The Key to Time

Doctor Who's 16th season was somewhat of a departure for the series' production team. For the first time in the show's history an entire season of six stories would be linked by a single arc story - the search for the Key to Time. Previously released in region one only, as a somewhat lacklustre package, 'The Key to Time' is finally being released as a feature-packed boxset, fully remastered and with an extras package containing over seven hours of additional features and multiple commentaries...

Despite some basic remastering that was already carried out for the US DVD release in 2002, 2entertain decided to remaster the entire series from scratch for this DVD release, taking advantage of the new tools and experience gained over the last five years to produce the best possible picture and sound quality. Taking the BBC's D3 transmission master copies of the original 2" quad production masters as the basis for this restoration as usual, the team were also able to further enhance the quality of 'The Pirate Planet' by going right back to the AB rolled camera negatives still retained by the BBC library.

Restoration followed our standard practice of transform decoding the D3 masters to Digibeta, with a grading and noise reduction pass carried out at BBC Resources by Jonathan Wood, who also transferred the 'Pirate Planet' negs on the Spirit and then graded and edited them into continuous sequences.  Intermediate masters were then passed to Mark Ayres and SVS for audio remastering and manual picture retouching respectively.

The Ribos Operation tapes were probably the best yet worked-on in terms of lack of dropout. However, this makes it even more challenging looking for the ones that are present, as it's like looking for needles in haystacks and it's easy to miss something that lasts 20mS once every two or three minutes.

Throughout all stories of the 'Key to Time' season, some of the studio cameras were affected by a fault in their phosphor, leading to a static white spot visible on screen. Wherever possible these have been removed. All episodes also had the usual occasional electronic faults at picture cuts, which are repaired routinely. Otherwise, it was a very straightforward job.

The Pirate Planet source tapes were back to average in terms of dropout, however the studio scenes were exceptionally vibrant and noise-free, with good resolution - a great example of how good the technical quality of the medium could be back then.

The 2002 region one DVD had some film inserts as extras, but during the episodes the film was the original 1978 telecine transfer. We opted to reinstate the new Spirit transfers from the negs into the episodes, which brought several challenges. Firstly, the physical splices in the negs cause a characteristic displacement and distortion in the picture as they pass through the telecine gate. In the case of 'The Pirate Planet' these were particularly extreme, with the problem affecting seven or eight frames around each shot change. In some cases, the maximum picture displacement was 14 pixels – a huge amount in an otherwise stable picture. The frames were stabilised to their correct position and missing detail painted in from adjacent frames. The second frame after a cut was usually distorted and generally replaced with a retouched image or a new frame estimated from the adjacent two.

Secondly, in some cases film elements had to be incorporated into video material, or video effects had to be recreated and superimposed. Shots of the Mentiads and mine head workings as seen on the Captain's circular video screen were matted in, giving a much more detailed image.

All film sequences involving gunfire, and the Mentiads' mental projection ray, had to be remade. It is not possible to paint in the video effects from the original episode as there would be huge differences in scale (up to 10% more picture is visible in the new transfers) and grading (colour, brightness and contrast levels). Therefore, the original effects were analysed, recreated, and composited in After Effects. The gunfire was orange-tinted video noise with a circular or diamond-shaped matte. The Mentiads' ray was a repeated cycle of shapes in yellowy-orange. The "cage" they trap the guards in at the start of part three was a slowly moving number of sine waves, offset between each video field to overlap, with added video noise.

