DOCTOR WHO RECONSTRUCTED: THE POWER OF
Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines
Hopefully most people know that many early
Doctor Who episodes have been “lost” by the BBC over the years.
Fewer people, and probably no-one outside Doctor Who fandom,
realise that some elements from these lost episodes still survive. Sound
recordings of all the missing episodes exist, thanks to the loyalty and
dedication of a couple of fans who recorded them when they were originally
transmitted. In addition to these, however, is another invaluable
resource: the Doctor Who telesnaps.
In the years before home video recorders
became affordable to the general public the BBC employed a freelance
photographer named John Cura to take photographs off the screen as
selected programmes were broadcast. These images served as a handy record
for the production team, potentially saving them the hassle of arranging
to view copies of the episodes themselves. They were also made available
to any contributors who wanted copies for their own use (perhaps simply as
a souvenir of their work on a show).
In the case of Doctor Who, Cura
would take a few dozen photo’s for each episode, creating representative
images from every scene. They were generally printed up as 35mm contact
strips, which the Doctor Who production office dutifully pasted into
binders. These binders were eventually filed away at the BBC’s Written
Archives Centre, in Caversham, where they were eventually rediscovered, by
fans researching the show’s history.
Although there are some notable gaps, most
of Doctor Who’s lost episodes are represented by these telesnaps.
Indeed, the ones that survive cover some of the series most important
Inevitably someone had the fine idea of
pairing a slideshow of John Cura’s telesnaps with the audio recordings,
and thus the “Doctor Who Reconstructions” were born. These
fan-produced projects were a labour of love, taking countless hours of
work using fledgling home video editing techniques to produce the end
result. Their groundbreaking work effectively resurrected lost Doctor
Who episodes, helping to make more sense of the audio recordings, and
tying the narrative to the images. Lost episodes could now be watched in a
form that at least approximated the original programme. With a bit of
imagination, and the odd caption to fill in gaps, the Reconstructions
brought the series back to life.
Wary of the amount of work involved, it was
several years before the BBC themselves attempted something similar. Faced
with the opportunity to release four surviving episodes of the six-episode
Patrick Troughton story The Ice Warriors, the BBC bridged the gap
between episodes one and four with an abridged reconstruction. It was a
very costly exercise, partly because it had to be done to a much more
professional standard than was acceptable for the fan-made
Technology marches on, and now the BBC has
created a new, more efficient, method of presenting the reconstructed
episodes: the CD-Rom. Doctor Who Reconstructed: The Power of the Daleks
uses MP3 audio recordings of the episodes and a slideshow-type program to
display the telesnaps on a user’s computer screen. Rather than use the raw
soundtrack recordings, the BBC has cleverly taken the audio from their
existing range of Audio Collection releases, which use newly-recorded
narration in the gaps between the original dialogue.
To play the disc, you’ll need a version of
the dreaded RealPlayer software installed on your machine. I despise using
RealPlayer because it’s incredibly invasive. Given half a chance it will
embed itself into your operating system, greedily becoming the default
player for most media formats. It’s a difficult program to manage, and
difficult to get rid of. Unfortunately, it’s also the BBC’s program of
choice for their online audio and video content. There are other programs
that will play RealPlayer’s proprietary files, including Real Alternative,
which strips away RealPlayer’s aggressiveness. Unfortunately my copy of
Real Alternative wouldn’t play the Doctor Who Reconstructed: The Power
of the Daleks properly, and I had to uninstall it, and install
RealPlayer again (a copy of the program – RealOnePlayerV2Gold - is handily
included on the disc). Getting rid of RealPlayer afterwards was another
hassle, because the version installed by the disc didn’t include an
uninstaller program. The program also requires a Flash plug-in for your
web browser (most users should already have this).
Once you’ve put the disc in your CD-Rom or
DVD-Rom drive, you get started by loading the “Getting Started” HTML file,
which opens in your web browser, and provides a hyperlink to the program
itself (or, rather, two links: one for PC users, the other for Mac users).
Clicking this leads to an entry splash
screen, with a handy “Enter” button.
Clicking that launches a pop-up window
modelled to look like the TARDIS scanner. A row of controls sit in
roundels underneath the screen: Home, Episodes, Extras,
Links and Credits.
You’re already at the “Home” screen,
so the obvious thing is to select “Episodes”. This leads to a
screen with each of the six episodes listed.
Clicking one launches a new window, and the episode automatically begins,
with an animated version of the title sequences (created using lap
dissolves between frames). This window can be enlarged to fill your
screen, so the size of the images is very acceptable.
Along the bottom of the player screen are
two options: “Play Part 1” and “Play Part 2”. These do not, as you might
expect, lead to episodes one and two – for some not readily apparent
reason they refer to the first half of the episode and the second half. A
lime green navigation bar shows your progress through that half of the
episode. You can click and drag the pointer, to navigate to a different
point in the episode.
Watching the episodes like this is a real
joy. The audio is clear, and the images are certainly of good enough
quality to see what’s happening (don’t forget, they were blown up from
tiny half-frame 35mm contact prints, of an image of broadcast TV-quality resolution!) The
episodes are clean and tidy (the originals were often carelessly pasted
onto the book pages, with lots of glue residue stuck to them).
Fans may be a little disappointed that the
very few fragments of video that exist for this story have not been
incorporated in some way. Where appropriate there are some editorial
nuances – dissolves between photo’s and fades, moving Dalek iris effects,
etc, rather than cuts, but otherwise the presentation is generally quite
The narration, by actress Anneke Wills (who
starred as Polly in the story), is considerate and well-written. Even
though it wasn’t intended to be listened to alongside the telesnaps, it’s
obvious that the narration’s author, the redoubtable Sue Cowley, consulted
them closely when writing it. The narration often states something that is
self-evident from looking at the images, but that’s unavoidable. More
often the narration provides useful information that neither the dialogue
nor the telesnaps provide. Since there are BBC Audiobook narrated versions
of most of the episodes that only exist as audio recordings, it’s unlikely
that future Reconstructed releases will feature scripts that have been
tailored for this unique combination of images and sound.
Improvements could certainly be made to the
player interface. A “Pause / Play” button would be useful, for the
inevitable interruptions, as would a “next episode” button, so that you
don’t have to go back to the “Episodes” screen each time you finish
one. A “Play All” button and a volume control would also be nice!
The Extras section features short
clips from nine other BBC Audio Doctor Who titles, including the
Tales from the TARDIS range and the Doctor Who and the Daleks
MP3 audiobook, and a generic Doctor Who audio promotional trailer.
What of the story itself? Well, it’s a
terrific example of 60s Doctor Who. The story was the first one to
feature Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, so much of the first episode
deals with the Doctor’s regeneration. His erratic behaviour has confused
his two travelling companions, Polly and Ben (Michael Craze), as it would
no doubt have done to anyone watching the series in 1966. They land on the
Earth colony planet of Vulcan, where they are immediately implicated in
the murder of a visiting official. Soon the travellers discover the
colony’s chief scientist has a dark secret: he’s in possession of a
capsule that contains three inert Daleks. Of course, they aren’t inert for
It’s a cracking story, thanks to an
excellent script, by the series’ original story editor, David Whitaker,
and a terrific performance by Robert James, as Lesterson.
Doctor Who Reconstructed: The Power of
the Daleks is a real treat for Doctor Who fans. Anyone who’s
tried listening to the audio tracks, while “reading along” with the
telesnaps (which have been printed in various publications over the years)
will get a real thrill from this new disc. Hopefully this will be the
first of many such releases, especially if the interface can be improved.