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Colouring in the Dæmons

By Nigel Windsor and Paul Scoones

Recently there has been a successful attempt at colourising black and white telerecordings from the Pertwee era. This article tells some of the story and explains some of the technical concepts behind the process.

It is well known that North America and Canada use a different TV transmission system from Britain. During the Pertwee era, sales of Doctor Who to those countries meant that 525 line NTSC copies were duplicated off the BBC's 625 line PAL CVT (colour video tape) masters. Unfortunately the BBC failed to keep some of their CVT masters, and when the BBC tried to rebuild their archives in the early 1980s they found that their only copies of some Pertwee stories were on 16mm black and white film, called 'telerecordings'. It is these copies which have provided the black and white prints for overseas sales of stories such as Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death, Terror of the Autons, The Mind of Evil - and The Dæmons.

At the beginning of 1992, four out of five episodes of The Dæmons existed in two basic forms: as 16mm black & white broadcast quality film recordings, and as non-broadcast quality colour tapes recorded on U-matic video cassettes in the US 525-line NTSC format. Only Episode Four existed as a UK standard 625-line PAL colour transmission tape.

In 1978, British Doctor Who fan Ian Levine learned that a Los Angeles TV station were about to show The Dæmons as a two-hour compilation. He arranged for an American friend to hire one of the brand-new Betamax system video recorders and record the story off-air. The recording was made on two, one-hour tapes, which meant that about twenty seconds were lost halfway through when the tapes were changed over. The tapes were sent to Levine, who had them copied onto 525-line U-matic cassettes.

Early in 1992, two long time fans of Doctor Who working in the television industry, Ralph Montagu and James Russell, approached John Whiston, producer of BBC2's The Late Show (responsible for the Resistance is Useless documentary and the recent British Doctor Who repeat seasons), with the idea of taking the colour information from the American tapes and mixing this over the 16mm black and white telerecording.

This was not the first time anyone had thought of this idea - it had been possible to do it for some time, and indeed about five years earlier a test restoration of the first episode of Terror of the Autons had been made by the BBC. Only recently however has it become possible to produce high quality results easily and cheaply.

Ralph Montagu is a BBC graphic designer, and James Russell a broadcast equipment designer for Rank Cintel, a company respected for making top-notch 'Flying Spot' machines that are used in the industry for making broadcast standard conversions of film to video tape. Indeed a machine like this would be needed to convert the black and white film on to videotape during the restoration process.

John Whiston saw the potential for such an idea and funded the trial restoration of episode one of The Dæmons. The result wasn't perfect, but sufficiently demonstrated the potential of the technique for funding to be allocated for all four black and white episodes. Montagu and Russell were joined on the project by BBC senior telecine engineer Steve Roberts, who had been engaged in similar experiments and was able to improve on the technique.

A television picture is made up of two pieces of information: a highly detailed black and white image which makes up the outlines of people, buildings etc called a luminance signal, and a much less detailed colour image called the chrominance signal which is superimposed over the outlines, rather like a child's colouring-in book. Using the latest digital video editing equipment the clarity and detail of the black and white film print could be retained whilst lifting off the accurate colour information of the otherwise substandard American tapes to produce a new third mastertape.

There were however many technical obstacles which had to be overcome. The most important problem was that the images from the two sources were a different size and shape. The film recording image was distorted when compared with the U-matic source, so a unit called a Questech Charisma video effects processor, (which enables a television picture to be distorted and moved around the screen) was used to distort the U-matic image to the same extent as the film image. This alignment process was crucial as any error would cause the colour to overlap objects on screen. This alignment, carried out by Russell, took up to two hours per episode and once the images were aligned, the actual recording began.

The American NTSC recording had been changed to a UK PAL system (such as is also used in NZ), and this and a videotape recording had been made of the film print as well (as film and video run at slightly different speeds - 24 frames per second for film and 25 fps for video). The two recordings were then played simultaneously, with the luminance signal from the U-matic version switched off so that only the colour was received, and the two signals were thus combined.

A further problem with matching the two signals was encountered when it was discovered that the American recording contained numerous tiny edits, usually at the end of scenes, which meant that the colour was missing for these portions of the story. Russell, Montagu and Roberts had more than one way of getting around this problem.

The first was to freeze the last frame of colour and let that play over the black and white segment - which worked when there was very little movement on screen. When there was too much movement however it was necessary to resort to colouring the sequences from scratch, which was either achieved by overlaying a colour wash with tinting (particularly effective when most of the screen is dark), or as a last option hand painting sequences using the Quantel Paintbox video unit (usually used in Doctor Who to change the colour of the sky, etc). This was used very sparingly and mostly was only applied to individual frames suffering from colour drop-out.

One major headache involved the loss of twenty seconds of colour from Episode Three due to a break in the U-matic recordings caused by the tapes being changed over when recorded off-air. Fortunately, a second recording, on VHS, had been made of the same American transmission, and although the quality was lower, it filled the gap. A second instance of colour loss was discovered near the end of episode three which, because it appeared on both American recordings, was evidently a transmission fault, and lasted about two seconds. Fortunately, the scene was fairly static, and so an undamaged segment of colour was lifted from a slightly earlier frame and placed on over forty frames.

Episode Four survives in its original colour format, which meant that some scenes for the end of episode three and the beginning of episode five could be lifted from there.

As the American transmission was a compilation it had only the episode one opening sequence and the episode five credits, so those that were missing from the colour recording were restored by electronically lifting the black and white captions from the black and white recording and placing these over copies of the BBC's clean background films (the opening and closing sequences without any lettering).

The story's sound was almost entirely taken from the film recording's separate magnetic soundtrack, since this was the highest quality version. The exception was where a portion of the Doctor's speech was missing during his slideshow in episode three, so this bit was taken from the U-matic recording. The opening and end music was lifted from Episode Four and placed over the credits for all the others.

In comparing the restored version with the U-matic source, Steve Roberts described the improved title sequences as "astonishing" and the rest of the story to be consistently "so much sharper than the original. The original colour tapes pale into insignificance when played alongside the restored version."

It is no doubt apparent by now that this is not a 'fake colourisation' which has been used on Laurel and Hardy films and classics such as Metropolis and Casablanca. The process preserves the colour tint accuracy of the original but 'cleans up' the blotchy colour of the US tapes thus recreating the original look rather than totally inventing new colours.

Following the success with The Dæmons - which has recently been broadcast on BBC2 and released by BBC Video - funding was approved to apply the same process to three other Pertwee stories for which U-matic tapes exist. Terror of the Autons and Doctor Who and the Silurians have been completely restored and are now due for video release this year, but unfortunately, the colour copy of The Ambassadors of Death has proven too substandard to restore.

In addition, those episodes for which no colour recording is known to exist, namely The Mind of Evil, Planet of the Daleks Episode Three and Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One, cannot be put through the same process, and so for now, these along with The Ambassadors of Death will remain the only black and white Pertwee episodes.

This item appeared in TSV 33 (April 1993).

Note: This article incorporates information from a feature by Steve Roberts which appeared in Doctor Who Magazine 196.
Index nodes: The Daemons