We're watching Doctor Who. I'm on the Second Doctor, on a cybermen serial.

It's beautiful, somehow. I've watched a lot of really ugly TV recently, and this isn't. It does not look like video, so I wonder if this episode was shot on film, or if PAL really just looked that much better than NTSC.

(Okay, so it's black and white and the 60s. It's not PAL, and it wouldn't have been NTSC, probably, but whatever.)


Long post about Doctor Who and video 

@ajroach42 The answer is Complicated.

Who, like all BBC shows up until the late 1980s, was shot on a mix of PAL video (in the studio) and film (on location, miniatures, stock footage, some special effects). Everything got edited down to 25fps B&W video, with the film inserts running 1fps faster, and broadcast. Video cameras were primitive and bulky and couldn't be used on location, so film it was.

This is called "piebald," and is jarring, since video and film look completely different. The video running at twice the framerate is part of it, but also the video has that typical streaky effect if there's a bright light in the image and the camera pans around, which film doesn't have at all.

With very few exceptions (like Spearhead from Space, which was shot entirely on film), all Who was shot like this up until the Seventh Doctor.


Since so many of the original videotapes were junked, some episodes' only remaining copies were recovered from film that was sent to overseas markets. Since different countries had different video standards, the easiest way to sell globally was to ship film. Which was done by playing back the video tape on a monitor, with a film camera pointed at it.

And when they wanted to sell home videos of these episodes, they stuck them on a telecine to get video back from the film.

Nearly all the Hartnell & Troughton episodes were recovered off film, so the 80s home video copies had gone through 3-4 passes through the film/video conversion chain.

In the 2000s, they started restoring episodes for DVD release, and developed some actually great technology for it. One of those was VidFIRE (video field interpolation restoration effect), which takes the progressive film frames, interpolates them, and spits out 50fps interlaced video. The stories done in the latter half of the DVD restoration all used this, and they went back and applied it to some of the earlier ones and re-released those as well.

IMO, there's zero reason to watch old BBC as 29.97fps (NTSC rate) anymore. Maybe in the 80s and 90s, when it was difficult to get hardware that could do that, but these days, any computer can handle it fine.

They've started redoing everything for Blu-Ray now, but IMO it's not worth it. Blu-Ray isn't designed for old TV at all, and I fundamentally disagree with upscaling anything on the physical media. Put the best quality, closest to the original video on the media. If you want to upscale, let your player or TV do it. If you don't, don't. But this is impossible with Blu-Ray.

There used to be a ton of info about the Who restorations on restoration-team.co.uk but I see that it's gone now, which is too bad. Maybe archive.org has a copy.

Long post about Doctor Who and video 

@ajroach42 I'm being a little loose with PAL/NTSC here, and using them in the colloquial sense of 25fps / 29.9fps video. You're right that it technically only refers to color video, but there's not a concise way to say "25fps B&W video." So PAL it is, even for B&W.

RE: Long post about Doctor Who and video 

@ieure Thanks for the very informative post.

I do a lot of work with live Kinescopes, so I'm familiar with that process. I heard about VidFIRE, but I had forgotten about it. I'd love to learn more about that process. Of course, I'm telecine'ing, and not scanning the film I do have, so there's a lot more I could be doing.

RE: Long post about Doctor Who and video 

@ajroach42 Aaahh I'm not sure why this wasn't working before, but restorationteam.impossiblethin is where the Who restoration info lives now. They have a page on VidFIRE, and so does Wikipedia.

It's fascinating reading (well, it is to me) about all the hoops they had to jump through to restore this stuff.

Anyway, long story short: why it looks good/different is hard to gauge, as it depends on the show, its original production, and the provenance of the copies you're watching.

Having bought all the BBC stuff I like on PAL (after buying much of it as NTSC), I can attest: the PAL versions look way better. I think partly due to the higher resolution, and partly because more of the bitrate is devoted to carrying the original video, instead of the extra frames that have to go in to make it run at 29.97fps.

Sign in to participate in the conversation
R E T R O  S O C I A L

A social network for the 19A0s.