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Reverse Engineering Doctor Who Into Color 171

Posted by timothy
from the like-time-travel-for-real dept.
Lanxon writes "In 1967, the BBC set about junking its Doctor Who archive: a moment sci-fi fans wish they could travel back in time to prevent. There are 108 vintage episodes missing, but since 1978 a number have been rediscovered as 16mm black-and-white films. The BBC shot many of these series in color, but made monochrome copies for countries such as Australia, where many TV companies were still broadcasting in greyscale. The reels had sat in archives since. Now, the Doctor Who Restoration Team, an independent group contracted by the BBC, is using a new technique to regenerate The Doctor in color."
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Reverse Engineering Doctor Who Into Color

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  • color (Score:5, Funny)

    by slash.dt (701002) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @12:15AM (#34762218)
    The BBC shot many of these series in color

    Since this is the BBC, they shot *none* of them in color but many of them in *colour*....

    • What, that old spelling flame again? A better flame would be being a Eurocentric jerk and lecturing us all on the superiority of PAL vs. NTSC.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The point being that 'the BBC' didn't destroy these tapes, at most, ONE or TWO idiots who worked for the BBC destroyed these tapes - and you can bet your bottom dollar that they were managers, arrogant tossers with an overblown sense of their own importance, who destroyed forever all the hard work of scores of people, which can never be replicated.

      Thanks for that, BBC!

      I notice we are never given the NAMES of the idiots behind these decisions. Somebody must know who they are.

      • by mikael (484)

        There is an article on the history of video recording in the production industry [bbc.co.uk]. The tapes (Ampex VRX-1000) weren't destroyed as in thrown out, crushed or incinerated. They were re-used to record new programming until the iron oxide was worn out. Given the relative costs of storage and purchase of each cassette, limited budgets, tight deadlines, the fact that copies were made for distribution, no producer or accountant would have given a second thought to overwriting the tapes for new programming. The same

  • by thechao (466986) <jaroslovNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @12:22AM (#34762266)

    So the article was devoid of anything of particular interest other than some jargon. The jargon, on the other hand, led to fascinating little technique about reconstructing the color of the grayscale image from "chroma dots". The actual method was discovered by a BBC engineer, and you can read more about it here: colour-recovery.wikispaces.com.

    • by e9th (652576) <e9th@@@tupodex...com> on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @02:34AM (#34762772)
      Complementing TFA is the restoration team's FAQ [iwillvoice.com], which covers some of the non-technical details involved.
      • by KingAlanI (1270538) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:21AM (#34762906) Homepage Journal

        http://www.iwillvoice.com/faqpage.html#q3.6 [iwillvoice.com]
        Question 3.6 from that FAQ seems to be that which specifically refers to this issue.

      • by dugeen (1224138) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @06:13AM (#34763428) Journal
        What you won't find in the FAQ is a list of all the changes the 'Restoration' Team have made to the stories - not only have they painted out boom shadows, camera reflections etc, but they've also messed up these changes on numerous occasions, resulting in missing sound effects, actors being left out of credits, credit backgrounds being the wrong colour, and everyone in Black Orchid looking like they're wearing bright red lipstick. But you can find a list here: http://tinypaste.com/c5441e [tinypaste.com]
        • They are human, for god's sake. Maybe they shouldn't be going into making corrections, but I am happy that they are there. They are working to try to help partially fix the massive mistakes the BBC unknowingly made so long ago. They are doing some yeoman like work, so please don't completely diss them.

          • by jedidiah (1196)

            There is a good argument to be made that they SHOULD FIX NOTHING.

            Just cleanup the black & white prints they have and stop there.

            People who are even interested in some 40 year old TV show will likely suffer the black & white versions.

            "Fixing" works primarily has the effect of annoying those that care about the work the most.

            Colorizing is a generally bad idea because of this.

