On the day that we put together the BBC Home Video master of 'The War Machines', Richard Molesworth interviewed Stephen Cole (the editor of the Doctor Who range of books and videos at BBC Worldwide), Mark Ayres (composer and audio restoration expert) and Michael Ferguson (the director of four Doctor Who stories, including 'The War Machines'). Parts of these interviews were used by 'Doctor Who Magazine', but in an abridged form.
Stephen Cole recently assumed control of most of BBC Wordwide's Doctor Who output, and was effectively the person who gave the go-ahead for the restoration of The War Machines. How did this come about? "Ive only been in the job for a month or so, and it was something Nuala Buffini, my predecessor, was setting up, although there was a brief hand-over period. We wanted something special for the June launch - were launching the new range of books, and theres also a new audio release - theres a whole range of good Doctor Who stuff. The War Machines became a good project when it was made clear to us that amongst the material returned from Australia were missing sequences from this story that could be re-instated, so it became an obvious choice for release on video". So did BBC Worldwide need much persuasion to go ahead with the project? "The good thing about this was that everyone was very much behind getting the best quality product out, which I was really pleased with. Its really nice to give the fans extra stuff - for example the Blue Peter segment at the start of the tape, especially when it was discovered that we could clear that material for not too much of an additional fee. Paul Vanezis and Steve Roberts, who were in charge of the project, really care about what they do , and I know we are going to end up with a good quality product. It could have been chucked out on video without any of the extra footage in, but fortunately the reality is that the fans do a lot for the BBCs turnover, and I know that this is a good product. My feeling is to get good stuff out there for them".
So does this mean that future video releases could still be a possibility for episodes and stories which could be restored or expanded? "Well, only if its deemed to be financially viable - thats the bottom line. Episode 3 of Planet of the Daleks is staying black and white for the time being! This is a business, with profit margins and everything. Im not too involved editorially, Im more concerned about seeing what possibilitys there are and in getting them released. Added value is the key, especially with so many stories having being shown on UK Gold over the past few years. Naturally, Im interested in footage that hasnt been seen before, and is sitting on the shelf not being utilised. Its quite nice to please the fans and generate a profit for BBC Worldwide - its the perfect situation, and thats the sort of thing I would like to see more of". However, The War Machines has cost more money than usual to get it ready for release. Does this mean there are higher expectations for sales? "I think it will be expected to shift a few more extra units. Its very much a shame that its not been fully restored, which is what we had originally hoped, but its as complete as its ever going to be, basically. There will be a bit of extra publicity with the whole re-launch thing, so I hope it sells well. It deserves to, being such a good story".
Mark Ayres is known best for his music, which graced The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, The Curse of Fenric and Ghost Light for the Sylvester McCoy era of the programme in the late eighties. However, music is only one of Marks talents - other skills were required when he became involved in the restoration work on The War Machines. "Ive always sort of worn two hats. I trained as a composer, and did a music degree. But my degree was in fact in music and electronics. Ive always been very interested in electronics as a technology both of music and of sound, and my first job in television was as a sound engineer, although what I really wanted to be doing was writing music for film and TV. Ive always been very technical in what I do, and Ive always striven for a technical quality as well as a musical quality , and I have my own facility where I do my own recordings - Ive got all the gizmos, all the smart toys and software that you can use for making interesting noises and treating sound. And these gadgets can be used in a more basic way to restore sound - to do fancy equalisation and noise removal, removing and filtering sound as opposed to creating new sound. In effect Im grading the sound in the same way that Paul Vanezis and Steve Roberts are grading the pictures, so over the different sources it matches, and you dont notice the jumps so much". Mark was more than pleased to be asked to contribute to the project by Paul Vanezis and Steve Roberts. "They asked me to do it. They are both absolute experts in video, they really know their jobs, and they have a love of the material. Theyve done wonderful things with the pictures, re-grading the material, going back as many generations as possible to get the best possible quality original material. Theyve really smartened the pictures up, so the results look terrific. They wanted the same thing done to the sound, as they didnt really have the equipment to do it themselves. Its a very specialised field - its not just a question of passing it through a mixing desk and putting some equalisation on it".
