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Friday 24th August 2001

This Week In Doctor Who - August 24, 2001
(posted 24th Aug 2001, 11:09am - TWIDW post #0034)
Somewhere, Howard Da Silva is smiling this week.
THIS WEEK IN DOCTOR WHO - August 24, 2001
by Benjamin F. Elliott
Vol 4, No 34
Welcome to the weekly guide to Doctor Who broadcasts around the world. We're skipping the story descriptions this time for a special feature after the listings. The DVD release of The Robots of Death in North America is going to include a special extra - the introductions for the episodes narrated by Howard Da Silva in the initial 1978 US airings of Tom Baker stories. I chatted with the person who got the Da Silva feature added to the DVD release, and learned the story behind Doctor Who's 1978 US launch. It's an interesting story, and it's in the back end of this week's column. Enjoy.
429 years ago today, thousands of French Protestant Christians (the Huguenots) were massacred in the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. Protestantism was largely destroyed in France, so survivors fled to other European countries and helped Reformations in those regions. The story became the basis for an early Doctor Who story - The Massacre, in which William Hartnell played both the Doctor and an evil Abbot who helped plan the bloodshed. It was one of the better William Hartnell stories, though sadly the episodes are lost. If you have a copy of the BBC Radio Collection audio release from 1999, give it a listen again today. A haunting tale.
Additions and corrections are welcome at bfelliott@... , bfelliott@... , bfelliott3 on AOL IM , or thebfe on Yahoo! Messenger. And now, the listings:


BBC Radio 4
(Live real audio stream from website)
Dead Ringers ep 501 (British comedy series, frequently including Doctor Who parodies)
Fri 6:30PM BST (1:30PM EDT, 10:30AM PDT, Sat 3:30AM AEST), Sat 12:30PM BST (7:30AM EDT, 4:30AM PDT, 9:30PM AEST)
BBC Online
Death Comes To Time ep 1 of 6 (real audio format)
The Abominable Snowmen ep 6 of 6 (photonovel reconstruction)


UK Gold
Sat 9:15-11AM BST Full Circle movie
Sun 9:10-11AM BST State of Decay movie
BBC Prime
Late Fri 1AM*, Sat 3:30PM, Sun 11:30AM CET The Awakening ep 1 of 2
Late Thu 12:30AM CET The Awakening ep 2 of 2
*Not seen in all regions.
Sun 7AM, Late Sun 1AM AEST The Horns of Nimon all 4 eps
Mon 11:30PM AEST Four To Doomsday ep 4 of 4
Tue-Fri 11:30PM AEST Kinda eps 1 - 4 of 4
NHPTV New Hampshire 11,49,52
Late Sat Mid EDT Nightmare of Eden eps 3+4 of 4
Late Thu Mid EDT The Horns of Nimon eps 1+2 of 4
WQED/WQEX 13,16 Pittsburgh, PA
Sat 11:30PM EDT Meglos eps 1+2 of 4
WYBE 35 Philadelphia, PA
Sat 4AM EDT Delta and the Bannermen eps 1+2 of 3
Sat 5:30PM EDT The Two Doctors 6 ep version, pts 1+2
Sat 11PM EDT Delta and the Bannermen ep 3 of 3
Sat 11:30PM EDT Dragonfire ep 1 of 3
MPT Maryland 22,28,31,36,62,67
Late Sat Mid EDT The Dominators movie
WCET 48 Cincinnati, OH
Sat 11PM EDT The Armageddon Factor eps 2+3 of 6
WYIN 56 Gary, IN (Chicago, IL)
Sat 10PM CDT The Leisure Hive eps 3+4 of 4
ยป it was reported in October that one week was pre-empted, so these episodes might be The Leisure Hive eps 1+2 from last week, or these postponed to next week instead.
WILL 12 Urbana, IL
Sat 11:35PM CDT The Seeds of Doom ep 1 of 6
TPT St. Paul, MN
analog KTCA 2, digital KTCI-DT 16-5 (2-5)
Sat 11:30PM, Sun 5:30AM CDT The Armageddon Factor ep 3 of 6
IPTV Iowa 11,12,21,24,27,32,32,36
Fri 11:05PM CDT Black Orchid both eps
PPTV North Dakota 2,3,4,6,9,13,19
Fri 10:30PM CDT (9:30PM MDT) The Creature from the Pit ep 2 of 4
KERA 13 Dallas, TX
Late Fri Mid CDT Inferno eps 5+6 of 7
KBDI/K32EO 12,32 Denver/Colorado Springs, CO
No Friday airing this week.
Sat 11PM MDT Castrovalva eps 1+2 of 4
KUED 7 Salt Lake City, UT
Sat 11PM, Late Sat 12:30AM MDT The Sun Makers ep 1 of 4
KBTC/KCKA/K65BU 28,15,65 Tacoma/Centralia/Gray's River, WA
Sat 7PM, Late Sat 12:30AM PDT The Creature from the Pit eps 3+4 of 4
KTEH 54 San Jose, CA
Sun 11PM PDT The Ambassadors of Death eps 4+5 of 7

