Missing Misterio

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The Mystery of the Missing Misterios

Doctor Misterio logo

There is something slightly amiss with the sales of Doctor Who / Dr Misterio to Central American and South American countries.

The big mystery is, did the series actually screen in all the countries purported to have purchased the series? And did it screen in countries not recorded in BBC files?

In an interview with Tom Baker from early December 1979, published in Starlog magazine issue 34 (cover dated May 1980), he says "Dr Who sells in every country in South America except two…". He doesn't state which those two are, but at a guess it would be French Guiana and Surinam, where English, Portuguese and Spanish are not the principal languages.

Of course, we have to assume that Baker knows what he is talking about, and is not merely making up figures and exaggerating, as Baker is well-known for doing (especially in more recent years). But based on other comments he makes in the same interview (such as that the series has been sold to the Middle East and Far East (e.g. Hong Kong and Brunei), Australia and New Zealand, and 65 places in America) we certainly feel there is a believable degree of truth in what he claims, as he would certainly have had conversations with his immediate bosses at the BBC as to how popular and successful sales of his stories had been at that time.

The timing of this interview, late 1979, certainly ties in with when the bulk of the known sales to South America and Latin America took place, as this article demonstrates.


Distribution of BBC programmes in Latin America; Variety, 31 March 1976

The BBC marketed and distributed its own programming to Latin American countries during the 1960s, but only had very limited success, selling Doctor Who to only four countries.

By 1973, the exclusive distribution of BBC programmes to North, Central and South American regions was contracted to Time-Life Films / Time-Life Television.

As was noted in the 31 March 1976 edition of Variety, Time-Life's top markets for BBC material in Latin America at the time were "Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Central America, in that order". Puerto Rico had also been a viable market before suffering an economic slump. The article also noted that Chile was also buying product, while Argentina and Peru were difficult markets to break.

The article also notes the costs associated with dubbing programmes into Spanish, which was "virtually all ... done in Mexico". And at a cost of between $900 and $1,700 (US dollars) per one hour segment, was an expensive undertaking without prior commitment to buy from the regular markets.

This section provides an overview of Doctor Who in Latin America.

Latin America – green = Spanish; orange = Portuguese


We refer to two "official" pieces of BBC documentation, both of which identify by name the countries to which Doctor Who has been sold.


The following Central and South American countries are named in a series of internal BBC memos (going up to December 1979) advising the corporation's music copyright department of the countries to which the series had been either offered or formally sold (it's not clear which), so they could clear the rights to use the incidental music featured in the first 23 Tom Baker stories, Robot to The Invasion of Time (the majority of which had compositions by Dudley Simpson).

The same groupings of countries appear consistently on all the memos, some of which have different dates, which reflect more the timing of when each individual memo was written than the date on which the actual "sales" were formally contracted:

Ecuador 27 November; 1 & 7 December 1978
Venezuela, Mexico, Chile 16 & 23 February 1979
Brazil, Guatemala 23 & 27 March 1979

The memos do actually group the countries together on the same page: so Venezuela, Mexico and Chile (in that order) are on the same series of memos, and Brazil and Guatemala (in that order) are both on the same set of notices.

It would appear that Time-Life Television, who were the distributors of BBC programming throughout North, Central and South America, offered the series to the first four countries named above at the 4-8 March 1978 NATPE exhibit, with the other two a year later, at the March 1979 exhibit. (The exhibit held in March 1981 was the final one that Time-Life attended; Western World Television Inc took over the Latin American distribution rights, and either picked up all of Time-Life's old client base, or started afresh.)

NOTE: The retained music clearances pages end at December 1979, so sales to countries made after that are undocumented, and therefore this aspect of research is unreliable.

2: FEBRUARY 1987

The February 1987 "memo" mentioned in The Eighties - THE LOST CHAPTERS records sales to the following Latin American countries:

Chile 23 stories
Costa Rica 1 story
Dominican Republic 7 stories
Guatemala 24 stories *
Honduras 24 stories *
Nicaragua 24 stories *

[* We feel sure that 24 should be 23, as that was how many Baker stories were in the package.]


Is there any significance in the fact that Costa Rica's "1" plus Chile's "23" equals "24"? (Both countries start with the letter "C". Coincidence?) Could it be that for those other three countries allocated with "24", there is yet another country (not named) being the extra "1" in the total?

These sales may have been attained at the 1980, 1981, or subsequent NATPE exhibits.

Of course, without our seeing the actual memo itself, it's impossible to judge the accuracy of the data, or how it was subsequently adapted for the online version of the 'lost' text.

