Why iTunes And Lost Doctor Who Episodes Aren’t A Perfect Match

Why iTunes And Lost Doctor Who Episodes Aren’t A Perfect Match
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I’m as thrilled as any Doctor Who fan that nine missing episodes from the 1960s have been rediscovered, and making them immediately available on the iTunes store makes sense. It’s a pity though that iTunes itself remains such a dog of a program that actually finding those episodes is harder than it needs to be.

In the 1960s, when Doctor Who began, nobody foresaw that there would be a long-term market for episodes of the show. As a result, many episodes were wiped by the BBC in the 1970s so that the expensive video tape they were stored on could be reused. Prior to this week, 106 episodes of classic Who were missing. Today saw the announcement that nine episodes from the 1960s, all featuring second Doctor Patrick Troughton, had been discovered in Nigeria.

The discoveries mean that the BBC now has a full set of episodes for the story ‘The Enemy Of The World’, and all bar one of the story ‘The Web Of Fear’. Both are being reissued on DVD later this year, but if you don’t want to wait that long you can grab them on iTunes, for $2.99 per episode or $14.99 per story. (The missing episode 3 for ‘The Web Of Fear’ features the full audio for the episode, as recorded on tape by a devoted fan, along with production photographs. Not ideal, but better than nothing.)

As soon as I read the news this morning, I dived into iTunes to see if I could find them. And that was when I remembered that iTunes search facility is a joke and that its navigation options are sadly lacking.

Searching for the actual episode titles got me nowhere at the time of the announcement. Six hours later, the search does belatedly seem to work, but why the long delay? This announcement was scheduled; it’s not like the content showed up by surprise. Apple’s indexing system should reflect the availability of new content better than that.

Navigating by other means was equally fiddly. Searching simply for ‘Doctor Who’ reveals that in fact iTunes has two separate categories: one for the more recent (post 2005 episodes), and one for the ‘classic series’. However, clicking on the link for ‘Doctor Who: The Classic Series’ does not bring up a listing of all the episodes available in the classic series, but one specific show, ‘Nightmare Of Eden’. The whole design defies well-understood search conventions. You can click on a ‘related’ link to see other episodes, but again this doesn’t necessarily show everything.

The announcement included a URL itunes.com/doctorwho. However, this doesn’t open a site: it opens iTunes and links to a specific page. That page includes links to the two new shows, but there’s no way of entering it if you’re already in iTunes, and it doesn’t show up in an iTunes search. Shoddy.

Discoverability is one of the most important features of any media store. Right now, Apple is cruising on its market dominance, and doing a shockingly bad job of it (leaving aside iTunes’ own unreliability in other ways). There’s nothing ‘intuitive’ or ‘easy’ about it; it’s a patched-together mess. The Doctor deserves better.

Having said all that, part of me thinks the DVD will be better value; it will have bonus features and be more easily converted for different formats. But that’s no reason for the digital version to be so fiddly to access.

The Enemy Of The World [iTunes]

The Web Of Fear [iTunes]

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


  • “The Enemy of the World [iTunes]” – I think that sums up the story,

    typo alert: “blelatedly”

  • I opened iTunes – hit store – TV and saw both on the front page… I also search Dr Who and got a whole list of shows including the new ones… maybe I tried later than you but it was fairly easy I thought…

  • Yeah seriously, when is Apple ever going to fix up iTunes so that you can actually find things fairly easily?
    Never mind that it takes ages for it to load up on my iPad

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