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Rehearsal Rooms

From 1963 to 1989, Doctor Whos actors and directors had the luxury of dedicated rehearsal time prior to studio recording. The venues for these rehearsals were often far from luxurious, however…
A Movellan, Lalla Ward (as Romana) and Tom Baker (as the Doctor) are among those waiting at a bus stop opposite the BBC Television Rehearsal Rooms, aka the Acton Hilton, in a publicity shot for Destiny of the Daleks (1979).

Standard practice for Doctor Who in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, in common with other BBC Television productions, was to rehearse scripted scenes in a venue outside the studios in the days leading up to a recording.

On these rehearsal days, the director worked with the actors to develop the characters and the performances, including working out moves and positions relative to the set, props and cast members.

The space was laid out to match the studio floor plan. As rehearsal rooms were usually smaller than television studios, the layout of the sets would often overlap, so different-coloured strips of adhesive tape were attached to the floor to mark out the positions of walls, doors and furniture. Chairs, stools, tables, cardboard boxes and metal poles defined the basic layout of the studio set, with, for example, a table with a stool on top of it standing in for the TARDIS console and its central column.

In the 1960s, there were typically four consecutive days allocated to rehearsals each week, ahead of the recording of each 25-minute episode. In a 1998 interview with Doctor Who Magazine, Waris Hussein, the series first director, recalled: “As we only had one day per episode in studio, most of our work, all the discussions and movements, was done in these rehearsals.”

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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.