How Rumourmongering Works: The Doctor Who Missing Episodes Story, Complete With Sky News Video

Posted by October 6, 2013 Comment

drwhoI first heard about the possibility of missing Doctor Who episodes some months before Rich ran his initial report. Because of where I had heard them, and after my little bit of digging around and asking questions yielded nothing but sniggers and disbelief, I dismissed them. Completely. As you’ll see below, this rumour has now made it all the way to national TV in the UK and I’m actually a little surprised it survived so long.

It’s not clear exactly why but between my initial dismissal and the time when Rich first wrote about the rumour, at least a few people fairly close to the BBC – if not the production of Doctor Who itself – had started talking and gossiping. This was, I admit, an interesting development.

But that’s not to say these gossips believed the rumour, because I can’t say, honestly, that any of them definitely did. For all I know they could have talked for hours and hours but every word they said might have been one of dismissal or rebuttal, even maybe mockery.

At no point have I heard any comment, either on the record or off, that comes from somebody inside the BBC and which says any episodes have actually been found. The closest to this, I’m afraid, are the various claims – I can’t think of a better word – that “a friend of a friend” has confirmed the episodes are real.

I’ve never, ever seen Rich claim that the rumours are true. He’s just reported that they are. And they were, and they still are. And they are still just rumours. Nothing more. Obviously, they’re worth discussion, though.

A couple of months back, I thought I was holding the end of a thread that would lead to definitive evidence. I followed it. It didn’t. In fact, it lead to a dead end that reinforced my scepticism.

I see absolutely no reason to believe the episodes have been found apart from, really, the old adage about smoke and fire. And, to be honest, I’ve never put too much stock in that. I see people making stuff up all too frequently to believe smoke needs anything more than somebody willing to blow it. Talking of which…

Today, The Sunday People got in on the act and reported that 106 previously missing episodes of Doctor Who had been found. They cited a source, which was something, but they did treat the whole deal like they were reporting sheer facts. It hangs on the word “revealed,” really:

Doctor Who expert Stuart Kelly revealed news of the discovery at the Wigtown Book Festival in Scotland last week.

When contacted by the Sunday People he said: “I was told by a friend that the ­episodes have been found in Ethiopia. The BBC is ­negotiating to get them back right now. I really can’t say any more than that.”

What makes Stuart Kelly a Doctor Who expert? And why does it matter if he’s just passing on what “a friend” said? Who is this friend? If you want to tidy this up, Mr. Kelly, just drop me a line. I think you’ve been done no favours by the newspaper’s wording and I thought you might like to contextualise your comments for us.

As the story stands in the paper, it’s pure, untrammelled hearsay and I don’t believe it does anything at all to make the story any more likely. Rumours are going around – thanks, in no small part to Rich, he’d have to admit – and there’s no reason at all the unnamed “friend” of this “expert” wasn’t just passing on something he read here, or somewhere else on the web.

This story did catch the imagination of Sky News, though. A quick YouTube search turned up this poor quality capture of this morning’s discussion on the matter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MznRXsgo4-w

At least there were qualifiers like “apparently” in their version of events.

Now it’s very possible that a few sheets of paper and some actual TV broadcast time could create a lot more fuss around this story than it deserves. There could be actual, full-blown hullaballoo now, and not just limited to people who crawl the web like you and me. This rumour might be about to go mainstream.

Though that’s all providing there’s any interest in Doctor Who gossip outside of these cybercircles. We’ll have to see about that.

But I do think a lot of unheralded fuss will, actually, be our best chance of getting this story the next chapter it needs, and that’s one penned by the BBC.

The BBC did issue an official statement before, but it was seen by many as being a little ambiguous. Here’s what the Head of Communications, Brands, Content & Digital, BBC Worldwide told Rich:

There are always rumours and speculation about Doctor Who missing episodes being discovered, however we cannot confirm any new finds.

Yes, I believe it’s very likely, at that point in time at least, the BBC would have made that statement in either case.

But now they’ve no doubt had time to complete their own investigation, as minor as it likely need to be, I think the BBC could feel they’re in a position to say something more. And even if they don’t, they might just find their hand forced by mass media speculation. Will the story spread to The Guardian and The Sun and ITN? Could it even make it to the BBC website or news programmes? And how far would it have to go along this path before Auntie decides they’ve got to shut down this speculation and rumourmongering?

I don’t think I’ll personally have anything else to say about this story until an official statement comes from the BBC or, if by some miracle, actual evidence lands in my lap.

For now, though, I don’t believe there’s much chance this rumour is true. Please don’t get your hopes up on my account, don’t believe everything you read in the paper and know that “apparently” is probably the key word in that whole Sky News video.

UPDATE: Rich adds “Dan Phelan, Head of Communications UK of BBC Worldwide told us that “As my colleague said to the journalist at the People, there are ongoing rumours about missing Doctor Who episodes and we can’t confirm these finds.”