REVIEW: "Doctor Who Special Effects" Book

by Zepo
29 September 1999

Irvine, Mat, _Doctor Who Special Effects_, (London: Beaver, 1986).

[Image of Book]

RATING: 6 (of 10)


     So many different elements of Doctor Who have been covered in print by
the time this review is being written.  But one of the topics not covered
too often is that of the show's special effects, which in this day and age
of digital and complex movie effects are often considered to be rather weak
and full of "cardboard monsters."  The fact is that many of Doctor Who's
effects were very ground breaking for their time, and who better to discuss
a few of the effects used than visual effects designer Mat Irvine, who
worked on the Doctor Who program for over a decade.
     The _Doctor Who Special Effects_ book is not very long, coming in at 96
pages.  Often at times, it can also be a bit of a labor to read.  Not
because it is too complex, but sometimes because it may seem overly
simplified for those who are already in-the-know about television
production.  Irvine tackled the book as an informative offering most
probably for the early teenage crowd.  This is obvious as through the text
there are many references to K-9 as an example, and due to the fact that the
voice of K-9, John Leeson, provides an introduction.
     The book does however have its strengths.  First it does explain every
stage and element of effects work at the macro scale.  From production
meetings to model work to costuming and building sets with effects are
covered.  Most of the book follows the work done for the serial "Warrior's
Gate" as the framework used to follow the effects process.  Various behind
the scenes photographs from numerous Doctor Who stories such as "Warrior's
Gate," "The Stones of Blood," and spin-off "K-9 and Company" accompany the
text to make the whole process a bit more clear.
     Mat Irvine clearly explains all the elements of effects work, covering
even briefly the Color Separation Overlay (CSO) process as well as the
Quantel Digital Effects system.  He compares film to video, and even covers
high speed filming of models and how miniature explosions must be filmed.
To Irvine's credit he does it all without being too complicated nor too
simplistic.
     What I found interesting and of the most value to my own understanding
of the production of Doctor Who were small tidbits of information that
Irvine included in the text about the show.  For instance, each model of K-9
was actually painted a different color: the original was a "gold" in color,
the Mark II was "metallic charcoal" and the Mark III (in "K-9 and Company")
was a "metallic blue" with a few new handles added. [pp.77-78]  Also K-9 was
originally rear wheel drive before he was rebuilt and improved to be front
wheel drive. [p.75]  Also interesting was the Irvine reveals that the
original console could only be assembled in a specific way and that the
designer of the new console used from "The Five Doctors" on was designed by
Mike Kelt and wired up by Charlie Lumm. [pp.82-83]  All interesting info
complimented by even more details.
     Overall, _Doctor Who Special Effects_ is an interesting and fun read
that took me back to mid-1980's and made me wonder what ever went wrong at
the BBC to put an end to such a great show.  It must not have been the
production values of the program, that some people claim were behind the
times, or Mat Irvine would never have gotten the BBC permission to write
this book.  This book is a true testament of the creativity of the BBC's
effects department.

(c) Copyright Zepo, 1999.


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