So - were any countries bracketed together in any way?; The online version of the list has the numbers inside brackets, but is that how the numbers were presented in the memo?; Were the countries listed down or across the page?; Were they in alphabetical order, or another order, and might that order be of significance?; Are there any ditto marks that haven't been taken into account?; Is the "1" noted for Costa Rica in fact an "11", or a misread 'ditto mark'?)

It's not exactly clear what the purpose of this 1987 memo was. Who ordered it? Why was it ordered? Who compiled it? What documentation was accessed and consulted? Was there selective 'editing' done to specifically remove from a much larger list those countries that did not meet with the criteria by which the list was being compiled?


There is also the fact that two further Latin American countries screened the series in the late 1970s / early 1980s, but are not named in either of the above two 'official' lists:

Puerto Rico

Airdates have been found for Puerto Rico (from 1979), and Colombia (from 1980, and a later run in 1987).

There are also anecdotal reports that Peru may have aired the series sometime in the 1980s, but we have not found any airdates to support this claim.

Of note, only Chile and Guatemala appear in both the music and 1987 memos, when *all* of them should at least be in the 1987 list. Why are the other sales of Dr Misterio missing? Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia should definitely be in the 1987 "memo" but are very much conspicuous by their absence...

Of note, while Chile is in the 1987 list, the two other countries that appear on the same series of music clearances memos are not. Is that significant? Likewise, only Guatemala, which shared the same music clearances notices with Brazil, is named in the 1987 list. Does that mean that whoever compiled the 1987 listing (assuming, of course, that it was based in part on those music clearance advices), only identified the first country in each grouping, and overlooked or deliberately ignored the rest?

Costa Rica is recorded as buying only one story – and yet we have found over 330 airdates for that country. It's highly doubtful that a single 4-part serial was repeated over 80 times!

Airdates have been located for Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua, and in each case the series started in 1979, 1980 or 1981. Newspapers have been checked for a wide range of dates, from 1978 to as late as 1988 for the other countries (with the exception of Honduras, for which only 1984 onwards are available) in the libraries we have visited.

In terms of our research to date, "Dr Misterio" is missing from the published television listings for Guatemala, Peru and Dominican Republic. (Not that we've given up; we are still pursuing other avenues of research.) As for Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language, no listings have been found for "Doutor Who". Sure, it's possible that the series aired outside the date ranges we've searched, but with 98 episodes to find, even if they were stripped five days a week, or aired two together or as omnibuses, it is hard to believe that we couldn't find at least one listing even when viewing one week in every third month at random.

(In any case, Brazil is a bit of a research nightmare: by 1980 the country was served by 70+ privately-owned minor television stations, whereas only the four major government-owned stations regularly had their television schedules published in the major newspapers available in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo that have been available to us. If "Doutor Who" did screen in the late 1970s, it would have been on a very minor station.)

The fact that all the dated music clearances are from November 1978 to March 1979, shortly after the grand launch of the series in the United States, suggests that Time-Life wanted to exploit the new series to as many countries as possible, and all at the same time, which was one of the main purposes of the NATPE exhibits. Time-Life handled sales to Latin America as well as North America, so did its deal include some sort of "bulk" sale / offer that encompassed not only the USA but also Latin America and South America? (Strictly speaking, Brazil is not Latin America, but since it is part of continental South America, it would presumably also be part of Time-Life's catchment area; and indeed, Time-Life was financially involved in helping set up Brazil's first television network in the 1960s.) There is no certainty that in all cases an actual sale ever took place. Some of these may have been prospective sales, but with a payment in advance.

In the 1960s / early 1970s, some of the television stations in Latin America were supported financially by the major networks in the United States: for instance the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) had investment interests in stations operating from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela, although it's not known whether those financial interests continued into the late 1970s when Doctor Who was on offer, or whether this interest went as far as influencing the types of programmes that those stations aired. Time-Life's interests in Brazil's Globo TV had already ended by 1978.

With the recorded "sales" to Ecuador, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Guatemala all being within a very short space of time of each other (a five month period), it's possible the series was offered and "sold" to all of them "sight unseen". And once the dubbed tapes had been supplied, all but Mexico, Chile, Venezuela and Ecuador decided to "pass" on the science-fiction series.

Any 'unsold' stories would then go back into the pool, to become available to a second batch of tenders? (Is this why Colombia only got nine serials?) Are the countries named in the music rights registers therefore only those from the first advance offer (even if they subsequently declined to buy the series)? And are those named in the 1987 list those from a much later (partial?) offer? (Is this why Dominican Republic has only "(7)" sales recorded?) Are the countries from the 'second' (and 'third'?) offer (made after 1980) the ones missing (omitted in error?) from the 1987 memo?

