Doctoring the Tardis
by Ebony McKenna
Page 1 of 1Known to many for its cheap sets, zippered costumes and sometimes
questionable acting, Doctor Who was a show that defied its low budgets and
the unfashionable nature of sci-fi to became one of the longest running TV
shows in the world.
It was tacky, at times confusing, noisy and over the top, and it was best
viewed between your fingers as you cowered behind the sofa.
Thanks to advances in technology, Doctor Who episodes are being re-released
on high quality DVDs. No doubt this will make a fortune for the BBC, and
might even attract a few new converts to the show, but if you thought this
move would make the fans happy, think again. Instead of being pleased, fans
around the world fear the show will be "doctored".
What might have looked awesome on television in the 60s, 70s and 80s, will
look awful on DVD. The sets, lighting, costumes, make-up and special effects
were never meant to be seen in the detail DVD offers.
To give them their due, the BBC is going back to the source material what
little of it survived the infamous BBC purge to make sure the transfer to
DVD retains the quality of the original broadcasts. For many fans, it will
be the first time they've seen the show in such clarity. We'll see all those
shaky sets, the tacky knobs on the Tardis console and the polystyrene
But most of all, we'll see how very ordinary the special effects appear, by
today's standards. In The Awakening, writer Eric Pringle envisaged The Malus
as a terrifying entity that fed off people's psychic energy. In reality its
physical manifestation was on par with a stick-on Garfield doll, clinging to
the inside of the Tardis wall.
Graham Harper, director of The Caves of Androzani, has already succeeded in
having special effects shots remade for this story's April DVD re-release,
because he was unhappy with the original end product. He was using '984
technology which resulted in an alien sky that unfortunately wobbled around,
which many people today would find distracting - but only if they'd never
seen Dr Who before. To the fans it would be a trip down memory lane. This
begs the question - who are the DVDs for, loyal fans or newcomers?
The restoration team working on the DVD releases says via its website that
it is "aware that some fans may see this as tampering with the programme,
but it is something that Graeme Harper strongly felt that we should rectify.
It may be possible to present both versions on the disc and let the viewer
decided which one to watch."
But Doctor Who is more than a show, it's a piece of television history. In
the very first episode, An Unearthly Child, there is only one edit, as the
cast move from a set to the inside of the Tardis. That one edit looks
terrible - because the two-inch master tape had to be physically cut with a
pair of scissors! Do we dare "polish" this? And if we do, are we denying the
truth that the show, despite its shortcomings and meagre budgets, still
managed to produce a quality product?
This act of "polishing" has already been evidenced in the re-release of Star
Wars. Director George Lucas said this was how the film was always meant to
look. He tidied up the "edges" of ships so they didn't have a thick black
outline around them, and he fixed the stereo mix. But he also diddled with
the scenes, chopping away some of the more violent aspects of the film.
In the original release, Han Solo shoots a henchman by the name of Greedo,
because he's sick of explaining why he can't repay his debt to Jabba the
Hut. Solo is obviously a kind of "shoot first, ask questions later" kind of
guy. In the re-release, it's Greedo who gets off the first shot, but misses,
therefore Solo is acting in self defence. This re-edit reduces Solo's
stature and makes Greedo look stupid. I mean, how could he miss from such
This is the kind of thing I fear most - that previously strong scenes in
Doctor Who could be tamed, to suit the changing mood of the day. And it may
have been that at the time of making the show, time constraints and budget
cuts resulted in episodes not entirely to the director's liking, but that's
the nature of the industry.
So go ahead BBC and put out the DVDs, just don't polish our history. The
restoration team might think they're doing the right thing by sprucing up
the look of the show to make it more contemporary, but they're not doing
justice to the fans.
After all, was anybody thanked for colourising Casablanca?
Ebony McKenna is the author of Gravity's Force, a science fiction thriller,
published by Red-e2.com. Her website is www.ebonymckenna.com
...and here's a message from the The Doctor Who Restoration Team
I just wanted to let you know that we share your concerns about the
possible conflict between restoration and tampering... which is why the DVD
release of 'The Caves of Androzani' allows the viewer the choice of watching
either the original or remade version of the planet surface matte shots.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Ebony McKenna, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.