And now, the feature we have been waiting for.
Warner Video is releasing The Robots of Death on DVD in September 2001. All the extras from the BBC release are included. But an extra bit of mastering has been done, and an additional extra (for North America only) will be on the disc - Howard Da Silva's Introductions at the beginning and end of the episodes.will be on the "featurette", along with the unedited BBC half-hour versions (or as the American Dr. Who syndicators call them "mini-series"). The Howard Da Silva segments for Robots Of Death will be digitally preserved on the discs.

Howard Da Silva? Who on Earth is Howard Da Silva?

Doctor Who fans who did not live in the United States and parts of Canada, or didn't discover the series until the late 1980s or later usually have no idea who Howard Da Silva is. Personally, I grew up with no knowledge of him. As I write this piece in August 2001, I have never seen a complete example of his narrative Doctor Who work. The obvious reaction to the news that his introductions will be included on the US DVDs is - who is he, and why should I care? Almost by definition, an extra is something you can skip completely if you don't want to see it, so it's better to have extras for those who want to see them. But why Howard Da Silva's introductions??

I spoke with the producer of the Da Silva DVD bonus material on The Robots of Death (TJ Lubinsky) to find out the story behind Howard Da Silva, the narrated versions of Doctor Who in the USA, and Da Silva's segments getting onto this DVD.

Well, Howard Da Silva lived from 1909 to 1986. (For perspective, William Hartnell was born in 1908.) He was a veteran American character actor and voiceover artist. One of those people who you heard all the time but never knew the person's name. In 1978, events would cause him to get involved in the world of Doctor Who in a small way ...

In June 1978, the head of the syndication department of Time/Life television chose 3 TV shows to syndicate in the US for fall 1978 from a list of possibilities. Two of the were BBC productions, per their contract via Time/Life Films:
  1. Monty Python
  2. Dave Allen At Large
  3. Great American Dream Machine (non-BBC one)
And they needed a show with 98 episodes to round out the "syndication strip package". Doctor Who (the first 98 Tom Baker episodes) was thrown in the mix to fill out the first-run syndication offer.

Doctor Who was deemed to be a show that could have commercial syndication potential for the fall 1978 multi-show package launch.

The Hand Of Fear was quickly shipped over and "test marketed" as a preview story to acquaint potential stations to purchase Doctor Who. It aired in movie format in June 1978 on WOR 9 New York, NY (a superstation then available in many US cable households) and WPTV 5 West Palm Beach, FL, an NBC station. The Hand Of Fear test garnered good ratings, and 92 stations (commercial and PBS) had cleared the package by early August for a late September/early October launch. But there were problems. The biggies:
  1. Some viewers and many station programmers were confused by the nature of the show. Who is this alien? What is that telephone booth? Why did the assistant leave at the end of the story? Some of the British characteristics apparently confused station managers as well.
  2. Episodes were too long. The show's being sold on a cash basis - stations have to sell the commercial time themselves. Enough commercial time to justify the show's expense, and generate profit revenues.
  3. Where's the first 11 seasons of the show? Where's the backstory for the characters? Why are we picking up with Year 12?
  4. It's less than 2 months before the show goes on the air, and not all the episodes have been standard converted for editing and distribution for the US yet. Satellite systems are not yet commonly available to send episodes to stations in 1978, so episodes must be dubbed are shipped to 92 stations on bulky 2" quad tape.
13 Jon Pertwee stories had been syndicated in movie format to PBS stations by Time-Life in 1976-1977, and they had seen what happened before when the questions had not been resolved (the show performed badly and virtually all the stations dropped it). There was no reason to believe that a similar fate would not befall Tom Baker now, unless the episodes could be packaged to win over the station ad execs and more accessible to an audience unfamiliar with the show.

