Doctor Who was recorded in lo-definition!

TV Arts

I didn't realize that.  Doctor Who was original recorded with a 377-
interlaced image.  It was not until 1968 that the Doctor switched over
to standard definition PAL recordings.

Now that I know that, I'll have to go download some episodes, and see
if I can see a jump in resolution (~50% increase).
All that exists now of the older episodes is a film image of a special
video monitor showing the episode. The original airings were of higher
image quality, and had some extra picture on all 4 sides.
I was gonna say that good luck with finding eps.
Troy is simply being a dink again, as per usual. The poor quality of the
pre-pertwee years is as you say, because all surving recordings were done
by filming a monitor using a 16mm camera. No as-broadcast quality
recordings exist until you get to Jon Pertwee, as far as I know. The BBC
destroyed the original film stock, or more likely simply didn't save it in
the first place. *

Or perhaps he had a drink *g*
Actually, Troy is pretty much right.

Up to the early/mid-'60s, UK TV used a lower-definition 405-line PAL
transmission system; they didn't go to the modern 625-line system
until late 1967 (around Pat Troughton's "The Enemy Of The World", fact

Of course, it's *also* true that the black-and-white episodes only
survive as telecine film recordings (made for overseas sales) rather
than videotape originals; film smears the adjacent fields of the video
picture together into a single frame of film, and made them look even
more fuzzy.  So you're right too.

Fortunately, most of the B&W Who DVDs have been produced with loads of
sophisticated computer processing (a technique called "VidFIRE") to
extrapolate out as much as possible of the original video-image lines
from each film frame, separate them into the appropriate fields, and
effectively re-create the crisp video look.  This makes even the 405-
line episodes look quite sharp, and the 625-line ones as clear as the
color Pertwee episodes.

Jon Blum
I'm being a dink, because I made the observation that BBC was using
the 405-line (377i) system for Who's early years (1963-68)


I didn't realize posting facts was considered stupid.  Must be part of
that "new math" I keep hearing about.
They were shot on video, "live" in the case of the first few seasons
(the BBC couldn't edit video tape, so the director switched between
cameras as if each scene was a live performance and filmed the scenes
in order). Each tape cost £100+, so had to be reused, thus the shows
were transfered to 16mm to make prints for syndication.
So why didn't the make them on 16mm film to begin with and save having to 
use the low definition intermediate video tape. In fact they could have even 
made them in colour for syndication.
Expense. Film cost an order of magnitude or more than what they were
doing. *
Because film crews, and film editing, cost a hell of a lot more money
than shooting for one day per week in a video studio.  When you do a
telecine conversion, you just need the one piece of equipment for half
an hour or so, not a full camera crew or editing for hours on end.

Jon Blum
Yer, and like video crews came at two a penny, right, and video editing was 
much easier to do properly than film editing, not.

If it was made on film to begin with you wouldn't need to do a telecine 
conversion and film editing was far simpler than video editing which 
requited splicing the tape along the scan lines groups which you couldn't 
see, and look absolutely rubbish when the picture jumped.
Compared to film, yes.  Pay attention, here's the tricky bit.

Video, in the studio, is shot multi-camera -- four or five cameras
filming the scene at once, allowing them to perform scenes straight
through for runs of up to fifteen minutes of continuous shooting.
Film is shot single-camera... allowing more careful framing and
lighting of shots, but having to stage each shot of each scene

That's why shooting a half-hour show on film usually took *five days*
of shooting, while shooting the same amount of stuff on video took
*one day*.  Meaning... you only need to pay your camera crew, lighting
crew, sound crew, makeup crew, et cetera for one day instead of five.
Major savings.

Ah!  you cry.  But why don't they just use five *film* cameras in the
studio, shoot multi-camera with film, and get the best of both
worlds?  Well, read on...

