Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Doctor Who: The Scripts Tom Baker 1974/5 – a dip into the old ways of making classic science fiction

Peter Davison, the first fifth Doctor, is my favourite, the affection cemented by the actor’s performances in the A Very Peculiar Practice drama (which also featured two, never-explained, bin-hoking nuns who drove around a new university campus in a tiny Mini).

As a young child, I remember catching episodes of the long-scarfed Tom Baker (the fourth) on Saturday evenings while visiting my Granny in Ballymena. Picking up a copy of Doctor Who: The Scripts Tom Baker 1974/5 from his first season on the show – somewhat before my TV viewing began – it was interesting to see how both the scriptwriters, script editors and the actor himself had shaped the evolving personality of the Time Lord.

Five stories spanned the 20 episodes (each 24–25 minutes long) that made up this series, a far cry from the 50-minute standalone episodes with a loose overarching story arc that make up modern Doctor Who.

The scripts for each episode are annotated with the intended text struck out where it was replaced with (often) shorter dialogue contrived during rehearsals and filming. Two episodes were recorded every fortnight, with most of the action shot in chronological order, unless particular sets were only needed for a couple of scenes.

In an age of CGI and visual effects, the 1970s were simpler times. Fast cuts were scarce. Sets were built, but only had to stand up to the scrutiny of standard def TV sets, no HD or 4K to worry about. Scale models were built, and video footage was mixed with film.

The TARDIS materialisation/dematerialisation was achieved in camera by filming the first part of the scene with the TARDIS and its flashing light, then rolling the film back, removing the prop, and filming over it to create the illusion of fading away. Then just add a wheezing sound effect in the edit, which sometimes only seems to have been completed in the week before transmission.

While chromakey video is an everyday occurrence, particularly in TV news and weather studios, it was used – often with a yellow background – in order to superimpose models of monsters and explosions on top of real scenes. Some

Running a video storyboarding course some years ago, I used a one-minute clip from the Jon Pertwee era (The Green Death) to get the class to dissect the shots. The slow pace of storytelling and cuts meant that it was possible to sketch out the six-shot storyboard in real time!

The season featured Davros and the Daleks (sounds like a 1970’s band!) and much like the fabulous Thirteenth Doctor’s current series, finished with Revenge of the Cybermen in which the Doctor escapes his bonds with a trick he learnt from Harry Houdini and destroys the cyborgs (who are allergic to gold) just in time to race back to Earth to respond to an emergency space-time pager alert from UNIT’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

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