Wednesday, 26 December 2012

How I Became the 12th Doctor: Part 1

Dr Who
How I Became the 12th Doctor
Part 1

As far as opening lines go in an email, this was probably the most memorable and unusual I’ve ever received. 

I continued to read the message, trying to get my head around the strange request that had popup into my in box.

Things started to make a little more sense. My sister in law was a teacher at a local Junior High School and had started a science project with her students where she planted a dinosaur egg, along with instructions and information from the hugely popular TV character “The Doctor” (aka Dr Who).

Now some time had passed and her students had carried out The Doctors instructions, it was necessary for her to put phase B of her plan into effect, phase B being an actual video message from The Doctor with final instructions to the students.

There was of course one small flaw in her plan for a video message, that being that she didn’t actually know the real Dr Who and had no real way of making a video herself.

But why me? I continued to read her message.

And think on it I did. 

She had picked me because (reading between the lines) I appealed to a much younger demographic than my brother and had the necessary talent and drive to make her vision a reality.

But before I could fully commit to the project, I needed to know what kind of creative control and final edit decisions I would have over the movie. I pressed her for more information on what the basic plot of the movie would entail. 

I sat and pondered this story arc. Seemed fairly simple and straight forward. It seemed that all she wanted was a few lines to camera regarding the egg and a crackly ending.

That is what she wanted….

But by God it isn’t what she was going to get!!

Suddenly feeling a burst of inspiration, the entire project spanned out in front of me like a massive multimedia happening. 

This is exactly the kind of random shit I live for! I never would have guessed in a million years that morning when I woke up that in a few short hours someone would ask me to star/write/direct a movie in which I played one of the most famous and iconic characters in the history of television.

My mind was a whirlwind of activity, creativity and excitement.

“I must begin!”

Becoming Dr Who

Though The Doctor had been played my many characters down the years (11 official incarnations), I felt I could bring something unique and fresh to my take on the character.

The first thing I had to tackle was the accent. The Doctor, despite hailing from a far off planet named Gallifrey, has always spoken with a somewhat non-descript English accent. Having spent my life in the deepest darkest recesses of the South Wales Valleys, my current voice and accent simply would not do.

I started practicing and perfecting my clipped and clear English accent. It was a bit of a muddle, but I feel it worked out quite well in the end.

A visual representation of the various accents I drifted into.

I continued to build the characters traits and tics in my head. Next would come the costume. The look of the Doctor has always been one of the most iconic and memorable parts of his character. From the long woollen scarf of Tom Baker to the bow tie of Matt Smith, it was clear that I was going to have to do something special to fit in with the actors that went before me.

However since I didn’t really have much of a budget to work with, I pretty much had to cobble together a costume with whatever I had lying around in the closet. After much trial and error, I settled on making myself look like a 1950s hipster. It was a somewhat controversial decision, but one that I feel will stand the test of time. 

For those of you wishing to go as the 12th Doctor at a costume or Halloween party, the official costume consisted of:

A pair of black rimmed glasses.
A pin stripe black waist coat.
Brown corduroy trousers.
2 watches (1 for each wrist).
A gold chain and pocket watch.
A blue shirt (with sleeves rolled up).
Black boots.
Lots of hair product.

Since I decided upon this look and made this movie, something strange has happened.

Dr Who pre "Doctor and the Dinosaur"
Dr Who post "Doctor and the Dinosaur"
Now i'm not saying that they "stole" my look or anything... But it's a bit of a coincidence don't you think.

With the costume and accent settled upon I moved onto the more specific areas of The Doctor. I felt that if I were going to play The Doctor, I would have to “become” him first. I didn’t want to half ass this project as the poor children were depending on me to inspire them to learn about…. Dinosaur eggs. These days, a child without extensive dinosaur egg knowledge is destined to spend his/her life on the scrapheap, so the stakes were BIG!

I felt I had to prove myself worthy of playing such an iconic character, so there was only one thing I could really do.

I had to build my own Sonic Screwdriver!

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Dr Who mythos, the Sonic Screwdriver is something of a deus ex machine plot device that allows The Doctor to escape or manipulate something highly complicated and unlikely with just a touch of a button. The Sonic Screwdriver in the series is around 5 inches long and features LEDs and sound effects that activate whenever The Doctor is doing his thing. I felt fairly confident that give a little bit of time and rummaging around for suitable parts, I would be able to cobble something together with next to no effort!

