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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 510 > Takingon STAR WARS

Takingon STAR WARS

It’s 40 years since Star Wars – the sci-fi movie that revolutionised cinema. But in a TV studio far, far away, Doctor Who was proving that even without that film’s budget, its ambition was just as big…


Some Doctor Who stories are bigger than others. Over the decades there have been many occasions when the series presented stories on a grander scale than the norm. Although Doctor Who has always had a modest budget, this has never curtailed the writers’ vision or dampened the enthusiasm of the visual effects teams. In the first of an occasional series, we’re going to examine some of these epic productions from an effects perspective and speak to some of the people involved in achieving miracles on a miniscule budget. Our first target is 1977’s The Invisible Enemy, which was broadcast in the middle of Star Wars mania. At the time, The Invisible Enemy was the most ambitious Doctor Who story every attempted. To this day it remains one of the hardest shoots in the history of the series and it pushed the production team to the limit. We’ve spoken to some of the key players, both in front of and behind the cameras, as well as members of the new series production team to establish if there is such as thing as Doctor Who being ‘too ambitious’.


The Nucleus of the Swarm is often held up as the worst aspect of The Invisible Enemy. Inspired by a newspaper article about virus mutation, Bob Baker and Dave Martin came up with the notion of the Doctor facing an intelligent adaptive germ.

This is how the creature was described in the script: ‘The hideous shape of the full-size nucleus…man-sized, armoured, exoskeletal, multipodal, like some vile blood-red prawn.’

This description inspired costume designer Raymond Hughes to nip out and buy a pint of shrimps! Writing in The Times, Stanley Reynolds was damning in his review of The Invisible Enemy, noting that, ‘The BBC seems to have lost its touch with monsters.’

But what if the Nucleus had been created for twenty-first-century Doctor Who? DWM asked concept artist Peter McKinstry to imagine what the creature might look like today with the benefits of modern technology, and so we’re proud to present the Nucleus of the Swarm in its terrifying new form!


In a recent interview with DWM, current showrunner Steven Moffat was asked if Doctor Who should ever try to compete with spectacular effects-driven movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “Well, not in those terms, no,” said Steven, “there’s no real point. The differential between us and the big Hollywood movies – not just Star Wars, but also the new Star Trek movies, or the Harry Potter movies – is probably greater than in ’77,’78. But people watch Doctor Who for Doctor Who, not Star Wars.”

But there is no doubt that the saga from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away had a massive impact. After Star Wars conquered the box office in 1977, science-fiction would never be the same again. The stunning computer-controlled motion photography of John Dykstra’s effects team allowed for more precise use of miniatures and models than ever before. The film raised audience expectations to alarming heights and raised the bar for special effects higher than ever imagined.

Competing with Star Wars on a TV-sized budget was never going to be easy, but with epic space battles, monsters and lasers, one show was determined to try. The producers even included a cute robot sidekick to emulate R2-D2 and C-3PO. And what could be cuter than a robot dog? But enough about Battlestar Galactica. What about Doctor Who?

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: A tribute to Sir John Hurt, the man who played the War Doctor, featuring contributions from those whose knew and worked with him, including David Tennant; Richard Curtis is interviewed about his Doctor work, including The Curse of Fatal Death and Vincent and the Doctor; showrunner Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; a look at the history of the home video recording of Doctor Who; the SFX of The Invisible Enemy, the story that took on Star Wars; Sydney Newman's attempts to reinvent Doctor Who in the 1980s is revealed; the Time Team watch Day of the Moon; new comic strip adventure as the Doctor faces the original Master in Doorway to Hell part three; DWM interviews the people behind the fanzine Vworp! Vworp! ; plus official news, reviews, previews, the Wotcha! page, prize-winning competitions and more!