Interview: Stuart Humphryes (‘Babelcolour’)

With the 1971 Doctor Who story The Mind of Evil coming out on DVD in the UK on Monday, I spoke to a man who played a key role in restoring its first episode to full colour for the first time in over four decades. Originally broadcast in colour, the story only survives today as a set of black-and-white film recordings. Thankfully, Episodes Two to Six have been brought back to life using the Colour Recovery process, but Episode One lacks the ‘chromadots’ which need to be embedded in the film recording for the technique to work. Enter Stuart Humphryes…

Hi Stuart. To begin with, could you explain the circumstances which led to you developing an interest in colourisation?

My first early dalliances into colourisation stemmed from an interest in genealogy. Family history is a bug that bit me in my early teens and my first experiments with colourisation were with scans of old family photographs. It naturally wasn’t long before the interest extended itself into Doctor Who – the other great passion in my life. I started with black-and-white photographs and then Tele-snaps, partly inspired by the colourised thumbnails on the BBC’s own Doctor Who website which were, shall I say, done quite expressionistically! I wanted to see if I could do them a little more naturalistically and posted those early pictures online like Fallen Before Falling. The reception to them was very warm and positive, so it encouraged me to continue experimenting. I tried creating colourised GIFs and then, eventually, colourised AVI files of video footage. It grew, organically, over a couple of years, from a small seed into quite a big part of my life!

What software did you use back then? Do you use different software these days?

Back in those foggy days of youth my computer monitor was a huge CRT monster the size of a microwave oven and the program of choice was Micrografx Picture Publisher. I think the processing power of that old machine was probably less than a digital watch but I managed to produce the images to my satisfaction. These days I use Adobe Photoshop to 30 Days of Night the frames and then grade the footage with Adobe After Effects before uploading the work to YouTube. Grading was always a bugbear in those formative days. I had to basically grade the frames before rendering them as a video file, rather than grade them in post-production.Is it your YouTube work that got you noticed as a potential candidate for the restoration of The Mind of Evil Episode One? How did that project come about for you?

It was a long and meandering journey, to be honest. It was because of my early work colourising Tele-snaps online that I was approached by James Russell (one of the founding members of the Doctor Who Restoration Team) and asked if I would like to collaborate on a project to colourise some footage using his newly invented, bespoke motion-estimation software. We worked together on a film sequence from The Nightmare Begins – episode one of The Daleks’ Master Plan – which James subsequently offered up for use on the Genesis of the Daleks DVD. It was entirely down to this prior collaboration that James later contacted me again about working together on The Mind of Evil. We were under the impression that a number of interested parties were out to tender for the job of colourising the serial and so, with this in mind, we worked together to colourise a one minute test sequence to illustrate what could be achieved together. Due to various factors, this test sequence was never delivered to the BBC for consideration and I have absolutely no idea whether anybody else’s were either. But I heard nothing back for about two years. It was then I contacted Pete Crocker and asked if he could make any use of the key-frames I had produced for James. I burnt a disc with the frames on and sent it off. I was then sounded out about an interest in tackling the full serial. I understand, by pure coincidence, Dan Hall [commissioning editor of the classic Doctor Who DVD range] had seen my YouTube colourisations and suggested maybe contacting me, but the contact had already been made! I dare say the YouTube work may have factored into the equation, but things were moving independently of the YouTube work. My involvement pretty much stems from my collaboration with James in 2005. See Babelcolour interview here.

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