Classic Who Episodes Invade BBC/ITV’s BritBox

I signed up for BritBox on a whim when BBC America offered it to me for two weeks free. Now it’s paying dividends.

The loss of an accessible BBC iPlayer this past year was a hard hit. There’s a lot of junk on UK TV, but it’s *fun* junk, and I loved it. So when I was offered a trial run by BBC America of “BritBox” I took it, hoping that maybe they might just be sharp enough to upload episodes of The Great British Sewing Bee or Pointless.

No go on those two so far, but as luck would have it, a completely different sort of present showed up this month …tons and tons of Classic Who episodes, to celebrate the return of series 10 in a couple of weeks.

For Whovians this is a *huge* deal. Partly because the BBC, for reasons I cannot fathom, has never made a concerted effort to box up every last Doctor Who serial they can sensibly get their hands on and sell it to consumers as blu-ray box set prices. One can, if one is the type of obsessive, work hard and gather up all the DVD box sets floating about in Big Box stores, amazon and nerd trading posts. But it’s a hard road, and not in the slightest bit cheap.

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The Five Doctors Promotional Image. Via BBC

In short, fans who want to be allowed to go back and binge the hell out of the classic 1960s, 70s and 80s series (26 in all, not counting either the FOX movie or the reboot) are simply not being served. This is partly, I believe, due to the BBC being convinced that modern audiences don’t actually want to watch ploddingly paced black and white serials with rubber suited monsters from the same year as the Beatles hit the airwaves. They are wholly incorrect. This market exists. Some are completionists, some are curious onlookers. Some, like myself, are people who nerd out over the history of television, think that long running shows like Doctor Who are a fantastic way to see how our culture has changed over the last five decades.

Perhaps this is a way to gouge how deep the market for these episodes really goes. According to the BritBox press release, over 550 episodes will be made available, of the 693 episodes that made up the complete Classic Who series. of the 143 that will not be available, 90 are “lost” (ie, their original taped were recorded over by the BBC or otherwise recycled). Apparently the service is working on at least getting the audios of these lost episodes cleaned up and uploaded to the service soon. (No word if they might consider doing an animation to go with them, a la Attack of the Daleks last fall.) Twenty are withheld over rights issues. As for the last 33 episodes, we’re not sure why they’re not included, but it’s probably something along the same lines.

But still. This is an enormous collection. BritBox president Soumya Sriraman boasts

“It will be the most comprehensive offering of Classic Who. These (episodes) have been different places before (to stream), but never as many and never as comprehensively.”

For Classic Who fans, this is as close to Christmas as it gets. Let’s just hope they stay on BritBox long enough for us to get through them all.

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