Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Doctor Who: Reconstruction Retrospective


Reconstructions...
The sad tale has already been told in this blog- how the BBC, in their folly, burned the masters, thinking that they had backups. How dozens of episodes of classic Black & White Who kissed the flames and never returned to tell. How the massacre of the archives was total and fierce. How the only salvation lay in prints sent to collectors, overseas, or somehow saved from their slated destruction. How, at time of writing, none such had been found since 2004’s recovery of an episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan… and perhaps none would ever be found again... and how last December's joyous tiding- the return of TWO episodes at once, a Hartnell and a Troughton- has brought hope back for the faithful! (A life-size Dalek- the originals, not the horrid plastic abominations they have today in the New Series- awaits anyone who can find another missing episode.)

And yet, I’ve seen every one of these wretched souls, watched every single one from start to finish. How is this possible?

In the days before VCRs, shows were run once and then gone- maybe shown as a repeat again someday, but they had their run and that was that. (Never was that so true than for many of the classic Hartnell and Troughton episodes…!) In those days, the BBC hired people to take ‘telesnaps’- essentially, a snapshot or photo of the TV screen. Their job was to capture important moments, each of the actors, significant scenes, etc.- to be used as promotional images, for magazine or newspaper articles, for actors’ resumes, etc. So, visual reference for what each place, character, and setting looks like still exist- no one torched those archives. Meanwhile, a number of fans made audio-recordings of the show, as that was one personal home recorder that DID exist in those days- a tape recorder. Those, combined with audio prints kept in a separate archive, conspired to preserve the complete AUDIO of every episode (in varying quality). These, along with publicity photos, and the occasional clips loaned out to a documentary or other show, or video-taped off a TV screen with primitive camcorders, could all be combined together to create a sort of slide-show with audio, wherein you could listen to the episode and watch still pictures (and the occasional video clip if you were lucky) or what was supposed to be happening on-screen at the time.

A few groups arose to start putting together these ‘reconstructions’- using still pictures and surviving audio to create a still-picture facsimile of what the episodes once were. Doctor Who fans, a tenacious bunch, strung together these slide-show reconstructions (with little closed-captioning bars at the bottom to describe actions being taken, based on the original shooting scripts, that weren’t obvious from the pictures or the audio). Fan group Loose Canon Productions quickly came to the forefront, using CGI Daleks and Spaceships, photoshop composite images (placing pictures of characters from another episode into the background for this one, or taking images of a guest-star actor from other media they appeared in and pasting their face onto a costume-appropriate body to create an image of an actor for which no surviving pictures exist), hand-created animations (blinking lights are made to blink, doors slide open, etc.), video clips out-of-context that can be re-edited or zoomed to match the action, and even freshly-shot insert footage ('second unit' stuff- close-ups of hands, etc. that can be re-created using replica props and costumes, in which original actors can’t be seen) to create the most complete reconstructions available. Meanwhile, the BBC took things in another direction, releasing the audio portions of the episodes on CD with narration (by various individuals, often the actors who portrayed the companions back in the day) filling the silence and describing actions much in the way that closed-captioning did for the visuals, converting the missing episodes into an almost storybook-narrated audio drama version of themselves. And enterprising Yotube reconstructionists of late have taken the superior Loose Canon videos, added in the occasional higher-quality photos or stills that have turned up since the Loose Canons were created, and merged them with the BBC narrated audio (omitting the closed captioning for redundancy), creating what I consider to be the ultimate reconstruction experience that mixes the best of all possible worlds.

Even so… you’re still mostly watching a slideshow of dull, still pictures (no matter how impressively created) to a glorified audiobook. So… it can be a challenge. Historical stories were the hardest hit, since recovered videos were often from overseas prints, and overseas markets were less interested in ordering prints of stories about the history of Western civilization. Some sci-fis were lost, but historical were hardest-hit… very few of them are intact.

Now that we have vanquished the reconstructions at last with the completion of the final missing serial (depending on how you view Tom Baker's Shada, which was never finished in the first place), The Space Pirates- having already survived the Series-5-end ‘Hump,’ I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the reconstructions past. If you’re not interested in a look at each of the comparative reconstructions, then skip to the bottom for a slightly different, audience-participation discussion.

(Now, keep in mind, when I look at whether the enjoyability or watchability was affected… it always is, by watching stills. These will always be less enjoyable than seeing the real thing- what this section evaluates is whether the story was more affected than the norm, if reconstructedness detracts beyond the simple less-enjoyable nature and does something to actively steal away an element of the story.)


Marco Polo
How much was lost? All of it. The whole thing. All 7 episodes. Not even any clips.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? It was very nice, though basic- unique in that it was comprised entirely of color photos, giving us our first taste of color Who very early on. I’d call it a very good average baseline.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? I don’t think so. Pacing and length episodes still plagued the show at this juncture, which dragged down the overall enjoyability, but I don’t think having it in video would affect that much.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Yes, this was the first historical… and the first historical casualty.

