Saturday, 6 August 2011

Back To Black (And White)

Many Doctor Who fans were thrilled when satellite TV channel UK Gold reached the Pertwee era of the series, way back in February 1993, but sadly the majority of the episodes were not in the same condition as originally transmitted, and the seven-part story Doctor Who And The Silurians was a prime example of this...

Doctor Who And The Silurians
UK Gold - Sunday 7th March 1993
9:00-11:30am (omnibus)

The Doctor's initial encounter with the rubber-suited reptilians entertained around 8 million viewers on its BBC1 debut back in early 1970, and is noteworthy for being the very first Doctor Who story to be recorded to and broadcast from colour videotape (although the majority of people were still watching on black-and-white sets).

BBC Enterprises, the corporation's commercial arm, ensured each episode was transferred to 16mm B&W film for overseas sales (many countries had yet to embrace colour television) and the film negatives were eventually retained by the BBC Film and Videotape Library. Sadly the same cannot be said for the master tapes, which were wiped for re-use by the mid-1970s, leaving no other colour copies in the BBC archives.

But the story doesn't end there...

In 1977, long-term British fan Ian Levine had been looking to America to complete his collection, and made contact with a Chicago-based fan by the name of Tom Lundie who had recorded five complete Pertwee stories (including The Silurians) from his local Chicago station onto domestic 525-line Betamax videotape. And they were in colour! Thankfully, Levine swiftly arranged for Lundie to make him copies, and he eventually offered them to the BBC in the early 1980s. The recordings were by no means broadcast standard, but they were priceless.

By 1992, a group of Doctor Who fans working at the BBC (subsequently known as The Doctor Who Restoration Team) received funding and equipment to combine the colour signal of the American recordings with the high-quality B&W film prints and, after overcoming several technical obstacles, Doctor Who And The Silurians was restored to its former glory in early 1993.

So why did UK Gold show The Silurians in B&W if it had been restored to colour? Well, there are two possibilities: either the recolourised version had not yet been passed onto BBC Enterprises (who supplied TV stations such as UK Gold with transmission tapes) or it was simply that they did not wish it to be shown anywhere before the VHS release in July 1993, to avoid losing potential sales. So when The Silurians made its second appearance on British television - no less than 23 years later - on Sunday 7th March 1993, it was in black-and-white. When UK Gold repeated the story again in March 1995, they had the recolourised version; the first time it had been shown on British television.

It's funny how The Silurians only survives in colour today thanks to one guy in Chicago who was simply recording one of his favourite shows off the telly. Just as many of us taped our favourite show off UK Gold... so thanks Tom Lundie, wherever you are. And thanks to Rich once again for supplying the above clips, and to Richard Molesworth for his invaluable and meticulously researched book Wiped! Doctor Who's Missing Episodes - a highly recommended read.

That's enough for now, but look out for another update later this month. Oh, and that advert at the end of part two (see video above)... how embarrassing does that game look now? And I bet it's just as difficult to complete today...


  1. KinggodzillakAugust 08, 2011

    Seven episodes in two-and-a-half hours? Must have been minimal ads back in those days, I remember towards the end 7-parters on Gold used to fill nearly *three*-and-a-half hours...

  2. Yep, very few ads that day. They'd stopped the weekday afternoons repeats at that point - perhaps due to ratings - so the Sunday omnibus was the only opportunity to watch Who.