The War Machines - 1997 Style!

The following is the text of Richard Molesworth's article on the restoration of 'The War Machines'. It was originally published in Doctor Who Magazine issue 253 and is reproduced here by kind permission of DWM.

After its only UK terrestrial broadcast in June and July 1966 on BBC1, "The War Machines" followed the route of all of the other "Doctor Who" stories from this era. BBC Enterprises took the 405-line two-inch black and white videotapes of the four episodes and made telerecordings of them for the purposes of overseas sales. At the time, most of the BBC’s output was made and broadcast on videotape. This was fine for the UK, but most foreign television stations had other forms of videotape which were widely different (525-line NTSC was already in full force in America, whilst 625-line was being introduced in other countries, as well as over on BBC2 here in the UK). However, film was a universal medium that any other country could use and broadcast from; therefore the BBC sold film copies of its programmes. This was more accessible for overseas markets, and therefore more lucrative.

After telerecording, the videotapes for all four episodes were either wiped or junked by BBC TV sometime in the late 1960’s - however, BBC Enterprises still had their film prints, and the story was offered for overseas sale by BBC Enterprises until at least 1974. However, BBC Enterprises had only a limited period in which to sell programmes due to various complex agreements over rights, and once a programme was no longer commercially viable, they junked their film copies. At the time, it is extremely probable that they did not realise that they were destroying the only copies of the programmes involved, thinking that other BBC libraries kept the master versions. Mainly, the film prints were destroyed by incineration, although it is possible that a few went "missing" before this happened, perhaps by employees who could not bear to see copies of their favourite programmes coming to such an ignoble end. By 1977, all four episodes of the story had had their film prints junked by BBC Enterprises.

In 1978, the BBC set up their film and videotape library, and for the first time, had the opportunity to take stock of which programmes they still had copies, and which ones were gone - perhaps forever. Although many episodes of "Doctor Who" were saved from destruction over at BBC Enterprises at this point in time, it seemed that "The War Machines" had gone for good.

Then the first stroke of luck. In the late 1970’s, a private film collector came forward with a 16mm black and white film telerecording of episode 2 of "The War Machines". This print had allegedly originated from ABC TV in Australia, who had shown the story in 1966. The print was complete, and the BBC took a film copy of this episode for the archive.

Then in 1984, a TV station in Nigeria returned all 4 episodes of the story to the BBC film and videotape library. BBC Enterprises then were able to offer the story for sale once again, and copies were subsequently shown overseas in the mid-eighties (most notably on PBS stations in America, where - by dint of the story being the last complete Hartnell adventure - the Hartnell/Troughton regeneration sequence from "The Tenth Planet" part 4 was tacked onto the end). The story then had another UK outing in early 1993 on fledgling satellite TV station UK Gold (this time minus regeneration). From here, it was only a matter of time before the story was chosen for release on BBC video.

Only there was a minor problem - the story was not quite complete.

The prints returned to the BBC from Nigeria had originated at TVNZ in New Zealand (this was a common practice in overseas sales - BBC Enterprises would instruct a TV station to pass on their film prints to other foreign broadcasters once the first broadcaster had finished with the material). TVNZ's censorship policy was such that they would either accept or reject a story outright, making no attempt to censor the material themselves. By comparing the episode lengths as transmitted in New Zealand with those returned from Nigeria, it is clear that they are same. So it would appear that the prints arrived in New Zealand already edited by censors in another country. Australia can be discounted as the source, because comparison of the prints of episode two sourced from Nigeria and Australia, coupled with contemporary BBC telerecording records, shows that they were made from different telerecording negatives. Unfortunately, it has not proven possible to positively identify which country actually made the cuts.

It was in late 1996 that BBC Worldwide decided that they wanted to release the story onto home video, and contacted Paul Vanezis for his thoughts. Paul had produced "The Five Doctors - The Special Edition" for BBC Video in 1995, and had recently just completed "Bottom-Fluff" with Steve Roberts in 1996. Paul and Steve are also members of a loose collection of people (some who work for the BBC, some who don’t) who have become known by the title of The Restoration Team. The team first drew attention in 1992/3 for recolourizing the Pertwee stories "Doctor Who and the Silurians", "Terror of the Autons" and "The Daemons". As far as "The War Machines" was concerned, it was time for Paul, Steve, and their associates to sit down and see what was actually missing, and what could be done about it.

