Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reconstructing the Past

Some of you may have noticed that Ketina mentioned that our next story, "Marco Polo" (aka "A Journey to Cathay"), will be watched as a "Reconstruction." I thought that I should write up a post to explain what the heck we're talking about.

As most Doctor Who fans know, there are 108 episodes of the show that are still missing from the BBC archives. More information on the subject (including why the episodes are missing) can be found here. What's important for our purposes is that wonderful, dedicated, crazy fans in the 1960s and 1970s (before the era of inexpensive home video) wanted to experience the show they'd seen again and again. Since there were no reruns (with only a couple of exceptions), their only real recourse was to record each week to audiotape. So, even though we may only have clips or stills of missing episodes--and not even that much for some of them--we also have a full soundtrack (of varying quality) for each one. In addition to these audio recordings, many episodes have associated telesnaps, pictures taken from the television by photographer John Cura, mainly for promotional purposes. Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s (sources vary), some enterprising fans thought to combine the fan-circulated audio with the newly emerging telesnaps, using video technology to sync the photos with the soundtrack and attempt to "reconstruct" the missing episode, often including what small amount of actual footage that had been recovered and captions to describe missing action that wasn't well conveyed by the soundtrack. As the years have gone on, the technology has improved and the sophistication and ambition of the fans has improved along with it. There are reconstructions that use computer constructed composite photos from many sources for episodes without telesnaps available. (Telesnaps for most of the Hartnell stories are lost, if they ever existed, as well as those for scattered Troughton episodes.) They've used CGI to add more moving images. They've even filmed new scenes that are reconstructed from old pictures, camera scripts, etc. All in all, these are remarkable fan efforts, from the most primative telesnap "recon" to the most sophisticated. It is these Reconstructions that will allow us to complete the TARDIS Project, and enable us to to see episodes and stories of the show we love that we have never been able to see in any other form.

There are only two stories in the first season of Doctor Who that are not complete in the archive, the seven episode "Marco Polo" and the six episode "The Reign of Terror." We begin the former this weekend, so I thought I should go over a few "ground rules." Although these recons are the best we are going to get (at least until more episodes are hope-against-hopefully found), watching them is obviously not the same as watching the original production. It may be much harder to get a true idea of the pacing, given that the majority of what we will be seeing (as opposed, of course, to what we will be hearing) will be still photographs. To supplement this, I plan on linking each week to the episode's transcript on the Doctor Who Script Project site. I certainly recommend checking each week's script out if you'd like to follow along! Most of the recons we'll be watching were produced by Loose Cannon Productions and I also very much recommend ordering some free (you provide the VHS tapes and the shipping) recons from them. They do fine work and I'm planning on enjoying watching every single one of their efforts, from the earliest to the most recent ("Evil of the Daleks" as of this writing, though there will be newer ones by the time we get to season four!). In fact, there are only two stories LC has yet to produce recons for, "The Web of Fear" and "The Wheel in Space." I'm not sure where I'll get those from, but I'll worry about that in a year or two!

As a discerning reader can tell, I'm sure, I am very excited about diving into the Reconstructions. Sure, they can be static (and that is a significant problem Ketina has had with the ones she's seen), but the fun of the originals show through in the sound, the dialogue, the pictures. And this is classic Doctor Who that I've never seen before...and it's difficult to get more exciting than that! So, join us for our first reconstructed episode this weekend! I can't wait! But, until then, I remain


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