Left: Original Version, Right: New transfer with re-composited effects

Probably the biggest challenge of all was the sequence in the engine room during part four when the Mentiads sabotage the machinery. The scene involves a wrench chromakeyed onto the floor, which then rises in front of inlaid vignette video images of the Doctor, Pralix and two other Mentiads, crosses the machine room, and hits an instrument panel which explodes. The wrench was easily recreated by cutting it out from the shot in which it is at maximum size on screen, given that its movement was always two dimensional. However, the images of the Doctor and the Mentiads were more troublesome, as the vignetting would lead to a halo where the detail in the old film and the new differed (again due to the greater image area now visible). Fortunately, resizing the video elements to match the new transfer, and applying slight warping to the edges, allowed an acceptable match. The wrench movements were motion-tracked and applied to the new composite, again allowing for the different scale. Originally as the equipment exploded, the wrench vanished – the intended effect being that it was engulfed by the blast. Unfortunately, due to the imprecision of manual vision mixing, it is suspended in front of the blast for a few frames and then disappears. In the remade version, we took the liberty of allowing the wrench to be blasted back towards the camera at this point to help 'sell' the effect better.

The Stones of Blood episodes one and two were affected in places by line pulling and dropout; the distribution suggests that the fault was on the studio recording tape and burnt in to the broadcast masters. The first edit of episode two was used, firstly to save a video generation and secondly to allow access to the deleted scene.

Episodes three and four were affected to varying degrees by flicker, most noticeably on bright scenes outdoors and on the Hyperspace ship. The flicker's cause is obscure and its nature is complex, as it is not uniform across the image. Various methods were attempted to remove it, none completely successful, but it is now much less severe than before. Furnace's Deflicker tool, normally excellent, made no perceptible difference. In the end, the fields were deinterlaced, field two regraded to match field one, and reinterlaced. Then just the upper half of the regraded material was soft-wiped into the original (as the lower part of the screen was unaffected by flicker).

The stock film shots of the sea in parts one and two were stabilised so the viewer should no longer feel sea-sick. In part three where the Doctor calls up the image of the ship on the screen, there was a large amount of CSO "fizzing". This has been improved considerably.

The Androids of Tara part one vies with "Genesis of the Daleks" part one as the most damaged transmission master worked on so far, as it was riddled with dropout and line pulling throughout. Fortunately, the remaining three episodes were not too bad. The film inserts, of which there are many, tended to suffer from twin-lens telecine flicker so were deinterlaced.

In part one, just as Count Grendel attacks the Wood Beast, there is a jump cut caused by a wrong edit 'in point' prior to the video effect of his sword. The missing two frames were probably (just) replaceable using motion estimation, but to keep the episode to length two genuine frames would have had to be lost at the start of the shot and it was felt that, as a perfect fix could not be guaranteed, the shot would be left as original.

The Power of Kroll part two suffers from severe Quad scratching for the first eleven minutes. For the 2002 region one DVD, this was tackled using very high levels of DVNR. However, for the new version we took advantage of the way Quad scratch artefacts are distributed differently between adjacent video fields. Each field was deinterlaced to produce a 'filmised' frame with half of the scratches on it; the field order was then switched and the resulting sequence matted over the original scratches. This produced an invisible repair to all areas except over fine movement detail, which was retouched by hand.

The story has gained some notoriety for the effects shots of Kroll, and the 'wobbly matte line' has passed into fan lore. However, careful analysis of the picture shows that it is a myth: the matte line is rock steady (as one might expect). In fact, the problem with the effect is that the Kroll model shot and matte line are steady, while the location film of the swamps is weaving badly from side to side. This seems to be a general problem with the film camera used as all of the live action shots also show this fault to varying degrees, but the viewer's eye tends to disregard it as the movement is global. However, when the weaving image is composited with a steady image, the fault is all too apparent. The effect is exacerbated by the grading differences between the live and effects film. After Jonathan Wood had regraded the two halves of the composite, the swamp film was stabilised in Furnace and edge detail painted back in. A new matte line was hand drawn, allowing for a little unevenness rather than the electronic original, and minor warping done to the model shot and swamp location shot around the original matte line to allow for a softer blend. While it will never be classed as a good special effect, hopefully it will no longer be seen as a bad one. Not bad for 6 (geddit?)

Several other film sequences were stabilised, for example the TARDIS arrival and departure.

