Time Flight 2019: Restoration Man

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Image Credit: Adapted from Daderot (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Image Description: A TV, half in grey scale and half in colour

James Ashworth listens to Paul Vanezis talk at Time Flight 2019

The Doctor Who Restoration Team is a name that inspires awe amongst members of the fandom. Having helped bring to light missing episodes, and improving the quality of many more, there is an immense debt of gratitude owed to these dedicated fans. Paul Vanezis is a noted member of the team, having helped recover missing episodes such as parts one to three of The Reign of Terror, while also directing a number of shorts. He discussed his work and that of the group at Fantom Events’ convention Time Flight.

Paul didn’t have the most auspicious of entries into Doctor Who. While it may be a Robert Holmes story, the first moment he can remember is the cliffhanger of The Krotons Episode One, where the Doctor is menaced by a probe emerging from the wall. After this start, things looked up when, not owning a colour TV, he and his family were able to experience Who in its full glory at another’s in Kidderminster. The impact that the Third Doctor had on him was apparent—when Tom Baker took over, Paul initially took against him, citing the hair as the main factor in this decision. However, by the end of Robot, he realised the error of his ways.

Pertwee has also been important in the creation of the Restoration Team as a whole. They initially came together to restore colour to The Dæmons, of which every episode but the fourth existed as a black and white film print, the fourth surviving on its original colour videotape. Having achieved this, they would then go on to restore other Pertwee episodes to colour, such as Terror of the Autons and Doctor Who and the Silurians. One of the problems with the colour restoration was that existing colour tapes of The Dæmons had been recorded in America. America uses a different television system to much of Europe to this day, and at the time its NTSC systems showed 30 frames per second, while Europe’s PAL system used 25. Furthermore, the frames were interlaced, where two images are shown together, each responsible for odd or even lines on the screen, meaning that estimates are required of what the original images looked like. As such, in America, there are no original frames present, with all the images estimates of what the original version looked like. Despite the effort this sounds like it requires, Paul revealed that the main basis of the colour recovery software was written in a morning, and when used on Planet of the Daleks, it gave a reasonable result, something improved when used with other, existing techniques.

The Restoration Team has also been involved in the restoration of missing episodes too, with The Web of Fear one of the recent examples. Being found in widescreen, the team found it easier to restore some of the errors in the original film. For example, Episode 6 contains marks on the print, and jumps. Paul believes that, as it was the original broadcast print, what we now have looks better than it did when it was originally shown. One complication that Paul discussed was microphony—the effect of sound on film. While sound may travel much more slowly than light, it still has the ability to disrupt the delicate recording equipment of the time. Loud sounds, such as gunshots and even screams, are able to disrupt the filming process by vibrating the camera, lowering the image quality in the process. Being a UNIT story, these sounds are of course particularly prevalent, and so work was required to counteract it. Having collected these episodes, however, Vanezis remained unaware of The Enemy of the World’s recovery until later. The hunt for missing episodes goes on. Paul believes that episodes one and two of Marco Polo may exist in Tehran, though until political relations with Iran improve, it seems unlikely that we will find out.

Aside from Doctor Who, the Restoration Team have also helped with other missing episodes—recently discovered episodes of The Morecambe and Wise Show, for example. One problem with these films was that they were covered in a substance called Perma, which was used to fill any cracks in the film. While this was useful at the time, it makes conservation efforts more difficult as it needs to be removed for restoration, leaving the resulting film brittle. They also had problems with the poor storage conditions leaving the films warped—the episode containing the sketch ‘Old Donegal’ in particular—meaning that attempts to transfer it digitally kept resulting in blurred sections of tape. They discovered that old fashioned techniques were best, with the tape played in an arc so that it would remain flat momentarily at the crest, allowing for it to be effectively transferred. They also discovered that adjusting the aspect ratio corrected for errors in the colour recovery, which may in future allow for a better conversion of episodes such as Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One.

As for the future, Paul would be happy to see black and white episodes colourised. While this may sound far-fetched, there is the possibility that analysing the greyscale of the clips will allow this. Using skin colour as a baseline, as we have good colour photos of the actors, we can then compare this with other shades in order to see how it would have looked in the studio. Other developments will be dependent on the technology available, of which machine learning, and the ability to correct errors automatically, looks set to play a big role. Aside from Doctor Who, he has recently assisted with bringing uncatalogued footage from the NASA film unit during the space race to light, which has been released as the documentary Apollo 11.

I was engrossed by Paul’s talk, and so was everyone else. Although scheduled for an hour, it ended up lasting for an hour and a half! It probably would have lasted for longer, had it not been cut off to allow other guests a chance to speak. I hope to hear more about Paul’s exploits soon.

This article was first published in The Tides of Time Special Edition Summer 2019

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