Series 11 of Doctor Who has been kept very hush hush. Now after the debut of episode one The Woman Who Fell to Earth fans can finally get a glimpse into everything that went into bringing this new story to life.
Series 11 began filming before last Christmas. It’s been months of waiting and eagerly anticipating what the first episode will bring with a new Doctor, new companions and new everything else. The wait finally ended on Sunday when fans around the world tuned in to watch The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Jamie Childs, Episode director said, “It’s one of those things where we’ve just been so in it for so long, it’s kind of like you forget about it […] all of a sudden it comes round and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what everyone’s doing today – they’re actually watching the work we’ve been doing.”
Budgeting All of Time and Space
In this modern era of television people have expectations of big budget productions and top notch seamless CGI. Popular programs such as Stranger Things or Game of Thrones set the quality bar pretty high. Executive producer Matt Strevens admits that this was something they had to keep in mind. They knew they didn’t have ‘the Netflix budget’ but still wanted to bring fans a new cinematic look and feel. The team tried to ensure the look was classy, fresh and contemporary.
“That is partly to do with [equipment], and partly to do with the provision of Jamie [Childs] and how we wanted to frame the drama, the lenses we used and everything else”, Strevens admits. Brand new top of the line lenses and visual effects artists DNEG helped to create a new level of visual detail to the program.
Childs added, “Everyone was passionate about trying to keep up that level of quality in the show. I think people put in the extra mileage because of it. So when we lacked in budget we put the love in, and I think that worked.”
The episode was shot on location in Cardiff and Sheffield with much of the episode taking place at night. This meant a lot of challenging night filming for various scenes. Strevens recalls, “It was quite a gruelling first episode in a way. Lots of split days, lots of night shoots. We put everyone through the wringer I think.”
Chibnall added, “We started with something really big. We were outside and it was night, and it was cold, and there were stunts. […] Our first day on set was us going, ‘Oh OK. This is Doctor Who, this is big.’”
Childs, who directed the episode also recalls the stress of filming, “Day one, night shoots in the Welsh rain, in a very awkward location”.
Childs also directed the short forest video revealing Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor that had the Whovian community in a tizzy of emotions. The video was shot in a single day with just a small crew involved.
The weather conditions seemed to be a fairly apparent issue for everyone in the cast and crew during the filming of Series 11. Childs admits, “that was like a technical challenge”.
Mandip Gill who plays one of the Doctor’s new companions said, “We’ve had some of the most adverse weather conditions I have known”. She recalls it not being the nine months of filming nor the long hours spent on set but the weather that created the real struggle in filming this new series:
“There have been long night shoots that are wet and cold. There are only so many layers you can wear underneath your costume! […] I think that for me – not the nine months, not the long hours we do – it’s definitely the cold that’s the worst.”
Co-star Tosin Cole also recalled the struggle with the cold wet conditions during filming, adding, “When they say take off your warm coat it’s like, ‘Uccchhh, why?’ […] Why can’t we just film in it? Especially when your hand warmers run out!”
Attention to Detail
Welsh weather aside, much of the action scenes were actually shot in Sheffield. Chris Chibnall, Doctor Who‘s new show runner really wanted to portray the true nature of the city. “It feels really important to connect Doctor Who to Sheffield,” Chibnall explained.
“You’ll see it again during the series. With any new Doctor you want to ground it in home and Sheffield is the home for this series of Doctor Who. I’d lived in the city for a year, I knew how cinematic it was, and how awesome the people were too. […] A load of Sheffield characters felt really fantastic for me. Someone like the character that Jonny [Dixon] plays, Carl, it just gives you a different humour. People saying it as it is.” – Chris Chibnall
Childs worked to find a voice for the new series in the first episode. Which is arguably the most important episode for any new Doctor as it is their first impression on the Whovian community. “I wouldn’t say it was a challenge, but it was part of what was exciting about it, […] Each day was new, and we were figuring it out as we went along. Honouring what had been before, and trying to bring something fresh to the table. That was one of the greatest experiences about it”, the director explained.
Creating the Doctor
Actress Jodie Whittaker faced a similar issue as she struggled to find her version of the Doctor in real time during the filming. The out of sequence scene filming no doubt added a level of complication to this task.
“I think the brilliant thing is you can be quite Method about that because I am actually trying to discover things about [myself] throughout, […] I feel that it was a really helpful episode for an actor playing a brand new role”, the actress explains. She continued by saying, “You can play it how you want and it was fun and playful, and Jamie the director gave me loads of space, […] I move a lot and wanted to continually fizz around. I was given that time and coverage and it meant that it was easier for me.”
Whittaker recalled the first day of filming The Woman Who Fell to Earth, stating, “My first scene was with [Tosin and Mandip]”. She further explained, “It was incredible just to have this idea of what this job could be and then be experiencing it live and present, and with this company[…] I think on the first day of shooting, when you complete your first take you think, ‘Yeah, I can do it.’”
Whittaker spoke about a powerful and important moment for her during filming, saying, “I think the first time you say anything iconic[…] I think when you say your character’s name, that’s quite a moment”. This particular moment was fairly early on for the actress due to the out of sequence scene filming.
At the premiere of The Woman Who Fell to Earth Whittaker explained, “Often when we’re on set […] we’re not necessarily looking at what’s on screen”. She continued, “It’s extraordinary, from our first day of shooting– right in at the deep end for all us – to see this, to hear it, to watch it with Chris and everyone, it’s really emotional. There’s no getting away from it: we are the next season of Doctor Who!”
The episode took five weeks to shoot. After filming composer Segun Akinola was tasked with adding the score. As the new composer for Series 11, Akinola admits that he was under a great deal of pressure. He admits that it was quite the challenge to just “get on with the job and focus on the music”. The composer did what he could to make it the best that he possibly could. “Because it’s Doctor Who! And it’s really great, but it’s also a really big deal. But it was always such an amazing challenge, and a wonderful challenge to have.” Akinola states.
“They’ve mentioned before that this Doctor is all about hope and joy alongside all of the action and the drama and everything. And so my job was to try and create music that was a part of that, but also moved in a new direction, just as the series was.[…] Our viewpoint across the whole thing was basically that it should be new – but new didn’t mean that it it had to be the opposite of everything that has come before.[…] It was really just a blank slate, an opportunity to look and start again at it. There wasn’t anything that I particularly tried to avoid in any grand way. I just tried to make it the best it could be.” – Segun Akinola
“It exceeds what I thought we could achieve”, Chris Chibnall suggested at the episode’s premiere. He also admitted, “You never know when you’re writing if you’re going to be getting brilliant people. We did, and I’m so thrilled to introduce them to people”, adding, “It’s only the start of the journey, so you’ll watch them develop as they go along”. Chibnall explained that he hopes that this new series will demonstrate all of the elements fans of the program have come to love over the years.
[Source: Radio Times]
“There’s fun, there are monsters, there’s action-adventure, there are characters and an amazing new Doctor. I think really turning up every Sunday night for a new adventure is a big thing. These guys go on big emotional journeys across the series.” – Chris Chibnall