"...it goes without saying that the Radiophonic
Workshop are the reason I got into sound design in the
Over the past eight years, eyeofhorus.org.uk has been witnessing the evolution of DOCTOR WHO audiobooks released, initially, by BBC AUDIO and, more recently, AUDIOGO (the new home of all BBC audio), and whilst this evolution has been a gradual one it has recently reached a zenith with DOCTOR WHO AND THE WAR GAMES.
It's the equivalent of identifying Australopithecus as the first human. A revelation that defines everything afterwards.
Whilst the NEW SERIES audiobook tie-ins are generally bland with little attention to detail (listen to the recent release DOCTOR WHO - THE JADE PYRAMID and be under whelmed, or read our review), the quality of the CLASSIC SERIES unabridged novelisations is creatively remarkable.
The range is founded upon the iconic TARGET novelisations, read by DOCTOR WHO luminaries such as Caroline John, William Russell, David Troughton, Barry Letts, Geoffrey Beevers, Frazer Hines and Sir Derek Jacobi, and supported, like a genuine co-star, by exemplary post-production treatment (new music and sound effects) by Simon Power of Meon Sound.
In working alongside BBC AUDIO and AUDIOGO, Power has created a body of work that is comparable to the creative work being undertaken by BBC WALES for the NEW SERIES of DOCTOR WHO but being respectful to the legendary input of CLASSIC SERIES production icons such as Dick Mills and, naturally, the Radiophonic Workshop.
Within a busy schedule (he was about to start work on DOCTOR WHO AND THE STONES OF BLOOD), Simon Power was able to take time to answer a series of questions.
EOH: How do you start to create the music and sound effects for the unabridged novelisations from AUDIO GO, and how far do you respect the TV series history (with regards to copyrighted material i.e. can you use Radiophonic Workshop designed effects)?
I usually find that a good starting point comes from looking at the cover illustrations on the TARGET paperbacks themselves. They were so vibrant & exciting. They instantly inspire me to start composing some music & creating some strange sounds!
Then, of course, I use my own childhood memories of the TV series as a reference, too. But when memory fails, I know I can rely on our executive producer, Michael Stevens whose knowledge of all things WHO is unsurpassable!
As for the Radiophonic Workshop, I use the TARDIS sound, naturally.
Although I have invented a new interior underlay that most people seem happy with!
We sort of decided early on that these recordings were going to be re-imaginings.
Utterly true to the classic series, but using the broader palette that audio allows you to use to create a new and thrilling experience.
However, it goes without saying that the Radiophonic Workshop are the reason I got into sound design in the first place. As a young child I was obsessed by the sounds they created & the themes they produced. Dick Mills, Brian Hodgson, Delia Derbyshire & everyone since. These people were the pioneers of today’s sound design techniques. And it’s only recently that they’ve gained the kind of recognition they deserve.
Anyway, inspired by their work, on the whole, I invent original sounds for the CLASSIC novelisation recordings.
EOH: How do you go about balancing (or mixing) music & sound effects with the reader's voice?
Balancing the music and effects with the listener’s voice is really something that has to be addressed individually on every title.
Every reader approaches the text differently. Experienced readers like John Leeson, Lis Sladen, David Troughton, Peter Purves & Tom Baker are obviously going to be very comfortable with reading for audio, so they know exactly how to build
the story for maximum effect. All I have to do is try to keep up!
Some passages in the readings, I leave to the imagination and on others, I’ll help things along with some stirring music or layered sounds. The overriding mantra is that the voice always takes precedence over the music and FX. My job is just to enhance what is being said, not the other way round.
EOH: Creating an aural reality for the listener, to what lengths do you go to find the right sound for the right object, for example, in the recent THE WAR GAMES, there was a motorised Model T Ford van and a Bakelite telephones?
When it comes to things like telephones and cars, I generally use sounds that give the right impression. If a vehicle is described as rickety & old, I’ll find some vintage vehicle sounds, then add a layer of rattling nuts and bolts to give that impression.
