Christmas Special Production Diaries Part 1
So to recap, well to repeat ourselves!
We planned way back at the start of the year to do Series 2 and, as we were writing the episodes, the idea for one last story came about. After chatting to the cast, we all decided we had one more in us all. What we didn't expect was for Series 2 to not have completed production and for us to literally cross over onto one more episode.
So there we were, decorating my living room with a Christmas tree and other decorations. I won't say what we filmed as we want to keep a lot of the Christmas special under wraps, but what I will say is Lisa Grace is in the episode and that she wrapped on Whovians that day. It was her final scenes with Whovians and it was a sad moment as we said goodbye to Lisa and realised one by one we will say goodbye to everyone else soon.
Day 30 – 08/10/16 Whenever you’re in doubt, go to Gloworks. That should be the saying on their marketing. Rhys Jones’ workplace have been more than obliging in helping us get Whovians off the ground, and once again they saved our neck by letting us film several scenes from the Christmas special there. Need to film in some futuristic, sci-fi looking room? Gloworks has it covered, and that’s exactly what we were doing with Ben Wilson. Throw some red gels in there, a smoke machine, and it looks like something straight out of Red Dwarf’s heyday.
Speaking of smoke machines, be very careful with them, kids. While writer/exec producer/general skivvy Matthew Ford was off fetching props for us, Rhys and Teddy decided to go full-pelt with the smoke machine. And while it looked great (something straight out of an ‘80s music video), it sent the fire alarms in the building into meltdown. The fire brigade was called. Chaos ensued. The minute the alarms went off, we let the security guard know what had happened. Trouble was, as the guard explained, the alarm is linked straight to the fire station, so they’ll already be on their way. Thankfully, with our director and professional blagger Rhys Jones apologising, the firemen were very understanding. Their words, “Would rather it was fake smoke than the real thing”. They even hung around when we set off the smoke machine again, just in case a choir of smoke alarms started blaring in unison again. Matthew’s face was a picture, getting back just as the fire engine was leaving, wondering what the hell had happened in the twenty-minutes/half- hour he had been gone.
Luckily, there was no smoke machine needed for the next scene, which involved Rob Mealins alongside Ben. It’s not surprising, when you think that we’ve spent near enough a year filming Whovians, that art has begun to imitate life with our cast. Before Whovians, Ben and Rob never knew each other. Now, when you get them on set, it is like they are best mates, laughing and messing around. It’s like Rob is a brother from another mother. The pair of them make a great team. If you ever watched The IT Crowd, they’re a lot like Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade, the glances they give each other, much of it off-the- cuff. It makes for some great acting, but is hard to film when all the crew are fighting to stop sniggering. Last scene of the day was opposite the Doctor Who Experience (not on their property; a good couple of hundred yards away, to avoid our wrists being slapped in court). You would think at around three/half-three in the afternoon, it would be reasonably quiet. Not so. This was one of the few scenes where the takes crossed the twenties barrier (twenty-three in total). Screaming kids (not so much screaming, more like a wailing animal possessed by Satan), a never-ending convoy of cars, skateboarders, and bell-ringing cyclists. What should have been a straightforward shoot ended up being more like a Butlins resort in the lowest circle of hell.
On the plus side, the performances were brilliant, with Matthew Fisher returning to join Ben and Rob. Between the three of them, this is a fun, cringe-makingly embarrassing scene, which will fit in nicely amongst the heavier, dramatic moments we have in store.
Day 31 – 12/10/16
So, as nights go, this was a very weird one! An evening shoot. What to film: a spaceship foot chase between Andrew and a pair of aliens! What did we film? Just that! How did we get away with it? As ever, with bit of luck and hard work. Plus, on this occasion, Ben Wilson’s day job let us film there after hours. So thank you to Go Air Cardiff.
We were wrapped within two hours and had so much fun - we were big kids! When you see the episode you will see what I mean.
Day 32 – 23/10/16 So, for the last time, we were filming at the Jenkins’ family home (series two co-director, Mr Craig Handley’s residence). We started off with a nice little scene between Andrew Machin (Liam) and Rob Murphy (Liam’s dad, Lloyd). This is the first Christmas without Jackie, Lloyd’s mum, and while Lloyd and Liam are in a better place since Jackie’s passing, they both miss her and the Christmases they used to have. It’s a lovely moment; there are a good number of chuckles in this scene, along with some poignant dialogue. Andrew and Rob are more than used to acting alongside each other now (their performances, you could be forgiven for thinking they are real life father-and- son), and breezed through filming, with little direction needed from Rhys Jones.
The next few scenes involved Andrew, Rob, but Hannah Celyn Griffiths (Jen) was also thrown into the mix. Won’t mention what happens here (spoilers!!), but this is going to be a moving, real kick to the gut five-or- so minutes. There’s a clichéd expression with directors, who ask their cast to “dig deep”. This is precisely what Andrew and Hannah did; it was raw, nothing was held back – it was like the two of them were on their own giving their performances, no crew around them. This was the one-and- only moment during filming two series of Whovians that the script got chucked out the window.
The script was fine, written by Matthew Ford and Hannah Celyn Griffiths, but it did not go far enough to give the performances Hannah and Andrew wanted to come up with. Instead, Rhys decided to move things around, be a bit more experimental (rest assured, Whovians was not suddenly directed by Luis Buñuel). It was about 80% shifting lines around, and 20% improv. It took time, but it worked; what happens feels convincing, real, and emotional. Hopefully a few tears at Christmas!
Today was Rob Murphy’s last shoot. Rob got on board at the very last minute, after Scott Dolan, who played Lloyd in the first series, was asked to go on an all-expenses paid trip to South Africa for work (you made the wrong call there, Scott. Zero budget film making over all expenses paid baking weather and stunning scenery any day!). Despite not having a great deal of time to prepare, Rob made the acting job look easy, putting his own spin on Lloyd. Any actor who needs very few pointers from the director gets a massive thumbs up. Thanks for stepping in, Rob.