Two linked Third Doctor stories are found in this boxset, featuring the alien Nestene and their ability to control plastic... In Jon Perwee's first story, 'Spearhead from Space', the Earth is visited by the Nestene who take over a plastics factor and manufacture Autons - living plastic replicas of people designed to take the place of world leaders. 'Terror of the Autons' sees the Master preparing the way for a full-scale Nestene invasion of the Earth...
This boxset feels somewhat like going back to our roots for the members of the Restoration Team. 'Terror of the Autons' was one of the first titles we worked on when we formed the team back in the early nineties to exploit our colour restoration process. Similarly, 'Spearhead from Space' was only the third DVD release in the classic Doctor Who range. The comparative results we achieved on both stories for this boxset speaks volumes for the advances in tools, technology and our experience over those years.
The original release of 'Spearhead from Space' utilised transfers originally made for the BBC repeat season in 1999 and that process is fully documented here. For that release we worked from the BBC transmission prints, along with some not terribly good audio tracks that were supposedly the archival masters. To upgrade the release for DVD there was only one real option and that was to somehow utilise the original camera negatives. We did consider scanning the negs directly, but as they are joined into AB rolls we knew that this would be problematic due to 'jumping joins', in which the splices in the film cause a positional shift in the image prior to every picture cut. Fixing this seamlessly would put the project well over the allocated budget. so instead, we decided to have new interpos films struck from the negatives.
Interpos is traditionally an early stage in the process used for generating projection prints - effectively a neg is printed directly onto a new piece of film, generating a positive copy of it. Crucially however, unlike a normal print for projection, an interpos carries all of the dynamic range of the negative which means that all of the highlight and shadow detail in the image is retained rather than being crushed out as it would be on a print. Because modern film stocks are so good, it is possible to produce an interpos from the early 1970's 16mm camera negative that adds very little in the way of grain or loses anything of the original resolution. Most importantly, because each of the A and B rolls are printed in turn onto a single piece of interpos stock, there are no splices and therefore no jumping joins.
New interpos films were struck for us by Soho Images and telecined as usual by Jonathan Wood on the BBC Studios & Post Production Spirit telecine at Television Centre. Although only intended for DVD release at the time, Jonathan judged that there was enough resolution in the film to justify scanning at HD for potential Blu-ray release in the future. The films were telecined using a 'one-light' setting onto HDCAM-SR videotape (to minimise both the time that the films spent on the telecine and the cost) and standard definition Digital Betacam copies made by down-converting and grading these tapes. These transfers were then sent over to Peter Crocker at SVS for the minimal picture cleanup required.
Two neg-cuts were noted by Peter. These occur when the film negative is either cut by mistake and has to be re-joined, resulting in one missing frame, or if physical damage has to be removed from the middle of a shot. A single frame was found to be missing in episode one when the Doctor passes a tree in his wheelchair, indicating a cutting error or a director changing his mind after the neg had been cut. In episode four three frames are missing from the scene in which Hibbert is attacking the tank containing the Nestene creatures, possibly damage to the negative. Both were corrected by generating new motion estimated frames to cover the jumps.
The difference between the original and new DVD releases is marked. Grain is greatly reduced and there is much more shadow and highlight detail to be found in the image. Skies are once again blue in shots where they had once crushed out to white and previously invisible clouds can now be seen.
Meanwhile, work by Andrew Martin at BBC Information and Archives uncovered a different set of sepmag audio masters, which were passed over to Mark Ayres for his attention, so he now had a number of different audio sources to work from:
To summarise, the best surviving masters are therefore:
Episode one - BBC Enterprises safety mag (DAT copy from 2000 mastering), episodes two, three, four - CD backups from original junked master mags.
When we remastered the story for the 2000 DVD release, we were forced to remove a few seconds of Fleetwood Mac music playing in the plastics factory because the rights holder wanted £5000, which we simply couldn't justify spending at that time. Since then, new agreements covering music rights have come into effect and this particular track is now covered by a blanket agreement for world use, so it was reinstated for all territories.
'Terror of the Autons' was previously tackled in 1993 for the VHS release and an article about that work can be found here. Back then we worked from 16mm film recording prints, because this was in the days before we were routinely allowed to access the archival master negatives. However, the films had already been scanned at HD as part of the initial experiments by the Colour Recovery Working Group into the possibilities of extracting colour from the chroma information embedded in the film recording (see the article on the Dalek War Boxset for more information on this), so we used these files as our luminance source. One advantage of this is that the process removes the 'chroma dots' from the picture, whilst leaving true luminance detail untouched. Previously we would have been forced to remove the chroma dot patterning using a simply notch filter which would have also removed legitimate detail from the image.
Although the Colour Recovery process could have been used to extract the original colour back from the chroma information embedded in the film recording, it was decided that the off-air NTSC Betamax colour was generally of sufficiently high quality that it would be better to use this - effectively going back to our original process of overlaying off-air colour onto monochrome film recordings to generate a colour picture.
Much work was done by Peter to clean up dropouts in the off-air colour and fix the usual defects and artefacts in the film recording, before the programme was VidFIREd to return the live video feel to the studio sections and returned to Jonathan for a final grade. The final product was so good that it was possible to drop back in the minute or so of real video of this story (the scene in the first episode in which the Doctor first meets Jo, which existed on an insert spool for 'Nationwide') without there being an obvious change in quality.