However, the first thing Mark had to do was get to grips with all the source material. "There were - I think - three different sources of 16mm film prints, and there are still some holes in the pictures. The holes have been filled using audio taken from off-air reel-to-reel recordings made by a fan called Graham Strong from the original 1966 broadcasts. All the various 16mm prints had different audio levels, in the same way as the pictures look different on them all - some are very grainy, some are very clear, some have got scratches on, some havent, and its the same with the audio from those different sources. The censored film sequences returned (albeit on video) from Australia are of quite poor quality, sound-wise - there are fewer of the higher frequencies preserved, and a lot more hiss. The off-air recordings of Grahams were made on a reel-to-reel machine, running at one and seven-eighths inches per second, which was the slowest possible speed you could get. When I was a teenager, I used to record Doctor Who off-air, and I used three and three-quarters IPS, which was bad enough! Graham was doing it at half of that speed, but at least he was using quite a high-quality recording system. These recordings - if you think about it - are off the original videotape, theyre not off the 16mm film, theyre off the original transmission. They point is, they have been transmitted. In the 1960s, TV used VHF transmission, 405 lines, and wasnt as clean as the UHF transmission system we use now. As a result, you used to get a lot of noise and interference, and a lot of the soundtracks Graham recorded are quite noisy, quite hissy. You get a similar effect if you try and listen to an FM radio station these days in a big city, its often very difficult getting a decent signal because of all the pirate radio stations; and inter-station interference causes all sorts of undesirable effects - birdie noises and so on. It was exactly the same with VHF transmission back then - youd get interference whenever a cloud went over - and a couple of sequences we wanted to use were very noisy in that respect. So what Ive had to do with the sound is take all the extraneous noises off
"Not only that, but no two reel-to-reel machines run at the same speed. A lot of Grahams tapes are running quite a bit faster than the original video tapes, so if I had dropped that sound straight back in to the tape I would still have had a gap. So what I had to do was to take the audio recordings and stretch them, so the duration was the same as it should have been. Having done that, I would then take off the hiss. Having done that, I would then take of all the warbling and birdie noises. Finally I had to re-equalise the sound. This involves using a high-quality variant of the tone controls youve got on your home hi-fi; not just base and treble, but sometimes 10 bands, sometimes 20 bands, and at one point I had to use 30 bands of equalisation to take out all the noises, and to match the sound. And hopefully now over the joins between sources you will not notice - at least not as much as you would have done - the change in the quality of the sound. The intention was to match the quality of the dialogue as closely as possible over the edits. Doing this has the side-effect that maybe the background hiss changes in quality slightly, which will be noticeable. But I dont think that its as noticeable as someone talking clearly one minute, and then halfway through a scene suddenly becoming muffled. You may hear the background sound build up on some of the edits, but you wont hear the muffled voices".
"There are a couple of points where Ive had difficulties, because in taking all the warbling noises out of the off-air recordings, Ive used some very specific software. However the software in itself produces artefacts - funny noises. So although Ive taken away much of the noise that was actually there, the noise you are left with is completely different from the noise you originally had, and at a lower level. But again what Ive done is treated it, and it sounds similar to the Wotan sound-effect, like a new sound-effect comes in at a couple of points. But to me, thats less objectionable - and I dont think Joe Public will notice as much as the fans might. But I think that a bit of added sound is far preferable to not being able to hear whats being said".
One of the infamous missing sequences from the story features a War Machine attacking a telephone box and its helpless occupant. This scene has now been restored for the video release, but required a special effort from Mark. "The telephone box sequence was quite interesting - the pictures were re-instated from an edition of Blue Peter, but the accompanying sound was wrong. The only available sound source was the Graham Strong audio tapes. Ive still used the dialogue, but moved the lines over a wide shot of the telephone box, as there are still some pictures missing at this point. All the dialogue is now back, but the lines are now heard over an exterior shot. Unfortunately, Grahams recordings were very distorted at this point, so Ive had to take them down in level slightly, and bring up the level of noise of the War Machine approaching. The mix is not the same as it was on the original programme, but it disguises the distortion and makes more sense over the way weve had to re-cut the pictures - the dialogue is used over a wide shot, so the sound source would be further away from the viewer. Its not strictly what is in the original programme, but seeing as we couldnt get back to original, what we have done is re-built something which now makes perfect sense, rather than just leaving a hole".
Another example shows how much effort was expended on something that most viewers wont notice. "There was a break in the film at one point, and a couple of frames were missing. It was a dialogue scene between The Doctor and Ben. Ben didnt finish a sentence, and a bit of The Doctors following line was missing. Again, I went back to Graham Strongs recordings, lifted-off the scene, and overlapped it slightly. Now Ben finishes his sentence, although The Doctor now "treads" on his line. This didnt happen originally, but in fact its quite in character! But at least Ben now finishes his sentence. For some of the new sequences, a hard edit would have been too obvious, so Ive done a long cross-fade. To cover this, Ive maybe pinched some Wotan background noise from somewhere else in the programme, just to cover the edit. You wont notice it, I promise you - you will not notice that the thing has changed, because I have lifted exactly matching sound".