Firstly, a VHS cassette of the story was ordered up from the BBC film and television library, and scrutinised for cuts and problems. An examination of episode 1 revealed it to be completely uncut (at a duration of 24 minutes and 01 seconds), although odd frames appeared to have been edited out at some stage to remove video/film transition overlaps.

Both the Nigerian version and the private collectors version of episode 2 were compared. The Nigerian version had the better pictures in terms of sharpness and detail of the two, although it had six segments cut from it. However, it was decided that these cuts could be easily be restored using the complete sequences from the other version of episode 2 (which ran to the correct duration of 24 minutes and 00 seconds).

Parts 3 and 4 had more substantial problems. Both episodes had chunks missing from them - 17 seconds from part 4 and a more substantial 2 minutes and 16 seconds from part 3. Ordinarily, there would be nothing that could be done to rectify these problems, other than to tidy up the cuts. Luckily, many independent factors combined to make these problems surmountable by other means.

A few years ago, a long term fan of the series - Graham Strong - approached The Restoration Team with audio copies of many Hartnell and Troughton episodes - some of which are missing in their entirety from the BBC archives. Graham’s tapes were recorded off-air at the time of the stories original broadcast, and were of remarkably good quality - and in some cases were of a better sound quality than the sound that existed on the episodes that still survive (as a training exercise, Paul Vanezis had already used Graham’s soundtrack of "The Tenth Planet" part 2 to overdub on to the pictures from the BBC’s print, as the accompanying soundtrack was exceptionably poor). Amongst Graham’s recordings were the complete soundtracks of all 4 episodes of "The War Machines", which had been transferred to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) along with all his other recordings for possible future use by the BBC. If nothing else, this meant all sound material from parts 3 and 4 were available. This would be of limited use on its own - however a second discovery was of more importance.

The Australian Archives are a vast depository for many official bodies, including the Australian Film Censorship Board. In the 1960’s and 70’s, the AFCB were responsible for viewing and rating all film programmes purchased for transmission by ABC TV - "Doctor Who" included. In some cases, these programmes contained material that the censor deemed unsuitable. "Doctor Who" had a family transmission slot, and so was a prime candidate. Cuts were made to the episodes on the instructions of the AFCB.

"Cuts" being the operative word. The offending parts of the programme (ranging from maybe just a couple of frames to nearly a whole minute in some cases) were physically removed from the print in question, which was then re-spliced together. The excised material was then held by the Australian Archives, where it stayed until it was unearthed by diligent Australian fan Damian Shanahan in late 1996. Returned to the BBC in early 1997 (as film transferred to Digital Betacam videotape), the material comprised of an almost complete set of cuts made to the Hartnell and Troughton episodes by the AFCB.

The material cut by the Australians followed closely the cuts made by the censors prior to the films reaching New Zealand - these being the prints eventually returned from Nigeria. In one case a cut matched to the very frame. The possibility of a restoration project loomed large, and BBC Worldwide quickly agreed to finance the project for video release. However, much more than just a roll of sellotape was required to get the story into shape.

Although cutting film prints is an easy - if crude way - of editing offending material out of a programme, it also produces some nasty complications. For a start, the accompanying soundtrack to the pictures on film (which in real terms is contained in a strip down one side of the film print) is out of step by exactly 16 frames with the picture. It is produced this way because the sound head has to be at a different position to the picture gate in projectors and players. This 16-frame gap is a film constant that enables picture and sound to sychronise exactly to the viewer. The New Zealand prints had holes in the sound 16 frames out of synch with the missing pictures, whilst the returned film trims from Australia had the same problem, but in reverse.

Paul Vanezis and Steve Roberts (and...ah-hem... myself) then began work on the project. In addition to the prints of the episodes, the film print of a "Blue Peter" featuring a War Machine’s appearance with Christopher Trace (an excerpt of which had been used on "More than Thirty Years in the TARDIS") was also ordered, for possible inclusion on the video. The "Blue Peter" yielded a further piece of the expanding puzzle - another missing scene from the programme. From this collection of bits and bobs, episodes three and four could be substantially restored.

