'Planet of Giants'

Kicking off the VHS release schedule for 2002 is the three-part William Hartnell story, 'Planet of Giants'. This release sees the start of a concerted effort by BBC Video to get the remaining complete, previously unreleased stories out on VHS in the space of the next two years - two years which will undoubtedly see DVD finally take its place as the preferred format for commercial video releases.

'Planet of Giants' has a somewhat interesting history, as it was commissioned and recorded as a four-part story. However, before transmission, the final two parts were cut together into one episode and the story went out as a three-parter. It is unfortunate that the original versions of the final episodes no longer exist, as they would be a very interesting oddity - as well as allowing the transmitted episode to be reconstructed in much higher quality!

Although original BBC Enterprises film-recording negatives still exist in the BBC archives, the only prints of episodes one and two have an Arabic soundtrack! As we have permission to transfer directly from the English com-opt negatives, this is not a problem to us - otherwise having new prints struck would have added a substantial amount to the cost of this release.

The films were first cleaned in an ultrasonic film cleaning machine and then transferred directly to Digital Betacam tape on the Spirit telecine by Jonathan Wood, with no video or audio noise reduction applied. This is to give us a clean master to work from so that we do not have to go back to the negatives for any future DVD release of this story. Episode three is a mute neg, with a separate optical soundtrack, so this had to be combined onto tape in two passes. The raw transfer tape was then used to make the video release master, with the episodes being processed by DVNR to remove the smaller imperfections and some frames being removed around particularly bad cuts between scenes..

Episode one was generally in fairly good condition, with some sparkle and surprisingly also some black dirt. With a true negative, you would not expect to see any black dirt, as dust on the film is turned negative and comes out as white sparkle. The only possibilities for black dirt are that it is a duplicate negative rather than an original film recorder negative, or that the dirt is dust that was on the negative when it was originally exposed. There is no real way of telling which is the case here. The soundtrack was very hissy, so a compromise between hiss reduction and overall sound quality had to be reached when filtering the sound. Quite a lot of tape dropouts and sparkle was painted out using Scratchbox.

Episode two was much better in terms of cleanliness and sound quality. The film for this episode still retained an original film recording line-up chart at the beginning, giving the film recording date as 4 June 1967. As we know that 'Planet of Giants' was sold previously to this, it must have been film recorded again for some reason. Given the quality differences between episodes one and two, it seems likely that the first episode is a 'first run' recording. Because it was so clean, the small number of dropouts and other defects were removed using the traditional vision mixer 'deblobbing' process we used before Scratchbox became available.

Episode three proved to be the worst quality of the lot. The studio recordings of the original episodes three and four had been film recorded onto 35mm and the new episode three cut together on film. It was transmitted from 35mm film, presumably with a properly mixed magnetic soundtrack. The problem with using the optical soundtrack  is that there is a physical twenty frame offset between picture and soundtrack on 35mm film. The upshot of this is that if you edit two pieces of film together, the outgoing soundtrack from shot one keeps going for twenty frames into the incoming shot two. So any dialogue in the first twenty frames of shot two will be clipped off. The way around this problem is to either record the sound onto magnetic film initially (best quality) or transfer all the sound from the optical tracks onto magnetic films, and then edit picture and magnetic films at the same time. Unfortunately, the original 35mm transmission recording and any mag tracks that may have been with it have long since gone... and the 16mm separate optical soundtrack appears to be a dupe of the 35mm optical soundtrack from the cut-together film recordings, so all the twenty frame overhangs have been retained. In one case this does result in the loss of the beginning of Hartnell's line.

Picture quality was lower than seen on the previous two episodes. A constant visible horizontal density line near the top of the picture shows that the 35mm recordings were of the 'partial stored field' variety - the density change being where a graduated neutral density filter was used to correct the brightness of the partially stored field. (See the link to Peter Finklestone's TV Technology site in the links page.)   There is quite bad density flutter throughout the episode, quite a lot of dirt and sparkle and one particularly nasty film recorder offlock which lasts three seconds. The presence of this fault does suggest that the 16mm film is itself a film recording of a telecine replay of the 35mm recordings, rather than an optical reduction from 35mm to 16mm, which would have provided the best quality. It seems unlikely that the editor would have deliberately left in a very bad three second picture fault, so we can only presume it is a 16mm film recorder off-lock.

The fault manifests itself as a splitting of  the two video fields horizontally, which vibrate side to side before pulling back together. Frame by frame analysis shows that there are a lot of factors conspiring to make this a very difficult shot to fix, including two layers of 405-line film recording and subsequent scanning out to 625 lines. The shot was given to Ian Simpson in 3D Effects (who had worked on correcting other picture faults on 'The Tomb of the Cybermen'), but proved to be impossible to correct at a reasonable price. We had the option to leave it as it was, to put in a version with the worst of the movement edited out, or to lose that part of the shot completely. Sadly, the latter option proved to be the only one that worked. Leaving the fault in had the effect of dragging the viewer out of the story, so it was felt that an edit was the best way to deal with the problem. Although in the middle of a piece of music, a carefully placed audio edit two seconds after the video edit joined the programme together seamlessly.

There was also an offlock in the opening titles of episode three. It would have been nice to replace the titles completely, but unfortunately they mix out at the end straight into the first scene. To fix the problem, the film for episode two was put back on the telecine and the zoom,  position and rotation adjusted for the best match between the episode two and three sequences. The episode two titles were laid instead of the faulty  titles, mixing back over to the original episode three titles just after the fault. The music was also replaced on both the beginning and end of the programme, as it was audibly wowing and had a lot of big clicks and pops in it. The episode was then cleaned up on Scratchbox.

For many months now, Peter Finklestone has been experimenting with a technique to restore the original 'video-look' to film-recorded material. The original studio video would have consisted of fifty interlaced pictures every second, giving the picture a fluid, 'live' feel. However, once recorded onto film for overseas sales, the vision consists of only twenty-five pictures per second, giving a jerkier film-look. Peter's process uses off-the-shelf video processing software to interpolate the missing twenty-five pictures per second and re-interlace them to give a true video-look once again.

The process has now been developed to such a point that it is feasible to finally use it in a commercial release. Episodes one and two of 'Planet of Giants' have been treated with the new video effect, called VidFIRE™. For the sake of authenticity, episode three has not been treated because it was originally transmitted from 35mm film anyway. Also, there are many artefacts of the double telerecording process locked into the image and this gives very odd results when processed. All shots in episodes one and two which originally came from pre-filmed inserts, including the opening titles, have been retained as 'film'.


Steve Roberts, 28 September 2001