There was an obvious temptation to try and improve the general sound, and remove any mistakes or unwanted noise that originally featured in the programme. "There are some difficult decisions as to how far I should take my work. Because the original video has been transferred to film, Ive tried to remove anything which was added during that process of optical copying; in other words, taking it back to its condition on original transmission. Any film pops, or scratches, or clicks where the film may have broken or been cut, Ive smoothed out. During the battle sequence in episode 3, there are lots of horrible banging noises on the film soundtrack, and I did start to remove them. But then I listened to Grahams off-air recordings, and I discovered that theyre there too. They must have been on the original video tape (probably the extras bumping into microphones whilst staging the fight in the warehouse), so Ive left them intact. They were on the original recording, and I didnt see it as my job to tamper with the original recordings".
"There are also a couple of occasions where sound-effects have been faded in at the wrong points - this would have occurred during the original studio recordings. As part of the process of restoring the sound, Ive had to run it all through my computer. I could see all the sound up on my computer screen - it would be very easy for me to grab a sound effect, and put it back where its supposed to be. I havent done it, because it was done wrongly at the time, and thats the way it should stay. All Ive tried to do is correct technical defects which have occurred later with the film, I havent corrected things which were done wrongly on the original tapes".
"Except in two places. The restored battle scene in episode three featured sound (and pictures) from the returned Australian material. At the beginning of the sequence, the sound faded down, and then back up again. It sounded to me a bit like a dropout, so I removed it. Again, when listening to Grahams audio recordings, I found the same dip in sound on the original broadcast. What must have happened during the studio recording is that the film sequence was played in, and the sound engineer faded up the film sound, thought hed made a mistake and faded it down again, then thought Hang on ,I was right first time, and faded it up again. There was this dip in the sound, and it was very distracting, so Ive repaired it, and left the sound smooth. Similarly on the following scene, where The Doctor wanders up to see whats going on, there is a cut back to the studio from film The sound engineer has faded the film sound down and the studio sound up, and then thought Hang on, Ive got it wrong, swapped the faders over, and then swapped them over once again. It was very distracting. Seeing as we had actually dropped a new sequence in at that point anyway (which I had to do a lot of work on to match it in), I thought it was too distracting, and drew attention to what I had done. So again, I smoothed it out. Theyre the only two places where Ive changed the original soundtrack at all - just to save the sound engineers blushes. Apart from that Ive left it as it was".
Mark makes no bones about the trickiness of his task , scoring it seven out of ten on the difficult scale. And the occasional bit of cheating went on, too. "Occasionally, there is the odd couple of seconds, where there are a few extra lines of dialogue. The lines had got lost, and Paul and Steve managed to find a cutaway shot, to bridge the scene. This enabled me to put the dialogue back in. Just to get that dialogue in, so that the viewer doesnt notice the difference - well, not as much as you would have done - maybe took two or three hours. And thats for two or three seconds".
Ultimately, Marks endeavours will not be noticed by the majority of viewers. Unlike his musical compositions, his work on The War Machines is defined not by what the viewer hears, but by what escapes un-noticed. "There are undoubtedly two or three points where you will notice that something has been done, but there are many more points where you will not! And yet I can assure you that quite a considerable amount of work was done, and you would certainly have noticed if I had not done it. Weve all done the best we can with the available materials". Its what people dont hear that counts.
Since he last worked on the programme proper, Mark has contributed to "Thirty Years in the TARDIS" (in all of its guises), the extended video release of "The Curse of Fenric" and various semi-professional projects. His is more than willing to continue his involvement in future projects. "I think we all get frustrated with things not being done properly - I do. The joy of the War Machines project, or the joy in Thirty Years or More than Thirty Years, was that they were being done properly. The rest of the team were people who love Doctor Who as much as I do. Working with Paul or Steve, or Kevin Davies, there is never any argument about how to do things, because we all want to get the best possible product, and the best possible result. Its frustrating doing things where maybe you cant go as far as you would like - Ive been involved in projects where I wanted to do more, but I was told I couldnt do more, because either there wasnt time or there wasnt the money. Money (generally) - if it is something I really want to do - is not a worry, frankly. And yet I still get people who say Theres not enough budget, you cant do that. Here there is never any question of that, it is always Yeah, lets go for it, lets do it, and hopefully we will still bring The War Machines in under budget! Were all going that extra mile, because we want to see it done properly. I think thats important".
Michael Ferguson began working for the BBC in the early 1960s. "The first thing I did at the BBC was holiday relief some thirty-three years ago, working as an Assistant Floor Manager. I started as a trailing AFM, then moved onto Doctor Who as the AFM for the first Dalek story, which was co-directed by Richard Martin and Christopher Barry. My claim to fame is that I was the first-ever Dalek, because the first time one was ever seen, you only saw the sucker arm. I was actually sitting on the camera-dolly, trundling down this silver corridor towards Jacqueline Hill, with a Dalek sink plunger held out in front of me. The other thing I remember was that the first day we were in the studio with the Daleks, I was in the lift in the studio building. The lift-man (an interesting man - he was always trying to sell me watches and things) turned to me and said Its a pity about Kennedy. I asked what had happened, and he told me that President Kennedy had been shot. So I remember very clearly where I was when I heard the news that Kennedy had assassinated - I had just finished working on a Doctor Who episode".