Firstly, it was decided to reassemble the pictures. All copies of the episodes (including both versions of part 2) had their master prints released from the archives, and were transferred to Digital Betacam videotape, along with the "Blue Peter" edition. Along the way, each film was examined for faults and scratches and expertly cleaned and polished to enable the best picture quality possible to be obtained from the prints. Digital Betacam was used as the videotape source, as it maintains perfect quality no matter how many generations are dropped (if done correctly) during editing.

Episode 1 needed no further work - other than the sound tidying up - after being copied to video. Episode 2 had the majority of the material transferred from the Nigerian print, with the six missing scenes dropped in from the other print. Minor work was then done on the soundtrack to bring this episode up to scratch.

Episode 4 was handled next. The infamous missing scene of a War Machine attacking a telephone box was reinstated. This material was discovered on the "Blue Peter" episode, although the soundtrack was missing the dialogue. The only other cut occurred about 9 and half minutes into the episode. The censors had probably found that the dialogue at this point (involving the hypnotised Polly calmly agreeing to be judged - and possibly destroyed - by Wotan) too disturbing. Although it would have been possible to re-instate the missing sound, there were no pictures available to drop into the gap. After much deliberation, the cut was tidied up, whilst the sound was partially restored.

The third episode was the last to be tackled, and was the most complicated. Firstly, it was discovered that part of the reprise from episode 2 was missing. This was re-edited in from episode 2 itself. A previously missing 17 second segment from Australia was then reinstated at about 7 minutes into the episode. The scene shows a slave worker being chopped to the ground and rolled out of the way by a War Machine. The end of the sequence was very easy to edit back into the programme, whilst the start was a little more difficult.

About 9 minutes into the episode, there was a brief 8 second sequence missing, centring on dialogue referring to all human life being destroyed. Unlike the missing dialogue in part 4, it was possible to re-instate the sound, as appropriate cutaway shots could be found to cover the gap. Finally, a further recovered scene from Australia lasting 37 seconds was re-edited in at about 18 minutes into the episode. This matched the cut in the Nigerian print frame for frame, and fitted in seamlessly. This reduced the missing material from 2 minutes and 16 seconds to just over a minute. This missing minute was a whole sequence from the battle in the warehouse (although the sound still exists, it’s pretty boring - War Machine noises and the sound of running feet, with the occasional whoosh of a "fire extinguisher"), and this is unfortunately lost forever - nothing could be done to try and ‘fudge’ the pictures to match the existing sound..

Once the pictures had been fully re-edited, attention turned to the sound. Music maestro Mark Ayres became involved in the project at Paul’s invitation. As well as being a noted musician, Mark is also a more-than-competent sound engineer, and has a whole selection of technical gadgets available, which he used to work on restoring the soundtracks. In addition to removing film hiss and distortion on the optical soundtracks of the episodes themselves, Mark was furnished with the DAT copies of Graham Strong’s audio recordings. From these, he was able to lift the bits of sound that were missing from the episodes. (Mark talks in-depth about his work elsewhere in this issue).

Eventually, he was able to provide the four episodes with a re-mastered soundtrack, and this was added to the pictures. Finally, the pictures themselves were re-graded electronically (bits of dirt removed, and white/dark balance tweaked to give it a more even overall appearance). From here, the episodes were complied together for the BBC video mastertape, complete with the full appearance of a War Machine on "Blue Peter" at the start, and a special credit sequence at the end. A separate end-sequence was used, as this was a restored version of the original programme, and not a new version of the programme altogether, as was "The Five Doctors - the Special Edition" (ex-"Doctor Who" producers take note!). This end sequence comprises scenes from some 35mm location film from episode 3, that was loaned to the project by a private collector, and is notable for an interesting ‘outake’ that rounds the video off to a treat.

Finally, Digital Betacam tapes of all the episodes were made for the BBC film and television library, as they now contained the most complete and perfect copies of the episodes.

Was the effort worth it? I don’t think I can answer that one, being so close to the project. But if just one person appreciates the story that little bit more when they see it on video, then I’m sure everyone connected with the project will be "dead chuffed".

The Restoration Team hope you enjoy their endeavours.

Text copyright Richard Molesworth, 1997.