Originally recorded on the 5th March 1965 and broadcast on BBC1 a few weeks later on Saturday 27th, episode one of The Crusade, The Lion was wiped alongside a number of other first Doctor episodes as part of the standard videotape recycling practice by BBC Engineering on the 31st January 1969, as the story itself had been copied to film by BBC Enterprises for worldwide distribution and so was considered redundant. The story was to be seen in a number of countries over the course of a decade, but by the late 1970s it had been presumed that all copies distributed for broadcast had been returned and subsequently destroyed, though 'fortunately' a copy of episode three, The Wheel of Fortune, had survived in the BBC Film Library.
One of those copies had made its way to the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation during 1967, but the story wasn't broadcast in the end owing to it falling foul of censorship issues. As part of the agreement with BBC Enterprises once the rights to air had expired prints were either forwarded to another broadcaster or destroyed; however, The Lion slipped through the net, and when ultimately sent to a rubbish tip in 1974 as part of a clearance at NZBC it was amongst a number of films intercepted by a private collector.
Fast-forward to 1998 and the print caught the eye of film collector Bruce Grenville at a collectors convention - he was unaware that the episode had been "missing" for decades at that point, and decided to purchase it simply because he liked Doctor Who. It was shown by him on a number of occasions in the coming months to friends, eventually seen by Cornelius Stone who then mentioned it in conversation with fellow fan Neil Lambess - who realised that the episode in question might well be one missing from the BBC Archives, though it might well have simply been the existing The Wheel of Fortune instead.
Neil recollects the moment when he contacted Bruce for the first time:
For me the moment has to be when I was taking to Bruce on a call box telephone and he told me that what he actually had was the first episode of a Doctor Who serial called The Lion. That was the moment when I knew that it wasn’t a hoax. I paused a few seconds and then told Bruce, "actually what you have there is the first episode of a serial called The Crusade and until just now it wasn’t believed to exist anymore!" The feeling was and still is indescribable, but at the time I was thinking how staggeringly appropriate it was that I had found out inside a public call box!Arrangements were made for him and fellow fan Paul Scoones to visit Bruce to see the episode in question, and on the 3rd January 1999 they sat down to watch ...
Paul successfully negotiated the loan of the film print, and it was formally returned to to Steve Roberts at the BBC on the 11th January 1999 for copying, whereupon a digital 'master' was taken. The recovery was celebrated on BBC1 in the United Kingdom on 10th February in the National Lottery show Amazing Luck Stories, and after restoration work was undertaken to clean the episode up it was released on VHS in October. In 2004 the episode saw further restoration work carried out for its release as part of the Lost in Time DVD collection of 'orphan' episodes in November 2004.
I was delighted that my random celluloid film turned out to be a lost episode, and glad that the BBC was able to restore the film and release it on video & DVD. But really, ALL DW fans are hoping for all the other lost episodes to be re-discovered and appreciated. I continue to talk about this whenever anyone asks me about DW, and urge others to do so too!Summing up their experience of confirming the discovery, Paul says:
I remember a moment soon after Neil and I had returned to from visiting Bruce Grenville to verify that The Lion existed. We were both giddy with excitement at the importance of our discovery. I said to Neil that one thing we could be sure of is that that by finding a missing episode we’d secured a place for ourselves in the history of Doctor Who. Sure enough, here we are sixteen years later, still talking about that glorious find back in January 1999. I remain immensely proud of my role in helping find The Lion and arranging its return to the BBC all those years ago.
You can read how The Crusade was distributed around the world via BroaDWCast, and the full story of The Lion's recovery via the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club.
Article about The Lion, published in the 27 March - 2 April 1965 edition of the Radio Times