I really enjoy working on the effects and sometimes get carried away trying to find the right sounds. As an example, in DOCTOR WHO – BLACK ORCHID. I spent a whole afternoon recording the sound of a cricket bat hitting a cricket ball. Only to find that whacking a flowerpot with the edge of a tennis racket was a much more convincing sound. Which is what I ended up using in the cricket match!
Also, when recording some gravelly footfalls for the scene in DALEKS: THE MUTATION OF TIME when the monk follows the Doctor to a desolate planet, I found that the recordings I had made had birds chirping away in the background. Hardly what you’d expect on a bleak volcanic planet!
What has surprised me, now that I have done about 30 or so of these recordings, is just how diverse the stories are. I may equally find myself wondering what a swamp covered planet sounds like (as in DALEKS: MISSION TO THE UNKNOWN),
Or what noise an alligator makes when they’re hungry (like in THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH) as how someone’s voice would sound from the top of a gantry (as in TERROR OF THE AUTONS). Or a pitch battle from the “Middle Ages” (like in THE AWAKENING).
As for the different rooms and laboratories etc., I really enjoy trying to create those spaces by layering a lot of different ambiences together. The catacombs in THE RIBOS OPERATION will sound very different to Stahlman's underground lab in INFERNO. Which in turn has a different sound to the Time Lords courtroom in THE WAR GAMES. As for other background layers, I love to use a variety of howling winds, especially in the episodes like THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN & THE RIBOS OPERATION. I really want the listener to feel quite cosy, listening in their bedroom or car, as the characters get colder and colder in some far distant land!
It’s certainly very intensive work and the extra details means that each title can take two to three weeks in post-production. Just adding the sounds and composing the music. But I think it’s worth it, especially as we sometimes get some very nice feedback from the listeners.
EOH: And THE RIBOS OPERATION; a challenging story!
Well, here’s another adventure with plenty of dynamic locations. The White Guardian’s “planet” was lush and warm and covered with trees and waterfalls and then the next thing you know it’s off to the icy, snow covered Ribos with it’s freezing battlements and labarynthine catacombs. This gave me lots of opportunity for atmosphere and sound design as did the appearances of the Shrivenzale. The terrifying monsters that guard the crown jewels. I gave them deep throaty roars with plenty of clawing and snarling and lashing of tails.
This was a brilliant reading by John whose voice sliced through the mix with crystal clarity giving me a huge scope for adding extra sonic details. As for his K9 parts, He somehow manages to add a natural modulation and hi-pass filter to his own voice, which is quite extraordinary. All I added to K9 was a few head movements and occasional blips and bleeps, the rest is pure ‘Leeson’!
As for the Locatermuter, the sound appears quite often and for long periods, so I have to make it appealing to the ears, I was quite happy that the sound I made up would be able to sit comfortably under the narration for extended periods. I chose a kind of ominous low pulsing with a busy electronicy layer over the top. As with the TARDIS interior background sound, sometimes you can hit on an effect that is quite soothing and pleasant to listen to, which is important from the listeners’ point of view. After all these Classic recordings I have quite a selection of these background layers to choose from, and I’m coming up with new ones all the time!
The scenes with the Soothsayer were great fun to do with lots of crackling fires and rattling of bones. She appears a few times later in the recording, and things really get action packed on the final CD with the guards fending off large Shrivenzales with their laser spears and Romana and K9 getting trapped under tons of falling rubble. I went all out to make the final scene a fitting climax to this exciting recording with masses of falling rocks, monstrous roars and big thunderous explosions. Sometimes the storyline paints some wonderful pictures that are great fun to illustrate with the appropriate sounds. There’s a scene where the Doctor is partially deafened by the explosion in the catacombs, and then hears the sound of falling coins clattering to the floor. I really had some fun layering this scene together.
I have included extended sections of specially composed incidental music on this title that I hope will in some way enhance the atmosphere. All the titles in this series will have lots of new suspense filled music which I hope the listeners is going to enjoy.
I’m now looking forward to starting on the post-production for THE STONES OF BLOOD. It’s such a wonderful Gothic tale and I’m really going to enjoy for my part producing something very special indeed.
With thanks to Simon Power (at Meon Sound) for his time and permission for reproduction.
Matthew Walter (24.02.2011)