Spearhead from Space - DVD

Originally, only 'The Robots of Death' was scheduled for release in 2000. However, late in the day, BBC Worldwide decided to commit to DVD Video in a much bigger way and as part of this BBC Video were asked to supply another Doctor Who title at short notice. The story that was chosen was Jon Pertwee's first appearance in 'Spearhead from Space'.

This all-film production had recently been remastered to a very high standard for the aborted BBC2 repeat season in 1999 and so was an obvious candidate for a quick, minimum cost release.  To provide contrast to the production-biased commentary recorded for 'The Robots of Death', it was decided to use actors Caroline John ('Liz Shaw') and Nicholas Courtney ('Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart') for a more informal commentary. This was once again recorded in the Voice Studio at Television Centre, although it had to be carried out over two afternoons due to a generalised power failure at Television Centre which stopped the recording of episode four on the initial day.

The sound was cleaned-up and enhanced at Pebble Mill, and colourist Jonathan Wood took  the opportunity to further clean-up and deblob the vision, which was not fully completed before transmission in '99. Here Jonathan describes some of the work he did...

"Although shot-by-shot grading was done in the original transfer session, there wasn't too much time for more complex grading of actual colours within shots. One slightly bizarre effect that was noticed was in the whites during the hospital scenes around the doctor's bed. The hospital staff's clothing was a definite blue white, while the sheets on the bed were a normal pure white. This difference was probably due to lighting and different colour temperatures reflecting off the two materials, and only noticeable because the scene was photographed. The human eye adapting far quicker to changes in lighting than a camera. Although it may not sound too important the imbalance of the whites in these shots was slightly distracting and it was decided to remove the blue tint in the uniforms. Using the grading system it was possible to isolate and "lock" onto the blue whiteness and reduce that tint separately from anything else in the picture. The results were far more pleasing to look at. A similar effect was in one of the shots at the cottage after the old lady has been killed by an Auton. It looked like it was filmed much later in the day and lighting had been poured onto the foreground where the actors were. Unfortunately, it meant the cottage and it's roof in the background now looked very blue - again something the human eye would have compensated for. Therefore this blue was isolated and toned down making the shot fit in much better to some of the previous ones filmed a lot earlier.

Also done was further work removing blemishes, i.e dirt or other faults that appear on single frames on the film surface. These can be quite objectionable if if they appear white (neg dirt) over a dark background or black on a bright part of a picture (print dirt), and also on or near actor's faces. The marks are manually removed by using the preceding or following clean film frame and electronically "painting" over the offending blemish with part of the clean image. If there is movement between frames, like a panning shot, then the clean sample can be moved to match. There are devices that can automatically remove very small marks in the image but they cannot be set to a level high enough for larger marks without seriously degrading the overall picture quality. The painstaking manual method provides the best results. However, it is one of those tasks that can never be fully completed if you think about the number of frames (25 per second) in the whole story. But after an afternoon of "de-blob" work, more than 400 extra blemishes have been removed from the episodes for the DVD release compared with last year's transmission, including work on the supplementary materials for the disc."

The Fleetwood Mac track playing in the background of the plastics factory sequence in part two was removed, as the cost of clearances to include it was ridiculously high. Mark Ayres  remade the soundtrack using the original sound effects tapes of the machinery but without the music.

Because this was the first big, colour UNIT story, it was felt that Kevin Davies' five-minute spoof 'UNIT Recruitment Film', originally broadcast as part of the thirtieth anniversary celebrations in 1993, would be an ideal accompaniment to the main story. Jonathan Wood was once again tasked with remastering and tidying-up, with some of the clips being re-inserted from better sources than were available in '93. When originally transmitted, a voiceover and on-screen telephone number were displayed near   the end of the feature. Callers were treated to a message from 'The Brigadier' alerting them to forthcoming repeats of 'The Green Death'. For the DVD release, this voiceover and caption were removed, as they make little sense in this context. Mark Ayres has been responsible for removing this dialogue and reinserting his original clean music in its place. He has also tidied-up the sound, removing some sibilance and brightened the sound overall.

The disc will also feature a photo gallery, with many rare or previously unseen photographs from the story , as well as the two BBC2 trails from the 1999 repeat season and the specially shot 35mm trail for the 1999 'Doctor Who Night', plus a bonus 'Easter Egg' hidden feature!

The 1999 trail for episode three has had to be revised due to problems with the music that was used. Although apparently cleared for use according to the paperwork that BBC Presentation had submitted, the trail actually feature music by Led Zeppelin, which is not clearable for commercial video release. An alternative piece of music has been substituted by the disc's producer, as omitting the trail from the disc at this stage in production would involve major reworking of the menu-screen graphics. However, the delay caused by this last-minute change forced the release date back to just two weeks before Christmas. The major retail chains such as HMV expressed concern that this would not allow them to properly promote the disc, so requested that the title be held over until early 2001. After careful consideration, BBC Worldwide have decided to move the release date to January 2001.

Also included is the option to display production information via on-screen subtitles, which gives the viewer details of the locations used and other points of interest throughout the story. This is a first for a UK DVD release, although a similar concept was recently used on the US release of 'The Abyss'.

'Spearhead from Space' has now moved back in the release schedule to 29th January 2001.

Copyright  Steve Roberts, 16 November 2000