The Armageddon Factor  model film inserts in this story were quite unsteady, so were stabilised with Furnace. Several slow-motion shots (e.g. in the Marshal's ship) were probably done with then-new 1" C format video recorders, rather than video disk, as the picture quality is maintained but there is a characteristic sequence of repeated fields. These slow-mos were unpicked back to the original running speed, then retimed using motion estimation to give a smoother slow-motion effect.

The TARDIS materialisation was affected by an image shift between before and after, and this was corrected as the cause was almost certainly due to a PAL timing issue between the sources.

In one scene where Astra appears on the Marshal's screen in his war room, there is a large chroma-delay error on the foreground (the inlay on the screen is unaffected). The screen area was isolated and the colour of the rest of the image shifted 12 pixels laterally, back into its correct position.

As the picture restoration was being carried out, Mark Ayres was busy in his studio working on the audio remastering...  

"My restoration work followed the usual pattern of theme music replacement (rebuilding cliff-hangers where necessary), denoising and declicking, with dropout compensation and edit clean-up as necessary.

Some episodes had specific problems:

The Ribos Operation suffered from a number of deep dropouts which were repaired, and excessive studio noise at times which was removed where possible. For The Pirate Planet, a poor music edit in part two which had bugged me almost since first transmission was smoothed with the addition of some reverb. The Stones of Blood was particularly noisy at times due to the use (as with The Sontaran Experiment) of OB video rather than film for the location material. There is only so far you can go with removing such ingrained noise. Much of this material (particular around the stone circle) is also afflicted with the 250Hz harmonic of mains hum, and an insistent whine at 2kHz. Normally I would use deep notch filters to remove such sounds, but 2kHz in particular is right in the middle of the vocal range, and the notch filter altered the sound quality far too much, hence I have relied on noise reduction generally, only using the notches where judged non-destructive to wanted sound. Some episodes (Pirate Planet part one especially, the second part of The Stones of Blood and parts two to four of The Androids of Tara) suffered from inconsistent audio levels which were corrected - though in at least one case this may have been due to previous custom and practice at the BBC (for some years, "stereo" or dual mono sources were tracked 3dB low so as to give a correct-level mono sum - nowadays we peak to PPM 6 on both sides and compensate for mono). The broadcast edit to part two of Stones was remade so as to be less obvious than the original - the unedited scene will be presented on the DVD as a "deleted scene". In The Stones of Blood part four, some post-production edits had cut into to the reverberation that had been added (presumably in studio) to dialogue on the hyperspace vessel, making these edits very obvious. A small amount of additional reverb was added at these points to disguise the cuts.

The audio quality of The Armageddon Factor has long been the subject of comment, parts one and three being particularly dull and lifeless. Examination of the master tapes immediately suggested a cause for episode one, as indicated by the few seconds of lineup tones remaining at the head of the tape. At some stage, maybe even during the original dubs, incorrect machine alignment had led to the sound being low-pass filtered so as to be 4dB down at 5KHz and above. The introduction of compensatory equalisation immediately restored a bit of sparkle to this episode - as did the standard replacement of opening and closing music. Quite how this happened is anybody's guess, but it does suggest some ongoing technical problems at the time. My original source tape of episode three had major problems, being very lacking in "top" and with a boomy and slightly hummy low end. Enquiries proved that there are in fact two archive masters of this episode, and a new transfer of the second copy was much better, though still less-than perfect. Again, there are ingrained noise and frequency response problems, with occasional sudden brightening on dropins (on both copies) suggesting machine alignment problems during the original mix. There are also occasions in this episode where the entire soundtrack crackles and dips in level, perhaps indicative of a faulty cable, again during the original mix or layback to tape. All I can really say is that I have done my best with it!

