The Only ‘Doctor Who’ Episode Missing The Doctor Was a Backdoor Pilot to a Different Show

One might expect that Doctor Who would appear in every episode of the TV show that bears their name. After all, while the show has come a long way since its debut decades ago, the basic premise, a doctor who can travel through space and time with his companion, remains the same.

However, one episode bypassed its titular character altogether to try to spearhead a new series based in the same universe.

‘Doctor Who’: The early years

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Doctor Who was a moderate hit in the 1960s, but it wasn’t quite the cultural phenomenon that it became in recent years. While the show has over six decades of lore behind it, it was a steady climb to the top moreso than an outright run. As such, the creators of the series took creative liberties as they tried to expand on its moderate success while building up a new audience. 

The show was an early sci-fi success, and with such an open-ended premise featuring a wide assortment of memorable characters and situation, most of them involving the Doctor, TARDIS, and his latest companion. It was an early example of serialized storytelling that kept people coming back from episode to episode. 

Not realizing the kind of staying power that the series had, however the makers deleted several episodes of the series to reuse tapes and cut some spending. According to the series’ Fandom page, nearly 90 episodes of the iconic series are nothing more than memories. Among these was a special episode that was less about Doctor Who and more about the makers’ early attempts to capitalize and expand on its audience. 

A very special episode 

Matt Smith
Matt Smith | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Many episodes of the series are lost with time, but others might have second life if people look hard enough. Philip Morris, episode hunter and Doctor Who superfan, claims that he knows of six “lost” episodes that are secretly in the hands of deep-pocketed collectors. He spoke to The Doctor Who Companion about this. 

“I have a lot of friends who are collectors… and I will tell you straight away now that at least six episodes – missing episodes – exist, to my knowledge, in the hands of private collectors.”

Among these episodes was “Mission to the Unknown,” kicking off one of the earliest and most world-shaping events in the franchise. It focused on an agent trying to foil a Dalek plot to destroy the solar system. It was a strange decision to have a Who-less Doctor Who episode, but as a backdoor pilot, it was a fascinating concept. 

Unfortunately, the spin-off series, presumably about the space agents away from the Doctor, never came to be. The episode is lost with time, but fans can watch a faithful recreation on the internet. 

Watching the lost episode

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In 2019, students at the University of Central Lancashire were tasked with recreating the episode while remaining faithful to the tech that was available when it aired in the 1960s.

While not a perfect recreation, it let audiences see an episode that is, as of today, still lost with time. They used period-appropriate costumes, effects, and ambience to keep it true to the original. 

Andrew Ireland, the vice-chancellor at the school’s digital media department praised the decision and spoke about its importance with the BBC

“It is such a loss to our cultural heritage that so many episodes of 1960s Doctor Who are missing from the BBC archives. This project presented us with an exciting opportunity to address that, to explore a new way of bringing these missing slices of TV history to life, and in the process, help students learn their craft by comparing contemporary production methods with historical approaches.”

Fans loved it. The episode shows just how the makers failed to grasp the importance of their saga. However, on the flip side of that coin, it also shows the lasting impact the early years still hold on fans.