Reign of Terror
How much was lost? Episodes 4 and 5 (of 6 total)
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? It was decent, but suffered from a strange overuse of the same closing-door half-second clip every time someone entered or exited a room. Got kind of annoying after a while.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? No, it was largely unaffected, thankfully.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? No- this season-ender and first on-location shooting serial preserved all of the important bits in video.
Note: An animated reconstruction of this one (like the Invasion) will be coming out in fall!

The Crusade
How much was lost? Episodes 2 and 4 of 4 (1 and 3 are intact)
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Absolutely average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not especially- actually, the performances really shone through this one despite the reconstruction, putting this one a bit above-average.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Nope, just another run-of-the-mill lost historical…
Note: Follows a mercifully intact second series, and a long absence of missing episodes.

Galaxy 4
How much was lost? Everything, all 4 episodes (Minus a 5-min stretch in Episode 1). (Actually, Episode 3 has just been found- but not generally released yet.)
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Masterfully done and technically flawless, with filmed inserts and the like- this was above average, in the top tier.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not in the slightest. The story would have been absolute unwatchable garbage regardless.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? No video of the alien creatures, exploding planet, or generally, this series-premiere.
Note: It’s RUBBISH!!!

Mission to the Unknown
How much was lost? Every frame of the single episode.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Very well, above average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story?  A bit, yes. This story is carried by visuals- actions and performances. Both are sadly lost.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? This whole episode is a milestone, the only stand-alone episode of the serial era, and a prequel to the Daleks’ Master Plan.


The Myth Makers
How much was lost? All 4 episodes in their entirety.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Pacing and entertainment wise? Far below average, one of Loose Canon’s worst. Technically, and considering extenuating circumstances (see below)? One of their finest, and in the top tier, considering.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Only slightly- there were SO FEW stills (see below). However, most of the humor managed to transcend stills.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Vicki’s departure, Katarina’s arrival, the Trojan horse model.
Note: No telesnaps exist for this serial, making every image seen a photoshop composite. Viewed in that light, it’s an impressive technical achievement! It’s still just not a very good reconstruction to watch.


The Daleks’ Master Plan
How much was lost? Everything except for episodes 2, 5, and 10 (out of 12 total, 9 are lost, and 3 are saved).
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon for the win!
How did the reconstruction stack up? Phenomenal and incredible- probably the best of the best.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? No, save for Episode 7 (the Christmas episode) which was predominantly visual. It’s still a GREAT watch.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Plenty. The first companion deaths, Dalek mutants, the volcanic planet, the first Christmas special, etc.

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve
How much was lost? All 4 episodes, every last bit.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Slightly below average; a little sparse.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? A bit, yes. Only a bit, though- it was pretty dull regardless of video or still.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? The introduction of *shudder* Dodo… and Hartnell’s dual role.

The Celestial Toymaker
How much was lost? Episodes 1-3 of 4… the final episode survives.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Not so hot, unfortunately. Well below average, though that may be due to lack of material.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Yes. This was a very visual story. It was still good, but it could have been amazing in motion.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Not really.

The Savages
How much was lost? All 4 episodes, barring teeny-tiny scraps of video.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Butterfly Productions…?
How did the reconstruction stack up? Ugh! It was HORRIBLE!
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Yes. Get the Loose Canon version if you want to check it out- don’t watch the others!!!
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Jano’s Hartnell impressions, Steven’s departure.

The Smugglers
How much was lost? All 4 episodes, minus, amusingly, every death scene. Due to surviving censor clips cut out of the print, everyone but the main villain dies in video.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Very average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not especially, though I’d’ve loved to see the Tarot scene…
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? The last regular First Doctor serial.

The Tenth Planet
How much was lost? Episode 4 of 4. The first 3 are intact, but the big regeneration episode…
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Official BBC reconstruction
How did the reconstruction stack up? Above average- the images were slide-show standard, but with a nice slick-looking animated frame.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not at all, surprisingly!
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? THE FIRST REGENERATION!!!

The Power of the Daleks
How much was lost? All 6 episodes, minus small clips.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Slightly above average, with some nice innovations- but also one SERIOUSLY Uncanny Valley Lesterson
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? A bit, yes. Much of Troughton’s post-regeneration performance is silent… and lost.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? The First Troughton story!

The Highlanders
How much was lost? All 4 episodes
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Unknown fan production
How did the reconstruction stack up? Below average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Yes. So many of the Doctor’s excellent impressions and roles are strongly visual, this is one of the wrost-suffering serials for it.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Jamie’s first serial. The final historical.

The Underwater Menace
How much was lost? Episode 1 and 4 of 4- Episodes 2 and 3 survived.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Unknown fan production
How did the reconstruction stack up? Average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not especially, though some model work and set design that would have been interesting was lost.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? No.

The Moonbase
How much was lost? Episodes 1 and 3 of 4.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not especially.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Nope.

The Macra Terror
How much was lost? The whole dang 4-episode ball of wax.
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Slightly below average; very dark and grainy.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Yes, it was hard to tell what was being seen.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? The Macra!


