The Web Planet

The UK's fifth DVD release for 2005 is a story which splits fan opinion more than any other... 'The Web Planet' was an audacious undertaking, recreating a completely alien world of giant insects with a malevolent, cancerous enemy at its centre, all within the confines of Riverside Studios and on a budget of only 2500 per episode. That they managed to do so much with so little should be considered a remarkable achievement...


Illustration from Doctor Who Annual 1964'The Web Planet' was originally shot on 405-line videotape, but now exists as 16mm stored-field film recordings previously used to strike prints for overseas sales by BBC Enterprises. All six episodes exist as 16mm negatives and the last five appear to be camera negatives. There's a question mark over episode one, as it is logged into the library system as a 'second negative', which may indicate that either it is finegrain dupe negative or it was made in a second film recording session. In either case it does not seem to have markedly affected the quality, as all six episodes are in excellent condition.

Jonathan Wood was responsible for transferring the 16mm negatives to Digital Betacam videotape on the Spirit telecine at BBC Resources. All six episodes were 'one-light' transferred in a single pass to ensure that the precious films were on the machine for as short a time as possible, before they were on their way back to the safety of the Windmill Road library. The one-light transfers were then graded and noise-reduced and dirty cuts edited out.

Picture clean-up then took place offline on computer-based manually retouching systems, before the final application of the VidFIRE videoising process was applied. This is the first Doctor Who release to see the benefit of the newly-improved VidFIRE, first seen on the Quatermass release.

In general, this was a standard retouching job with average amounts of VT dropout and film dirt/sparkle to be painted out, but there were a small number of specific problems.

Episode 1: The recap from the end of episode 4 of 'The Romans' was played in from a 35mm film recording and, in common with much 1960s telecine material is out of phase and of lower resolution than can be achieved now. Therefore the end of the 16mm negative of that episode was retransferred and the repeat insert remade, with more of the image visible and clearer sound. All of the opening film sequence of the surface of Vortis is also, unfortunately, out of phase. The caption of "The Web Planet" was replaced to stop it wobbling (a film recording artefact) but unfortunately the movement of the ethereal web behind the writer credit meant that this had to be left.

Episode 2: The filmed model sequence from Ealing of the TARDIS being moved along the surface of Vortis had marked tramline scratching, most of which has been painted out.

Episode 3: A 3 frame offlock (undoubtedly caused by  the flash of an on-set pyrotechnic upsetting the synchronisation circuits in the recorder) when the "root" fires at the TARDIS was fixed easily but 14 minutes into the episode a more severe 12 frame offlock when the Larva Gun fires required more careful work due to the amount of 3D movement in the image and length of disruption. Firstly, the image was stabilised in the vertical axis in order to use as much non-corrupt image detail as possible. Then the Foundry's Furnace plug-in for Shake was used to interpolate details between the corrupt frames. Finally, all the repaired elements were composited into a single layer and retouched by hand where necessary. Click here to download a 672Kb MPEG movie of the original fault and the fixed version.

Episode 4: About 13 minutes into the episode, for a 3 or 4 minute period the picture suffers from intermittent severe field sync errors and line pulling (as illustrated by the demo picture, roll your mouse over the image to see the problem).

In most cases this was repaired either by retouching or interpolation. However, the problem reaches a nadir in the scene where Barbara and the Menoptera cross a section of the planet surface; here the severity of distortion and amount of movement in the image meant an invisible repair could not be made. However, it is now more of a mild disturbance than previously.

Three of the episodes have a couple of marks on the monitor tube of the film recorder. Ideally these would be removed by blending adjacent pixels in the image. However, with around 35,000 frames per episode it would only be feasible to do with automated brushstrokes. This was tried, but unfortunately the film recording was too unstable, with a vertical shift of +/- 2 scan lines across the episode, and the position altering sufficiently to cause problems every 100 frames or so. When this happens, the defect is amplified rather than removed. An attempt was made to motion track the screen marks in order to apply an offset to the automated rotoscoping. While this worked well on some sections, for the most part it was not possible to track the marks due to the low resolution of the image and surrounding areas of similar luminance values, so the attempt at removal of the marks was abandoned.

