Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Origins of Doctor Who - Part 3.

Wherein things start to get a bit technical.
Important components of the new programme still under consideration throughout 1963 included the theme music and opening titles, design and visual effects, and sound.
I will look at the design and effects element as we progress to look at individual stories over the coming months.

Musically, Verity Lambert always wanted something distinctive and different. Her first thought was to employ a French avant-garde group called Les Structures Sonores. They created music using rather unconventional instruments, as you can see below:

It transpired that they were too busy to participate, so Lambert turned to the more orthodox Ron Grainer, an Australian composer already well regarded at the BBC for writing the theme tunes to 'Steptoe & Son' and 'Maigret'. He would go on to write for ITC's 'Man in a Suitcase' (reused by Chris Evans for 'TFI Friday'), Patrick McGoohan's 'Danger Man' and 'The Prisoner', and 'Paul Temple', as well as several feature films.

Whilst the composer might be more orthodox, the means by which the music would be realised was not. Rather than use any conventional instrumentation, the theme tune would be realised by the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop.
They employed various electronic techniques including early synthesisers, to create the music. Responsible was Delia Derbyshire.

She quite literally built the music from individual sound elements - in the days before any kind of digital editing was possible. It would have been a case of razor blade and sticky tape, to put it all together. When Grainer first heard the finished music he famously asked: "Did I really write that?". He wanted Derbyshire to share some credit on the piece, but BBC practices wouldn't allow this.
She could never quite understand the various tamperings with her arrangement over the years. Frankly, neither can I.

The Radiophonic Workshop would also be responsible for the general sound effects for the series. This would cover background noises (aural landscapes such as the Skaro jungle or the Daleks' city) as well as the sounds for individual items such as guns, doors, machinery etc.
The most famous sound element required, (which has become such an iconic part of the programme it has been left pretty much untouched by any producer over the decades), was the TARDIS dematerialisation noise. A "Wheezing-Groaning" sound, as Target novelisations often put it, it was created by Brian Hodgson using his mum's front door key, slid up and down the exposed strings of a piano frame, then electronically processed. It was supposed to represent the "tearing of the fabric of space and time" as Hodgson himself has put it. He is on the right below, with colleague Dick Mills. Boss Desmond Briscoe look on.

The title sequence visuals were the work of designer Bernard Lodge. He employed a technique known as 'howl-around' where you point a camera at a monitor showing it's own output. You get this strange flaring and images appear to recede into infinity. I failed Physics at school, so I will leave it at that. Technophiles can look it up.
This effect was accidentally discovered by a technical operations manager named Norman Taylor. He was reportedly always slightly miffed that Lodge got all the credit - saying he only really designed the "Doctor Who" caption.

Early screen tests which have appeared as DVD extras show that they experimented with including a face in the mix (presumably the Doctor's), but the effect was deemed a bit too scary.

Sydney Newman is reported to have disliked the title sequence. Last month, SFX Magazine's website ran a competition to identify the best genre title sequence ever. Guess what (or should I say Who) won?
They elected to use the late Pertwee version for voting purposes (Season 11).
I would have chosen the original. Original and still the very best.

Coming shortly - The Pilot episode.

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