Given the time constraints of the series launch, several hard choices were made:

To help the show make sense, a "name valued" narrator would be hired to introduce and close each episode. To fit in the narration segments, 70's style tv syndication packaging elements, and get the shows within commercial guidelines circa 1978, all episodes over 23 minutes, 56 seconds long were cut as close to to that length as possible.

Though mostly the cuts were mostly minor incidental establishing shots, sometimes dialog was trimmed ... sometimes whole scenes had to be cut (Tom Baker trying on outfits in Robot 1), sometimes establishing shots without dialogue, sometimes British aspects that they thought would not translate well. The effort was made in what time they had to try to keep the episodes from being hacked beyond recognition. However, the goal was to "Americanize" the episodes for the broadcast potential commercial audience possible.

Each episode would now begin with opening credits, followed by an "American named" narrator teasing key scenes and storylines for the upcoming episode (for episode 1). This was designed to get typically short attention mass commercial audiences hooked, to stay through the first 2:02 commercial break, or in the case of continuing storylines (Episodes 2 and on) recapping what the viewer may have missed if they didn't see the previous episode(s).

After the first commercial break, the original episode would begin (For Part 1) or continue (Episodes 2 and On).

There were 2 additional commercial breaks in the middle. When the cliffhanger came up, the closing theme would begin, with the Dr.Who logo flying down the vortex from the opening sequence and fading to back just before revealing the story title.

After the final internal commercial break, the American narrator would preview the following episode, followed by the closing credits. The ending credits would also have to be modified to credit the American actor/narrator in accordance with U.S. Talent Union guild guidelines.

The closing preview would hopefully tease the viewer to see the next episode. (Keeping them tuned in and coming back from week-to-week) Final episodes of the story would not need a full preview of the next episode, so less to nothing would have to be cut from those episodes. Robot had extra narration through the episodes to explain to viewers the concepts of regeneration, the TARDIS, etc. The Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Daleks, and Revenge of the Cybermen had a few extra bits of voiceover material after the first commercial break to try to clarify the Ark In Space story arc. The break formatting would be standardized, 4 internal breaks per episode, with the exception of the concluding episode of a story arc or "mini-series", where there would be no ending tease added (meaning the storiy-arc's or individual 23 mini-series could stand alone - in theory - even out of order). Given the need to bicycle tapes and dub copies from station to station, the likelihood of episodes getting unsequenced was reduced by not forward promoting the next "mini-series" or stoy arc.

It's August 1978. Less than 2 months till the episodes have to be available to 92 stations. Not all the episodes are over here in America to be cut yet. Narrations have been put together using notes the BBC provided on the stories. (Note the similarities between the description on the back of The Robots of Death DVD and Howard's scripts from 23 years ago).

One afternoon the people at Time/Life call in Howard Da Silva, who was in town promoting stage performances after the movie release of 1776 (Howard played Ben Franklin in the famed musical), Under contract and in-session to voice some documentaries for Time/Life Films - Howard agreed to voice the narrations for all 98 episodes (over 200 voice-overs) in just 4 hours, the time remaining on the recording session.

With no pictures, videos or clips provided or available to work with, or review for inspiration..... Just a script. Howard was annoyed that there was no pronunciation guide, which could help him at least avoid embarrassing gaffes. (Think about it, how many non Dr. Who fans can pronounce Mandragora, Sontaran or Dalek - but amazingly, with no coaching he did, perfectly.)