If the 1987 memo was compiled from records relating solely to clearances paid to the script writers, then we might have our answer: in the 1960s and 1970s, script writers were paid a "royalty" whenever their material was sold abroad, and the rate of this payment was calculated on a regional basis rather than by country. For instance when Robot was sold to the first country within the region categorised by the BBC as "Latin America", a one-off flat fee was paid to Terrance Dicks. When the serial was subsequently sold to other countries in "Latin America" he did not receive any further royalties for a negotiated period (usually five years), when the contracted "royalty" rate would be renegotiated, and the first country the series was sold to paid the fee and subsequent purchasers did not.

In terms of the 1987 memo, we could accept that Chile paid all the script writer "Latin America" royalties for the first 23 Tom Baker serials which is why Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia (and Peru?) are not named in the 1987 memo. Because Central America was not classed as a region on its own, a "royalty" was payable for every sale made to a country in that region, which is why Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominican Republic all appear in the 1987 memo.

Of the countries under examination, Chile is the only one that appears in the music clearances records, has the correct number of stories in the 1987 memo (23), and has airdates confirmed. All three components are present and there are no conflicts; all the facts fit. On that basis, Chile seems to have been the one to foot the bill for all the up-front "royalties" costs in the same way that Australia footed the bill for sales to other countries within the Australasian region.


Let's combine all the tables, placing the countries into known airdate order, the format by which the episodes aired (with a split listing if more than one format was used), and adjusting the 1987 totals where they are missing or likely to be inaccurate:

Country Music Paid (to Dec 79) Airdates format 1987 Adjust
Mexico (a) 16 & 23 February 1979 4 May 1979 hour -- 23
Chile (a) 16 & 23 February 1979 9 May 1979 half-hour 23 6 in that format
Puerto Rico -- 23 October 1979 half-hour -- 23?
Chile (b) 6 Jan 1980 omnibus 23
Costa Rica -- 4 Feb 1980 half-hour 1 23
Colombia -- 13 Feb 1980 half-hour -- only aired 9?
Ecuador 27 November, 1 & 7 December 1978 19 March 1980 hour -- 23
Nicaragua -- 6 Aug 1980 half-hour 24 23
Chile (c) 10 Feb 1981 half-hour 23
Venezuela 16 & 23 February 1979 31 May 1981 hour -- 23
Mexico (b) 1 July 1981 half-hour -- 23


Country Music Paid (to Dec 79) Airdates format 1987 Adjust
Guatemala 23 & 27 March 1979 ? ? 24 23
Honduras -- ? ? 24 23
Dominican Republic -- ? ? 7 ?
Peru -- ? ? -- --


- In terms of their first airdates, Mexico and Chile are in the same order in which they appear in the music clearance report. On this basis, we think Chile paid for the "Latin American" region writers' fees, which is why Mexico is not in the 1987 memo (assuming, of course, that the 1987 list is based on writers contracts).

- However it's entirely possible that Mexico was named in the memo itself, but was accidentally omitted from the published list. On that point, have any other countries been omitted? Problem is we cannot verify either way, as the authors of The Eighties no longer have a copy of the memo...

- And what of the accuracy of the music clearances themselves? And what of the 1987 memo? How many countries were missed due to the BBC records being incomplete, or accidentally (or deliberately!) omitted during the transfer of the information from both sets of BBC documents to the researcher's note-pad?

- Ecuador was the first country to "buy" the series (according to the music clearances) but it wasn't the first to screen it (it was potentially the fifth or sixth (based on the available dates). Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil appear only in the music clearances, and nowhere else. Airdates have been found for Ecuador and Venezuela some 16 months after the sales date. Is that significant? (Did Mexico, where the dubbings were performed have first rights to screen the series, and Ecuador, despite some being sold the series first, simply had to wait in line?) Possibly of significance is that both Mexico and Ecuador aired the serials edited into "hours"; Ecuador probably had to wait till Mexico had finished its run first before acquiring copies of the edited tapes, rather than acquiring episodic versions that Chile was screening.

- For those countries where airdates have not been found, did the series actually ever screen? Are they merely potential sales that Time-Life offered but which ultimately did not go ahead – hence their absence from the other two columns?

- Was it the fact that Brazil broadcast in the PAL format, and would have to create their own Portuguese dubs (whereas all other countries in South America had distribution by Time-Life, and broadcast in NTSC and Spanish) the reason why the series didn't air, or why it may have aired much, much later than the original 1979 year of "sale"?