One week later I had managed to create this:

It shouldn't really look like that

It is in short, terrible. It doesn’t so much look like a Sonic Screwdriver as it does an incredibly painful alien sex toy/medical probe. I was disappointed. This was not what I had in mind. This black lump of soulless and menacing plastic scared me. I had to make a Mark II, and I had to make one fast!

Fast forward another week and I had taken the lessons I had learned on the Mark I and made something altogether much more suitable. I had thought outside the box on this one and made much more of a design effort. Having ripped apart an electric toothbrush, hair curling tongs and flashlight, I had achieved the look I needed for a piece of futuristic alien technology. Though be it at the expense of many useful household appliances.

2 days later I found this in a shop:

If only there were some way to travel through time and stop myself wasting all that....time.
So I was all set. I had the look, the tools and the accent. I had finally become Dr Who. Just one thing was missing. I hadn’t actually written one word or filmed one frame of the movie. But no worry, it wasn’t required for a while yet, so I had plenty of time to plan and create a work of art that would stand the test of time.

I'll do the work tomorrow. Walking Dead is on!

Then I got another email on Friday evening.

Bugger! I thought I had a few weeks to get everything sorted. But now it turned out I only had a few days in which to make my masterpiece. All those weeks I wasted with my dialect coach and pretending to be a tree now seemed like folly. 

Folly? Or Foliage.
 No matter, I’m The Doctor! In a weekend, I can change the Universe!

I sat down and started to write the script. There was no way I was going to let the children down. The needed me. The thought of them being crushed and disappointed by their hero half arsing things was too much to bear. My work ethic has never been particularly quick or strong when the creative arts are concerned, but when I have a deadline and an expectant fan base, it just makes the engine rev that little bit higher.

I managed to knock out a fairly decent script in around an hour. It was only going to be a short 4 minute movie, so having to craft pages and pages of dialogue wasn’t really an issue. What was an issue however was how many massive scenes featuring huge special effects had crept into my script 

My script was 78% "explosions"
Though time was against me, I needed to undertake some practice runs on the whole special effects part of the movie. If I couldn’t create a believable universe for my Doctor to live in, the children would never believe it. I quickly rigged up an amateur green/blue screen setup.

Except unlike The Matrix, it didn’t work. LIKE AT ALL! The problem with blue screen special effects is that the blue had to be perfectly uniform and brightly lit. When you are trying to do this with 2 cheap lamps and an old moth bitten blanket, you suddenly realise just how the professionals earn their money.

The blue screen idea was a no go. I sat and thought. What would the Doctor do?

Then it came to me.

I would kick it old school!

Practical special effects. That’s where it’s at. I would go all Stan Winston on this son of a bitch!

The first thing I needed to create was the Tardis backdrop. For those of you unfamiliar with Dr Who, The Tardis is The Doctor’s mode of transport and time travel. It’s a massively advanced and mysterious craft that is practically a character in its own right. I had planned to film myself on a blue screen and insert myself onto various Tardis backdrops. But now that idea had proven a bust I was forced to get creative. How could I create a believable environment on which to tell my story?

Of course. It’s obvious.

I’ll print one out!

Having access to a large 36 inch printer does have its advantages. One of those advantages being able to print out massive movie quality backdrops for amateur film productions. Granted, it’s a somewhat specialist and rarely used advantage, but when you need a 10 foot x 12 foot interior spaceship background printed out, you’ll be glad you had a giant £2000 printer tucked away.

After finding a high enough resolution suitable image, I quickly did some calculations and figured out how many strips I would need to slice the picture into in order to make it work when I cut them all out and stick them together. 

This is going to look amazingballs!
Wait... Did I remember to carry that "1"? Ah screw it, what's the worst that could happen.
After my calculations were done and the prints were made I proceeded to put my plan into action and glued each section of the background together. One thing became pretty clear when the gluing process was underway, and that was that my calculations were somewhat out. My background all stuck together pretty much filled the entire room. By my estimation it was around 15 foot high. 

This presented something of a problem considering that the “studio” I was working in only had 9 foot high ceilings. No matter, I would figure out a way around it and do the best I could.

I now had everything I needed to complete my educational Dr Who masterpiece. I had the costume, the voice, the props and the set. All I had to do was wait till Saturday night when everyone went to bed so I could begin setting up the backdrop, the camera, figure out the lighting and say my lines.

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