A selection of colourised Doctor Who clips will make their debut at this year’s Missing Believed Wiped event, hosted by the British Film Institute.
How do you feel about colourised Doctor Who? It’s a divisive topic. For some, the idea of restoring the episodes’ original hues adds a new dimension to Classic Who, almost as if the adventures were being returned to their true glory. For others, colourised Doctor Who is unnecessary; the episodes are perfect the way they are, and indeed the stories’ monochromatic tints are all part of the suspense and atmosphere.
Whatever your view, it will certainly be interesting to see what colourised Doctor Who will look like, and obviously the BFI thought so too. As part of this year’s Missing Believed Wiped event, the Institute is screening a series of specially-colourised extracts from the classic First Doctor story ‘The Smugglers.’
Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve had a taste of colourised Doctor Who. You may remember the Blu-ray release of the animated ‘The Power of the Daleks,’ which was packaged with multiple discs – one of them being a version of the story in full colour. Since then, it has become common for animated missing Doctor Who episodes to be released in colour as standard, greatly expanding the look and feel of the original adventures. ‘Fury from the Deep,’ for example, was made to look like a big budget Hollywood movie – albeit in animated form!
But as mentioned previously, colourised Doctor Who is not to everyone’s taste, therefore some of these releases have included black and white options as well. And failing that, if viewers are truly craving the classic experience, they can always turn their TV’s colour settings down to zero!
And then there are the colourised Doctor Who episodes that should never have been monochrome in the first place. If that makes sense. Back in the 70s, despite the fact that Doctor Who was made in colour, the episodes were sold to overseas TV stations which were still transmitting in black and white. This meant that the colour mastertapes had to be film recorded in monochrome.
Then, unfortunately, the BBC wiped the original colour copies of 70s Doctor Who (or, at least, some of the very earliest ones starring Jon Pertwee.) As a result, the only surviving versions of these classic stories were the black and white film prints which had been returned from overseas TV stations. And so if these black and white Doctor Who episodes were to become colourised Doctor Who episodes once again, something would have to be done.
Of course, it is perfectly possible to colourise black and white footage, even if it is a painstaking process. It involves taking each individual frame and painting it by hand. The popular Doctor Who colourisation artist Stuart Humphreys has done this extensively on his YouTube channel, compiling some stunning clips of 60s Who which he hand-painted in Adobe Photoshop.
In fact, so impressive was Humphreys’ work that he was enlisted to produce some colourised Doctor Who for an official DVD release – that is, the first episode of ‘The Mind of Evil‘ in 2013, later released on Blu-ray.
Humphreys said: “To tackle the episode, it was broken down into its 205 constituent shots. These shots were then broken down further into individual ‘key’ frames which I had to manually colourise with Adobe Photoshop…
“As the UK’s PAL video system consists of 25 frames for every second of video footage, a 24-minute episode of Doctor Who contains about 36,000 frames. However, it was not necessary to colourise each one individually! The process involved me manually colourising approximately every 5th frame…
“Once the key-frames for each scene were completed they were then utilised by SVS Resources… to extrapolate the colour signal from the key-frames across the adjacent monochrome frames.”
You can read the full, in-depth story about this process on Humphreys’ website. But to put it simply, he hand-colourised certain key frames from the episode and then used a piece of software to work out what the colour information must have been in the other nearby frames. However, as Humphreys notes, producing colourised Doctor Who episodes is still a labour-intensive process, and the first episode of ‘The Mind of Evil’ took “several thousand hours” to complete.
On this occasion, the clips from ‘The Smugglers’ will be colourised by Kaleidoscope, using the story’s original production photos as a reference.
Well that cat's out of the bag! I've colourised the clips from 'The Smugglers' for the Kal event at the BFIhttps://t.co/1Il43Ziod0— That's Chroma (@ThatsChroma) August 1, 2023
(I'm somewhat amused by all the online speculation & now publicity for about 45 seconds of footage! Hope it's not too underwhelming 😅)
This rules out the possibility of using chroma dot recovery for colourisation. This is an altogether more bizarre method of producing colourised Doctor Who episodes, and only works for colour footage that was film recorded in black and white.
What do we mean by this? Well, some film recordings from the Pertwee era were found to have chroma dots embedded in their footage, which meant that the colour information still existed in their frames. As a result, some dedicated fans were able to create a piece of software that could interpret what this colour information was, and use the data to restore the black and white episodes to full colour.
It may sound bizarre, but it has actually worked surprisingly effectively for a number of the colourised Doctor Who episodes, most notably the remaining episodes of ‘The Mind of Evil‘ and ‘Planet of the Daleks’ episode three.
This is different from other forms of colourisation that have been used for classic Pertwee adventures such as ‘Terror of the Autons‘ and ‘The Daemons.’ Again, these had only been preserved as black and white film recordings, but some colour broadcasts had been made overseas, and in fact some dedicated fans had even made home recordings at the time of transmission. This meant that the blurrier domestic tapes could be merged with the sharper film copies to make composites which closely reflected the original mastertapes.
According to the Radio Times, there is certainly a possibility of more colourised Doctor Who in the future, even if the painstaking process can take between 30 and 60 minutes for each second of footage. That would mean a maximum of 1,500 hours per episode, and a whopping 15,000 hours if we were to tackle an epic 10-parter like ‘The War Games’ (or 625 days.)
And if you’d like to see these colourised Doctor Who extracts in all their glory, head to the BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped event on the 5th August. Tickets are available here.
In the meantime, how do you feel about colourised Doctor Who? And which classic stories would you most like to see in full colour? Let us know in the comments below.
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