Doctor Who Press Pack Phase 2

A second Doctor Who Press Pack has been released by the BBC Press Office. This pack concentrates on many of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the production, such as SFX, production design, prosthetics, and series statistics. Items of interest include words from Neill Gorton, Mike Tucker and Robin Shenfield of Oscar-winning London-based effects house The Mill.

The document can be read here – the edited highlights can be found below…

The Mill – computer-generated effects

There were many reasons why Oscar-winning London-based effects house The Mill came on board the new series of Doctor Who, but one in particular stands out for Chief Executive Robin Shenfield.

“Visual effects can be the tail that wags the dog,” he says.

“But with Doctor Who the storytelling was so good we knew it was something we really wanted to do.

“Whether we take something on really depends on the quality of the scripts and the team that’s working on it.”

Then there’s the attraction of working on what visual effects editor Dave Houghton refers to as “the biggest digital effects in British TV drama to date”.

To illustrate the point, The Mill won their Academy Award for their work on Gladiator which included 100 visual effects shots produced over seven months.

The team working on Doctor Who are producing around 100 per episode each month.

“The range of effects we’re using is quite extraordinary,” says Robin.

“Everything we do that’s cutting edge is in this production.”

“Visual effects is a very specialist business and if a project is a stinker it’s harder to get the specialists you need,” says Robin.

“But people were beating a path to us because they so wanted to be involved – the appeal of working on Doctor Who is extremely seductive.”

The effects in the show have to be almost better than good, says Robin, “because today’s audience is very visual effect-literate”.

“In another story, one computer-generated character needed four minutes of lip-synching, which is a huge undertaking in a TV project.”

Robin adds: “The series was very stimulating for our team because we were able to input our own creative ideas, much more so than in film. We were contributing, not just executing.”

Special effects/visual effects – facts

*The Mill has been at the forefront of Visual/Special effects for 15 years. Credits include the Academy Award-winning Gladiator for which they won the Oscar for special effects.

*Approximately 800 special effects have been created for the new series of Doctor Who compared with only 100 for the multi-Oscar-winning Gladiator.

*No other British TV production has been this ambitious in scale with the number of SFX and VFX created for a series.

*It has taken a team of 21 people, working over 10 months, doing six-day weeks of 12 hours per day to bring the new series up to date.

*Episode two involved the highest volume and biggest diversity of effects. This episode entailed characters built entirely in CG, entirely CG space and environments, green-screen composites and matt painting. This episode alone sucked up over a fifth of The Mill’s total VFX work quota.

Production design

Edward Thomas, production designer

Edward has overseen the look of the entire series, and played a major role in the design of the new TARDIS. “To be able to completely re-design the interior of the TARDIS was amazing,” he enthuses. “It’s basic drive mechanism is the same but we’ve gone for a more organic look using materials such as glass, porcelain and even coral, with a raised central area and a domed roof.”

The roundels in the walls remain, as does the coat-stand by the door, but look closely at the central console and you will spot old handbrakes, pressure dials, loose nuts and bolts, an old trim-phone, post-it notes, glass balls, hammers and even a navigation sextant.

Edward says: “The Doctor’s been traveling in the TARDIS for about 900 years, so the idea is he’s had to improvise as he’s gone along.”

Edward says: “Most long-running series have sets and props they use all the time, but because Doctor Who is so varied, changing from week to week, we use things again, which I’m sure they did on the old shows.

Production design – facts

*There have been approximately 650 sets created during the series from location builds to studio builds.

*Each episode has specific colouring dependant on Alien/bad guys.

*The interior TARDIS was designed with contributions from the whole design team – Dan Walker, Colin Richmond, Matthew Savage, Stephen Nicholas, Bryan Hitch and Peter Walpole all contributed to the final imagery.

*The new interior TARDIS is approx 6.5m high, 16m diameter, 1500m steelwork.

*There are 80 sheets of acrylic vac formed panels within the TARDIS forming the glass panels; 800m of jumbo pipe, 50 sheets of industrial wire mesh.

*The production designers went for more of an organic look using materials such as glass, porcelain and even coral, with a raised central area and a domed roof.

*Up to nine different blues and greens make up the exterior colour.