As is customary, the opening titles and closing credits have been replaced with standard versions matching the originals but without geometric distortion introduced by film recording.

The subject of the smeary filters used to give a strange, other-worldly look to the pictures has caused controversy for several years, so we took the opportunity to ask the story's director, Richard Martin, to set the record straight. Richard tells us that he wanted to add filters to the studio cameras, but no equivalent of a film camera's matte-box (a device for mounting filters in front of the lens) existed. He was told in no uncertain terms that he could not tamper with the expensive camera lenses themselves, so he arranged for a crude matte-box to be manufactured from scratch and fastened in front of the cameras. Each device held an 'optical flat', a piece of optically perfect glass, which was then simply smeared with Vaseline to provide the diagonal diffusion that he required.

For many years, fans have assumed that the episodes were in poor condition, based on the VHS release in the early nineties, which used questionable prints. As can be seen from the example below, comparing a grab of the original VHS version with the same shot from the new version, there is no need to worry about the quality! Roll your mouse over the image to see the difference...

DVCam copies of both the one-light and edited versions were sent off to Mark Ayres for audio  restoration. Mark has provided the following notes on the restoration process...

'The Web Planet' is a story that has been much-maligned down the years, due to its perceived cheapness. It was, however, one of the most expensive and ambitious serials of its time, and the production team really should be praised for trying something so audacious, even if it doesn't always come off. In remastering the episodes, we have I think taken great pains to bring out all that is to be admired, here. The story is, of course, fluff-city where William Hartnell is concerned, one of the best being at the start of episode six where he states that he and Vicki have been on "a slight exploitation". He means "exploration". I hope.

The theme music at the top and tail of each episode was of course replaced from my copies of the original masters, as is usual. Episode one starts with a reprise from the end of the last episode of the previous adventure, 'The Romans', and this was originally played in from film. Unfortunately the fade-in at the start is rather apologetic, so we have replaced this recap (sound and vision) using a new transfer of the end sequence of 'The Romans'- for one it is a generation earlier, but it also now looks as if we mean it! The recaps at the start of every episode were in fact play-ins from a film recording of the previous week's climax, so I do the same here, copying the end of each episode up to the start of the next, thus saving a generation each time.

For the rest of episode one, I had two soundtracks to choose from, an optical track and a magnetic one. The magnetic track was actually a recording of a film optical track from a print, but I chose to use  it in the main: as, although it was noisier, there were far fewer other problems to deal with (film grain and "pops"). I did revert to the optical track for one sequence (Barbara being lured from the TARDIS) as there was a fair amount of intermodulation distortion on the track at this point, which was less objectionable on the optical. Episodes two to six only exist as optical tracks, so there was no decision to be made. Standard declicking and denoising was applied.

Throughout this adventure, there are a couple of problems with the sound that detract quite seriously from the effect the production team were after. Firstly there is a lot of "rostrum noise" - the very wooden sound of actors, cameras and crew moving around the studio, plus the continual creaking of the heavy Zarbi costumes. While it must be remembered that this sound is an inevitable by-product of the "as-live" nature of the original performances, I have nevertheless (after some discussion with my colleagues) chosen to reduce it (though rarely entirely remove it) where possible. The difference it makes to the effect of the narrative is quite marked - an obvious example is the sequence half way through episode two where the Doctor and Ian are surrounded by Zarbi. In episode three, there is an infamous moment where an approaching Zarbi collides with the camera - again, I have muted the sound of impact slightly, but not removed it entirely!

The second problem is that picture and sound cuts were often not very closely synchronised, most noticeably so in episode one as the action moves in and out of the TARDIS. As part of the process of tidying up the occasional poor edit, therefore, I have often re-synchronised cuts. Again, it helps to push the narrative forward, rather than taking you away from it. I hope that this has been done in a way that is sensitive to the original technology (and often it is merely a case of adjusting some levels), but it certainly helps to "sell" the story much better. I should point out that all these repairs are made my making small adjustments to timings and levels, at no point is any non-original material added or invented.

