With one hundred and eight episodes of 1960s Doctor Who currently missing from the BBC archives, fan-made reconstructions, or recons, are the nearest the viewer can get to experiencing what they were like to watch.
The first recon appeared in the late 1980s/early ’90s and was a version of Patrick Troughton’s debut adventure “The Power of the Daleks”. It was basic but effective, marrying Telesnaps from the story taken by John Cura with an off-air audio recording of the soundtrack for a slide-show-like presentation. Around the same time, former Doctor Who Magazine editor Richard Landen attempted something similar, though only completing episodes one – three (of six).
It would be another few years before the recon really trend took off, in the mid-1990s, with the emergence of dedicated groups such as Joint Venture and Change of Identity. They were followed, in December 1997, by Loose Cannon.
While other groups have folded, Loose Cannon has gone from strength to strength and is now synonymous with the concept of Doctor Who recons.
“The origin of current recons are attempts by a chap called Richard Devlyn who, basically, synced the audio with the Telesnaps on VHS tapes in around 1995,” explains LC member Russ Port. “It grew a little to other people having a go at it, including LC founder Rick Brindell. Rick just fancied a go and it grew from there.
“The earliest LC recons were ‘The Macra Terror’ and ‘The Faceless Ones’ and essentially the Telesnaps were scanned directly from the pages of DWM (or Doctor Who Bulletin), married with the soundtrack in Media Studio (a video editing program) and outputted to VHS tape.
“The original recons were an attempt to marry the Telesnaps with the audio; today’s recons attempt to convey the story to the viewer in the same manner the original episode would but through a slightly different medium and we have far better technology than a decade ago: We have access to high quality scans of the original Telesnaps which are cleaned up in Photoshop, screen captures of existing episodes, composite pictures, CGI and other source material which are mixed in with the Telesnaps.
“The two core members of the team are myself and Dean Rose. We do the bulk of the editing work and essentially “produce” the recons. Also involved are Steve England, who sorts out the web pages; LC founder Rick Brindell, who now takes more of a back seat but offers support, help and advice; Iz Skinner and Stuart Palmer, who provide the majority of the CGI models and animations; and our many dub-sites around the world who work to ensure fans of the Sixties era see the recons for no reward and in their own time. Many other people offer help, such as Derek Handley, who used to be a member of Loose Cannon but now works on the BBC range of DVDs. He continues to offer support and remains a great friend to the team.”
To date, the LC team have produced recons for the majority of First and Second Doctor adventures. According to Russ, the amount of work that goes in to each recon depends on the story:
“At a very basic level, for a story such as ‘The Savages’, it’s a case of cleaning up the Telesnaps, editing them in time with the audio, adding photos, the odd bit of CGI and any other shots we think are appropriate and which can be used from other relevant sources. For example, we used some shots from Poldark in ‘The Smugglers’.
For more epic stories, however, the LC team can find themselves actually directing new material to insert into the recon.
Russ continues: “For a story like ‘Evil of the Daleks’ we cleaned and edited the Telesnaps in time with the audio, obtained permission to film at Grims Dyke hotel (the original location), planned shots, arranged to borrow a Dalek, arranged to borrow appropriate outfits for characters and spent a day filming there, edited several shots from that into the episode, decided which shots could be produced in CGI and worked out timings (Dalek Lights are NOT CGI friendly!).
“We also spent many hours looking through DVDs of potential source material for people such as Alec Ross (who played Bob Hall), who was badly represented in the Telesnaps. I managed to find a “head” for him in an episode of The Avengers, his body was Kenneth Connor’s from Carry on Cabby and the background Stuart Palmer made up in CGI to match the Telesnaps. After all that, the different sources had to be blended together in Photoshop to make a (hopefully) convincing composite picture.”
Russ points out that such composite work is even more relevant for stories such as ‘The Myth Makers’, which has no Telesnaps and very little in the way of photos so almost every shot has to be produced as a composite photo.
After the physical work of putting the recon together is finished, each episode then goes through an intensive series of reviews before it released. “The released version can often be the 10th or 12th version after criticism from the other team members,” explains Russ. “We all try to critique the stores as much as possible to ensure the best quality end-product.”
From start to finish, a ‘simple’ four-episode story with existing Telesnaps and no great CGI demands takes LC roughly around four months. A story such as ‘Evil of the Daleks’, around 18 months, and ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’, well over a year with two people working on producing five episodes each. The effort that goes into a recon is undeniably impressive, and even more so when you remember that LC isn’t a for-profit company. These guys do everything in their spare time.
With Who-fans, LC’s most popular recons have been ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’, ‘Marco Polo’, ‘The Myth Makers’ and ‘Evil of the Daleks’. They also happen to be the ones the LC team are proudest of, for varying reasons that Russ goes on to list:
- “It was long suggested that a recon of ‘Masterplan’ couldn’t be done as there were (at the time) ten missing episodes and no Telesnaps and the story moves at such a pace that almost every shot had to be a composite: It was a mammoth task, but the lack of existing material which you have to be true to also means you have a little more room to be creative.
- “‘Marco Polo’ had a wealth of colour photos and while a lot of work, a full colour recon was a very satisfying thing to produce. It showcased the existing colour photos to great effect and was blended in with colourised b & w shots and other material to really tell one of the Doctor’s greatest stories.
- “‘Myth Makers’ had next to nothing existing and to be able to create composites of all the correct actors for the shots was very welcome.
- “‘Evil’ was a project which could have been just a basic Telesnap production but to gain access to the original location and film there was quite a thrill, and to be able to create a recon of an episode (episode seven) which had as much moving footage as stills was very popular indeed.”
As technology has moved on and more Who-related discoveries have been made, LC has revisited and revised a number of its earlier recons. The only two stories yet to be released are “The Web of Fear” and “The Wheel in Space” and these will undoubtedly receive the Loose Cannon treatment at some point in the future. In the meantime, there are recons of these stories created by Joint Venture available, even if they’re starting to show their age.
So how do you get hold of a LC recon? It’s simple – all you need is a blank VHS tape! Through LC, the tape goes to an approved dubber to have the recon placed on it before being returned to the sender. It may seem a little old-fashioned in these hi-tech days of Blu-rays and digital downloads but there’s an important reason behind the policy, as Russ is keen to stress:
“We don’t provide recons in DVD quality as they are fan productions and we have no desire to affect any range the BBC choose to release officially and dent their sales. Hopefully, VHS quality means fans will still buy the soundtrack releases, Lost in Time DVD and anything else the BBC chooses to release and not consider the VHS quality recon as an alternative.”
Not an alternative, no, but most certainly a highly-valued extra for the legions of Doctor Who fans who want to enjoy the lost classics just like the first generation of fans did so many years ago.
- To find out more about Loose Cannon Productions and how to obtain copies of recons, visit their website here.