Robert Mugabe's strange Doctor Who connection...

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While bouncing around on the internet today, I happened to be skimming GameFAQ's and saw under the Doctor Who board the hot topic of the day was "So now that Robert Mugabe has been overthrown, can we get some lost serials back?"  I was curious to find out what this was all about, and I found a few stories that had talked about this over the years, so I thought our readers might like to hear about it.

Some context: Long before anyone dreamed of Netflix or DVD collections of TV series, BBC would regularly delete their archived video collection.  This resulted in many episodes or even entire serials from the first few years of Doctor Who being lost forever...or so it seemed.  Some of the lost episodes have turned up over the years.  BBC has audio recordings of each episode, so they have released them in other formats, including slide shows and entirely new animations to try and fill in the gaps.  Right now, there are still 97 lost episodes.  The last time any new episodes turned up was back in 2013 from tapes in Nigeria.  It seems unlikely we will ever find all of the missing episodes....

Now, here is where the story gets odd. Back in 2009, io9 published a story saying:

"According to British newspaper the Sun, a BBC source explained, We have looked all over the world for missing Doctor Who episodes but there are still some broadcasters we have not spoken to, [and] Zimbabwe could prove a problem as there is so much red tape."

Basicaly, under Robert Mugabe, the country of Zimbabwe had become some closed off that BBC were not able to even talk to local officials to find out if lost episodes could possibly be there.

The website, The Cathode Ray Choob, provided some further information, again back in 2009:

Robert Mugabe is in trouble now. Sure, Zimbabwe’s president has never been very popular among the international community – and no wonder, given his despicable human rights violations and a leadership that has brought his country to its knees, wrecking its economy.


Because now the 85-year-old is facing the wrath of a fanatical and highly-organised group of people who believe Zimbabwe holds the key to realising one of their long-held goals and will stop at nothing to achieve it – Doctor Who fans.

And I’m talking about the hardcore, old-school fans of the show’s original run, not the lightweight, johnny-come-lately, casual fans of the new version.

How did Mugabe provoke Whovians‘ ire? Well, it turns out that Zimbabwe may be in possession of some of the episodes of Doctor Who missing from the BBC’s archives. As most people know, thousands of episodes of old TV shows were dumped by Beeb in the 60s and 70s to make room on the shelves for more recent shows, as they did not consider at that time there was any value in hanging on to them.

Since they realised the error of their ways, they have managed to recover some of the missing episodes, some from fans and former BBC employees who had acquired copies, and some from overseas TV broadcasters who had screened the show.

Which is where Zimbabwe comes in to the story. There are still 108 of the 253 episodes missing from Doctor Who’s first six seasons (the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras). British tabloid newspaper The Sun reports that the then Rhodesia bought and screened the shows early episodes and may still hold copies in their archives.

Unfortunately, relations between Zimbabwe and Britain are strained, to put it mildly, and one of the results is that Mugabe has banned the BBC from entering the country. So there is currently no way to check for any missing Who episodes.

Mugabe may be about to find out that hell hath no fury like a Doctor Who fan who thinks he (and the fanatical ones are all hes) is being deprived of his holy grail. He should expect an invasion by men wearing really long scarfs, sticks of celery on their lapels or silver jumpsuits any day now.

Wouldn’t it be funny if, after all the sanctions and international condemnation and pressure, Mugabe is finally toppled by a Time Lord?

Obviously, Doctor Who fans weren't able to topple the Mugabe regime, but now that he has been removed from office in 2017, these stories are starting to bubble back up. 

Personally, I think this is just fun speculation.  It is very unlikely that the only surviving copies of all these episodes are sitting in a vault in Robert Mugabe's office. In fact, from what I know about the story, a few of these missing serials were never even exported out of Britain.   AND let's face it, even if they are, I doubt it is the priority of anyone in the country to make sure that they get restored to the BBC so that fans can finally see a fully restored version of MARCO POLO. 

But hey, stranger things have happened, right?