By Owen Quinn
If you’re a regular YouTube watcher, you may have seen the Doctor’s battle in the Time War against Davros and the Daleks. And who could forget the classic story, the Ten Doctors when all the Doctor’s incarnations came together to defeat an all powerful foe. Did you enjoy the scenes with the second, sixth and fourth Doctors? I did. And in case you think I’m off my rocker, these episodes did happen, all courtesy of Stuart Humphryes. He has not only fulfilled every fan’s dreams via these videos but he also was the man who restored episode one of the recent DVD release The Mind of Evil back to its full colour glory and more. And the Time Warriors being huge Who fans are honoured for him to talk to us today about literally restoring the magic. If you haven’t seen the new colourised Mind of Evil with third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, UNIT, Jo Grant and the Master, get one. Everybody is raving about Stuart’s work and rightly so. It is literally like watching a new show. But how did he do it all? Where did it begin? And will we see the black and white era in fulfilling colour? Let’s find out. Stuart thank you so much for talking to us today. May we start with, can you tell us about yourself?
My goodness, that has to be the most open invitation to waffle I’ve ever received! Now what could you possibly want to know about me, I wonder? I work for the Local Planning Authority – I’m the chap who deals with planning appeals. All incredibly riveting stuff as I’m sure you can imagine! I’d previously spent about 15 years with the British Red Cross; I was their London Area manager but ultimately faced redundancy in the face of inevitable restructuring. I think the only brush with the Whoniverse during my tenure was taking receipt of the late Anthony Ainley’s possessions when his sister donated them to the organisation. It was a fascinating and very satisfying way to raise money for a great cause.
My only artistic outlet has been my YouTube Channel and my photographic colourisations, though I enjoy painting and writing a great deal. I’d written a few ‘Past Doctor’ novel submissions for the old Virgin Books range a decade or two ago but, despite progressing down the line to “second readers” never got a formal commission. That’s quite a regret really, as writing is a huge passion of mine and something I really prefer to colourisation. Any form of creativity is a marvellous therapy for anyone in a mundane job, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to create everything I want!
What’s your era of Doctor Who?
I’m very tempted to say 1963 to 1989, but I imagine you’re after a narrower time-frame. The period which had the most impact on my impressionable young brain were seasons twelve and thirteen – The Doctor, Sarah and Harry were my TARDIS team. It makes it all the more gratifying that I’ve been able to do some colourisation work for the newly discovered footage incorporated into the forthcoming ‘Terror of the Zygons’ DVD. Seeing some brand new Sarah and Harry footage, and being able to colourise it too, was a huge pleasure and privilege!
How did you first get involved in colourizing and video production?
Video editing is something I first experienced at art college. I did an Art Degree which involved a little video production. It was, by far, the most satisfying element of the course for me and I left with foundless ideas of becoming a video editor. Of course, I never did become one. There are Universes out there stuffed full of the shattered dreams of youth and, in some parallel reality I might have actually made it, but in this one I work for local Government. The injustice of it is quite unsatisfying. Luckily somebody invented YouTube for me, so I am able to dabble.
The colourisation work came about much later. I colourised my first Doctor Who Tele-snap in 2004 and posted it on-line. People seemed to think it wasn’t hideous so I did another and another until I became well versed in the technique. I then moved on to colourising little GIFS, which only lasted a dozen frames of so and then, in a blind act of complete folly, I took the quantum leap into colourising sequences of video. That singular decision has had a massive impact on my life and made me reasonably well known in Doctor Who fan circles. It took me from being a passive fan and made me into an active contributor to the series. It’s madness really, but very gratifying!
I first became aware of you via the Youtube videos which were absolutely amazing. What made you come up with them?
I’m delighted you enjoyed them, but here is no secret formula. I try to pick relevant songs and catchy tunes for the tributes, and try to edit well, but I have no idea at all why they are so popular. I’m utterly delighted that they are, but it does mystify me really. I try to pick good shots, strong graphic, well-framed images, I’m obviously interested in colour so I’m drawn to shots with nice lighting. They are also very eclectic and use the best from all seasons of the show, not just “New Who”, so they are representative of the entire series which may be unfamiliar to a lot of viewers. I just try to make videos I would enjoy myself: memorial tributes that would move me, mash-up videos that would excite me. I do it as a hobby for myself really and the fact that so many other visitors enjoy them is an enormous bonus.