Actually, the way they did it, it *was* easier.  Why?  Because with
video they hardly needed to do *any* editing.  Most of the camera-
angle changes were done live in-studio, cutting electronically between
the video cameras...  which you can't do with film cameras, which each
record separately to their own film magazines.  This means that for an
entire program on video, they'd only need about four physical edits in
total.  Whereas if you shoot on film...  for *every* *single* *change*
*of* *camera* *angle* you need to physically splice the negative, and
then worry about syncing the sound.  It's true that video editing of
the cut-the-tape variety was physically a bit more fiddly per cut...
but when doing it on film would mean easily _ten times as many cuts_,
the total work would be a lot more than four video edits.

That's why film-based shows usually needed weeks and weeks of post-
production time, while Doctor Who could literally be shot as little as
a week ahead of transmission.  Again, doing it on film, you'd have to
pay the editors for a lot more days' work.

Jon Blum
[email protected] writes:

This is really fascinating stuff, I never thought about shows in the early
sixties being done on videotape, and the idea of editing via camera change
is a really neat hack. How common was this method? I'm asking because it
explains a certain similar look in classic US sitcoms of this era. *
There was no video editing. It was done live. Even lens changes were
done live: the cameras couldn't zoom in, so the director would switch
the feed to another camera while the first rotated a close up lens into
position. You can often hear the "clunk" of this on the show.

One thing you have to realize was that union and copyright rules meant
an episode of a BBC series could only be aired twice. After that, apart
from foreign sale they were worthless to the network. This most likely
was a way to keep actors and crew employed in post war UK, as you'd
need many more shows without the ability to show repeats, but also had
the effect of making the episodes disposable. All they cared about was
doing them quickly, cheaply, and how they looked for those first
broadcasts. The video tape versions looked good, so that was good
enough. If the film copies looked like crap, well, that was the rest of
the English speaking world's problem wasn't it?
If I understand correctly, there was no video splicing. The "edit" was
switching camera sources on the fly, hence the need to do it all live.
Once the scenes were all recorded, they were already in order, so
there was no need for post production editing.
[email protected] writes:

This all changed later, but that's how I understand it - it was a
series of completed scenes on video, broadcast live from the control room,
with the telecine (thanks for saying that, I couldn't for the life of me
remember what the machine was called) acting as a backup. The initial
viewers got quality as good as the video footage, with the film there
should they want to rebroadcast later (did Doctor Who have repeats in the
60s? I'm guessing not much until they switched to film production). It's
not like you'd be able to tell on the TV sets of the day. 

I almost (but now quite!) need to thank Troy for bringing this up - it's
neat to imagine some guy in a control room furiously swapping tapes and
cutting to different cameras when it was time for Doctor Who. *
The telecine recordings were also done to allow them to sell the
episodes overseas -- if you were shipping it to Canada or Guyana or
wherever, you didn't have to worry about PAL versus NTSC if you just
handed them a film print...

I think they only repeated one story in the whole of the '60s.  And
legally, because of their contract with the actors' union, they were
only allowed to repeat any episode once...  they didn't have the
culture of endless reruns which we developed in the States.

Jon Blum
You don't have it quite right: the show was already finished on a
single video tape when it was time for the broadcast. It's just that
since there was no cheap way to edit video tape, it was recorded in
sequence on that one tape. Someone really blow a line? They rewound the
tape and started again at the start of the scene.

If you want more info then you really want on early Doctor Who, check
out the "About Time" books. Volume 1 has lots of details on how the
first 3 seasons were created.
This is a long way from film production.
Well of course it is. I think the results speak for themselves...
Shooting on video was way faster.  They shot it like a live play, 
switched it as they went, and they were done.  Then at their leisure 
they could make a 16mm copy, and only use as much film as necessary for 
the running time, not the 5 or 10 times as much film they'd need if they 
shot it on film.  So it's faster and cheaper.  Faster, cheaper, better:  
choose any two.
That's my understanding as well.  Although it's always possible someone 
will find film of some of the lost episodes.  Hope springs.