This two-part story from Tom Baker's first season was chosen to be the first 'Standard Edition' release, a lower-priced subset of the main DVD range designed to increase the number of releases per year. Standard Edition releases will still feature fully remastered sound and pictures, an audio commentary and production note subtitles, and in some cases may also include a photo gallery and a single extra such as a featurette or a trailer. Special Edition releases will continue to provide more feature-packed discs, adding multiple featurettes, archive material, isolated music and alternative effects options as appropriate. It is hoped that the Standard Edition releases will contribute a further four releases per year on top of the existing six release slots.
'The Sontaran Experiment' is, technically, a most unusual story. It was the first Doctor Who story to be shot entirely on location using video cameras alone - there are no film sequences at all, save for the standard opening and closing titles.
The remastering path was completely standard - the D3 digital videotape copy of the original quad transmission master was Transform Decoded onto Digital Betacam and was graded and cleaned up in the usual manner. The variable location weather and light conditions, coupled with the use of portable video cameras on the Dartmoor location, did prove an interesting grading challenge for Jonathan Wood, but the result is a story which looks much better matched and cohesive than the original master. DVNR provided basic automated reduction of video noise and smaller tape dropouts, whilst manual cleanup at SVS dealt with the larger dropouts. Sequences which had made use of the BBC's disc recorder for slo-mo or backwards shots were unpicked and remade in better quality, and attempts were made to smooth the level bumps encountred during the Transmat materialisation and dematerialisation sequences at the beginning and end of the story. Mark Ayres' audio cleanup was mostly concerned with hiss reduction, particularly in the second episode. These episodes, recorded on location using portable equipment, are very noisy audio-wise, with some low-level breakthrough of timecode at times. Careful noise-reduction with automated levels was used to improve the sound as much as possible, but some dialogue is at a level very near that of the noise and so difficult to deal with, leading to some slightly muffled speech with which not a lot could be done. Some scenes in the rocks have a strange sound quality, probably due to early reflections from the rock surfaces causing phasing on the microphone - this is impossible to fix. A low-level mains hum on some scenes was removed with a programmed filter. Many edits were tidied, and the opening and closing music was replaced from masters as a matter of course.
Actress Elisabeth Sladen, co-writer Bob Baker and producer Philip Hinchcliffe provide the commentary, with production text subtitles are courtesy of Martin Wiggins. A photo gallery was provided by Derek Handley, set to a background of original sound effects from the story.
The original intention was that this release would feature only the bare minimum Standard Edition specification. However, Richard Molesworth and Steve Broster approached Steve Roberts with an idea for a featurette about the history of the Sontarans, which was duly presented to 2|entertain commissioning editor Dan Hall and was rewarded with the required funding. The result is Built for War, a 40 minute programme featuring contributions from actors Elisabeth Sladen, Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker, stuntman Stuart Fell, writer Bob Baker, and script editors Terrance Dicks, Anthony Read and Eric Saward. And an errant Sontaran commander having a bad day...
Copyright Steve Roberts, 12 August 2006. No reproduction allowed without written permission.