As it was, in the 98 episodes he recorded "blind" in 4 hours there were only two pronounciation goofs - Styggron got pronounced "STI-gron" and Doctor Solon became Doctor Salon.

The afternoon session was the only time Howard Da Silva would ever be involved with Doctor Who, apart from one time he and his wife saw Robot Part 1 on WOR, and thought the excessive narration was..."too much".

The episodes premiered in fall 1978 on a mixture of commercial and PBS stations. The most prominent commercial station was WOR 9 New York, which aired 2 episodes every Saturday at 10AM Eastern Time for several years in much of the country. (WOR liked to air episodes "off-cycle" - ex: ep 4 of one story followed by ep 1 of another, to keep people coming back for more.) WPBT 2 in Miami, FL and WGBH 2 in Boston, MA were prominent early PBS stations on board with Doctor Who. PBS stations in this period usually ran promos for other PBS shows (like Nova) in the breaks provided for commercials, though sometimes they would just go to a slide for the :15 second black spaces included every 7 minutes or so intended for commercial insertions. Also, commercial stations were likely to run 1 or 2 episodes a week, while PBS stations often ran the show weekdays in the early evening. (This was before the Newshour was one hour long, when it was the 30 minute McNeil/Lehrer report.)

It was very common for PBS stations to air commercial shows in the late 70s, and still occurs on occasion these days. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Little House On The Prairie, St. Elsewhere, and I Spy have aired on individual PBS stations in recent years. Commercial shows could and were pledged like any other shows.

Time/Life was not given certain information that might have made it easier to air the package. For instance, the BBC didn't tell them the proper episode order - they only had alpha codes.

Time/Life aired the show in production order in lieu of information. Season 12, for instance, went Robot, The Sontaran Experiment, The Ark In Space, Revenge of the Cybermen, Genesis of the Daleks - which must have made the stories and Howard's extra narrations on the story arc a tad confusing. Seasons 13 and 15 also had stories out of order due to the airing order, but fortunately there were no story arcs there to confuse. (Except K9 appearing in Image of the Fendahl, then being introduced in The Invisible Enemy. This was presumably a misreading of the codes in some manner, since even in production order K9's first story comes before any other K9 stories.) Must have been a very different way to experience Doctor Who.

By early 1981, Time/Life noticed that their plan to launch Doctor Who on commercial TV was only semi-successful. Howard's narrations and the previews had succeeded in helping build a fanbase and commercial base. New viewers, with no previous history with the series accepted them as a part of the show, with virtually no clue that they were not part of the original episodes. But the show only performed so-so on most commercial stations airing it. Ratings were below expectations. On the other hand, it was a large pledge success, pulling in money hand over fist to PBS stations that ran it.

So the new potential PBS market was exploited by the Time/Life sales staff, with an agressive marketing plan to re-launch Tom's first 98 "now with "extra material" previously unbroadcast in the U.S. and uninterrupted by commercial break "stopdowns and recues". The complete versions of the 98 Baker episodes were brought over for the use of PBS stations, while the versions narrated by Howard Da Silva continued on commercial TV.

Fans were surprised to suddenly see new footage from episodes they knew very well, and shocked to find out that Howard's narrations were not part of the original episodes. There was a bit of a negative reaction to the Da Silva narrated material, now that uncut installments were available. But with the challenge of so many new PBS stations airing the show, the multiple 2" quad tapes that were being "bicycled" from station to station nationwide often got mixed together. Wackiness would ensue from this. Ex: one PBS station ran an uncut Robots Of Death Part 1 & 2, follwed by an odd Da Silva mixed in on Part 3, and then an uncut Part 4. Depending on the station's run of the episode and how often they got tapes shipped in, the next time they aired the story, they may all have been complete or all commercial versions - luck of the draw with so many tapes floating around marked with the same episode titles.

