Doctor Who and the Ambassadors of Death (in color?)

cover to the Target novelisation

cover to the Target novelisation

A Mars expedition has gone missing. U.N.I.T.’s top scientific advisor, the enigmatic Doctor, is called in to help gain contact with the astronauts. When the capsule returns, it contains something other than the lost crew. Before the beings can be inspected they are abducted. Can the Doctor communicate with the aliens before they reap havoc or will he be too late to save humanity from the ambassadors of death?

If Doctor Who has any golden eras, the seventh season has to be one of them. Exiled to Earth and teamed up with the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, the Doctor was besieged by aliens from without and with the planet the itself week after week. Shifting from a fantastic approach to a more action/adventure mixed with Quatermass feel, this was an entirely new program. Currently there is only one story unreleased from the 1970 season, The Ambassadors of Death.

Read the entire Daily P.O.P. article on Ambassadors of Death here.

The story was shot in black and white but the color prints were lost in the purging of the BBC archives. Recently, the Doctor Who restoration team’s Steve Roberts spoke to Wired magazine about a groundbreaking process that could return the serial to magnificent color as it was initially intended.

As a side-note I’m saddened to see that the restoration team’s site is no longer updated. I recall reading that Roberts was tired of being attacked by fandom for the work his team was doing after the controversial alteration to a sequence in the Tom Baker adventure Pirate Planet. It’s a shame since the articles on the site were so insightful and educational on the process that the team underwent in repairing the material for DVD format.

Via TARDIS Newsroom:

In 1967, the BBC set about junking its Doctor Who archive: a moment sci-fi fans wish they could travel back in time to prevent. There are 108 vintage episodes missing, but since 1978 a number have been rediscovered as 16mm black-and-white films. The BBC shot many of these series in colour, but made monochrome copies for countries such as Australia, where many TV companies were still broadcasting in greyscale. The reels had sat in archives since. Now, the Doctor Who Restoration Team, an independent group contracted by the BBC, is using a new technique to regenerate The Doctor in colour.

Their method is a refined version of that trialled on the 2009 Planet of the Daleks rerelease; it is now being deployed on a seven-part 1970 Jon Pertwee adventure, The Ambassadors of Death. “It seemed almost impossible,” says Steve Roberts, 35, the team’s supervisor and a BBC senior engineer. “But when they made the black-and-white recordings, they didn’t filter off the colour carrier [encoded as a ‘chroma dot’ pattern in each frame], which for the last few decades has been nothing more than an annoyance.” Team member Richard Russell used the signal to reverse-engineer raw colour pictures that could be retouched frame by frame. “It’s very, very labour intensive — several hundred man hours’ work every episode,” says Roberts. Luckily, a new “quadrant editor” is helping them to produce better source material upfront, so they hope to deliver the Ambassadors episodes to the BBC within weeks.

Roberts got into this work through Who fandom — but has it ruined the show for him? “Yeah… We were always fans. We used to pull these stories out to watch just for enjoyment. Now I’m like, ‘I’ll watch something else.'”restoration-team.co.uk

(original article here: http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/01/play/time-travel-tv)

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2 thoughts on “Doctor Who and the Ambassadors of Death (in color?)

  1. Season 7 was great.

    Ambassadors of Death is not regarded that highly by fans, but it has some great elements. The production team were experimenting with the nature of the show, keeping the science fiction elements to an obscure minimum. It is remarkable how little we learn in that story about aliens. The emphasis on James Bond-style action is surprising, even by Pertwee standards. It’s also refreshing to have a villain who is not a ranting megalomanic, but somebody genuinely disturbed. It is wonderful how gently the Doctor deals with him in the end.

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