Actually, this leads on to a third problem with this story, looking at it objectively from this distance of time. It is, sound wise, very "empty" in places - the planet Vortis, in particular, is as barren sound wise as it is of vegetation! I would have loved to have added some atmosphere but this would, of course, be way beyond my brief. Perhaps, one day, I will do my own expanded mix...!

Two episodes presented particular problems. For episode four ('Crater of Needles') the soundtrack is afflicted by a deep "wow" or slowly varying speed. This is most noticeable over music, in this case the opening titles and the music cue over the opening sequence and captions. The opening titles are of course replaced anyway, but the music cue was really rather painful to listen to, and something needed to be done. Trying to counteract the varying speed might have been possible if I had a few months to spare, but the best option was to replace it almost entirely - which is what I did. The music is 'Rapsodie de Budapest' by Les Structures Sonores, and it just so happens that I have a copy of the album from which this track was taken in my collection. I made a new transfer of the piece, carefully filtered the hiss and crackle, and laid it up against the pictures in sync with the original, removing the film soundtrack. This was OK, of course, but there was also dialogue and effects over the music, so these had to be carefully cut and filtered out of the original mix, and re-introduced over the replacement music: fiddly, but worth doing, I think! Luckily, by the time the next music cue comes in (at around 14:20) the worst excesses of the problem have abated, and I can leave well alone.

Episode six ('The Centre') was the most annoying. Throughout the recording there is an insistent low-level clicking sound, possibly sprocket noise or some other repetitive disturbance. The nightmare is that the frequency of this interference is about eight ticks per second. All these episodes have little clicks and pops in them; it's a product of the production method and storage medium. And they generally have to be drawn out by hand as they are not big enough for "click" removal software to touch them, and the edges are so "soft" that crackle-removal plugins do not see it. In the end I spent a long day with three different software packages, each running on a different computer, processing both online and offline, and touching up with the pencil tool to get a result that is passable, if not perfect. In fact the extreme levels of click detection I used meant that a lot of "t"s and "d"s also went missing and had to be dropped back in from an unprocessed copy of the file! In all I spent a good day and a half on episode six. (A few years ago an off-air recording of an episode of 'The Celestial Toymaker' presented a not-dissimilar challenge, and on that occasion it took nearly a week to fix - such is the progress of technology and technique!)

Once finished, the work is double-checked to make sure that nothing has slipped or is missing, then the episodes are bounced down to 16-bit AIF files to be laid next to the picture for dubbing back to the DigiBeta masters.

One thing is left to be done. The mastered episodes are dropped into the commentary recording file that we had made at BBC TV Centre a week previously, and the commentary is mixed down to another set of stereo AIF files - this takes me a further day. All final files are then burned to a DVD-R for delivery.

As usual, a commentary accompanies all six episodes. It features actors William Russell and Martin Jarvis, producer Verity Lambert and director Richard Martin, moderated once again by the inestimable Gary Russell.

Gary Russell, Verity Lambert, Martin Jarvis, William Russell and Richard Martin

Andrew Beech has produced Tales of Isop, a making-of featurette, based around interviews with Maureen O'Brien, Verity Lambert, William Russell, Martin Jarvis, Richard Martin, make-up designer Sonia Markham and designer John Wood. John Wood brought along the original Isoptope prop, which is used in the title sequence. The featurette was edited by John Kelly.

William Russell reads The Lair of Zarbi Supremo, a short story from the first Doctor Who annual, presented as an audio feature on the disc. The entirety of the very first Doctor Who Annual is included on the disc in Adobe .pdf format, courtesy of Steve Bagley.

Long time friend of the Restoration Team, Colin Young, kindly loaned his copy of a Spanish print of episode six, so this episode will include an option to view with Spanish sound. Colin has also kindly loaned us the Chad Valley  Give-a-Show slides based on this story - the whole 150-minute story condensed into 14 frames! These will be viewable as a slideshow feature on the disc.

Ralph Montagu has once again provided a photo gallery full of rare behind the scenes stills and Dr. Martin Wiggins is responsible for the production subtitle notes.

 

Copyright Steve Roberts, Mark Ayres 22 June 2005