In 1982, with the formation of HBO, Time/Life television is forced to break-up and dissolves. Many of the employees get together to create a partnership and form the new Lionheart Television International to do the same job. Lionheart is partly owned by the BBC. It's virtually the same staff, in the same roles - all the same offices, and the same videotapes were puchased with the formation of the new company (Ah-ha, and that's why we still see the Time/Life logo on BBC shows to this day).

The final 3 seasons of Tom Baker are finally brought over. At this time the decision is made to offer stories in 4 versions - 1) uncut PBS "mini-series" for PBS syndiction, 2) edited for commercial TV or "commercial versions", 3) in "movie format", and 4) "commercial movie versions". All of Tom Baker's stories are turned into movies at WHYY 12 in Philadelphia, PA. For thecommercial edits of the last 3 Baker seasons (which were cut to 21:30 this time, apparently), Howard (now 73) is not asked back, and an editor in a hurry cuts in commercial breaks every 7 minutes with little effort to keep the story coherent. The "commercial movie versions" are for stations like WGPR in Detroit, a religious broadcaster airing commercials.

Lionheart focuses more and more on PBS stations, though a handful of commercial and religious stations (looking for family programming before the days of The Family Channel) stick with the show for years beyond that point.

By 1986, when Howard Da Silva died and both Peter Davison and Jon Pertwee episodes were starting to appear in the US, 300 PBS, commercial, and religious stations were airing Doctor Who.

As the stations almost all became PBS, and more and more stations went to movie format as well (because two 1" tapes were cheaper to ship than 4 reels - meaning the Lionheart sales staff could make price breaks for long term packages), the Da Silva tapes fell out of use - other than when too many copies of a story were shipped out, and these were the only versions available. The last commercial stations stopped airing these tapes in early 1987.

Howard's involvement in the show's syndication was largely forgotten, overlooked or disliked. The history and timeline for these events has never been shared until now. T.J. Lubinsky's unique experience in the U.S. syndication and distribution of Doctor Who has been gathered over two decades of personal phone interviews with the original sales people, editors, producers and writers , tv programmers and sales staff for the various incarnations of the U.S. syndication offers of "Doctor Who" in the U.S. As a PBS fundraising producer, TJ also has the history, experience and advantages of being "on the inside looking out" at the business of tv programming, production and distribution. Lubinsky jokes "you know, it's funny - I can remember being 12 years old with a Beta 1 machine in my living room, being frustrated because I didn't know how to edit Howard's narrations "out" of my home tapes. It's being exposed to all these different versions of the show that taught me about editing and how to edit videotape, and ultimately got me my first job at a PBS station because of answering phones for - you guessed it - Doctor Who." Ironically, for the past ten years it's been my sincere desire to make sure the talents of Howard and the 78' syndication team aren't forgotten and erased from our American Dr. Who history," says Lubinsky.

In 1987, a purge was done in Lionheart to remove excess prints of the Tom Baker stories during a conversion from 2" Quad to 1" videotape... The Da Silva narrated versions of the episodes were "lost" from the U.S. library since, at that time, there was no commercial syndication sales for the series. There was no reason to keep these versions in circulation - they just created problems for PBS stations. And the conversion staff did not know that these tapes only existed in America. So, it's really no one's fault - it was an accident that all these tapes were "wiped, wiped out of existance".

Of the US broadcast masters, only Pyramids of Mars episode 1 and the 4 episodes of The Brain of Morbius still exist in the Da Silva narrated form (in those episodes the full US versions of the episodes were wiped by mistake).

The American spin on Doctor Who that won it an audience here was essentially destroyed. In a bad bit of irony, most of the poorly edited episodes from Tom Baker's last 3 seasons survived the purge while the complete US versions of those episodes did not, as fans who've seen Tom Baker's later seasons on US TV have discovered in recent years.

Da Silva's narrations survive these days only on VCR recordings from the late 70s/early 80s and on audio tape recordings.

