16 November 2023

Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary Celebrations

VFX and animation that’s fit for a Time Lord

If you’re a Doctor Who fan and into its award-winning VFX, then the last 13 months have been an agonising wait. Because that’s how long it’s been since Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor exited the TARDIS onto Dorset’s Durdle Door and regenerated into… well, not Ncuti Gatwa, as everyone expected. Instead, we got David Tennant… again.

If it’s been 13 months since Jodie Whittaker handed over the keys to the TARDIS, it’s been 13 years since David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor began his time machine tenure.

So, who is this David Tennant Doctor? Is he the Tenth Time Lord resurrected, or the Fourteenth? These are questions we won’t know the answers to until 25 November when ‘The Star Beast’, the first of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary specials, hits TV screens.

The only other stuff we’ve been told about the three specials is that they’re penned by returning showrunner Russell T Davies, and that the Whoniverse is now benefiting from a partnership with one of biggest media companies in the world. That’s right – the House of Mouse announced that it’s the new international Disney platform for Doctor Who. And that can only mean one thing – a suitcase full of £££’s to create the kind of VFX and animation that’s fit for a Time Lord in a Tinseltown-sponsored TARDIS.


VFX appeal

In the past, Doctor Who has aligned itself with one main visual effects house at a time (DNEG were responsible for the last two seasons), whereas the new series will be using multiple FX companies, according to Visual Effects Supervisor Siân Reynish.

“Once the episode has been signed off it goes to whichever effects house, whichever vendor, we’re using,” she told Doctor Who Magazine this month. “They work their magic and then they send us the footage back for review, and everyone gives their creative comments. I take notes of what everyone’s saying, which is quite challenging, because there’s a lot of strong and sometimes conflicting opinions. I have to keep track of what people are saying and give the feedback to the vendor in a concise and proper format.”

You only have to look at the trailer to witness how much more epic and movielike Doctor Who looks in 2023. Take the Meep, for example, the titular ‘star beast’ of the first special, is a stunning combination of practical and computer effects. “When you’re watching at home,”  Reynish says, “think of the amount of conversations we’ve had over how much the Meep blinks!”

There’s also impressive CG work on the fabled UNIT headquarters, shown towering over the London skyline.


New hue for old Who

Of course, ‘The Star Beast’ and the other two specials (‘Wild Blue Yonder’ and ‘The Giggle’) aren’t the end of what the BBC’s planned for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Added to the mix is a fresh version of the show’s second ever story ‘The Daleks’, which made its debut run between 1963 and ‘64. Pruned down to 75 minutes from its original running time of nearly three hours, this classic has been colourised (a first for the show) and digitally cleaned up. BBC Four is hosting ‘The Daleks’ premiere outing on the evening of the anniversary itself, 23 November.

Meanwhile, 1967’s ‘The Underwater Menace’ is the latest classic story to get the animation treatment. In the 1970s, many older episodes were junked by the BBC who clearly had no idea how valuable – or profitable – these tapes would be in years to come. Thankfully for the fans, however, audio copies survived, and now the Beeb have been plugging those gaps in the show’s archive by animating the missing instalments.

This is nothing new, as The Beeb have been doing this since 2006 when Cosgrove-Hall were hired to animate two episodes of the 1968 Patrick Troughton story ‘The Invasion’. Since then, 13 old stories have been reworked like this by a number of different studios. ‘The Underwater Menace’ was released on 13 November and Doctor Who fans are hopeful that, eventually, all the missing episodes will be animated, allowing the BBC to upload Doctor Who in its entirety onto iPlayer.


The Fifteenth Doctor is coming…

In the meantime, and at long last, there’s new Who to enjoy. Bigger, bolder and more cinematic than ever before, the three specials are only the beginning of a new chapter for the world’s longest-running sci-fi show. From Christmas Day 2023, the Fifteenth Doctor’s reign officially begins when Ncuti Gatwa is crowned as the new Time Lord of the TARDIS. The Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor!


Are you an animator with the ‘it’ factor? Or a special effects wizard with creativity embedded deep in your soul?

If so, we’ve got the kind of career opportunities that’ll make your heart beat faster. We’re regularly asked to recruit for the best studios and VFX houses in the business, and we have the cream of professionals on our books. Call our brilliant mustard FX team for a chat about exactly what you’re looking for. Our number is 0117 929 6060.

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