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The look: style, technology and televisuality in the New Who

Bignell, J. ORCID: (2013) The look: style, technology and televisuality in the New Who. In: O'Day, A. (ed.) Doctor Who: the eleventh hour. Who watching. I. B. Tauris, London and New York, pp. 123-140. ISBN 9781780760193

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This chapter explores the distinctive qualities of the Matt Smith era Doctor Who, focusing on how dramatic emphases are connected with emphases on visual style, and how this depends on the programme's production methods and technologies. Doctor Who was first made in the 1960s era of live, studio-based, multi-camera television with monochrome pictures. However, as technical innovations like colour filming, stereo sound, CGI and post-production effects technology have been routinely introduced into the programme, and now High Definition (HD) cameras, they have given Doctor Who’s creators new ways of making visually distinctive narratives. Indeed, it has been argued that since the 1980s television drama has become increasingly like cinema in its production methods and aesthetic aims. Viewers’ ability to view the programme on high-specification TV sets, and to record and repeat episodes using digital media, also encourage attention to visual style in television as much as in cinema. The chapter evaluates how these new circumstances affect what Doctor Who has become and engages with arguments that visual style has been allowed to override characterisation and story in the current Doctor Who. The chapter refers to specific episodes, and frames the analysis with reference to earlier years in Doctor Who’s long history. For example, visual spectacle using green-screen and CGI can function as a set-piece (at the opening or ending of an episode) but can also work ‘invisibly’ to render a setting realistically. Shooting on location using HD cameras provides a rich and detailed image texture, but also highlights mistakes and especially problems of lighting. The reduction of Doctor Who’s budget has led to Steven Moffat’s episodes relying less on visual extravagance, connecting back both to Russell T. Davies’s concern to show off the BBC’s investment in the series but also to reference British traditions of gritty and intimate social drama. Pressures to capitalise on Doctor Who as a branded product are the final aspect of the chapter’s analysis, where the role of Moffat as ‘showrunner’ links him to an American (not British) style of television production where the preservation of format and brand values give him unusual power over the look of the series.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:35676
Publisher:I. B. Tauris


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