Doctor Who - Documentary s01e07 Episode Script

Designing the Aztecs

I joined the BBC in 1959.
I'd been working in exhibition design.
I'd been to art school, I trained five years as a painter.
I thought I'd go straight in but no, I had to learn the business.
As everybody who works in television.
They all worked as a design assistant, or if they were in drama, they would be an assistant floor manager.
A kind of apprenticeship.
After seven years, and I thought it should've been a lot sooner, I was eventually given a programme to design.
I must've done OK because I'm still a designer! But when it came to being allocated Doctor Who, as designers, we weren't picked for our skill, we were chosen because we happened to be free Ray Cusick got the science fiction ones and very happily, I got the historic ones! I wasn't happy with looking into the future but I like looking back at the past.
I did the very first one with The Caves and then I was given Marco Polo and then The Aztecs.
Fortunately, The Aztecs still exists.
Marco Polo doesn't.
Every designer will be given the script.
In the case of this particular one, I had four scripts for the for the four episodes of The Aztecs plus whatever we were going to do on film.
The film had to be shot first so it was ready for the recording in the studio.
Having read that script, I would research - I always had to 'cause I never knew - I always had to find out what was required scenically or rather, what was possible scenically, and having built up an idea in my mind of what it might look like, I would then do sketches.
John Lucarotti wrote The Aztecs and he'd obviously studied their lifestyle.
And I think he says somewhere, he thought, what a wonderful idea for a Doctor Who programme.
He wrote the Marco Polo series.
In his scripts, he gave the settings, a description, but it didn't control exactly what I was going to He didn't know what it looked like any more than I did! So I had a fair amount of freedom there.
With this one, of course, with The Aztecs, I had to be it was a case of researching, and the number of books available were limited.
One fortunate thing, there was a film just being made, due to be broadcast after Doctor Who and I asked if I could see the film, shot by a Mexican anthropologist examining and looking into the history of the Aztecs.
So with that and the books, I had I managed to glean enough information to do what you see on the film.
As I said, it's rather marvellous for a designer to have the script and be able to work out what the scenes would look like.
Because everything that went into the studio was his decision.
When I started as a designer, I was told, ''You're the designer, you're responsible for everything seen on the screen, including graphics.
'' Actually, I never looked at graphics, but it was nice to know! So there was little opportunity to alter things if a director couldn't cope.
I don't mean to say he couldn't cope with what I'd given him, but whether he liked what I'd given him.
There was one director, he always went into close-up.
I thought, there's a nice vista, I'll put it at the back - this was Z-Cars.
I'll put the interesting part behind them so there's some of the set there.
He put the actors right at the back.
And all this dressing - waste of money, waste of all this effort.
So the next time I worked with him, I put everything on rostrum so the cameras could not go to the back.
It was interesting 'cause that one got an award! Once the drawings were done and the sets were under construction, the designer had to go out and collect props.
Select, not collect props with a prop buyer.
On The Aztecs, it was Alan Mansey.
We used to have bets on what the cost of things was going to be.
He was usually right! Because there weren't any Aztec things around.
So we went looking for pottery that looked as though it could be Aztec, having got photographs of typical pieces that they found.
Then he went to the arts schools asking students to paint them for us, so that's how we got all our decorated Aztec pots.
And I did designs for the shields and the little bits they carry about with the feathers all round them.
He would find people to make those.
And then, all those props would come into the studio.
During the time that the cameramen were getting their cameras sorted, I would be going around with a couple of the prop crew.
These two guys would help me put the props out and when it looked as though there was nothing else I could do, I would go down and have a cup of coffee! And the unit would just about begin to rehearse.
Whenever you're laying sets out in the studio, You always have to have these safety exits, ten feet off the studio wall.
You can't be closer than three feet to the wall.
And you had to leave room for the cameras to come in, as well, and they weren't where the safety exits had to be, So the amount of space around the outside, where you'd hang your scenic cloths was quite limited indeed.
I would've liked to have had the set much higher off the ground and the backcloth a lot further away so that I got a better feel of height and distance.
Unfortunately, it was the small studio in D we had to do it in.
I tried to get it moved to Television Centre, where the studios were bigger.
But I was lumbered, and so was everybody else! The cameramen, the boom, 'cause they took up a lot of room in the studio, they were falling over themselves, I'm amazed they got pictures.
Also the lighting, none of it was on electric hoists, they were all on block and tackle.
Lighting engineers would always go up before anybody else and put their lights up.
The sequence was, lighting men went up, set their lights up according to the lighting man's plot, scenic painters would go and paint the floor according to where it should go.
