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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > DWM Special 49 - In the Studio > DOCTORATE WHO

DOCTORATE WHO

Could a 21st-century episode of Doctor Who be made under the restrictions of 1960s technology? One man made it his mission to find out…
Andrew Ireland and his team at the Media School in Bournemouth University, attempting to record a 2006 episode of Doctor Who within 1960s limitations.
Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) make a dash to the TARDIS in The Firemaker (1963), the final episode of the first Doctor Who story.
Andrew Ireland today, with his custom-built TARDIS. Photo © David Schofield.

When Doctor Who returned to TV screens in 2005, it came complete with a radical production facelift. For most of its life between 1963 and 1989, Doctor Who was made in exactly the same way – as a multi-camera production in thrillpacked, 25-minute episodes. These days, only soap operas and the occasional studio-audience sitcom are made like this. But once upon a time this was how the majority of television drama looked and, with limited studio space and little location filming, it was up to individual directors to achieve a sense of reality and verisimilitude on a thrifty budget.

Has the dominance of location-shot drama led to a death of the kind of on-the-hoof creativity that directors were once forced to come up with? With lightweight HD (and increasingly 4K) cameras allowing modern directors to escape the studio, has that freedom liberated programme makers or limited them? The first four Doctor Who stories saw the show travel from present-day Earth to the Stone Age, and to a petrified forest and a metal city on an alien world, as well as showing us an epic journey for Marco Polo. Yet, with the exception of a handful of filmed inserts, the cast and crew never once left the confines of Lime Grove Studios. We tend to think of those early years as somehow less ambitious, more restricted than the Doctor Who of today. But was that really the case?

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About Doctor Who Magazine

In 1963 Sydney Newman and Donald Wilson devised an ambitious concept that would stretch the BBC’s technical resources to the limit. In its earliest days Doctor Who was jeopardised by a fierce dispute over facilities. The programme survived, but never stopped demanding the very best from its studios and dedicated crews. This is the inside story of Doctor Who’s evolution from relatively primitive beginnings to the cutting edge of modern television production.