BBC Readying to Air 'Doctor Who’s' 50th Anniversary 3D Episode

“When the time is right we'll attack 3D again,” says series producer Marcus Wilson.
BBC America

Earlier this year, BBC shelved plans to produce additional 3D programming, but this didn’t affect the broadcaster’s risky decision to create and broadcast the upcoming 50th anniversary episode of its long-running sci-fi hit Doctor Who in the format.

“I hope that in watching this the TV drama industry will go away and evaluate how best to proceed with 3D,” series producer Marcus Wilson said. “I was one of 3D's skeptics. Now I am a convert. … Stereo adds another layer of richness to the show.”

Although science fiction seems to be a natural genre for 3D, the BBC had been reluctant to upset the tight shooting schedules or audience expectations of one of its best-selling franchises.

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It is also not planning to reverse its decision to end a two-year trial into 3D TV production, which has seen it experiment with Strictly Come Dancing live in 3D and produce one-off original 3D drama Mr Stink. The final program in the trial, a 50-minute natural history show about microscopic creatures called Hidden Kingdom, airs next year.

“The BBC has done a lot in that [trial] period, and it is responsible of the BBC to check the format out rather than just launch with open ended commitment,” said Wilson. “I don't think we are quite at a stage in terms of budget or in ease of workflow where a 2D and 3D series production would work, but creatively 3D does add to the story. When the time is right we'll attack 3D again.”

The 75-minute Doctor Who special was shot on paired Arri Alexa Ms in keeping with the look of the rest of the series, which was shot on Alexas.

“If Arri had not introduced the Alexa M we would not have been able to make this [3D episode],” explained Wilson. “Shooting with a pair of full-bodied Alexa cameras would have made the rigs so much more immobile, but the lighter Alexa M's allowed us to shoot almost as usual.”

Lead VFX house on the project's 1700-plus shots was Milk, formed by the team who had previously worked at Mill TV on the VFX for seven seasons of Doctor Who. (Mill TV, which was a TV VFX unit of London’s The Mill, was closed in April.)

Stereo post supervisor on the Dr Who 3D episode, David Wigram said: “We had some growing pains because the show was so established. In part this was because the previous [2D] episode was being finished at the same time as the 3D and next [2D] episode was being prepared, so having to juggle between conventional and 3D camera systems and post processes was a minor headache.”

Added stereographer and lead stereo supervisor Adam Sculthorp: “When it came to design we wanted the show to feel exactly the same as its accustomed visual style, but we went bold with the 3D without it becoming, in any way, a gimmick.”

Partly to prevent story leaks but also to capitalize on the show's international fanbase, The Day of the Doctor will be simulcast on November 23 on the BBC in the U.K. in 3D and 2D, on BBC America in the U.S, on Canada's Space channel, in Australia and in select U.K. cinemas in 3D.