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23 November 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 327: The Mutants, Episode Three

Dear diary,

One of the things that I’ve often seen people complain about in ‘classic’ Doctor Who is the special effects. Alongside ‘wobbly sets’ and the Daleks’ inability to make their way above the ground floor, the effects are the thing that people often end up laughing about when it comes to stories from the 20th century series. Effects have been on a steady incline since the very beginning of the series, but now we’re firmly in a place where they’re part of the programme’s language.

They don’t always work, it has to be said. Today is a fair example of that, when we see Jo inside the disco cave (a check online tells me that this is called a ‘Radiation Cave’ in the script, but y’know…), surrounded by the yellow glow of Colour Separation Overlay. It’s particularly noticeable when she’s forced to lie down on the floor, and her shadow casts a large area of yellow onto the image. We’ve been experimenting with various ‘green (or yellow) screen’ techniques for a while now, but they’ve still not quite found their feet with it.

It does seem like the model effects have suddenly come into their own, though. Model effects have varied in success over the years, from the shots of the Dalek city on Skaro (lovely!), via the Pie-tin spaceships invading Earth in the 22nd century (bit more debatable, those…), and the more conventional, if futuristic ship in The Dominators (one of the few times you’ll see me saying something positive about the story!). It seems that over the last few stories, the production team have really stepped up a gear in regards to the model effects.

The Church in The Dæmons, the house in Day of the Daleks, the castle of Peladon, the submarine sent to inspect the Sea Devils, and now the Sky Base of the Overlords. We’ve not had a single duff model in ages, and they’re certainly some of the best we’ve ever had. Today even sees us given additional effects as the firestorm rains down on the Sky Base from… well, not above, but the left of the screen, at least. It shouldn’t work as well as it does – it’s simply a number of sparks moving across the surface of the model in slow motion – but I was absolutely fascinated by it. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve actively skipped back on a DVD to take a second look at an effect.

Pleasingly, the quality of the firestorm is carried across to the full-scale location filming, too, and although we only really see it from inside the cave looking out, it really works for me. I’m tempted to say that I’m less keen on the brightly coloured lights being cast against the walls of the cave, not only while the firestorm rages, but then throughout the rest of the episode, too, but I think my issue is that it sometimes catches Pertwee’s newly-styled hair at the wrong angle and lights his whole head up bright green.

Now comes the bit where I worry I’ve been too institutionalised by the series… I really like the Mutt costumes! Let’s be honest, they’re not the best. The design of the ‘monsters’ in this story is pretty much the only thing I knew before sitting down to watch, and I’ve never found them all that special. When the individual creature turns up to flail its arms about towards Jo and Ky, I wasn’t overly impressed.

It's the later scene, in which around six of them attack inside the caves, and they're surrounded by smoke, lit interestingly, and they actually look pretty good. From that moment on, I think I was completely sold on them. There's one or two moments where they come across as being a bit like a 1970s update of the Zarbi, but on the whole, they've won me round!

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