The Five Doctors - DVD

In mid-1999, BBC Worldwide decided to include a Doctor Who title in the first batch of BBC DVD releases. The Restoration Team were asked to make suggestions and, along with the story's executive producer, Sue Kerr, recommended 'The Five Doctors - Special Edition' as the ideal choice. This decision was based on exploiting the full benefits of the DVD format, especially its excellent video quality and multi-channel surround sound capabilities.

The initial suggestion was to digitally remaster the pictures to remove video noise and film dirt and to remix the soundtrack into full six-channel Dolby Digital 5.1 format, include the entire clean music score as a second audio track, cast and crew biographies, television trailers, behind-the-scenes footage and effects comparisons of the original and Special Edition. Much of this extra material was dropped, due to tight timescales and additional costs which owing to the relatively small UK DVD market might never be recouped. However, the picture clean-up, DD5.1 remix and clean music options were retained and although the DVD authoring work was to be done outside the BBC at specialist authoring house Electric Switch, the Restoration Team were asked to carry out the required pre-mastering work.

It would have been nice to be able to go back and retransfer the original film sequences, but the costs of doing this were prohibitive, so all the cleanup work was carried out digitally from the D3 videotape master. The PAL composite original was digitally comb-filter decoded and the new master was produced on Digital Betacam videotape. The pictures were processed through the DVNR-1000 digital dirt and scratch remover, alternating between film and video cleanup modes as required. This removed a lot of the electronic camera noise from the studio sequences and dirt, sparkle and grain from the film sequences. This sort of pre-processing is vital for DVD or digital broadcasting applications because the MPEG-2 encoders can then concentrate on coding the picture information not the noise, which leads to a reduction in the number of visible coding artefacts. Larger problems such as blobs of dirt and tape dropout were painted out frame by frame. The end title sequence was amended to reflect the fact that the soundtrack would be Dolby Digital rather than Dolby Surround, and to include all the contributors inside the main credit sequence, rather than in a short 'Special Edition' sequence tagged on the end as it was in the VHS release. A new version of the opening 'swoop', where the timescoop effect from the original transmitted version removes the BBC Worldwide logo, was made up, as the logo had changed since 1999. This was vetoed by the bosses at Worldwide however, so has been removed.

The soundtrack was totally remixed at BBC Pebble Mill by the same dubbing mixers who had produced the Dolby Surround version in 1995. The new mix uses the full potential of multi-channel sound to aggressively steer sounds into every corner of the room and includes a full low-frequency effects channel. A timecoded DA-88 eight-track digital audio cassette was produced, which contained each of the six discrete channels in the DD5.1 package as a separate track, plus a stereo downmix of this version into standard Dolby Surround in case it was required. A timecoded DAT copy of the clean music was also produced. It was originally intended that the clean soundtrack would run in sync with the main audio and that the listener could jump between them at will. However, as only around a third of the story features music, the producers wisely decided to remove all the gaps and include the soundtrack option as a separately accessible menu item, with its own chaptering. This allows the consumer to listen to the entire music soundtrack without pauses, just as if it were an audio CD.

Although the running time of 102 minutes put the programme well within the generally accepted limit of 133 minutes for a single layer disc, the Restoration Team lobbied strongly and successfully for it to be done dual-layer instead. Field-based video images are harder to compress than frame-based film images and tests showed that the quality on a single-layered disc would be very borderline. A dual-layered disc allows the video bitstream to be run to the maximum limit of the format, ensuring the best possible picture quality. We also recommended that the Dolby Digital soundtrack was encoded at the higher 448Kb/s rate rather than the lower-quality 384Kb/s standard.

The disc also contains subtitles in six European languages, including English for the Hard of Hearing. It was originally intended for release in the UK on October 4th, 1999, but problems with the pressing of the discs delayed it until the beginning of November.

Some reviewers have commented that the closing music begins in mono and expands into full 5.1 surround halfway through and have queried whether this is a fault. In fact, it is completely deliberate and ties in with the Doctor's closing comment about continuing just as he began. Therefore the music starts in mono, just as it would have been originally, before expanding to envelope the viewer. This same effect was utilised on the VHS release in 1995, but was timed to occur as the Composer credit appeared on screen. Unfortunately the credits have been re-ordered for the DVD release and the two no longer occur at the same point.

One major problem was only discovered after the discs were pressed and copies made available to the Restoration Team. Due to an error at the authoring house, the music-only soundtrack runs approximately 10% slow. We assume that they wrongly imported our 48KHz DAT music master into their system at the lower 44.1KHz sampling rate used for CDs. There is also a small problem reported on some DVD players when trying to access the music-only option after cycling the player through stop mode.

For more information about the making of this Special Edition, please refer to the main article on this site.

A US DVD release is planned for Autumn 2001. The DVD producers have taken our master materials as the source for their video and audio, including the 5.1 sound mix and the clean music, which will hopefully be presented at the correct speed. However, they commissioned us to produce a commentary track for the disc, which was recorded on 14 May 2001 in Theatre R at Television Centre. The contributors were Peter Davison and the story's writer, Terrance Dicks.

Copyright Steve Roberts, 20 May 2001