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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)
Director James Strong takes us on a trip to an alien planet…
In the far future, out in Deep Space, there’s a world that shouldn’t exist. The Impossible Planet. “This planet is orbiting a black hole,” reveals the two part story’s director James Strong. “It defies science and logic.”
After the Doctor and Rose’s romp in 1950s Britain, Matt Jones’s two-part story throws the two travellers into a hellish world where a small group of Humans are hoping to strike it rich. These engineers have come to this rock to take its bounty, an energy source deep within the planet’s surface that they will plunder through heavy duty drilling. Yet they may release a power far darker and more deadly than they could have anticipated…
“The thing Russell said from the very first tone meeting was, ‘Tough’,” says Strong. “This wasn’t to be Star Trek where the setting could be a library, and you push a button and the doors open with a gentle, ‘Shhhh’. It’s a very dangerous, tough environment that these people are living in; the doors are heavy, there’s smoke and there’s steam and the whole place has a prefabricated feel to it. This station is clinging to the rock of the planet they’re on and a storm is threatening to blow them off at any moment.
“It’s like they are oil riggers – if you look at the first Alien film, the crew are not soldiers, they’re just ordinary working guys and that was very much the feel that we wanted.”
In its own way, The Impossible Planet is a landmark tale for the new Doctor Who. The Doctor and Rose have talked many times of the alien worlds they’ve visited, but on screen we’ve only seen them set foot on one, New Earth, and that was… well, quite a lot like Earth really. Strong was charged with helping create the show’s first truly alien environment, which was achieved by using a combination of location shooting, studio sets designed by Ed Thomas, CG effects and lighting.
“A great deal of it was built as sets: the command centre, the habitation areas and the corridors are all constructed. Again, it was drawn from a practical, industrial feel; it’s a very real environment. Although these episodes are set in the future, the references are familiar and it has a very retro style. It’s almost like walking down the inside of a submarine – all the pipes are on display, the metalwork is there.
“One of the key sets of the story is the bore room where the drilling takes place, and where the capsule descends. We had to find some of that set as a location and in the end we found this disused chemical works 20 miles from Cardiff. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It had exactly the right level of platforms and backdrop detail, and even the colouring of the walls was the same as our sets.
“Because it had been a real working place, you totally believed in it. With the CG enhancements we’re putting in to embed it into the rock it will look fantastic. Ed couldn’t have designed it better – it had just the right dimensions, there was a lift coming down… Ironically it looks more like a set than the other places!”
by David Richardson
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