC2 that year was underway, thus ensuring the Late Show team didn’t make any attempt to put a case for screening Tomb instead of Mind Robber. A TV screening would have cost them thousands of pounds, hence one of the reasons for the An Unearthly Child cover story.
“The films were returned to BBC Enterprises and were on David Jackson’s desk in mid-December. There was definitely a cover-up because the person who opened the crates and told David Jackson of the importance of the find was David Stead — he’s subsequently told me directly that they concocted the story that it was another copy of ‘Keys of Marinus’ and kept the real truth very quiet until it was too late to stop ‘The Mind Robber’ going out…. I was one of the people that was being targeted in the cover-up, as I was involved in the repeat season going out in January and would have pressed very hard for ‘Tomb’ if I had known about it!”
Steve Roberts, 1999
Steve later acknowledged this date and the cover being Keys of Marinus was incorrect.
Any hope of keeping a lid on the find, however, seems to have ended when former producer John Nathan-Turner leaked the news to then Doctor Who Magazine editor John Freeman.
Before its impending release on video, DWAS and BAFTA organised the first public screening of the serial at BAFTA’s Piccadilly premises in front of a packed auditorium. The event entitled “Tombwatch” showcased the recovered episodes alongside other 1960’s “orphan episodes” from The Daleks’ Master Plan Episodes 5 and 10, The Evil of the Daleks Episode 2, The Ice Warriors Episode 1 and The Web of Fear Episode 1, Steve Roberts providing the S-VHS copies. Special guests at the event included those involved with the recovery alongside actors Frazer Hines (Jamie), Michael Kilgarriff (The Cyber-Cotroller) and Victor Pemberton, script editor for Tomb and author of the still missing Fury From the Deep. Highlights from the Tombwatch event can be seen on the original DVD release of Tomb of the Cybermen, unfortunately having to be omitted from the Special Edition due to rights issues.
Tomb received its official press launch at a small preview theatre off Oxford Street on May 1 in an event hosted by John Nathan-Turner. The guest of honour was the late great Morris Barry, director of the serial and particular interviewee on the VHS release. Backed by a high profile marketing campaign, Tomb of the Cybermen was released on schedule in May on VHS with a cover by Alister Pearson. It sold over 25,000 units in its first week on sale and topped the UK video charts, the only Doctor Who VHS to ever have done so.
Paul Lee reports that the recovery of Tomb in 1992 initially seemingly had a positive effect on the endeavours to bring other Doctor Who material back to the BBC. The success of the serial on VHS thrust the issue of missing television firmly into the spotlight. It led to the BBC to once again contacting television stations around the globe to find other missing material. That said, however, according to researcher Richard Molesworth the BBC never officially contacted ATV again after the return of Tomb to find out if they might have any more material. The archive was never searched following the recovery and it’s likely that the BBC’s efforts amounted to a few friendly phone calls.
The return was also said to have ruffled the feathers of private collectors, whom Mr Lee believes held missing episodes in private collections. The return of material would of course severely undermine the value of anything contained in private hands. Other significant figures within missing episode recovery such as Molesworth have debunked the missing episode hoarding theories as a myth, however. Following the publication of his infamous Missing Without Trace article in 1993 which told the tale of his efforts to recover material, including what some have called factual inaccuracies, Paul Lee was ostracised in many sections of fandom.
Sadly, BBC junkings were still continuing as late as 1993 when Adam Lee sanctioned the wiping of several children’s TV shows in the belief they were of no further use. Those sent for junking included Play School, Jackanory, Rentaghost, Swap Shop and Vision On. He would go on to be instrumental in the formation of the Doctor Who Restoration Team made famous in Doctor Who circles by the likes of Paul Vanezis, Steve Roberts, Mark Ayres and Peter Crocker.
Meanwhile, the rumour-mill went into overdrive as it appeared that more Doctor Who may be on the way, rumours of Hong Kong and other Asian stations returning The Web of Fear and episodes from Fury From the Deep and The Wheel in Space all coming to nothing. Asia Television moved out of its long time home in July of 2007, and the possibility of further recoveries from Hong Kong now seem to be slim.
David Stead was last heard from 2013 when he stated his belief that there had been more than one find of missing Doctor Who and restoration work was ongoing.
The recovery of Tomb of the Cybermen was a shock like no other at the time. The possibility that an entire story, much less such a hailed classic such as Tomb, could be returned was seen as remote at best. Its recovery and release thanks to the efforts of Adam Lee, David Stead, David Jackson and Paul Vanezis shows that miracles do indeed happen. Yet more than that, it shows that information that has been seen as correct for a long time can be swept away in an instant. It shows that rumours are not always wrong, yet often are. That those in positions of authority are willing to cover-up an issue to protect their commercial interests. It shows that the bottom line will still be making a killing.… and of course, it also shows you should be careful what you say down the pub!
The miraculous recovery of Tomb of the Cybermen shows one thing over all else, however — that you should always expect the unexpected.