If the name Mark Ayres is in your head recently, it might be because you know him for composing the incidental music for the “I swear this is the final version” of Shada released in 2017. What you might not know him for is working with the Doctor Who Restoration Team on remastering soundtracks for DVD and CD releases of missing stories.
If you’ve listened to any recons of Second Doctor stories over the years the odds are that’s thanks to Graham Strong. When he was just 14, Strong started using a domestic reel to reel, quarter-inch tape recorder to record the audio of Who episodes. Those first recordings were made with a basic crystal microphone which would hang over the television speaker with a plant pot placed on the top of the television to keep the microphone in place.
After The Daleks’ Master Plan – Episode 7 (The Feast of Steven, which remains one of the serials least likely to be found), Strong used his skills as an electronics student to pull of the dangerous procedure of wiring the audio input from the tape recorder into the audio output of his television set. He is believed to be the only one of the early Who audio recorders to record directly from the TV, resulting in him having the highest quality recordings. The resulting audio tracks have been used in DVD releases as they’re even better than the audio from the surviving prints of episodes!
As of last month, Graham has donated his collection of audio recording to Mark Ayres in order to be properly archived. It really makes you wonder if we’d care so passionately about preserving aspects of Doctor Who if the BBC hadn’t burned so much of it away. I wonder if it was for the best, given how many fans scavenged the world for any remnants of our favourite show. But don’t mind me, I’m just a writer with a time machine and a flamethrower.
Strong’s reels are a vital part of Doctor Who history, as are his notebooks detailing which episodes exist on which tapes. It’s fantastic to hear they’ll be kept for future generations to enjoy, and, if there’s any justice in the world, they deserve pride of place in a Doctor Who Museum – forever a tribute to the lost wonders of the 1960s.