Howard Da Silva's one rough August afternoon doing voice work may well be responsible for Doctor Who succeeding in the USA. His clear voice helped explain the more confusing elements of the show to the new US public in a time when Doctor Who was a mystery. Fans and commercial advertisers got comfortable enough with the episodes he narrated for Time/Life and Lionheart to eventually send over the real episodes.

Howard's work provided the bridge from no Who to real Who, and then he wound up forgotten. TJ Lubinsky has spent the last ten years trying to recover the missing pieces.

Until the Robots Of Death US DVD release, at least.

Unlike TV broadcasts or VHS releases, the DVD format lends itself to having both the narrations "featurette" without effecting the real episodes, which remain complete and unmolested.

Since The Robots of Death was not a story where the broadcast versions of Da Silva's segments survived, the Da Silva segments had to be "reconstructed" for use on the DVD.

The producer of this extra DVD segment spoke to Ruth Newald, the original editor from 1978, to find out how the editing had been done.

With audio from a WOR 9, and personal copies of U.S. syndication broadcast 1" tapes, the segments were reconstructed frame by frame, with efforts to match all the effects of the original 1978 broadcast, in spite of the difference in format speeds. Slightly more difficult than peeling a potato. Several years ago, while working at a PBS station in South Florida that had Doctor Who under license, TJ Lubinsky personally and privately funded an all-night edit session at a now defunct commercial tv station in Hollywood, Florida to use their "grass valley 1600 switcher" - the same switcher Ruith Newald used to generate the very distinct wipe patterns used to transition the preview effects scene-to-scene back in 1978. This is when TJ first met The Da Silva family, who gave him permission to use Howard's voice tracks on PBS stations, and encouragement to seek copies of Howard's work, as his family wished they had recorded them when they first aired.

TJ jokingly adds, "the only thing I'm missing in this new restoration is the 2" tape scratching/banding that always happened when Channel 9 re-started the segments after their APEX TECH/STUCKO commercial breaks. Man I'm just glad I kept a work reel from those replicated effects to be re-used for the DVD restoration.....(sawtooth and venetian blind wipes effect wipes with distinct pattern modulation is not easy to come by in todays world of tv). These are the exact same patterns Ruth used back in the 70's when she edited these the first time around. I even matched the same font used to credit 'Introduced by Howard DaSilva' at the end of the episode, in exactly the same way the original was formatted."

Beyond the technical problem of reconstructing the segments, there were clearance issues. The Robots of Death DVD's contents had already been cleared once. To include the Howard Da Silva bits, clearance had to be gotten from Howard's widow and sons (who generously agreed) for his voice segments to be rerecorded and reedited for the DVD.

The people at BBC Video who work on the DVDs are Doctor Who fans, and would like to try more features like this in the future. Besides Da Silva, Doctor Who's been around in the US for over 20 years, and there are US extra ideas available for many stories. But US materials are unlikely to be included in the main UK releases due to overseas clearance restrictions. To get the Da Silva and other segments on US releases, they will have to go through extra mastering costs and work.

The better the public reaction to having the option of seeing this material or not, and the better the DVDs do in sales, the better the chance that Warner will spare the money, facilities, resources and time to try US extras again, on top of what the Brits provide in extras.

And obviously, the reverse is true. Bad reaction or bad sales, and North American DVD buyers will just get what the UK gets on DVDs, saving the folks at Warner a fair amount of time and money.

The Robots of Death DVD comes out with The Five Doctors Special Edition DVD and the Spearhead From Space DVD in the US and Canada on September 11, 2001. The best way we can say thanks to the BBC folks, is to support the DVD sales - reserve your copy now :)

One final comment from TJ Lubinsky: "Without naming names, I can share that two individuals at BBC Video really deserve the credit for making this project a reality. They are fans, and care about the proper presentation of our favorite show. They took a risk in trying to make this happen - and I can't thank them enough for the opportunity and extra resouces they put into this project. BBCWA home video rocks - and their staff, along with Steve Roberts and co. in the U.K. are the absolute best."

Additional information on the Robots Of Death DVD release is currently online at and .

Thanks for reading. Until next week, take care.

Doctor Who is a BBC Trademark. Copyright 2001.