The Restoration Team were asked to supervise remastering of the first three 'Doctor Who' stories, including the original pilot episode, for release as a special boxset. What should have been a simple remastering job turned out to be a little bit more complicated than was originally envisaged...
As is now our standard practice, all fourteen episodes would be remastered via wetgate telecine from the original film recording masters. BBC Broadcast Archives at Windmill Road arranged for all the films to be ultrasonically cleaned and polished to remove any surface dirt before the films were transferred.
The first episodes to be tackled were in fact those on the third tape in the boxset, three films comprising 'The Edge of Destruction' and the original pilot episode. This tape was required earlier than the others because it was the only one which required BBFC certification, as both 'An Unearthly Child' and 'The Daleks' had already been certified for their previous video releases around a decade ago. Once again, Dave Hawley was booked as our operator, and all went smoothly until we reached the last five minutes of the second episode of 'The Edge of Destruction'. At this point there was a dramatic change in picture quality and the sound dropped away to almost nothing. Checking the film revealed that the last five minutes of the original negative had been removed and a section of dupe neg (i.e. a negative made from another print) had been spliced in instead. We can only assume that the original section had been damaged sometime in the past and this section had been replaced. This must have happened at least nine years ago, as another print made from this negative at that time showed the same problem. The section was laid down as a guide only whilst we investigated the possibilities of upgrading it from other library holdings.
The pilot episode was transferred to tape in its entirety (except for a section of black which was deemed to be irrelevant and thus cut out), including ten seconds of the original VT countdown clock and all of the retakes.
We then started work on 'An Unearthly Child', which proved to be totally straightforward. To minimise the risk of damage to the precious negatives and to ensure that they were on the telecine for only as long as necessary, all the episodes were transferred to Digital Betacam videotape in a single pass and then any further work was performed electronically from the videotapes. As each film was being transferred, the timecodes of any bits of dirt or sparkle, sound clicks or any other imperfection were noted and then dealt with at the end of the episode. Dirt and sparkle were easily removed by wiping in a section from an adjacent frame to repair the fault, a process known as 'deblobbing'. Because of the inherent cleanliness of the wetgate process, these sort of problems were fairly minimal anyway, with perhaps only twenty faults per episode being repaired.
The second telecine session was arranged for a few days later, when Stuart Fyvie transferred and deblobbed all seven episodes of 'The Daleks'. Again, a fairly straightforward transfer, the only slight glitch being that when we came to transfer episode four we discovered that it was a mute neg, whereas all the others were comopt (combined picture and optical soundtrack). The pictures were laid down anyway and the sound would be replaced at a later session. One thing that did come to light was that some of the negatives which we had initially thought were original film recorder negatives were actually dupes, as they showed signs of printed-in black dirt on some of the studio sequences, which could only have come from an intermediate print stage.
The last five minutes of episode seven of the story, the only one of the episodes for which the master copy is a print instead of a neg, was quite badly scratched, with tramline damage to the emulsion. The story behind this is quite sad. When 'The Daleks' was rediscovered in the vaults at BBC Enterprises in 1978, there were both prints and negs for each episode. The prints were put into the library and could be called up for transfer or simply so that researchers could view the episode. During one such viewing, the print was badly damaged towards the end and the library called up the neg so that a new print could be struck. It was only then that it was discovered that the neg for episode seven was not a comopt neg, but was in fact just a sound neg - one half of the picture and optical soundtrack pair that could be used to strike a comopt print. So for years the only master picture copy of this episode had been used as a mere viewing print... Luckily, videotape copies made before the damage occured are still retained by the library, so one of these has been used to provide a source of pictures to replace the damaged sections. After being digitally enhanced, it was a fairly good match for the transfer we did during the session. Unfortunately, it is incomplete - the 'Next Episode' caption has been removed, so for the entirety of the TARDIS scene prior to the end credits, the scratched version has been retained. The scratch has been removed digitally using the Snell and Wilcox 'Aurora / Archangel' video restoration tool, which identifies the scratched area and automatically fills it by blurring over from each side of the damaged area. At the point we used it, the scratch concealment was not fully implemented and the device intermittently removed other vertical elements in the picture as well as the genuine scratches. To overcome this, the repaired areas alone were soft-wiped into just the scratched areas in the original picture.
Jon Wood handled the third session for us. The first job was to add the sound to episode four of 'The Daleks', using a comopt print called up from the library, followed by the repairs needed to the end of 'The Edge of Destruction'. As luck would have it, an Arabic-soundtrack print of this episode is retained by the library and we were able to use this to give us a better source of pictures. The safety mag (16mm magnetic film), a copy of the optical soundtrack on the film recording, was called up from the library and was found to have been made before the damage to the neg, so we were able to lift the soundtrack from this.
The rest of the day and a couple more evenings were spent on further digital cleanup work to all the episodes. Although we were very satisfied with the general cleanliness of the pictures, there was still one fault that was very irritating. The old vision mixers used in the television studios way back then were very simplistic, particularly in the way in which they cut between cameras. Whereas a modern vision mixer would change between camera cleanly during field blanking (i.e. off the top of the screen), the old ones used mechanical switches which cut anywhere in vision. The effect of this was that just about every cut in all fourteen episodes was 'dirty' - either there was a flash across the screen or the picture changed halfway down the frame. Similarly, some of the sources on the vision mixer were not timed synchronously, so cutting between them caused the film recorder scans to distort sideways until it had locked onto the new syncs. This is very distracting, especially as the actual pictures otherwise looked very nice, so we decided that these dirty cuts should be cleaned up. This was generally done by freezing the most suitable good frame immediately adjacent to the cut into the vision mixer's framestore and performing a single frame pre-read edit to replace the dirty frame. Because there is a vision cut, the brain is distracted from the fact that there is a repeated frame, but the effect of removing the flashes gives a much cleaner flow to the narrative. In some cases only the parts of the dirty frame that were affected were replaced, if it was felt that a simple repeat might be noticed - for instance if there was fast action on the screen where a slight pause might be detected. Episode six was a particularly poor quality film recording, obviously made when the original videotape had seen better days. The damage to the tape caused numerous flashes throughout the episode, most of which were fixed by repeating frames or wiping in sections of adjacent frames as described above. Many distorted frames caused by the film recorder momentarily off-locking due to tape glitches still remain however.
'The Beginning' Boxset was due for release in the UK in November 1999, but it has been postponed in favour of a presentation tin containing the two remaining unreleased Dalek stories, 'Planet of the Daleks' and 'Revelation of the Daleks', which was thought to be more commercially viable. The stories that originally comprised the set are due to be released individually around the middle of 2000.
Steve Roberts, 17 November 1999