Was it a good chance to showcase your work and bring attention to it?
To be honest, it never crossed my mind that anyone would be interested in my channel when I started. I was constantly surprised that people even found my videos, let alone liked them. The first few I did back in 2006 were just music videos incorporating clips from each Doctor. Nothing too ambitious or creative, but they were popular and still available on my channel. They’ve all amassed over a hundred thousand hits each, with the Troughton video passing the two-hundred thousand mark. I find it rather startling that they should be so popular when they’re so very basic, but maybe their simplicity works in their favour? People are obviously coming back to them, which is absolutely terrific.
After a spate of very similar music videos I wanted to experiment in making different types of creations. I did a Morbius Tribute which incorporated footage from other movies and voice-over work from myself to tell the story of the Time Lord trial that lead to the events seen in ‘The Brain of Morbius’ and then I did an alternative ‘Two Doctors’ trailer which brought David Tennant and Tom Baker together, thogh neither of these are still on YouTube. I then created a redux trailer for ‘The Five Doctors’ which actually incorporated ten of them. The general gist of my videos was slowly but inexorably leading me towards a grand opus that became ‘The Ten Doctors’ – a hugely ambitious, two-hour drama with all the Doctors and a strong logical narrative. To say I was disappointed that the BBC deleted them before the final 30-minute instalment was complete is, I confess, an understatement.
How do even go about starting a project like that? I assume it takes a lot of time and effort.
It takes an almost inconceivable about of time and effort! It’s like those terribly patience people who build models of the Coliseum out of toothpicks or full-sized aeroplanes out of pipe-cleaners. It takes an eternity but the finished results are the goal that drives the long hours. The last instalment of ‘The Ten Doctors’ took me 6 months, working every evening after work for four or five hours a day. I was working frame-by-frame and it was incredibly labour-intensive. It makes me snort when I hear people say “Oh, I could never do something like that – I have very basic equipment”. What do they honestly think I have? I have no Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro. No specialist software at all. I had an old free copy of Pinnacle Studio 9 and Photoshop. That’s it. But I have patience and a skill and a determination to finish. It’s not about technology, it’s about perseverance.
The Time War seems to be a fascinating subject for you, like everyone else. Can you talk us through how you put those videos together?
There have been one or two versions of my Time War video! I put the first one together in 2005. It was the very first Time War video on YouTube but it has sporned lots of others since. After about 150,000 hits, it was deleted by the BBC, so I made an updated version with newer dialogue and the reappearance of the Master. The current version is the third incarnation of the video, which added the appearance of Davros into the mix. There have been calls for me to revisit it again to add further references but, to be honest, I’m more interested in new ventures rather than revisiting old ones. Having said that, I concede that my assumption regarding Paul McGann’s regeneration into Christopher Eccleston now appears increasingly likely to be debunked in the series itself, so I might rethink it. No promises though!
The Ten Doctors and eleven Doctors: How do you decide on which clips to use? In some cases it really does seem like the Doctors are in the same episode! Was the Deep Space 9 episode Trials and Tribble-ations and Forrest Gump an inspiration for you?
No, to be honest. Neither featured in my mind when I started ‘The Ten Doctors’. It was really the only method I could think of that would enable all the incarnations to feature in the story. I’m not an animator and didn’t want to create a drama with action figures, so using archive clips was the only way I knew how to go about it.
Choosing the clips was merely a logical process. The locations would have to be represented by generic places all the Doctors had visited in their stories – woodland/gardens, quarries, Castles and the TARDIS interior. That would make the process of splicing them all together much easier. I would create folders on my computer called “Castles” or “Quarries” etc, and fill them up with video clips of the different Doctors in that location. It was then merely a process of editing them together as seamlessly as possible. For the shots I wanted which didn’t exist I attempted to created them frame-by-frame in Photoshop. Very fiddly and time-consuming but some of them worked surprisingly well. I especially liked the shots of the jeep crashing into an exploding Dalek.
You recolourized old Hartnell & Troughton footage and it looks brand new. How do you do that?