Having completed the episodes remastering, I had to turn my thoughts to the commentaries, starting with those originally recorded for the previous American release of these stories which were to be reused here. For various technical reasons (as an example, three episodes had a few faulty frames removed for the US version, frames we repaired - rather than cut - for these new masters, which affected the synchronisation), these needed reviewing and resynchronising with our new UK masters, and would then in turn form the basis for any US re-release in the usual manner. I hit an immediate problem when the original commentary recordings (on Digital 8-track cassettes with the mix on tracks 7 & 8) were sent to me - they would not play reliably in my machine. They were sent off for testing and checked out fine, the conclusion being that it was an incompatibility between the tapes and my recorder - though I had my doubts. Hence I was next supplied with the US versions of the tapes with NTSC-format timecode. These were better, but still frequently lost sync and dropped out. Nevertheless I transferred them and set about repairing them when required. Interestingly, when I compared some of the problem areas with the US DVDs, many of them are evident on there. For instance, while I had a total dropout in the opening titles of Androids of Tara part two, on the US DVD there is a very noticable digital "splat", falling just short of a total failure, and there are subtle digital tracking errors throughout the US version of this episode and others, audible to the trained ear. I therefore go back to my first hypothesis that the original recordings were error-prone, and that it wasn't my machine after all - especially as after playing these tapes it needed a thorough clean! Episode four of "Androids", and episodes three and four of "Armageddon" proved to be the worst affected, with numerous dropouts needing repair, and an almost constant buzz of over-active error correction to be disguised. I spent around four days in total working on these, and then moved on to the new "bonus" UK commentaries, which passed generally without incident."

Determined to put together a package which would convince previous buyers of the 2002 release to 'double-dip' and purchase this version also, commissioning editor Dan Hall successfully obtained funding for a lavish package of extra features. New featurettes and documentaries were commissioned from Ed Stradling, who acted as the main content producer for the release and who himself sub-commissioned features to other producers, and from commercial production company Phoenix Media. As well as these new commissions, many archive TV programmes - some provided by fans - were raided for additional items of interest from the time of the series' original transmission. To complement the six commentaries recorded for the US release, three additional commentaries were recorded to ensure that Tom Baker appeared on commentaries for every story.

Ed was put in charge of nine features being put together by the RT production group, of which some were sub-commissioned to other producers. A total of 31 new interviews were recorded for these features, most of them shot by Steve Broster, and extensive further use was made of interviews conducted for previous DVDs, in particular the 2005 interview with Script Editor Anthony Read recorded for the City of Death DVD. At the same time, Phoenix Media were commissioned to provide six additional special features. A total of 15 new features have been produced for this DVD set.

Full package contents:

Story One: The Ribos Operation

• 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.

Commentary with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm.

A Matter of Time (dur. 60' 00" ) - the flagship documentary of this boxset , this
new 60-minute documentary written by Nicholas Pegg and produced by Ed Stradling, covers not only the Key to Time season but the entirety of Graham Williams' eventful three years as  producer of Doctor Who in the late 1970s. Featuring interviews with Graham Williams in extracts from two 1980's conventions, actors Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward (her first interview for the DVD range), John Leeson and Paul Seed, script editors Anthony Read and Douglas Adams (interviewed in 1992), writers Bob Baker,  Dave Martin (his last interview) and David Fisher, directors Pennant Roberts, Michael Hayes, Ken Grieve, Christopher Barry and Darrol Blake, designers Richard McManan-Smith and Dick Coles, visual effects designers Mat Irvine and Colin Mapson, new series writer Gareth Roberts, DWAS founder member Jeremy Bentham, and Graham's widow, Jackie Williams. Narrated by Toby Longworth.

The Ribos File (dur. 19' 36") - cast and crew look back at the making of the story. Featuring interviews with actors Nigel Plaskitt, Paul Seed, Mary Tamm, Prentis Hancock and Stuart Fell, with Doctor Who Magazine editor Clayton Hickman. Produced by Ed Stradling

Continuities (dur. 2' 06") - off-air continuity links from the story's original BBC1 transmission.