The Faceless Ones
How much was lost? Everything except for episodes 1 and 3 (out of 6).
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Loose Canon
How did the reconstruction stack up? Average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not in the slightest- still 100% enjoyable despite the reconstruction.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? The departure of Ben and Polly.

The Evil of the Daleks
How much was lost? All but episode 2 (of 7).
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Average
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? A little bit, with Jamie’s trials and the playing Daleks, which would've been great to see.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Victoria’s introduction.

The Abominable Snowmen
How much was lost? All but episode 2 and a smattering of clips (Out of 6).
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Above average
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Somewhat, but the reconstruction compensated for it very well.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Introduction of the Yeti and Professor Travers. Padmasambavar.


The Ice Warriors
How much was lost? Episodes 2 and 3 (out of 6).
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Official BBC
How did the reconstruction stack up? It was PHENOMENAL.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? It compressed both episodes to 15 mins. total, but in exchange, kept the pace so that it wasn’t dull.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? No.

The Enemy of the World
How much was lost? All but Episode 3 (of 6).
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Yes, a bit- the episodes would be so much better if you could SEE the dual performances!
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? The Troughton dual role, HELICOPTERS, and the into-the-void finale.


The Web of Fear
How much was lost? All but episode 1 (of 6)
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Poor.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Yes, it was practically unwatchable. Way too visual for audio and dark screenshots.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? First appearance of the Brigadier, return of the Yeti.

Fury from the Deep
How much was lost? All 6 (minus a few clips), more’s the pity…
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Above average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? No, the reconstruction managed to make up for it quite admirably.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Victoria’s departure, HELICOPTER.


The Wheel In Space
How much was lost? All but episodes 3 and 6 (of 6)
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Above average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? Not especially.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Zoe’s introduction, the TARDIS compression.

The Invasion
How much was lost? Episodes 1 and 4 (out of 8)
Whose reconstruction did we watch? DVD Animation
How did the reconstruction stack up? PERFECT!
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? No, the animated segments only enhanced it!
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? HELICOPTER!!!!



The Space Pirates
How much was lost? All but Episode 2 (out of 6)
Whose reconstruction did we watch? Youtube
How did the reconstruction stack up? Well above average.
Did the reconstruction-nature of the serial affect the watchability or enjoyability of the story? No, not really- it was a great recon.
Any notable moments or milestone lost to the ages in this one? Nope! Just the last reconstruction.

And last, but not least, in looking back at the Doctor Who reconstructions, the question of ranking came up. So... though even contemplating this is probably just in the realm of futile self-torture, I got to thinking: if you had the abillity to restore 3 of the lost serials in their entirety, (and yes, three is a completely arbitrary number) at the cost of ensuring that three other reconstructeds would never, ever be found in the history of the world... which would you choose? The answers of our review team are below, but I’d be very interested in seeing yours, so leave a comment!

For my picks...
Restore:
The Faceless Ones (Still the best 2nd Doctor story of it's season, in my opinion)
Dalek Master Plan (A deserving epic!)
The Myth Makers (Doctor Who's best comedy needs to be seen, darn it!)

I know, Marco Polo should, by rights be on the list, but... I enjoy the other stories so much more, so I'm selfish. :-)  Likewise, Tenth Planet's regeneration scene, Enemy of the World's dual performances, and the Celestial Toymakers' visual setpieces are tempting runner-ups, but if I had to pick three- there they be.

Lose:
I suppose converting the Dominators and the Sensorites into missing serials to take the hit would go against my own rules? *SIGH*

Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve  (As I can never watch it without wanting to wring Gaston's neck anyhow...)
Web of Fear (it's probably a good story with visuals, and the first Brig before he was the brig, but...)
Galaxy 4 (Go to heck, Galaxy 4! You SUCK!!!)

So, those are my picks... what would yours be?

My wife's:
Restore:
Celestial Toymaker
Enemy of the World
Marco Polo

Lose:
The Highlanders
The Savages
Galaxy 4

My brother-in-law’s:
Keep:
The Daleks’ Master Plan
The Highlanders
The Celestial Toymaker

Lose:
Galaxy 4
Marco Polo
The Macra Terror


Emily Carter (Pre-eminent Doctor Who expert from nitcentral.com):
Keep:
The Daleks’ Master Plan
Power of the Daleks
Evil of the Daleks

Lose:
Galaxy 4
Reign of Terror
Space Pirates


So, besides the fact that my brother-in-law is clearly a Who heretic, what can we infer from this? The Celestial Toymaker was a near-universal choice for keeping, and Daleks’ Master Plan a strong contender- they seem to be the most sought after in our three-person survey, with strong Troughton serials (often containing episodes where he portrays more than one role) comprising the majority of the remainder. For the losses? We each have one serial at least that the other 2/the fan community at large would probably consider it shocking and heretical to condemn (Highlanders, Marco Polo, Web of Fear), and, most importantly of all: Nobody likes Galaxy 4.

2 comments:

  1. I hope more missing episodes will turn up.

    ReplyDelete