It’s quite a long-winded process to be honest. It involves capturing all the individual video frames in a sequence as still images. There are 25 frames-a-second in the UK PAL video system, so I would capture each of those 25 frames and hand-colourise them in Photoshop the same way I would do a photograph. If I am colourising a 10 second clip I would need to capture and colourise 250 frames and then re-assemble them all in the correct order with my video editor program and render them as a video file. You need the patience of a saint to do work like that!
What sort of time scale are you looking at when doing these projects?
The first frame of a clip can take about an hour to colourise convincingly. It takes the longest time because it is the most important frame in the entire shot – it dictates everything about the colour scheme, tonal balance and saturation levels of all the other frames that will follow. If you get that very first frame wrong, the whole thing will be wrong. Once that initial frame is completed the others generally take much less time, as long as there is no significant movements that require a lot of re-touching.
I’d hazard a guess that subsequent frames take 10 to 15 minutes each. If I am colourising 250 frames for a 10 second clip, you can calculate the time needed yourself – it’s somewhere in the region of 70 hours work. Since most people work a 35-hour week, you can see that it’s a fortnight’s full time employment for just 10 seconds. A very slow and arduous job for very meagre results!
You now have the Babelcolour YouTube channel. Any feedback or trouble from the BBC over your projects?
I admit I am a little disheartened about YouTube at the moment after my Ten Doctors was removed. It represented so many hundreds of hours work that its loss is felt more keenly than any of my other videos.
The BBC removed my Colourisation Portfolio earlier this year but were very magnanimous and friendly about sorting out the issue. I even got a phone call at home from the BBC YouTube Manager apologising for the strike and the work was re-instated. He put the removals down to over-zealous employees and took great pains to say they support creativity which benefits the brand.
However, he regretted that after several meetings there was little he could do to reinstate ‘The Ten Doctors’. The cumulative total of clips, at 30 minutes an episode, would obviously set a precedent on YouTube which they would then not be able to defend. I understand the complexity of the situation, but I’m still utterly gutted that it fell foul of an over-zealous button-presser in the first place. But at least he tried to resolve it.
Your work is stunning. Would there be any chance of doing more stories like Time War and Ten Doctors? The sky is virtually the limit it would seem.
Time will tell. As I say, I’m a little jaundiced about investing so much time and effort into creating similar works, when they can so easily be removed. It is all very well having upper management say they support creative output, but when it runs the risk of deletion from someone lower down the ladder it makes me rather reticent to spend another six months slaving over a video.
But times change and so do attitudes, mine included. I may feel differently about the prospect of a larger project in another few months, so I will never say never. At the moment I think any videos I produce will be merely simplistic creations that only take a few days to complete.
How did the opportunity come about to recolourise Mind of Evil. Was it off the back of your Youtube work?
It wasn’t actually related to the YouTube work at all. I’d collaborated with James Russell (one of the founding members of the Doctor Who Restoration Team) back in 2004 and that was off the back of colourised photographs and Tele-Snaps I’d posted on-line. We worked together to colourise a film insert from ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ which ended being used in the ‘Dalek Tapes’ documentary on the ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ DVD. It was this earlier collaboration which led to James contacting me about the possibility of working together on ‘The Mind of Evil’, so we produced a one-minute test sequence in, I think, 2009.
I heard nothing further for a couple of years and then, for some reason, I messaged Peter Crocker of the Restoration Team and asked if he could make use of the key-frames I had produced for James. I sent them off and a short while later was sounded out about any interest in tackling the story proper.
What challenges did the episode pose for you? Was it daunting at all for you? Was it a story you were fond of?
In truth I barely knew the story. I had it on VHS cassette but I’m not sure I’d ever sat and watched it. The quality of the video release was quite appalling!
I don’t think I was daunted nearly enough by the prospect of tackling the entire episode. Utterly naive really. If I’d known the hours required and the sheer effort needed to meet the deadline I would have politely declined.
The original idea expressed by Peter before I accepted the commission was to outsource the episode to the fans, as a sort of competition on Twitter, so that everyone could tackle a different shot. The very idea, if I’m honest, made me shudder and I think it went a long way to convince me take do the job. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to poor colourisation and the idea that a show I loved might end up being some form of Frankenstein’s monster was quite a motivational force! Whether it really was the plan to use Twitter or whether Pete was just using psychology on me I don’t know – but it worked! I think the alternative would have been utterly dreadful.
Having no knowledge of this type of process (techs hates me) , can you explain it for us?