Season 16 Trailer (dur. 0' 40") - BBC1 trailer for the forthcoming season.

Photo Gallery (dur. 6' 01") - design, production and publicity stills for the story.

Story Two: The Pirate Planet

• 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.

Commentary 1 with Bruce Purchase and director Pennant Roberts.

Commentary 2 with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and script editor Anthony Read.

Parrot Fashion (dur. 30' 28") - Kevin Davies' documentary looks at the writing and production of the story. Featuring an archive interview with writer Douglas Adams, actors Mary Tamm, John Leeson, Bruce Purchase, Rosalind Lloyd and Primi Townsend, script editor Anthony Read, director Pennant Roberts, film cameraman Elmer Cossey, visual effects designer Colin Mapson, Douglas Adams' half-brother James Thrift ,and friend and biographer Nick Webb.

Film Inserts, Deleted Scenes & Outtakes (dur. 13' 56") - a collection of extra material from the story's production.

Weird Science (dur. 17' 14") - a spoof seventies schools science show looks at some the science seen in 'The Key to Time'. Featuring David Graham and Mat Irvine, with Stevii the super-computer. Produced by Phoenix Media.

Continuities (dur. 3' 42") - off-air continuity links from the story's original BBC1 transmission.

Photo Gallery (dur. 7' 00") - design, production and publicity stills for the story.

Story Three: The Stones of Blood

• 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.

Commentary 1 with Mary Tamm and director Darrol Blake.

Commentary 2 with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, Susan Engel and writer David Fisher.

Getting Blood from the Stones (dur. 26' 32") - cast and crew look back at the making of the story in this new feature produced by Ed Stradling. Featuring interviews with writer David Fisher, script editor Anthony Read, director Darrol Blake, actors Mary Tamm, John Leeson and Susan Engel, visual effects designer Mat Irvine, with DWM's Clayton Hickman and SFX's Steve O'Brien.

Hammer Horror (dur. 13' 05") - Marcus Hearn's featurette looks at the influences of horror films on Doctor Who stories down the years. Featuring interviews with former Shivers magazine editor David Miller, author Jonathan Rigby, script editors Terrance Dicks and Anthony Read, with archive interview from actor Tom Baker. Produced by Phoenix Media.

Stones Free (dur. 9' 08") - Mary Tamm visits the Rollright Stones location used in the story to meet local experts on this ancient stone circle. Produced by Phoenix Media.

Deleted Scenes (dur. 2' 10") - deleted scenes from episode two.

Continuities (dur. 2' 23") - off-air continuity links from the story's original BBC1 transmission.

Model World (dur. 2' 40") - an excerpt from 'The Model World of Robert Symes' looks at the model work for this story, with designer Mat Irvine.

Blue Peter (dur. 6' 03") - the famous children's show looks back at the history of Doctor Who on the show's fifteen anniversary.

Nationwide (dur. 8' 49") - the BBC1 news magazine programme looks back on 15 years of Doctor Who with a surreal interview from Tom Baker, with Mary Tamm and Carole Ann Ford.

Photo Gallery (dur. 8' 00") - design, production and publicity stills for the story.

Story Four: The Androids of Tara

• 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.

Commentary with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and director Michael Hayes.

The Humans of Tara (dur. 21' 12") - a look back at the making of this story, featuring interviews with actors Paul Lavers, Mary Tamm and Neville Jason, writer David Fisher, script editor Anthony Read and director Michael Hayes. Produced by Ed Stradling and edited by Steve Broster.

Now & Then - The Androids of Tara (dur. 10' 17") - the latest in our irregular series, Doctor Who historian Richard Bignell's featurette compares and contrasts present day locations as they are now with how they appeared in the story. Narrated by Paul Lavers.