        • by jimicus (737525)

          As long as they haven't made the oh-so-painful mistake of interspersing shots of a cheap, flimsy set which looks like something straight out of the 1960's with modern FX shots - they did that with the Red Dwarf remasters (though that was 1980's set) and my God, it was appalling.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      So the article was devoid of anything of particular interest other than some jargon. The jargon, on the other hand, led to fascinating little technique about reconstructing the color of the grayscale image from "chroma dots". The actual method was discovered by a BBC engineer, and you can read more about it here: colour-recovery.wikispaces.com.

      http://colour-recovery.wikispaces.com/ [wikispaces.com]

      a link tends to work better.

  • Can they reverse engineer the scripts instead? Color or black and white, those old episodes are damn unwatchable. We'd be better off giving Wikipedia descriptions of the episodes to the writing staff of Golden Girls. Those old droning 5-part episodes would be turned into 22.5 minutes of tightly scripted comedy starring Bea Arthur as the Doctor. And any of the other old hags as K-9.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tuffy (10202)

      Color or black and white, those old episodes are damn unwatchable.

      108 of them are, at least.

    • by bigstrat2003 (1058574) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @01:01AM (#34762426)
      To be honest, I have not been able to really get into old Doctor Who at all. I've tried watching City of Death (I think that was it) multiple times, as I heard it was one of the better Fourth Doctor adventures, but when I watch it, the acting is too poor to really be able to enjoy it. I really want to experience the history of the series, as I love the revival to death. I guess it's just not for me. :/
      • by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @01:41AM (#34762576) Journal

        You might consult the Doctor who ratings guide [pagefillers.com]. Look under "Televised Adventures".
        Many people like Pyramids of Mars, and the Talons of Weng Chiang, though the latter isn't particularly culturally sensitive. Genesis of the Daleks is another keeper.

        Personally, I started with The Power of Kroll.

        • by heironymous (197988) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @02:41AM (#34762802)

          Many people like Pyramids of Mars, and the Talons of Weng Chiang, though the latter isn't particularly culturally sensitive.

          I agree, but there's a wonderful moment when Tom Baker exclaims something like, "Wait a minute, you're Chinese," as if that visually obvious fact had eluded him up to that point. Made quite an impression on my young mind, that an alien -- even a super intelligent one -- would be less capable of seeing our trivial differences. To be truly unprejudiced, we must see through better eyes.

          • I agree, but there's a wonderful moment when Tom Baker exclaims something like, "Wait a minute, you're Chinese," as if that visually obvious fact had eluded him up to that point.

            Maybe he suddenly realized that Li H'sen Chang is Chinese as opposed to Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, or some other instance of Asian ancestry.

          • by O-Deka-K (1520371)

            So you're saying that it's better not to see color?

        • by Rysc (136391) *

          Personally, I'd start with An Unearthly Child and continue chronologically with the highlights.

          I understand it may be too much for some people, like a DBZ marathon, but it's important to see the context and evolution. A brief skim through doctors 1-2, then settle in and watch most remaining Pertwee, then watch 4, 5, 6 and 7. Once finished go back and watch the ones you missed. Then start on the reconstructions and consider whether the new series is worth it.

          Of course for this you need an experienced Who fan

          • And when you're watching the really old ones, remember that they're basically stage shows that someone was pointing a camera at. Back then, there were basically no experienced television actors (or producers, for that matter) and everything was set up just like a play and then filmed. You'll see The Doctor walking onto the set, waiting to make sure that the audience has seen him, and then delivering his lines. A modern production would edit out these pauses; they hurt the narrative, but they're interesti
        • Many people like Pyramids of Mars ...

          I loved that episode. Sutekh was quite malevolent and wonderfully voiced by Gabriel Woolf who, incidentally, the BBC brought back to do the voice of the Beast in the 2-parter David Tennant story of The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit.