And when that was dry, about five o'clock, the scenery would be wheeled in from the outside studio, it all had to be brought up in a lift, carted in, and they would have two-and-a-half hours to assemble all this scenery and put all the props around that they could.
I would do drawings to show where they had to go.
They had to be ready, out of it by half past seven, so other people would come in with the cameras and the lighting and set it up and adjust the lighting before rehearsals started at 9.
30.
Always bearing in mind they had to have their break for breakfast.
In that two-and-a-half hours of rushing, a scene supervisor and five men put up the scenery.
If it was necessary to design scenery for a film studio, the shooting of which would be incorporated in the TV studio, I don't recall having any problems with it because everything then was in black and white.
The colours I used were always the same as those I'd use on TV scenery.
After all, that was the only paint we had.
The paint was all on a colour swatch and you would say it was TX this colour or TX72 or 72? There were never any 72s, 32 was the maximum, so which was a light grey called TV White.
The lighting was very similar to that in D because the lighting at Ealing Film Studios was block and tackle and brailing the lamps around from the gantries.
You used braces behind the flats and pressed them at the front.
All the scenery that I designed had to go into D.
I can't remember what size it was but it was half the size of TC4.
TC4 was 90 by 200, I think.
When they moved it over to Television Centre, although I had the space, I couldn't spread the cloths away from the sets.
I was lumbered.
Everything had to stay as it was.
But the lighting men and cameramen had so much more space, all the lights were on hoists, electronically controlled, wonderful.
The trouble with designing for Doctor Who is it's all compromise.
Your scenery is a kit of parts.
It got damaged because it was heavy.
They weren't particularly careful.
We'd get it there and throughout the day, I'd have a painter and a carpenter to repair the damage.
And that was quite regular.
If you're doing Z-Cars or Softly, Softly, you can create any interior, depending on its grandeur, by selecting the right pieces from the BBC scenery store.
When you're doing Doctor Who, you've got blocks, rostras, flats - they varied in size from eight foot high, ten foot high, two foot high, one foot wide, one foot six, two, three, up to ten.
Everything else had to be made.
If you're doing futuristic things, you've still got the same limitations.
They always thought Doctor Who was an ordinary half-hour drama.
And we were allocated £250 - that was called a design department budget allowance - and this was to go towards the hire of props, and pay for timber and hardboard and paint that was used in construction and 500 man-hours to build the set.
As it was a four-week episode, we had stock sets, the same set being put up in the studio then we could say that was 2,000 man-hours.
And we could use a big chunk of that to build the stock sets.
That's how it was if you had a series with stock sets.
You'd take a proportion from each week.
These programmes were conceived in, I suppose you could take ten weeks from beginning to end.
Unlike Star Wars, which had two years planning, let alone the money.
I don't remember very much about John Crockett.
He was cheerful, he made jokes, I remember that.
But he was very worried when the scenery didn't arrive! The day of recording the last episode, which was unusually a Sunday.
I don't know why.
We usually rehearsed and recorded on Monday.
But on this day, I went in.
There were very few people about.
There was very little scenery, it seemed to me, and John Crockett - the director - came across to me, and said, ''Where's the set?'' And I said, ''I don't know,'' so I went and made enquiries, and they said, ''Ooh, we broke that up last week, it doesn't exist.
'' Erm, what do you do? Hold yourself in, don't getdon't get Just be calmand think.
As it happens, I'd decided I would keep the scenery built for filming because you never know, I could've used it in the studio and made it go further.
And it was still in store, so I got that across.
I spoke to people so we'd get it there quickly.
It duly arrived and ''Where's that big cloth?'' We went looking for this cloth in the artists' studio.
Fortunately, they hadn't painted it out, but when we laid it out, there were footmarks all over it.
We tried to brush them off but they were ground in.
I didn't have a scenic artist to hand because it was a Sunday.
Anyway, when it was hung up and lit, you couldn't see them on the screen.
And you still can't, you can't see them on the DVD.
So that was very fortunate, don't you think? However, I set this scenery up, fortunately, in the Garden of Rest.
All we had to do, I said to John Crockett, ''You've got the actors, their moves are sort of'' ''They were acting from left to rightfrom left to centre, you've now got to turn them so they act centre to right and I'll arrange the plants so that they fit in.
'' And that's what happened.
All through the day, the designer would be looking at the screen to see what errors there were to the setting, damage to the sets, gaps in the flats, props not being used in the proper way or that looked as if they were going to fall off or You're seeing off the set so you've got to find something to disguise the fact that the set doesn't extend beyond a certain point.