*Production designs to look out for throughout the series include: New DALEK, Captain Jack’s ship, DALEK ship and the Nestene Lair which features in Episode ONE.

Miniature effects

Mike Tucker – BBC Miniature Effects Unit

Mike Tucker is in prime position to compare the new Doctor Who with the old, having worked on the later TV runs featuring Colin Baker and then Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor.

“Russell T Davies said very early on that there’s very little point in bringing the show back if we’re going to change it beyond all recognition,” says Mike, who heads the BBC’s Miniature Effects Unit.

“What he’s brought back is Doctor Who, but Doctor Who re-invented for the mindset and viewing tastes of the 21st century viewing public.”

“During the last couple of Sylvester McCoy stories, what was then the BBC Video Effects Department was doing some groundbreaking stuff, but it was only after the show came off air that the real digital revolution came along.The gulf between what we can do now and did then is enormous. Effects we could never have achieved are now possible – that’s the biggest change.

In the world of miniature effects, the most visually-arresting scenes are, of course, often achieved by blowing things up.

“You do spend a lot of time making models and setting them up only to destroy them in a matter of seconds, but it’s part of the job,” Mike says.

“The most important thing is that it looks good on screen.”

Besides, what does reducing weeks’ worth of work to debris matter when you get to work on the new Dalek?

Mike confirms: “The only overlap between our work and the full-sized world is we got to build the Dalek – what a bonus!”

Prosthetics and special make-up

Neill Gorton, Millennium FX – prosthetics and special make-up designer

Doctor Who fan Neill Gorton was thrilled to re-design one of the Doctor’s old enemies, living shop dummies the Autons, for episode one.

But even the experienced ‘monster maker’, who has worked on blockbuster movies including Gladiator and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, was surprised by the scale of the undertaking.

He says: “Initially I was told we needed ‘some’ Autons, then as things went along I found myself emailing Russell T Davies and asking incredulously ‘How many…?’

“We ended up with about 50 of them charging down Cardiff High Street blowing the place up!

“The old Autons were pretty scary and hopefully a new generation of kids will find them scary again. I’d like to think we’ve taken them to another level.”

That last sentiment is analogous for the new series itself, Neill believes. “I was delighted when I saw episode one because it’s new, it’s fresh but it’s still recognisably Doctor Who.

“I grew up with the old series, and it’s part of the reason I do this job. When it came back, I just had to be involved.”

“The process is we’ll get a script, then you read the story to see what the creatures have to do, then you start doing sketches,” he explains.

“The sketches go to Russell, production designer Edward Thomas, and whoever’s in the loop on that episode, and we all chip in until we achieve the right look.”

Neill says the creature inside the Dalek went through a heavy design phase because everybody has their own opinions about what it should look like.

“It was glimpsed in an old Tom Baker episode, but only as a blob-like being, so we were really starting from scratch, and Russell had some very strong ideas about it,” he says.

“We really went through a lot of concepts and designs, and it ended up being about 80% Russell’s ideas and 20% mine. He always wins when he really wants to!”

Monsters and aliens in the new series


*The Autons (shop front dummies) controlled by the Nestene Consciousness – first appeared in Doctor Who in the Seventies, brought up-to-date for a 21st century audience.

*Moxx of Balhoon, a diminutive blue-skinned creative supported by and transported on an antigravity chair.

*The Forest of Cheem, a collective of Trees, Jabe, Lute and Coffa – humanoid creatures grown from wood sprouting branches and leaves.

*The Face of Boe, an alien head held in a steam-driven, fluidic life-support tank.

*Daleks – the Doctor’s arch-enemies whose fierce cry ‘exterminate’ strikes fear into the heart of our legendary hero.

*Slitheen – eight feet tall, a thick tube of solid, wet, green flesh.

*The Gelth – gaseous aliens.

Celebrity Fans of Doctor Who include: Jonathan Ross, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Stephen Fry, Simon Pegg, Jon Culshaw, Elizabeth Hurley, Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis, Dawn French, Mark Gatiss, Lenny Henry, Mike Gatting, Mark Lamarr, Victor Lewis-Smith, Ken Livingstone, Nick Park, Jennifer Saunders, John Sessions, Toyah Willcox, Robbie Williams, David Tennant and Rob Lowe.


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