The 13-frame film recorder offlock during the dissection of the troll-doll which we had been unable to tackle back in 1993 was now somewhat easier to work on. This was repaired using motion-estimated interpolation guided by lots of roto-splines followed by much manual retouching - including a few frames of the troll painted in from the off-air recording, as the 3D motion is such that computer estimation of the image is impossible.
Unfortunately, most of the film sequence are plagued with double-imaging due to the original telecine transfer being out-of-phase back in the seventies - a perennial and thus far unfixable problem for us, although Peter was able to manually paint out some of the worst sections where possible.
Meanwhile, Mark was hard at work on the audio, which was available to him from a variety of sources including the 16mm films and two different off-air Betamax recordings, one from WTTW in Chicago and the other from KCET in Los Angeles. The WTTW recording is generally good, but episode two had high levels of noise in some scenes that would have been difficult to remove cleanly, and it also suffers from reduced frequency response in the final two episodes. The KCET recording is very bright and noisy for episode one with an annoying background hum, while episode two has an unpleasant low-level "fizzy" distortion present throughout. Episodes three and four are much better, with consistent noise and frequency response, yet with very muted dynamics due to the use of automatic level control on recording. The film is generally OK, but suffers from the limitations of the format, notably constrained bandwidth and dynamic range. Episode three was deemed unusable due to high noise levels however.
Mark spent a couple of days experimenting with various combinations of the above, including a couple of almost-complete, then abandoned, attempts at restoration, before settling on the following:
Episode one was taken from the WTTW recording. Most of episode two was also taken from the WTTW, with some scenes dropped in from the 16mm optical. Episodes three and four were taken from the KCET tapes. In all cases, but to the greatest extent in episodes three and four, a compressor set to "expansion" mode was used to restore muted peaks, with manually-drawn volume automation used to counteract the fast attack and slow release of the AGC where possible and restore overall dynamics. A lot of noise reduction was also required, along with a number of notch filters to lessen the effect of not only the original PAL scan whine at 15625Hz, but also the UK 50Hz mains hum, overlaid 60Hz hum on the US copies - plus harmonics of each.
Spearhead from Space
• 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.
• Commentary 1 with actors Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney.
• Commentary 2 with producer Derrick Sherwin and script editor Terrance Dicks.
• Down to Earth (dur. 22’ 39”) – At the end of 1969, Doctor Who faced a very uncertain future. Ratings had slumped and Patrick Troughton had left the show. In a brave move, producer Derrick Sherwin re-invented the show as a fast-paced, Earth-bound colour series for the seventies. Cast and crew look back at the making of this story and how a strike at the BBC studios inadvertently created the only classic series story to be made entirely on film. With actor Jon Pertwee, producers Derrick Sherwin and Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, costume designer Christine Rawlins and assistant script editor (and inadvertent Auton actor) Robin Squire. Narrated by Carl Kennedy.
• Regenerations: From Black and White to Colour (dur. 18’ 39”) – ‘Spearhead from Space’ marked not only the arrival of a new Doctor but also the transition from black and white to colour as the show moved into a new decade. This documentary looks at the challenges faced by programme makers during this period. With actors Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, producer Derrick Sherwin, script editor Terrance Dicks, directors Timothy Combe, Christopher Barry and Michael Ferguson, designer Roger Cheveley and graphic designer Bernard Lodge.
• UNIT Recruitment Film (dur. 4’ 48”) – a spoof army recruitment film put together for BBC transmission during Doctor Who’s 30th anniversary celebrations in 1993.
• Trailers (total dur. 1’ 40”) – two trailers for the 1999 BBC2 transmission of the story and for ‘Doctor Who Night’from the same year.
• Easter Egg (dur. 0’ 46”) – an unused version of the title sequence.
Terror of the Autons
• 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.
• Commentary with actors Katy Manning and Nicolas Courtney, producer Barry Letts.
• Life on Earth (dur. 33’ 40”) – season eight saw the introduction of both popular companion Jo Grant and the Doctor’s arch nemesis, the Master, as well as cementing the idea of the ‘UNIT family’. In this documentary, cast and crew look back at the making of the story and the differences in the way Doctor Who was made in the seventies compared to now. With actors Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and Richard Franklin, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks and new series producer Phil Collinson.
• The Doctor’s Moriarty (dur. 18’ 53”) – with the introduction of the Master, the Doctor now had his very own Moriarty, who would be the dark figure behind every story in season eight, and many more beyond that. This featurette discusses the enduring appeal of the character. With actor Katy Manning, producer Barry Letts, script editors Terrance Dicks and Christopher H Bidmead and writers Robert Shearman and Joe Lidster.
• Plastic Fantastic (dur. 11’ 01”) – how did the writers of Doctor Who and other programmes take something as everyday as plastic and turn it against us? With writers Francesca Gavin, Robert Shearman and new series designer Matthew Savage.
• Plus of course the usual PDF materials (including promotional material for Sugar Smacks and Nestle products), Coming Soon trailer, Programme Subtitles, Subtitle Production Notes and Photo Galleries.
Copyright Steve Roberts, Mark Ayres, 12 August 2011. No reproduction allowed without written permission.