In the 1960s the BBC thoughtlessly erased several classic episodes of the Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell era of Doctor Who. But now, lost episodes from Patrick Troughton’s run will return, but probably not the way Who completists might expect.
On Thursday, at San Diego Comic-Con, the streaming service BritBox presented their innovate plan for bringing old Who episodes back to life. Instead of animating the entire story over again — like last year’s “Power of the Daleks” — a technique which verges on actual time travel is being used instead. Archival photos called “tele-snaps” have been curated along with original recorded dialogue to recreate, as faithfully as possible, the look and feel of these original episodes. The first restored tele-snap episode will be the Patrick Troughton adventure, “The Wheel in Space.”
Archivist and Who expert Paul Vanezis helped to shape the new tele-snap resurrections. Earlier this week he told Inverse that “The Wheel in Space” is a “great space adventure,” and explained that at the time, the involvement of the Cybermen was “kept a secret from audiences.” If only contemporary viewers hadn’t know about the Cybermen’s return this most recent season!
“This new reconstruction will use the best surviving soundtracks of the serial, but also a series of still photographs taken during the broadcast. These images show the identical framing and composition of the original broadcast,” Vanezis explained. This doesn’t mean the new tele-snap Doctor Who episodes will be perfect resurrections. “There will be things that won’t feel entirely seamless,” BritBox president Soumya Sriraman told Inverse. Still, Sriraman wants fans to understand that this approach stays truer to the original episodes than creating an entirely new animated version. “The challenge is how to present something that feels close enough to the original, but also presents a real story, rather than just random stills.”
In essence, the result of these new episodes will look a little bit like still photographs with archival dialogue and sound effects. The tele-snaps themselves are essentially photographs that were taken at a slower frame-rate. “The images were taken by the freelance photographer John Cura, on behalf of the BBC. He offered a service to provide images of productions so that producers and directors could have a record of their work in the days before VHS,” Vanezis said.
The music and dialogue came thanks to a fan who had recored the the soundtrack of the show in 1968. “Graham Strong was a fan of the series since it began five years earlier and had experimented with making high quality sound recordings of the Doctor Who episodes,” Vanezis revealed. “He perfected this in 1965, rewiring his tape recorder into his television. These direct recordings are of very high quality.”
But, for those hoping even more lost episodes will be restored, Vanezis hasn’t given up hope. “In my view, there must be other copies of some of the lost episodes out there somewhere,” he said.”The big question is where.”
The newly restored tele-snap version of “Wheel in Space” will debut on BritBox in September.