The Seeds of Death

Originally intended to be the second release of the fortieth anniversary year,  the 1968 Patrick Troughton story, 'The Seeds of Death' now becomes the first release. As well as making its debut in episodic form, 'Seeds' will be the first UK release of a six-part story on DVD...

Both print and negative elements for each episode of the story were called up from the library in order to do a comparison between them to ensure the best material was used (as it has been known for some negatives to be duped from prints). This was achieved by transferring a small section from each reel onto tape and then running the transfers in sync, cutting between them on a vision mixer. Only in one case did the print and negative seem equally detailed otherwise the negatives had superior resolution, and were also far cleaner and more stable - therefore all episodes ended up being transferred from negative. Some had the film recording ident card intact, indicating once again that they were made as the story was broadcast.

A one-light Spirit transfer to Digital Betacam was done of each episode, with no DVNR applied at this time. This has the advantages of ensuring that the precious negatives are on the telecine for as short a time as possible, to minimise the risk of damage and dirt pickup, cuts down on expensive telecine time, and ensures that a top quality 'flat' transfer of the films is available for future use. Then a tape to tape grade was performed, whilst at the same time using various degrees of DVNR - it was boosted on occasions where there was some Quad scratching to help with the later clean-up stage. All the episodes looked very good once the overall grading setting was found and were generally quite stable in luminance levels as you would expect from this era. Only the filmed inserts required complete re-grading and compensation for the live TARIF grading adjustments when originally played into the studio. Episodes 3 & 6 were had slightly poorer definition suffering from some vision ringing, a problem with the feed to the film recorder as opposed to a film fault. Episode 5 was extremely good quality in both sound and vision, being retained on 35mm with the original master magnetic soundtrack as well. As with all episodes, the image is zoomed back right to the edge in order to capture as much of the image as possible, but in the case of Episode 5 the start and end of the original raster was so clear it was possible to adjust the scans to place this exactly in position of the active picture. The soundtracks on the other episodes were more variable, with generally only optical available.

To demonstrate the remarkable difference between the original BBC VHS release and the new DVD master, hover your mouse over the image from episode one below.

As usual on the tape to tape stage, 1 or 2 frames were removed on many of the vision cuts where a mistimed edit (physical or electronic) had caused an off-lock or mid frame change on the subsequent film recording.  So where necessary some re-framing was done to match either side of the edit as well as the removal of the "corrupted" frames.

Tape copies were then sent up to Peter Finklestone for retouching and to have the VidFIRE  videoising process applied. DAT copies of the soundtracks were sent to Mark Ayres for audio cleanup and restoration. Here, Peter describes the work he carried out...

"Because of the excellent general condition of the film prints, relatively little special restoration work was needed on the pictures.  The title sequences were replaced with a generic version which was retouched further to remove a couple of tiny scratches. All episodes were examined frame-by-frame to remove any instances of dirt, sparkle or scratches. 

In episode three, there was a short off-lock where Jamie is speaking on the radio to the Doctor from the rocket interior. Jonathan Wood replaced the damaged section by running the preceding frames backwards and forwards to fill the gap. Unfortunately there was some slight movement of the background and moiré patterning which gave the game away, so this was stabilised and the moiré patterning painted out. 

In episode six, where the Martian fleet is being tracked on monitors with a sort of "radar" effect, there was double-imaging on the screen due to the film insert being out of phase with the film recorder. As the image is an animation and runs, effectively, at 12.5 frames per second, in theory consecutive images should be identical, allowing the double image to be removed simply. Unfortunately the Martian fleet image is also an animation, is also out of phase with the film recording, but is out-of-phase with the "radar" too. The end result is that the "ghost" images had to be painted out by hand on each frame. Laborious, but the end result is much clearer and matches what would have been seen in 1969. 

The most challenging aspect of the restoration was undoubtedly cleaning the end credit roller captions. On the existing prints these are comparatively wobbly and indistinct.  In each case, the existing blurry captions have to be removed digitally from the image so  new, sharp, clean captions can replace them. Because the old versions are two fields superimposed, the letters are stretched vertically, as well as being distorted considerably and variably according to the position on the screen. Letters can be a different size and skewed or rotated. 

The problems of each episode ending are described below, but when each had the old caption removed, a new version was superimposed to match what would have been seen on the original VT. 

Episode One: This is a close up of Slaar's face. There is only a small amount of movement and it is only on screen for a few seconds before fading to black, so this was relatively easy to retouch. 

Episode Two: This is where it starts to get nasty. The episode ends with a model shot of the spaceship, which rotates in space, then appears to recede into the distance while the credits roll (which, incidentally, has to be the most outrageously fast scroll of any "Doctor Who" episode – putting many an American sitcom to shame!). Because of the constant change in size and aspect of the ship, copying from adjacent frames is very unsatisfactory. In the end, acceptable results were obtained by using Twixtor to render new frames to replace those elements covered by the roller text. 

Episode Three: If episode two was hard, this caused real headaches. The seed pod has arrived in the T-Mat cubicle and starts to enlarge. As it does so, the camera zooms in slowly and the picture fades to black. And, of course, the credits scroll over all of this. The constant changes in picture detail and brightness levels meant that replacing the text with adjacent picture information from the same frame left an obvious "ghost" of the text, and cloning from adjacent frames did the same thing.  In the end, I used a combination of both these options to give a "best attempt", which looked quite horrible. I then applied both mild spatial noise reduction (giving a slight softening of the image)  and very heavy temporal noise reduction (essentially blending each frame with the 8 surrounding frames. This gave a smooth image, without any distracting changes in level in the picture. Random monochrome noise was added to match the original clip, and this was used as a source to paint over the old scrolling text. There was still a slight change in the picture, so a very small amount of noise reduction was applied to the final image before the new roller caption was overlaid.  The final result looks astonishing considering the problems and this repair is probably the one I'm most proud of to date.

 Episode Four:  The Ice Warrior approaches Zoe, as the camera tracks in, the background lighting fluctuates in intensity and the picture fades to black. I had considered this impossible to fix adequately and, originally, mixed to new credits after the fade to black was completed. However, spurred on by the success in episode 3 I used similar techniques of painting clean keyframes, then using Twixtor to generate the in-between images. This also worked surprisingly well.

 Episode Five: The Doctor in the foam outside the weather centre. Two attempts at this, as the first wasn't entirely successful. Again, a combination of severe temporal noise reduction and retouching was needed.

 Episode Six: Bliss. The captions roll over a static shot of Eldred's empty laboratory, so this took no time at all.

 Following all the fixes, the episodes were VidFIRE processed to return scenes that were originally on VT to that appearance. This includes episode five. Although it was broadcast from film, it is our policy to VidFIRE material according to its acquisition format. If it was captured with an electronic studio camera, it is VidFIREd. If it was captured on a film camera, it is not." 

Extras for this release include:-

During September 2002, John Kelly and Peter Finklestone interviewed Alan Bennion (Slaar), Sonny Caldinez (Ice Warrior) and Sylvia James (Make-up Supervisor) for 'Sssowing the Ssseedsss', a 25 minute featurette on bringing the Ice Warriors to life and recording "The Seeds of Death". A rare bonus is the inclusion of audio material of the late Bernard Bresslaw recalling his role as Varga, the first Ice Warrior, in the eponymous story.

Copyright Jonathan Wood / Peter Finklestone / Steve Roberts,  25 September 2002