Well, I was sent all the necessary “key frames” that would be required for each individual shot. There were 205 shots in total to colourise (a “shot” being another term for an “angle”. Each camera records the action from a different angle and the director cuts between cameras to vary the shots. Each scene usually comprises of many different shots and, in the case of episode one, there were 205 to be tackled).
I spent 12 months hand-colourising every 5th frame of video and these key-frames were then used t by SVS Resources to interpolate (or stretch) the colour over the intervening 4 monochrome frames. After a year of this incredibly tedious and monotonous work it was decided that I could start colourising every 20th frame instead to speed up the process, with Peter Crocker using the colour information from these primary key-frames to create secondary “in-betweenie” frames. It took a massive burden off my shoulders which was just as well because, to be honest, after a year of doing it I was already burning myself out.
Pete and I collaborated on the frames for a further six months, so the entire process for me was an 18 month journey. During that first year Peter was very busy working on other restoration projects for the DVD range so it was a very long time before I first saw any clips of the overlaid work. I think it was actually 14 months in before I saw my first colourised snippet.
It looks absolutely amazing. It’s been commented on by everyone about how fresh and crisp it looks. You must be well chuffed that your hard work has paid off and been so well received.
It’s a gigantic relief! After such a long haul, such creative and emotional investment, after so much blood, sweat and tears being poured into that episode, the reception to it was absolutely fraught with trepidation for me. The very idea that people would be underwhelmed, disappointed or dismissive of it was a terribly worry. The fact that the reviews have been so kind and generous and the fan reception so warm and approving has been such a wonderful experience. Everyone has been very kind about it.
Any more stories that you would like to tackle?
I’d love to do more of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ and even ‘The Web Planet’. Interesting alien landscapes and alien species are all fun and challenging for a colouriser. It would be exciting to have a go at the very first episode, that’s always been an interest for me, but I never work in a very prescribed way. I wait to see how the mood takes me and follow many different paths as and when I come to them. I’ll probably end up colourising a story I’ve never even considered before, but that’s all part of the fun.
There is a whole debate about whether black and white movies and television shows should be colourised or not. Mind of Evil is a different case because it was filmed in colour. What is your opinion? Should stories like An Unearthly Child and War Games be left alone? (Personally, I would love to see them colourised and that is based solely on the work you’ve done.)
I have no issue with colourising 1960s television shows. It is merely another way to view them afresh. I’m not advocating the destruction of monochrome originals so fail to see the problem with consumer choice. Everything else appears to be market driven and, if there’s a market for them, why not? People who want monochrome should be able to buy monochrome and people who want colour should be able to buy that too. I think neither should be denied their preference.
The BBC themselves made very tentative enquiries about the feasibility of colourising ‘An Unearthly child’ in time for the Anniversary, but the deadlines were far too short. But the fact they even made enquiries at all shows that there’s an interest in the viability of such work, which bodes well for a colouriser like myself.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m taking a well deserved break! When ‘The Mind of Evil’ project came along everything else was packed away into stasis. I had several videos on the go – I was about a third of the way through the final episode of ‘The Ten Doctors’ and had five other videos started. I am sure that I shall finish those other five at some point, but I’m looking at other things in my spare time at the moment. I started colourising some clips of ‘Metropolis’ and may do some ‘Dad’s Army’ and some ‘Laurel and Hardy’, just to widen the interest in the colour work. I’m also a very keen genealogist and have lots of things I want to spend time researching, so YouTube is not currently at the top of Babelcolour’s agenda. Maybe in a month or two I’ll upload some more Doctor Who videos, in time for the big Anniversary.
What platforms do you use to promote yourself? Where can people find out more about Babel Colour?
I now have my own website – http://babelcolour.com - which was set up in September 2012 and is the main platform I use to promote the work. It contains pretty much everything I have done in print and video colourisation and includes links to all my YouTube videos. I also suppose, by nature of its very success, my YouTube Channel is a platform which promotes the video work athttp://www.youtube.com/user/BabelColour . It has over 11,000 subscribers and had 4.5 million hits over its lifetime (though 800,000 have since been lost due to the removal of The Ten Doctors and the earlier Time War videos). It’s been a surprising and amazing success. If people are interested in any updates on the works I also have a Twitter account at https://twitter.com/Babelcolour
Stuart, thank you. It’s been a true pleasure.