The lighting man would be doing similar things, adjusting his lights, telling the boom to keep his boom up 'cause it was casting a shadow.
We were all doing our thing, rehearsing with them throughout the day, keeping a strict eye that nothing untoward was happening.
The producer, Verity Lambert, was always around.
I felt, anyway, she was always looking over my shoulder.
She only looked.
She didn't say anything but she did give a list of notes to the director.
I expect producers do this all the time, but at the time I thought, to give them after rehearsals, when they're just going off to supper, how are they going to manage to do anything with her notes? Still But she was a very tough cookie and I had to watch my p's and q's as far as going over budget was concerned.
In the early '60s, the cameras had very poor definition.
Only 525 lines.
To build the picture up, the cameras were very sensitive.
A light grey would look brilliant white, as though it was glowing, and a dark grey would look almost black on the screen.
We had to work within those limitations.
Quite useful if you wanted to have a light glimmering away in the darkness.
If you painted it white, it would look just like a real lamp.
You had to be very careful not to overstep the mark in that area.
If the lighting men thought a wall was too bright, they'd knock the light off it! You'd say, ''Where's all the detail gone?'' The backcloth that ran round the top of the pyramid was a bit of a problem.
I did colour sketches of it for the artists.
The amount of time the artists had to paint wasn't sufficient.
He was rather unhappy with it and so was I.
One reason I wanted TC4 for the first episode was to make the set bigger, but it was also so I could have that cloth further away from the camera.
The closer a cloth is to the camera, the easier it is to see the brushmarks.
So this was my problem.
I just hoped that the lighting man would light it so that 'Cause he could make it look faint and at a distance by the amount of light used.
Also, when I look at it, I see folds in the cloth.
The lights should flatten them, but he didn't flatten them.
You had to use trick to try and get distance.
If you had a room that was a large room, I suppose that, just as a thought, you might build one end of the room with the bit that's in the middle missing and build the other end of the room facing it, and shoot, putting the cameras right into one wall and shooting back at the other to get that feeling of distance.
You couldn't do it live, but if you did it on film, you could cut it up and make it look respectable.
Because the cameras weren't so sensitive, artists' work read quite well.
Sometimes, one would put white gauze over an artist's painting to reduce the amount of detail in it, to make it look further away.
I didn't have to do that with The Aztecs.
I have watched the video of it, and the clean-up is absolutely amazing.
I could see all sorts of things which, I would've been horrified at the time.
Perhaps the general public won't see it but I knew.
It starts off in the tomb.
It was a pity we couldn't see I thought we'd seen more but we had not seen all that body.
It would've been nice if that camera had been a bit higher and seen that mask.
I was pleased with that.
It was a copy of the one in the British Museum.
Oh, at the end, there was this terrible time, no one had told me where they wanted Ian to arrive in the tomb when he climbed up.
I was shattered to see he came out of a bit of unpainted two-by-two supporting the other end of the tomb! Had I known that was happening, there would've been stonework there.
The edge of that set, the top of the pyramid, was just unclad rostrum.
It was about four feet high.
When he was kicked over the end, he landed on a mat, and then I had a painting done of the bottom of the steps, the painting had the few steps at the bottom.
And also the tiling of the court.
We stood it upside-down, he stood against it as if he was dead.
We reversed the picture so it was upside-down again, That's how we got it.
My historical series were always a joy to do.
I learned an awful lot 'cause I had to research it and I'm not sure if there's one I prefer more than the other.
I think because they're all so different, some people say, ''What is your proudest moment in Doctor Who? '' I think that tomb door might've been it.
It had to be light enough to be carried The regulation was no scenery should be heavier than can be carried by two men and it shouldn't be larger than 10 feet by 12.
That door had to look as though it was very heavy.
And it had to roll easily.
Not only that, the scene crew had to put it in position and it had to just fall in.
So I had a shoulder that was almost V-shaped, a very shallow V, horizontal V, flattened out, almost, and there was a similar piece on the stone door.
Because if it had had a matching shallow V, it would've stayed there, but it had to roll, so one side of the shallow V had to be radius so it could be rolled up the slope one side of the V.
If I had a pencil and drew it, I could, quite easily.
I spent hours at home working out exactly how that should work.
When we assembled it, it didn't behave quite right, because it had to swing back, but I'd got it so perfectly balanced it stayed up! So with trial and error, and with sash line, we lowered a stage weight in.
But that wasn't enough, so we lowered another stage weight in.
That worked, and that's what you saw.
Every week, it went up there just as easily and it always worked, I was ever so pleased!