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24 July 2008 @ 09:44 pm
The seeds of television production: Making Doctor Who  
I'd almost forgotten I was working through Time and Relative Dissertations in Space a section at a time however I thought I ought to at least try to finish the reviews even though my recollections of the essays have become rather hazy.

The Filipino army's advance on Reykjavik: world-building in Studio D and its legacy is an interesting essay by Ian Potter which describes how the technical limitations of Doctor Who in the 1960s shaped it into a style which had a heavy reliance on the use of dialogue to create worlds, as opposed to visual effects even after many of the restrictions, in particular the need to film an episode in as close to a 'live' fashion as possible were lifted. There are some nice details in the essay - for instance I wasn't aware that when filming An Unearthly Child, the first story, that the flashback scenes revealing Susan's strange behaviour were shot the way they were (with Ian and Barbara out of shot) because Jacqueline Hill and William Russell were in other parts of the studio and Carole Ann Ford was in fact reacting to pre-recorded dialogue. It also contains some interesting stats on the number of shots per episode (derived more or less by random sampling of episodes every five years). The first episode of An Unearthly Child has 132 shots in 25 minutes. The first episode of The Visitation in 1982 has only 155 despite huge advances in the ways television can be made. It's not until the "Cartmel" era and Battlefield (1989) that the number of shots goes up to 255 which is still only double that scene in the sixties. I recall how exciting the Cartmel script-edited stories seemed in the late-1980s and I wonder if this sudden jump in editing pace was a part of that effect as well as his desire to attempt to tell more complex stories. From a fandom perspective this was also interesting in that Lawrence Miles tends to paint the differences between classic and new who (theatrical vs. filmic or whatever terms he's using this week) as essentially ideological whereas this suggests a much more prosaic explanation.

`Who done it': discourses of authorship during the John Nathan-Turner era by Dave Rolinson is another of the more opaque essays in the book. It's a long way from the jargon heavy stuff of Bignell and Charles but its concerns of authorship and agency are working, I think, on a much more academic level than I do. For instance there is a discussion of the extent to which John Nathan-Turner imposed a "house-style" on directors in terms of the way shots were framed, etc., which I would not normally consider relevant to questions of authorship. That said, I've always been interested in the way John Nathan-Turner's stories split up so simply along stylistic lines which can more or less be attributed to each of this three script editors which suggests that the script editors, at least, need to be considered one of the driving forces in the writing of any script in that period. A lot of this, though, ultimately seemed pretty obvious to me though maybe that's simply a result of long exposure to Who fandom (and Andrew Pixley's articles) and so the basics of who may contribute what to an episode are familiar.

"Between prosaic functionalism and sublime experimentation: Doctor Who and musical sound design" and "The music of the machines: `special sound' as music in Doctor Who" by Kevin J. Donnelly and Louis Niebur both deal with the incidental music in Doctor Who. Something to which, it must be said, I pay relatively little attention. I'm always a little bemused, for instance, by criticisms of Murray Gold's music on NuWho as being distracting and obvious since I'm, frankly, so rarely aware of it. Donnelly takes a sweeping look at the various approaches to incidental music across the series history while Niebur focuses specifically on two stories from the late sixties. I was very interested in the idea that Doctor Who's incidental music was in the 60s and early 70s, at least, largely experimental. Donnelly says "The fact that the music of avant garde art music from composers was utilised makes Doctor Who remarkable in itself, providing a highly singular sound world through the use of extremely dissonant and unpopular music of the sort that rarely got heard at the time outside highbrow university music departments or occasional minority-interest concerts.". Niebur discusses how "special sound" (essentially sound effects) was also used to musical effect at the time. These two essays were sufficiently interesting to make me consider (albeit briefly) watching some of my 60s Dr Who Dvds with the sound track off so that I was forced to listen to the incidental music alone.

WHO DAILY html: <lj user=louisedennis> discusses <a href=http://louisedennis.livejournal.com/81857.html>part three of time and relative dissertations in space</a>