How the BBC Almost Erased the Entire ‘Doctor Who’ Episode Library as a Matter of Practice

Simon Whistler, host of the informative video series “Today I Found Out” recounts the very complicate archive history of Doctor Who and the BBC, particularly “that time the BBC deleted almost every episode of Doctor Who“. When Doctor Who premiered in 1963, it was the standard practice at the BBC purge programs that had already been aired.This practice continued through 1978, until music producer Ian Levine wanted to purchase the entire library of aired Doctor Who episodes, but found that much of the series had been erased. Levine convinced the BBC to stop purging episodes of Doctor Who and shortly thereafter syndication and home video started to come into their own. To this very day, 97 episodes of Doctor Who are still missing.

So why did the BBC choose to get rid of so many episodes of one of their most beloved and popular shows? Because, up until 1978, that was pretty much what they did with the majority of their broadcasts. The BBC, and most other networks, simply saw no value in keeping copies of much of anything. …Amongst the many casualties of these purges that continued into the late 1970s were most of the Doctor Who episodes produced between 1963 and the early 1970s. This fact was only revealed in 1978 thanks to famed music producer Ian Levine. …Needless to say, he was not happy with the situation and was soon able to convince BBC execs to cease the practice of junking episodes of Doctor Who. They were also particularly intrigued by the fact that this one individual was willing to pay so much money for copies of an old show, and had been contemplating the potential of perhaps selling copies of the show to other people via the newly emerging market of home videocassette recordings. At the same time, the BBC Film Library decided to change their rules and allow for the storage of tapes of shows, not just film.