"After this, I went off and trained as a director and then got my first TV directing work, working on Compact, which was a twice-weekly serial. I then got the opportunity to direct The War Machines for Doctor Who. This was a great break for me, because the programme by then had become quite well established, was one that I was enjoying as a viewer, and also was one I had already been involved in. So it was great fun to do".
"I remember at the time of the War Machines that computers were very new - we accept them now, everybody knows what computers and PCs are - but computers then were something rather strange, and not everyone knew about them. In particular, the interest was; would computers ever learn to think for themselves? Would they become a force in their own right, separate from the people who made them, and thought that they controlled them? That was very much a topic in those days, people were rather frightened of computers, and I think that generated quite a lot of the interest in this particular story".
Although written by Ian Stuart Black, the idea for the original story stemmed from the programmes new scientific advisor, Doctor Kit Pedler. "I remember Kit very well, he did have a lot to do with it. He was one of the early computer buffs, and would sometimes say No, this couldnt happen like this at script meetings. Although it was a fantasy programme, the production staff were always very keen - quite rightly - to keep it within the bounds of credibility to some extent. To say that these things were possible - just - so that too many liberties werent taken for dramatic purposes. In a way, I think thats been one of the secret of Doctor Who. Quite a lot of things - apart from being able to move through time and space - in the programme from the early days of the programme have come about in some shape or form".
Not that Michael relied solely on Kit Pedler for background advice. "I remember going to IBM in Hammersmith, doing our research for The War Machines. We went and talked to their people about computers, as we didnt know too much about them - what did they do? - how did they work? - what did they look like? In those days, a computer filled the space the size of a television studio, full of parts which looked like big washing machines with great big spools of tape grinding away all the time. They were very impressive, actually - more impressive than computers are nowadays".
Most people who worked on the programme at this time seem to come away with strong memories of William Hartnell. Michael Ferguson is no exception. "I have two memories of Bill. My first job on the programme was when I was AFM on The Daleks. I remember he was actually very helpful, very kindly. I suppose because he was new to the programme, he was very keen to make it work. When I returned as a director, I found him to be... not quite as charming as I had remembered him before. Maybe he just took a different attitude towards directors! I also think at the time he was not a very well man. Bill was certainly one who didnt suffer fools particularly well - I think probably for good professional reasons - although I think there are perhaps more charming ways of dealing with the things that inevitably go wrong on a programme as complicated as Doctor Who. A man not blessed with a long temper".
The War Machines features the debuts of two new companions for The Doctor - Michael Craze as Ben and Anneke Wills as Polly. "I wasnt involved in the casting. But they were great. Looking back on it its remarkable how very sixties Anneke looks in particular. It suddenly brings back to me all that lovely old sixties style that she encapsulated particularly well. They were both terrific to work with - they had a lot of energy, were very talented, and great fun".
Michael has just watched episode 1 of The War Machines for the first time in many years. "It brings back very happy memories. As a young director - in my late twenties - it was a great opportunity to stretch my imagination. Instead of doing a very formulaic programme - although that was delightful in its own way - to be given something where you could make your mark, where you could do things and surprise people, and tell the story in an exiting and vivid way - it was a great challenge, and one I remember with great affection. Of course, I went on to direct other episodes of Doctor Who, but Ill always remember my first with affection. It was also my first experience with a film camera - Id done quite a lot of work in the studio with multi-camera directing, but film was usually used for plays, and was thought of to be something that was frightfully grand. To be allowed out with a film camera and a film crew on the streets of London, with people in costume, really made me feel as though this was the big time. It never got any better than that, I have to say".
Although the story has been back at the BBC for over a decade in its curtailed form, Michael is full of praise for the effort that has gone in to restoring the story. "I think the endeavour is absolutely terrific, Im delighted. I think a lot of the history of television - not just Doctor Who - has gotten lost, which is a great shame. It is important archival material, not just from an artistic interest, but from a sociological interest. Preserving what people were enjoying on TV at any given time. What was it about that programme, at that moment in time? What was it about this particular programme that made it important and interesting, and why did it catch so many peoples imagination? Im delighted that people are so committed to restoring The War Machines - discovering all the missing bits and putting them all together. I admire and thank the people involved, because it means - if nothing else - that part of my work has been reclaimed and will be available".
Very available, as the story will be released on video. Michael has no doubts as to the reaction it will get. "I think the Doctor Who fans will enjoy it, if nothing else for its historical interest. I think its a very good story, and will stand up really well".
Inteviews copyright Richard Molesworth, 1997. Segments reprinted by kind permission of 'Doctor Who Magazine'.