      • by Psmylie (169236) *

        The acting and special effects were fine... considering the time of the original broadcasts and the intended audience (children). I quite enjoyed it as a kid/young teen, though yes, going back to watch some of those episodes now is painful. The same thing happens to a lot of old shows, though, and if nothing else, the mythology of Dr. Who definitely withstands the tests of time.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      When they started rerunning the old episodes in Australia a few years back I really enjoyed them. The acting wasn't real good, the fight scenes (fist fights etc) were so bad they were funny, and the strings holding up the dalek's spaceship were visible and it rocked side to side, but I still really enjoyed them.

      • by Sulphur (1548251) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @02:08AM (#34762670)

        When they started rerunning the old episodes in Australia a few years back I really enjoyed them. The acting wasn't real good, the fight scenes (fist fights etc) were so bad they were funny, and the strings holding up the dalek's spaceship were visible and it rocked side to side, but I still really enjoyed them.

        They had not mastered String Theory at the time.

      • by Nyder (754090)

        When they started rerunning the old episodes in Australia a few years back I really enjoyed them. The acting wasn't real good, the fight scenes (fist fights etc) were so bad they were funny, and the strings holding up the dalek's spaceship were visible and it rocked side to side, but I still really enjoyed them.

        I never understood this. The acting in Doctor Who has always been good.

        Look at other "sci=fi" stuff released by teh BBC and you'll understand my point.

        You want bad acting? rewatch Blake's 7 I had fond memories of that show during the 80's and found the acting to be so horrible when i watched it again recently that I couldn't believe i missed it the first time. But Doctor Who episodes? Nope, i rewatch them ever few years and don't have a problem with the acting at all.

  • by Lev13than (581686) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @12:38AM (#34762328) Homepage

    The good news is that they've figured out how to restore colour to the B&W negatives. The bad news is that it requires Kodachrome processing...

    • by Lev13than (581686) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @12:42AM (#34762352) Homepage

      Actually, the process by which they're recovering the colour data is very interesting:
      http://www.insell.co.uk/colourisation/Recovery_of_Colour_Information_0-2.htm [insell.co.uk]

    • The good news is that they've figured out how to restore colour to the B&W negatives. The bad news is that it requires Kodachrome processing...

      No problem there at all. Just use the Tardis and go back to the heyday of Kodachrome processing. For this...it really helps to use a Time Lords trick of thinking inside the box.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        That's silly, if you're going to go to that trouble, you may as well go back to 1967 and stop the films from being destroyed. Or better yet, take them out of the bin and bring them back to the 21st century.
        • That's silly, if you're going to go to that trouble, you may as well go back to 1967 and stop the films from being destroyed. Or better yet, take them out of the bin and bring them back to the 21st century.

          Sorry, can't. Since they were actually destroyed, messing up the timeline is a no-no.

          Oh, but wait! We could copy them and put the originals back. Argh, can't do that either. Curses, RIAA.

        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          That's silly, if you're going to go to that trouble, you may as well go back to 1967 and stop the films from being destroyed. Or better yet, take them out of the bin and bring them back to the 21st century.

          Right now we are still trying to colorize Ted Turner.

  • this isn't a new technique - TFA even says it's a refinement of a technique that's been used before.

    damn cool though, to get the crap from the colour subcarrier that spilled into the luma image and re-generate the original from it.

    good thing those old kinescopes were in focus!

  • "Computer Science: it works, bitches!"

    For a taste of recolored Who, see Babelcolour's videos [youtube.com] (hand-recolored, frame by frame)

    • "This video contains content from Sony Music Entertainment, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds."
      Got a torrent?
      • "This video contains content from Sony Music Entertainment, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds." Got a torrent?

        What a nice look into the future. We might have colours, but we're not allowed to enjoy the media because we live in the wrong place.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      "Science: it works, bitches!"

      FTFY.