- Puerto Rico is not named in any of the memos, and yet the series aired there a few months after the series had commenced in Mexico and Chile. (Of course, being recognised as a 'territory' of the USA, sales to Puerto Rico might be included in the sales that are recorded to "United States" in the 1987 memo.)

- Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador and Nicaragua are missing from the "music paid" list – but that's perfectly understandable since their broadcasts did not commence until 1980, and the documents that were examined when the music memo was compiled only went as far as December 1979.

- Colombia is absent from the 1987 memo, and yet the series aired in 1980, the same year as Costa Rica and Nicaragua – both of which are in the same memo - and then again in mid-1987, which was long after the February 1987 memo had been compiled.

- Is there any significance to the fact that Colombia only played nine serials in 1980, rather than the full package of 23 stories? Did this exempt them from paying the fees, and thus not be recorded in the sales documentation that was accessed when the 1987 memo was compiled?

- Does the format by which the stories aired (half-hour, hour, omnibus) have any bearing on whether or not a country is recorded or not recorded in the 1987 list?

- The jury is still out on Honduras; until 1979 to 1983 newspapers can be checked, we don't know for sure whether or not the series aired.

- Newspapers have been checked for 1978 to 1985 for Guatemala, so it's possible that like Ecuador the series aired much later than when it was "sold" to them. But, still, if music clearances were made in early 1979, other than a delay with the dubbing process, what other factors might there be for holding off screening the series for so many years? Both Chile and Mexico screened the series within a few months of the "payment" date. Costa Rica and Nicaragua also screened the series a very short time after the final entry on the music memo was recorded. If the music payment related to the start of broadcast, then Dr Misterio would have played in Guatemala around June 1979... but it didn't! (At least, not according to any of the newspapers we checked.)

- Did Guatemala end up selling its rights to Costa Rica?

- Airdates for Dominican Republic have not been found despite papers covering 1980 to 1988 being checked...

- Peru is absent from the memo and the music clearances. Newspapers for most of 1979 to 1989 have been viewed without a listing being sighted. And besides, we only have anecdotal evidence to go on that the series had even screened there. We are still searching...

- Airdates for Brazil have been impossible to find; the country has over 50 private TV stations, which don't all have listings in newspapers. (We have not included Brazil in the above table for that reason.)

- Going back to the December 1979 Tom Baker interview, what of Paraguay, Uruguay, British Guiana, Bolivia, Argentina, Panama and El Salvador? Was the series sold to any of those countries as well? (It was reported in the 24 August 1979 edition of Back Stage magazine, that Time-Life Television had sold one of its own mini-series to "Chile, Ecuador, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Nicaragua", which illustrates what Time-Life's catchment area was.)

- When Time-Life wound down its television distribution services, Western World Media Inc picked up the rights to Latin America, commencing 1 April 1981. How did the change of distributor affect the sales already negotiated and contracted or about to be contracted by Time-Life? (Note how many repeat runs of the Tom Baker stories there were in Latin American countries 1981: were these the last rush to use up the screenings before the rights expired?) Were any of the sales cancelled, voided or re-negotiated after 1981? Is that why the records are amiss? Did the 1987 memo only record some of the sales made by Time-Life pre-1981?


Let's break down the above table even further, this time into chronological order encompassing all the known dates and facts discussed in this page, to see if any patterns emerge…

