WE ALL HAVE ISSUES: Nothing is Really Truly Destroyed

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A couple of weeks ago, during a recording of Top Five, I made the prediction that in the next couple of years a stash of Doctor Who episodes once thought lost would be found. Since then, we’ve been inundated with people telling us of the newly discovered lost episodes from Nigeria. While some of you are once again claiming my prognostication record is better than Nostradamus, there is a better answer to this particular prediction than “Beware the Power of Stephen!”

Nothing is ever truly destroyed.

THE LAW OF CONSERVATION

The law of conservation of mass states that mass can neither be created nor destroyed over time. Yes, I realize there is more to the law than that, but follow me for a moment. We misplace a lot of things, that doesn’t mean they have been destroyed completely. In this age of mass manufacturing, hundreds, thousands, and millions of copies of a widget are made and distributed throughout the world. While many of these widgets may indeed be tossed in the incinerator, eaten by the dog, or torn to pieces during an argument between siblings, a certain percentage of these items are going to be tucked away in a garage, placed in a safety deposit box, or stored under the bed. These items aren’t tracked. No one is telling their family about the collection of “junk” so there is little reason for anyone to be actively looking for the lost widget under the floorboards.

In the last five years, items once thought lost or extremely rare are turning up left and right.

  • More copies of Action Comics #1 are being uncovered every day. The most recent was found inside the walls of a dilapidated house going through renovations.
  • A stash of ultra rare cars (one of them valued at $35 million) was found in a vacant barn in Portugal.
  • A $3 million 1,000 year old Chinese Ding bowl was casually picked up at a garage sale in New York state earlier this year.
  • A scrimshaw engraved powdered horn from 1827 and a Steven Tyler signed acoustic guitar were dropped off at a Goodwill in Nashville in 2011.
  • A lost Leonardo da Vinci painting was uncovered in a bank vault in Switzerland last week.
  • 9 lost episodes of Doctor Who were recovered from a television station in Nigeria.

In the case of the recently found Doctor Who episodes, even though the BBC destroyed their videotape archive in the ‘60s, those shows were transferred to film for distribution internationally. With the 24 countries, and potentially thousands of television stations around the world who may have received copies of these films – not to mention the number of fans who may have made copies of these copies, the odds of 100-percent of those copies being destroyed is so high it almost guarantees episode four of The Tenth Planet is sitting in a dark dusty corner somewhere in the world.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MON-EY. MONEY!

The reason why so many lost items are being found these days is because of awareness of these items and their worth. When people learned that Pottery Barn looking vase could actually be worth millions of dollars, more people began rummaging through the attic looking for Aunt Sally’s heirlooms hoping to cash in. As television stations change ownership, technology pushes the new to the front and the old to the storage closet. Hard drives have replaced film chains, so that canister labeled DWS1E4 means little to the person worried about ones and zeros and the current ratings of the network’s big show. Though Matthew and I went to college 20 years ago, I recently uncovered a cache of videotapes featuring Mr. Peterson talking up local bands. I know these aren’t the only copies, as crew members made VHS copies of the show for their own demo reels, which means somewhere in China, a former student has those tapes just sitting in a box.

For Doctor Who, the number of people looking for these lost episodes is small, and the free time they have to scour the archives of every television and broadcast network around the world is even smaller. With the big anniversary just around the corner, awareness of the lost episodes is at an all time high, which means those who have lived long enough may be aware of a replay on their local PBS station, which could lead to someone opening up their cold storage vault to do a bit more digging and discovering that one episode of Marco Polo that hasn’t been seen in decades.

The more rare something is, the more money it is worth. If it were made known that William Hartnell’s regeneration episode was worth $1 million to the person that found it, the episode would turn up within the year. The number of Action Comics #1 issues hitting the auction blocks has soared once it became widely known that the issue could make the owner an overnight millionaire. If the BBC was really serious about hunting down all lost Doctor Who episodes, it would put a bounty on each episode and make it known they were paying top dollar. Historical significance doesn’t get people off their butts, but the promise of a valuable treasure worth a lot of money certainly is a motivator.

How much is The Reign of Terror worth to the BBC? I might I have a VHS copy sitting in my parent’s basement.