Double Trouble (dur. 11' 02") - a brief history of 'doubles' in other Doctor Who stories. With contributions from DWM assistant editor Tom Spilsbury, Doctor Who Adventures editor Moray Laing and art editor Paul Lang.

Photo Gallery (dur. 7' 44") - design, production and publicity stills for the story.

Story Five: The Power of Kroll

• 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.

Commentary with Tom Baker and John Leeson.

In Studio (dur. 11' 25") - a fascinating glimpse inside the studio during recording of the story, recovered from timecoded monochrome production recordings.

Variations (dur. 6' 24") - a BBC local news programme visits the story's location during filming.

There's Something About Mary (dur. 9' 47") - Mary Tamm looks back at her single-season starring role as the Doctor's companion. Produced by Richard Molesworth, edited by Steve Broster.

Philip Madoc - A Villain for All Seasons (dur. 9' 40") - actor Philip Madoc looks back on his numerous roles as a Doctor Who villain down the years, including his appearance in the 1966 feature film 'Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD'. Narrated by Jonathan Rigby. Produced by Phoenix Media.

Continuities (dur. 2' 48") - off-air continuity links from the story's original BBC1 transmission.

Photo Gallery (dur. 4' 52") - design, production and publicity stills for the story.

Story Six: The Armageddon Factor (Two discs)


• 6 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio.

Commentary 1 with Mary Tamm, John Woodvine and director Michael Hayes.

Commentary 2 with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and John Leeson.

1979 Doctor Who Annual in Adobe PDF format for viewing on PC or Mac.


Defining Shadows (dur. 15' 38") - cast and crew look back at the making of this story, with interviews from writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, director Michael Hayes, script editor Anthony Read, designer Richard McManan-Smith, with actors Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward, David Harries and Barry Jackson . Produced by Ed Stradling, edited by Steve Bagley.

Alternative / Extended Scene (dur. 2' 49") - taken from a timecoded monochrome studio recording.

Directing Who (dur. 8' 25") - Michael Hayes looks back on his directing career on Doctor Who in this short featurette produced by Ed Stradling.

Rogue Time Lords (dur. 13' 10") - a potted history of other errant Time Lords. Featuring actor Nicholas Courtney, script editor Terrance Dicks, writers Pip and Jane Baker, DWM assistant editor Tom Spilsbury, Doctor Who Adventures editor Moray Laing and art editor Paul Lang. Produced by Phoenix Media.

Pebble Mill at One (dur. 8' 21") - Tom Baker interviewed on the long-running lunchtime magazine show in 1978.

Radiophonic Feature (dur. 4' 26") - a Pebble Mill at One interview by Tony Francis, with Dick Mills and Brian Hodgson looking at Radiophonic music and effects in Doctor Who.

The New Sound of Music (dur. 0' 59") - sound effects supremo Dick Mills talks about creating a Doctor Who sound effects in this extract from the BBC documentary.

Merry Christmas, Doctor Who (dur. 1' 11") - a special Christmas sketch, recorded on the set of 'The Armageddon Factor' for the BBC Christmas Tape that year.

Continuities (dur. 2' 54") - off-air continuity links from the story's original BBC1 transmission.

Photo Gallery (dur. 4' 45") - design, production and publicity stills for the story.

Late Night Story - Tom Baker reads five spine-chilling stories from this 1978 series:
        The Photograph by Nigel Kneale (dur. 14' 29")
        The Emissary by Ray Bradbury (dur. 13' 41")
        Nursery Tea by Mary Danby (dur. 14' 16")
        The End of the Party by Graham Greene (dur. 14' 58")
        Sredni Vashtar by Saki (dur. 12' 50") - this episode was never transmitted.

Easter Egg

All stories also feature • Coming Soon - trail for forthcoming DVD release • Radio Times Listings in Adobe PDF format for viewing on PC or Mac. • Programme subtitles and Subtitle Production Notes.


Copyright Steve Roberts, Mark Ayres,  24 July 2007. No reproduction allowed without written permission.