To tie-in with our recent coverage of The Invisible Enemy, we interviewed Doctor Who Restoration Team member John Kelly about his updating of the effects for the DVD release.
WhoSFX: How did you get involved with the Doctor Who DVD range?
John: Well, I did the film course at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design. Towards the end of my time there, Steve Roberts started up an online forum linked to his Restoration Team website, which was a lot of fun back in the day. I asked some technical questions, various team members responded here and there. I also go to know the guys by discussing geekery in the chatroom, and eventually I got invited to meet everyone at an event in Newcastle. We all hit it off as kindred spirits, and I must have mentioned my qualification and the fact I had a relatively decent DV camera because a few months later I was asked if I’d like to shoot interviews for The Aztecs. That snowballed into editing one of the features on that DVD, then more camerawork on future releases, then I started producing my own pieces.
WhoSFX: What was the process for choosing stories that would get replacement effects?
John: There was an open pitching process, we (the wider production group) knew what releases were coming up and we could put forward ideas for VAM (Value Added Material). The Exec Producer would then make a call on it, normally either Steve Roberts or Paul Vanezis, and later on Dan Hall. When it came to replacement effects, for me, I think I really had three considerations; firstly, could it be done; secondly, could we do interesting work yet remain relatively faithful to the source material; thirdly, would it actually benefit the serial in question for there to be an alternative.
In retrospect, I don’t think I actually passed all three qualifications on every occasion. I was very pleased with my work on Arc of Infinity, but it’s still not the best Doctor Who story out there, is it? As for being faithful to the source material, let me give an example; when the team did the new effects for Dalek Invasion of Earth, they went out of their way to make the new effects look like they could be from that era, had the show had a much enlarged budget. That is to say, they were sympathetic to the original era the programme was made in. That’s the way to do it, in my book. Compare that to, say, the bastardised Star Wars reissues – slathered in gratuitous CGI that does nothing to add to the films whatsoever. They’re all still wearing flares and have bouffant 70s hairdos. And the new material is so sterile in comparison to the original sequences. Yes, I want the original films out on BluRay, at least as an option!
WhoSFX: Did you have to be sensitive about ‘replacing’ effects? Was there a risk of offending the people who did the original work?
John: Once a story was selected, anything was game as long as it was worthwhile and do-able. We had technical limitations for seamless branching (ie replacement sequences had to be exactly the same length as the original). Regarding the possibility of offending the people who did the original effects, I certainly hope I didn’t. The key word here is ‘alternative’. The original should always be the default option, what I did was just an alternative. It was no reflection on the original work whatsoever. I have much, much respect for those guys, we have it so very easy in comparison with this our computer power behind us. What they were doing was often ground-breaking in the television industry. I would never disparage any of it.
WhoSFX: The Invisible Enemy was possibly the most ambitious Doctor Who story of all time in terms of effects. What’s your view on Ian Scoones’ original effects?
John: Well, firstly, I think the serial is great fun, and the original model work is just amazing. Gorgeously done, well shot, and backed by Dudley Simpson’s evocative music – very memorable. The reason we thought we’d have a crack at it was because, firstly, we’d recently seen the real surface of Titan, so I fancied trying to make it a bit more authentic. Secondly, we had some original models and film frames available thanks to Matt Irvine. We still had to paint out a load of original effects (SVS Resources did all the hard stuff there) for me to add new lasers etc. Even then, some things were really impossible for our timescale and budget, notably the window in Michael Sheard’s office, which is still a painted backdrop!
WhoSFX: Two new effects in The Invisible Enemy that I particularly love are the wall blasted by K9 and that you used the correct establishing shot of the hospital asteroid. Did you see the project as an opportunity to ‘fix’ effects like these?
John: Well, the theory I’d heard about the wall was that it had been cracked when the shuttle hit the asteroid, and K9 just finished the job, so to speak! But, yes, if we could correct something like perspective, continuity or something appearing in shot when it shouldn’t be in shot, I’d generally be up for it. I also found a particle generator that made cool ‘spark’ effects, I think I used that there, and also when the two infected crewmen use a laser lance to burn a lock off a door.
WhoSFX: For Revelation of the Daleks you had the ‘clean’ studio footage to work with. Did that make things easier?
John: It was massively easier to have clean footage to work on. In 90% of instances, getting rid of the old effects was much, much harder than generating new ones. You also get the benefit of the higher generation videotape. I regret not re-editing that Dalek gunfight though, there were several really nice unused shots on the tape that I could have dropped in. Early days, with a bit more experience behind me, I’d have done it.
WhoSFX: Although the new effects tended to be CGI, you did use models as well. Can you tell me a bit more about the model work?
John: Well, I’m old school in the sense that I think that a good model is so much better than any CGI. My effects were normally generated beam effects, or that sort of thing, I have never rendered something like a spaceship from scratch. There were a couple of opportunities to use a model, the first one being the Dalek that exterminates Grigory and Natasha in Revelation of the Daleks. That was a new Sevans model, kindly built by Dan O’Keefe, which I shot against greenscreen then let off some pyrotechnics. I did that because I wanted a more straight forward alternative shot where the Dalek is clearly levitating and in the correct perspective. The original sequences is approaching David Lynch levels of weirdness. Not a model as such, but the Vardans from The Invasion of Time were in fact me, wrapped from head to toe in tinfoil, with a tonne of effects applied. Lastly, of course, the model shots for The Invisible Enemy. Again though, limited resources. We essentially had the models on a rotating base against green, and just changed perspective by spinning it, then all the other movement was rendered in After Effects. This was sometimes effective, other times hard work to get right. The shot of the ship passing over Titan Base was very difficult, but the generated mist effects obfuscated a lot of sins.
WhoSFX: Of all the effects you provided, which story were you happiest with?
John: I think The Invasion of Time is probably the best for the new Vardans and various laser effects. That was a lot of work over six episodes, but I think it paid off. Revelation of the Daleks, too, is one of my favourite serials, so I was very happy with that one. I would like to revisit that story actually, as it was the first one I did, and I think I could make it even better now. Not alternative effects, but I also shot the Privateer model on green for the documentary on the Warrior’s Gate DVD. I got a real kick from sticking those shots on an off-white background, the models are so cool.
WhoSFX: I’ve heard tantalising rumours of work being carried out on The Dominators and Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Can you tell me more about that?
John: There has always been crazy talk about CGI-ing Invasion of the Dinosaurs! But it would cost an absolute bomb to do properly. I imagine there was talk around the time of the DVD, but there was no way the necessary funding would been forthcoming. The Dominators, well…. Mike Tucker and I did have some initial ideas for that, much of which I have completely forgotten about. I think he may have been up for doing some practical stuff and some better models or landscapes, I’d have been doing beam effects etc. My memory is that it all got nixed for budgetary reasons very early on.
John Kelly, thank you very much.