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Doctor Who Is Missing

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"MISSING: White male, over 900 years old, goes by the name of the Doctor, appearance variable, please contact if seen."

That is how the posters should read when Doctor Who hits its 50th anniversary this November.

Admittedly it is the not the character who is missing, he is rarely in one place long enough to be considered found, but whole chunks of the world's longest running TV Science fiction show.

The story of these absent episodes has entered television folklore as a warning about the shortsightedness of the medium, so for those who are unaware I shall recap.

The BBC had a nasty habit of wiping old recordings to reuse the tapes. Had it not been for one heroic BBC staff member, armies of fans and occasional discoveries in foreign TV archives it could have been a lot worse, but the fact remains that we are still missing 106 episodes.

Why does it matter? Well, Doctor Who is a cultural touching point, like football or the weather. Its cross-generational appeal brings together children, parents and grandparents around a central mythology.

I am just about old enough to have watched the final years of its original run, when it firmly burnt itself into my psyche, and it was a meme that I could share with anyone born in the previous 40 years.

Each episode stands as a time capsule of British culture, its concerns and attitudes. Contained within is the ongoing mythology and iconography that is firmly part of our national discourse.

If something appears larger on the inside than the it does on the outside it is often described as like the Tardis, a long scarf will be referred to as a Doctor Who scarf and where once the Daleks looked like pepper pots, pepper pots now look like Daleks.

These missing episodes represent a black hole in a cultural history, a gap in the national lingua franca. It is bad enough that between the end of the classic series in 1989 and the Doctor's triumphant return in 2005, a generation missed out on this British rite of passage, but for an eighth of all episodes to have been sucked into space and time is a tragedy.

Very occasionally the odd episode is found but not at a rate that suggests we'll ever have them all. That's not to say there isn't a solution, audio recordings for every episode still exist and there have been official animations made to replace the lost footage. This has only been done for a handful of episodes and at the current rate it'll be over 100 years before you can watch the complete Doctor Who from start to finish.

Using the remaining scraps of footage and photographs to create accurate animated recreations is neither a cheep nor a quick process and the future of these projects remains in the hands of market forces.

We can't expect the current incarnation of the series to last forever and when the BBC puts the franchise on another hiatus the moment could be lost as interest dies down.

Yet with the falling cost of animation due to computer technology, its current momentum and its dedicated fanbase across the globe, all hope is not lost.

The BBC and related production companies cannot be expected to spend license fee payers' money on such a large project if they risk not making a return. Alternatively it's not the fanbase's sole responsibility to correct the Corporation's error and act as archivists

Somewhere in between lies a way forward, the fans are already heavily involved in the ongoing restoration project and an animation team is currently finishing an incomplete serial due for release later this month.

If the BBC and its production partners are willing to promise a donation match we could look to crowd funding a more ambitious program of animation. By raising the money upfront we could reduce cost through the economy of scales, seeking to animate 10 episodes a year and thus filling the void within a decade rather than a century.

2013 is the Doctor's 50th anniversary year, what better time to launch such a project? As the endless tributes and specials role out to celebrate this landmark, promoting such a fund would be easy.

With many millions of fans and viewers in the UK alone as well an increasingly large following worldwide I wouldn't foresee a problem in generating the money to get this started and on past experience the DVD sales should be profitable.

If you've ever got to end of a jigsaw to find a piece missing you'll know the sense of frustration many feel knowing that they may never live to see this televisual picture completed.

We are able to repair the country houses of the aristocracy and restore their ancestors' portraits, why shouldn't we seek to rescue these parts of the people's history.

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