  • by linguizic (806996) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @01:24AM (#34762516)
    Like everything from Colin Baker. Seriously, aside from Peri's chest, there was nothing of interest in those episodes.
    • What about Peri's ass?
    • by Spacelem (189863) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @06:19AM (#34763444)

      I did enjoy some of the Colin Baker episodes. Seriously, the guy did an amazing job considering the crap they were putting it through, and it's the producer John Nathan-Turner who would have been better lost, as he seemed determined to make the series die a slow death. Being forced to retake scenes requiring strong emotions multiple times just because "that prop in the background still isn't quite right" must have been soul destroying for the actors.

      The good news is that Colin Baker is still doing Doctor Who via the Big Finish Productions [bigfinish.com], where he is given good scripts and is well liked among fans. Nicola Bryant seems to have settled into the role well too, and no longer sounds like she's about to burst into tears after every sentence.

      • I love the sixth doctor in the Big Finish episodes. BF has really allowed him to dig into the dark side of the character and do some complex stories that JNT would of never allowed. Colin Baker showed up at a really bad time at the franchise when they made some really bad decisions about the direction of the show (i.e... giving the Doctor too many unlikeable properties at once, too much domestic fighting in the Tardis, a horrible costume idea, etc..)

    • I liked Peri's accent. So enticing. So sensual. So.... sexy.

      Do all America women talk like that? Because if they do, I'm packing my bags and heading across the pond!

  • At least, if they restrict this to those serials that were originally shot in color. I would be a bit uncomfortable if the older, black and white originally, serials were colorized.

    • If you read the article, they're actually recovering some of the colors from the originally color serials. This means it doesn't have to be done all by hand. Hand-coloring the originally B&W serials would take a lot longer and require rather more artistic license.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      I take it you weren't a fan of the colorized version of Casablanca?
  • On the restoration processes used in the past can be found on the RT's website, if you dig around a bit: http://restoration-team.co.uk/ [restoration-team.co.uk]

  • Facts (Score:5, Informative)

    by BigBadBus (653823) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:42AM (#34762968) Homepage
    The article is a bit dubious on facts. While it is true that the videotapes of the series were being wiped in the 1960s, the film telerecordings/kinescopes were not being junked until 1972, and went on for about 6 years. Also, Steve Roberts is not 35! I knew him for a while; I'm currently 39 and he is at least a few years older than me!

    The politics behind the Chroma Dot story is intriguing and in some places unpleasant. The instigator of the team was James Insell, and a method was created to perform the chroma dot extraction by a man named Richard Russell. Insell became a bit proprietorial over it all, and he and Russell parted ways, and now Russell it doing it alone. The original Colour extraction blog is here [wikispaces.com] but they don't seem to have made any huge advances since Russell left. There is some more info, plus a link to Russell's own work (including software download) on my own Dr.Who webpage here [paullee.com]

  • A method of digitally replacing, Jon Pertwee, Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann with... I don't know ... Ewan McGregor or anyone!
  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @09:22AM (#34764100)
    This along with the MGM fire that destroyed the original Tom and Jerry prints, is more proof of how piracy can help us. If this stuff had been pirated all over the net like it would be today, it wouldn't have been lost in the first place. Hopefully they would have used a loss less format though... :-)
    • It goes even deeper than that - from what I recall the episodes were destroyed (rather than lost) by the BBC as the TV production unions were charging huge royalties simply for storing the episodes, during the "home taping is killing the television industry" craze of the 70s. It is excessive copyrights "protection" that caused the destruction in the first place - and being so popular, DW is one of the few shows from that time that survived in any form (mainly thanks to piracy and actual theft as all officia

  • Why not re-record them with the new cast? I'd love to see the old stories, but where there's nothing left but audio & a few stills...
  • This is at least the 2nd time the BBC restored a B&W Doctor Who episode to color [sic]. The first was by combining an early color videotape recording (by a fan in Texas for the color) and the B&W film for the image itself. They just superimposed the fuzzy chroma on the film image. The result was surprisingly sharp and colorful (but then I watch NTSC standard definition so I ain't picky). They had to adjust the picture shape just a tad because the VHS image wasn't an exact match for the film. *s
  • What most people don't realize is that K-9 was actually a zebra!

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