New Doctor Who: people who went the extra mile

In this celebration week, Andrew tips his cap to just a few of the people whose hard work and talent made New Who what it is today...

After writing about the Classic Series production crew, we take a look at some of the people whose hard work, talent, and ability to fib have worked wonders behind the scenes in the twenty-first century.


5. Jane Tranter

In the late Eighties, Jane Tranter could be found marking out rehearsal rooms with tape as part of her job as an Assistant Floor Manager. She worked on shows such as Eastenders, Bergerac, and Doctor Who.

In 2000, she became Head of Drama Commissioning at the BBC. Like the Seventh Doctor, she had a long-term planny-type thing. Unlike the Seventh Doctor, Tranter did not actively seek out conflict by immediately announcing that Doctor Who would come back, waiting until she had proven herself before bringing it up (although, as a result – and again unlike the Seventh Doctor – no-one died, so swings and roundabouts).

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Michael Grade was back as Chairman in 2004, and Mark Thompson, then Director General of the BBC, asked Tranter if production could be stopped. When she said no, Thompson asked if there was any research suggesting it was worth bringing Doctor Who back?

BBC Worldwide had some feedback on the idea. It was not positive.

So, faced with this, Jane Tranter said to the Director General of the BBC: ‘Nope, no sirree, no audience research whatsoever.’

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, other than ‘Blessed be Jane Tranter’.


4. The Mill

The Mill – the UK division of which has now reformed as Milk VFX – have produced visual effects and title sequences for the show since it returned in 2005 (winning a Royal Television Society Award for their work on The Pandorica Opens). Because of the show’s budgetary limitations (while it has a higher budget than its original run, it’s made for the same money as most other BBC dramas) it can’t indulge in all the CGI visuals that it would like to, but fortunately for us the Mill are more than willing to put in overtime on certain jobs for the love of the thing. Hence, we have all those shots of Gallifrey and the Citadel that blew us away in The Last of the Time Lords.

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Good value for your licence fee, there.


3. Partizan Lab

While stalwart director Euros Lyn and Midnight-helmer Alice Troughton were brought in to shoot second unit pick-ups for Series 5, the new production team had decided to bring aboard different directors to give the show a distinctive visual style. One of those involved was Adam Smith, whose experience making music videos led to one of those ‘Is that…is that him from off of that thing? You know…’ type-cameos from Mike Skinner in The Time of Angels.

In Smith’s The Eleventh Hour we see a visual representation of the Doctor’s train of thought. This was achieved by directors from the Partizan Lab Production Company. Anthony Dickenson and Dan Lowe used a technique called ‘Roaming Eye’, which involved taking hundreds of individual photographs in order to make a stop-motion animation of the scene on the village green.


2. Russell T. Davies

Yes, he’s far from unsung, but the amount of work he put in from 2003 – 2009 to ensure the show’s success was monumental. As in, it’s genuinely worth a bet that at some point there will be a statue of him (Lifesize, with pewter scale replicas advertised in Doctor Who magazine). As well as all the stories he’s credited for, Davies performed rewrites (an interesting verb and noun combination, there, insinuating a comparison to surgery) on many stories, including some fan favourites. For an indication of the size of his workload, witness the Doctor Who Magazine article detailing the making of Rob Shearman’s Dalek episode, and in interviews Shearman has given, the number of drafts is estimated at at least a dozen. The script went back and forth between the two writers with feedback and redrafting. And, from what Davies has said about redrafting, he tries to imitate the writer he’s working with rather than simply rewrite from scratch. On top of that, Midnight took ten days to write from conception to finished script.

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So, without counting these uncredited rewrites, Rusty has 1593 minutes of Doctor Who credited to him, second only to Robert Holmes.

Not bad for just five years of telly.


1. Adrian Anscombe

Not a household name by any extent – not even in my house, where we have regular discussions about Oliver Elmes – but Anscombe has worked in the Art Department on most episodes of Doctor Who since it returned in 2005, culminating in showing Prince Charles how the sonic screwdriver worked on a recent tour of the studios.

The Art Department go unsung, but that’s mainly because their work is so effective that you almost don’t notice it. Consider the sheer number of props that go into an episode. Consider how many sonic screwdrivers have been broken by Matt Smith (Eccleston and Tennant were apparently reliable, in relative terms). Then you have things like the planetoid in The Doctor’s Wife, or the laser-tommy-guns in Evolution of the Daleks, or simply a period piece of furniture or crockery in Human Nature. It’s something you take for granted, really, as a viewer. As part of Edward Thomas’ team – also working on Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures – it’s a process that includes design, modelling, scultping, manufacturing and purchasing of items for a degree of background verisimilitude. More than that, it helps tell the story, and is an excuse for fans to geek out over minor details.

There are plenty of other people to thank in that team other than Anscombe, but as one of the less well-known regular contributors, we’ve chosen him as someone who represents the department.

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Hopefully the rest of the department will not prank the bejeezus out of him as a result of this.

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