11 December 2012

A Case For The Wobbly Set

Classic Doctor Who gets criticized for it's bad acting and poor special effects. But the biggest complaint I hear is it has wobbly sets. Well I grew up during that period and I will say two things. 1) Doctor Who wasn't the only show to have these problems and 2) They weren't as bad as people make them out to be.

GCI vs. Models

With the massive advancements in CGI people have come to expect nothing less than perfection in their entertainment. If there's one slight problem they don't hesitate to call it crap. Absolutely no leeway. I've heard it said of Star Trek TOS, "Star Trek never looked like that!" I have a clue for those people. Star Trek DID look like that cause it was also a science fiction show done on a shoestring budget in a minor studio. It wasn't done in Paramount, it was done at Desilu Studios. The work that Desilu pulled off was amazing considering how they were treated by Paramount..

It's Theatre, But For Your TV

When you go to the theatre you have to suspend your belief as you watch actors perform in front of a backdrop of painted scenery. I've painted theatre scenery. Never once was I required to make a photo-realistic backdrop of exactly replicate an oak tree. What we did was create the atmosphere so the actors to stand in front of to entertain the audience. Doctor Who came out of a tradition of the theatre. In fact, so did the majority of the BBC programs.

But We're Americans, We Should Get Something Better

Sorry to disappoint you but most of American TV at that time wasn't done much better. It barely had a budget either.

Most of Star Trek was also shot inside a studio with the standard studio floor. And that studio was made up to look like an alien planet, or a space station, or some room on a distant planet. It was rare to have a location shooting.

A Comparison Shot

And those rocks! Yeah, tell me how wonderful those rocks looked. They looked just as good as the styrofoam rocks on Doctor Who. Many people site how American TV did things much better. Well, let's take a little look at two shots. The top shot is from Doctor Who's The Planet of Evil showing a rocky cave with glittery surface. Below is Star Trek's The Conscience of the King also doing rock with glittery surface. Personally, I think they look pretty much the same.

Glittery Rocks

How Much Will It Cost? How Much Do You Have?

It all comes down to making due with what you have. Doctor Who did it - Star Trek did it - and many other shows did it. It's only the here and now that people have gotten so used to the stakes being raised that everything has to look perfect or it's crap. In the 1960s and 70s they attempted to make the best sets and effects they could. But since they didn't have tons of money, like they do today, they relied heavily on making sure the story did the job.

Just like on Star Trek, when they leaned back and forth during an explosion, didn't bother me neither do the not-so-perfect effects on Doctor Who detract from enjoying the show.

Creative Spirit

The most important thing to think about is how well these people did their job with virtually no money. It takes creative people to be able to put together sets and costumes when they're looking for loose change in the sofa.

But that isn't to say there weren't some excellent examples. Occasionally when the right designer was matched up to the right script they could perform magic on the set.

The Robots of Death - An Art Deco Spaceship?

If you were asked to design a spaceship most people think of The Enterprise. A slick, shiny vessel. But some of us go back to the either The Nostromo from Alien or the Vogon ship from Hitch Hiker's Guid. Both of which were dark and dingy work vessels.

Kenneth Sharp had a different idea, He thought, why not make it like a Merchant Ship. These are designed for the comfort of a crew which is going to be on board for month, even years.

Trial of a Time Lord - That's a Fine Spaceship

When Who decides to do it right, they actually can. Unfortunately it means taking the money from somewhere else. This is a wonderful model shot using a state-of-the-art motion camera rig. The rest of the episode paid for it. But DAMN. For 1986, this was right up there.

Planet of Evil - Excerpts of Planet Building

Here are a few clips I took from the extra from The Planet of Evil DVD, The Darker Side, which talked about what they did, how they did it, and the massive constraints they were under to make it look good. Considering the restrictions they worked under I'm amazed this set looks as great as it does.

Probably the most ambitious show of the 1960s was I Spy. Every show had location shooting in foreign countries, Hong Kong, Greece, Italy, Japan, etc. And this was on a 1960s budget. But they did it and did it well for three years. Here's someone who was involved with the show to explain Sheldon Leonard's Insanity creativity.

I think it's more of a generational thing, what you grew up with. Of you've seen nothing but movies using CGI, you think that's the norm. Of course the [not-so] special effects of the 1960s/70s will look crude.

I say just sit back and enjoy the show...

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