'The Awakening' Scratch Repair

One of the inherent risks in playing a videotape is the possibility that the videorecorder that the tape is on might actually be physically damaging the tape as it is playing. Unfortunately, this is just what happened to the master tape of episode one of the Peter Davison story 'The Awakening'. Luckily, the aborted restoration work on 'The Ambassadors of Death' had left some funds available for the team to carry out repair work....

'The Awakening' was recorded and edited on one-inch C-format analogue videotape, the standard BBC workhorse format from around 1979 to 1991, when it was superceded by the D3 digital videotape format. This format was unfortunately prone to longitudinal tape scratching, which just like on domestic VHS format, would show up as line right across the screen. Automatic dropout compensators attempt to conceal the scratch by inserting video information from the lines just above the damage section, but the results are not generally very satisfactory.

Episode one of 'The Awakening' was damaged from start to finish very soon after its original transmission (possibly even as it was being transmitted). Unusually, the damage was in the form of a large scratch on the back of the tape, rather than the oxide side. The tape was dubbed off to make the compilation version of the story and it was at this point that the damage was noticed. At that time, the scratch did not appear to be too bad, and the compilation version only suffers relatively minor disturbances. Unfortunately, although the original tape was then classified as 'U'-status (meaning it was unfit for use), a protection copy was not made. This is a pity, because the tape continued to deteriorate even as it was sitting on a rack in the library. When Paul Vanezis check it in the early nineties, the scratch was very much more apparent on pictures than it thad been when the compilation was made, and in fact the tape could only be replayed on a certain type of one-inch VTR, an Ampex VPR-6. However, an archivist at the Film and Videotape Library had sensibly ensured that the original 16mm film sequences had been archived, just in case they were ever required.

Paul dubbed off the original damaged tape to D3, then inserted the best sections of video from the compilation tape and the reprise from the episode two master over the top of the damaged vision. This technique ensured that the original soundtrack from the master was used, rather than the hissier copy on the compilation dub. The film inserts were then re-transferred at Television Centre, with careful reference to the look of the original transfer, and re-inserted in the appropriate places.

It is still possible to see small areas of damage, particularly in the TARDIS Console Room scenes, but this is minimal in comparison to the damage on the master tape. The repaired version was released on BBC Video in 1997.

Steve Roberts, 1997