  • 4-8 March 1978 NATPE exhibit – series offered, then formally sold to:
    • 27 November 1978 – Ecuador; per music clearances
    • 1 December 1978 – Ecuador; per music clearances
    • 7 December 1978 – Ecuador; per music clearances
    • 16 & 23 February 1979 – Venezuela; per music clearances
    • 16 & 23 February 1979 – Mexico; per music clearances
    • 16 & 23 February 1979 – Chile; per music clearances [23 stories; per 1987 memo]
  • The translating / dubbing process gets under way in Mexican studios…
  • March 1979 NATPE exhibit – series offered, then formally sold to:
    • 23 March 1979 - Guatemala; per music clearances [24? stories; per 1987 memo]
    • 23 March 1979 - Brazil; per music clearances
      • potentially also sold to Costa Rica [1? story; per 1987 memo], Colombia and Puerto Rico at this time (with the sale to Puerto Rico included in the sales to the United States)
  • 4 May 1979 – With dubbings completed, Mexico commences screenings (with repeats until 1981)
  • 9 May 1979 – Chile commences screenings (with repeats until May 1981, albeit in different formats)
  • 23 October 1979 – Puerto Rico commences screenings (with repeats until April 1981)
  • 4 February 1980 – Costa Rica commences screenings (with repeats until 1983)
  • 13 February 1980 – Colombia commences screenings (only nine stories aired prior to expiry of broadcaster's license)
  • March 1980 NATPE exhibit – series offered, then formally sold to:
    • Nicaragua [24? stories; per 1987 memo]
    • Honduras [24? stories; per 1987 memo]
  • 19 March 1980 – Ecuador commences screenings
  • 6 August 1980 – Nicaragua commences screenings (with repeats until 1982)
  • 1980? - Honduras commences screenings?
  • February 1981 – Chile commences another run of repeats, now episodically
  • 1 April 1981 – Time-Life is replaced by Western World Television as distributor to Latin America…
  • 31 May 1981 - Venezuela commences screenings (two years after 1979 sale)
  • 1981? - Guatemala commences screenings? (two years after 1979 sale)
  • 1985 – the first seven years rights period on the episodes expires…
  • July 1985 BBC Showcase in Nassau – limited run of episodes offered, and formally sold to:
    • Dominican Republic (7 stories; per 1987 memo)
    • Colombia again? (for its 1987 run)
      • and possibly other countries (as yet unidentified)
  • 1985? – Dominican Republic commences screenings?
  • 10 February 1987 – the "1987 memo" is compiled; Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru are (for whatever reason/s) omitted from this list
  • April/May 1987 – Colombia's second batch commences screenings


From this, we can see that the first three countries are missing from the 1987 memo, which might be significant in determining how the memo was compiled in the first place. (Did the clearance fee/s paid by the first country to buy also cover the next two countries?)

Given the close time frames in which each group of countries aired the series and the three different formats in use (half hour, hour and omnibus), were there perhaps several sets of tapes in each format in circulation, with one set starting in Mexico, with another set in use within South America and the third within Central America?

Let's create the possible tape 'bicycling' sequences:

  • Set 1 (hour): Mexico -> Ecuador (neither in the 1987 list)
  • Set 2 (half hour): Chile -> Puerto Rico -> Colombia -> Mexico -> Colombia (for 1987 run only) (only Chile in 1987 list)
  • Set 3 (half hour): Costa Rica -> Nicaragua -> Chile -> Venezuela -> Honduras # -> Guatemala # - > Dominican Republic (only 7 of these) # -> ? (all in the 1987 list)
  • Set 4 (omnibus): Chile (in the 1987 list)

Countries in bold are absent from the 1987 list.

As you can see from this, it's possible to have one set of duplicates of a given format being handed down along a chain of countries all within the same region.

Only one of the potential Set 2 countries is named in the 1987 memo. (But Chile also got omnibuses, so it's appearance in the 1987 memo might be for that format rather than the half-hours!)

Of course, without the confirmed premiere airdates or the format for those countries marked #, it's impossible to judge the accuracy of this flow-chart!

But as can be seen, with a little bit of manipulation, the format (half hour, hour, omnibus) might explain why certain countries are missing from the 1987 list.


From the available research material (BBC records and newspapers), we have an almost equal number of named countries without airdates and unnamed countries with airdates. What does that tell us?

We may be completely overlooking something obvious here!

  • Have we been looking in the wrong newspapers and date ranges?
  • Are the BBC records (specifically those used to compile the 1987 list) wrong / inaccurate / incomplete / being taken out of context?
  • For those countries where no airdates have been found, were the 'sales' cancelled after the music clearance advices had been sent, and any monies paid later refunded or held on credit?
  • Did a sale to the first country in each region (as per the groupings on the music clearances) cover other costs of the second (and third?) country within that same region, which is why the second and third country named on the same music clearances is not recorded in the 1987 memo?
  • For sales and/or advance payments for screenings that didn't proceed, could the "sale" be transferred to another country that "refunded" the original purchaser instead of the BBC?
  • The "sales" were handled by Time-Life, who would have notified the BBC of all sales that had been completed; but how accurate was their communication with the BBC? Did they provide the BBC with details of every sale?
  • Did the format in which the series was sold determine how/if a sale was recorded?


Taking all this analysis on board, we think the 1987 memo was compiled by referencing the Writers Contracts, and with payments made on a region-by-region basis, only the first South American country (i.e. Chile) paid the costs, and thus is the only one identified in that paperwork, whereas all the individual sales to Central American countries paid the fee.

There are still some questions that can't for now be answered – so for now, the Mystery of the Missing Misterios will have to remain mostly unsolved...