“SEARCH “Doctor Who recons” on YouTube and you will be presented with all manner of amateur attempts to resurrect long-lost episodes using whatever’s still around.
They come in a wide range of styles from the faithful to fanciful and include the execrable, excellent, and in-between. But viewed together they highlight how rapidly the field of fan-led reconstructions is improving.
One of the most exciting uploads I’ve seen recently has to be the mouth-wide-openly amazing ‘Power of the Daleks’ recon pieced together by Jon Brunton:
Wiped spoke to Jon – who, incredibly, has no formal qualification in computer animation – and how for him authenticity is the most important consideration in his work.
W. How did you become involved with Doctor Who recons?
“I’ve always been a fan of science fiction in general, and a Doctor Who fan since a small child. My earliest recollection of Who was the Jon Pertwee era, but I remember more from the Tom Baker era. I have since seen most of the classic episodes; all except those that are sadly lost from the BBC Archives.
“I purchased an audio of ‘Power of the Daleks’ and also looked at the available Telesnaps and few clips that remain. I was also reading a book about the (Patrick) Troughton years which showed pictures from ‘POTD’. This whetted my appetite, I think. Then I noticed several people on the internet doing reconstructions. So I decided to have ago myself.
W. Your work looks amazingly polished and authentic…
“I have no qualification in computer animation, but I’ve always been an artist, and have always loved special fx, computers and film. So although I’m a latecomer compared to most in CGI, what I lack in formal qualifications, I try to make up for with hard study and my general drive to learn more.
“I wanted my reconstructions to fit in as near as possible to the existing Telesnaps and few-second clips that remain. This, of course, comes with a price in render time: the more realistic, the longer it takes. I also wanted to achieve the feel of the original; that means recreating the lighting and sets as near as possible.
“One thing I noticed about other peoples work was how clean it looked, and how robotic the Daleks moved. I have nothing against this approach if thats the way you want to go, but I chose a different way. I wanted those little wobbles inside the Daleks, as if a man was in them; I wanted that camera wobble; I wanted that lens flare - everything that would give a viewer the feeling he was watching actual footage created by people on a set, in a studio, in the 60s.
“As for the cartoon animated versions I have seen, this again is fine. There are some very good ones, and it certainly helps to fill in the gaps from a lost story. For me, however, it doesn’t feel right if its fitted into one of the lost stories that still contain real footage. With CGI there is less of a change between the two, and personally I feel it fits in better with real live footage. Personally, I’d prefer the whole story animated if that was the way a story was going to be represented.
W. How long do your reconstructions take and what is the process of making them?
“Ooh, that can vary. If I have to construct new sets then it can take days, weeks, months. It depends on how complex the scene is.
“With ‘Power’ as an example, which I’m still working on, I began with the idea: “OK, let’s do a scene that someone else hasn’t done so far, or that I haven’t seen online”.
“Each recon involves searching books and Telesnaps before the construction begins. Next comes the texturing of the objects – this is a vital process to making them look real – followed by the lighting, which is also very important in the animation. Then the animating of the scene itself, rendering it all out, and all the post production work to make it look like the old blurry TV that we associate with this era.
“So it can take anything from days, weeks or months. Remember, this is just me, no render farm, no fleet of people working on separate scenes like a studio, and all in my spare time. When you consider all that, weeks or months are pretty fast for one man’s efforts.
W. What have been the greatest challenges with the reconstructions?
“The hardest part is finding good references. The Telesnaps are OK but lack a lot of detail, so it’s searching the internet for those publicity stills and such like, books and anything that someone might know, that will help in recreating the scene.
“How do I feel about my work? Quite pleased, but there’s always room for improvement. I endeavour to improve them all the time, and am constantly working on new ideas to try out that will bring the animation to life that little bit more. Also, as the technology improves, so does the ability to get one step nearer to resurrecting a complete story without having to use Telesnaps to fill in.
W. Would you consider attempting a complete episode recon and if so, any particular choice?
“I would consider anything as long as I felt I had the resources and time to do it. ‘Power’ would be my choice, and is a project I continually go back too.
“A complete episode is a big project for one person. I’m hoping one day that the BBC in its wisdom will realize the pool of resources that it could have at its disposal; that is, us fans who create these recons. That we could possibly help in returning these classic story’s for all the public to see again – that’s my greatest wish.
“I would like to see 2| Entertain release reconstructed stories. However, that is between the BBC and them to decide, but if the fans show support for recons, then I think that day may come.
“I reckon in say 20, 30 years time, it may become possible to recreate people and objects from those past stories. Maybe some kind of pixel scanning that can synthesize the film images into 3D to be animated. Sounds far-fetched I know, but who knows where the technology will lead us.
“That way, we would have no limits to reconstructions. After all we have the audio, so we are half way there already.”