Somewhere in the south of England stands the Hothouse. Five vast, state-of-the-art bio-domes, all steel and glass. Inside, rock star turned environmental activist Alex Marlow has a plan to save the world from climate change. By any means necessary! There’s something growing inside the Hothouse. Something that could turn back humanity’s tide. A voracious alien vegetable called the Krynoid. The Doctor’s going to have to stop it. Stop Marlow. Stop Marlow’s fanatical acolyte, Lucie Miller…
Martin Johnson’s sound design is excellent! The sounds of the Krynoid are disturbingly effective.
Behind the Scenes
My first eighth Doctor adventure. When I got the script I read it twice! I was excited about recreating the Krynoid from the fourth Doctor era and creating a world from audio around eighth Doctor Paul McGann and companion Lucie played by Sheridan Smith. Hothouse is also one of those rare Doctor Who stories that have a big horror element. People turning into plants, killer weeds and at one point someone dies by taking a chainsaw to the gut! Gruesome stuff indeed.
I often listen to most of the unedited studio recordings, which can run up to 6 hours, to see if I find some interesting unscripted stuff I could use in the story. Sometimes I find the odd outtake here and there. Annoyingly, Sheridan is an amazing actress and very rarely screws up her lines. I was hoping for something but she is way too fantastic for such material. Another reason to listen to this in its entirety is so that notes can be made on the takes that are delivered best. At least two takes of two or three pages a time are required. One for a recorded rehearsal and another after the director, Barnaby Edwards, has given feedback on the first reading. The second take is usually the one I choose unless Barnaby has noted in the script to use the first take, or more takes were recorded due to inflections being off character.
I wanted the Krynoid to have a real presence in this story in the same way I did with the Daleks in Masters of War. I bought two items that I thought would give the sound I wanted when edited together. The first was a pack of monkey nuts and the second was a large grapefruit. Using my fingers to dig into half a grapefruit was an interesting experience. When I mixed that sound with the cracking of a pile of monkey nuts and slowed it all down it seemed to give a similar sound to the original pods back in the 1976 Tom Baker story The Seeds of Doom. Experimentation like this is always a good thing because you never know if an unexpected sound will reveal itself.
Hothouse was the first story I worked on that is set on modern day Earth. This meant that for the first time I wouldn’t have to worry too much about working around traffic noise. In some scenes it was required. There are cars and lorries in this story so I took my H4 and recorded a load of interior and exterior car sounds at night when I wouldn’t be disrupted. I cycled down to a road close to a factory where I knew lorries were coming and going every few minutes and recorded plenty of material. Obviously I couldn’t ask them to open the back of the lorries while I stood there with something that looks like a taser! I had to improvise. I went down to the shed and set my H4 to record while I gathered as much sound as I could to create the sound of locks, lorry shutters, cage noise, etc.
Close to my village there are a few corn fields. On days of various winds I went into the middle of one of them and recorded the crops rustling in the wind. These sounds provided the environment inside the bio-domes where the plants were reacting to the Krynoid.
To enhance the drama there are a few sounds I really wanted to take to the extreme and these were unscripted. First, the chainsaw death. Using sounds I already described here I could create a very convincing horrific death. The spade scraping along the concrete, the grapefruit and the chainsaw sound all contributed. I was asked to increase the sound of the attacking Krynoid to cover the more horrific sounds because of our target audience but it’s all there. Second, the humans being turned into Krynoid. I nailed the original vocal effect quite easily so no trouble there. The end scene of part one took quite a lot of work to sound realistic, with all these cages containing people at different stages in their transformations and background noise of the room. There is a point where one of our characters is locked in a room with Lucie as she slowly transforms. The character asks for water and in the rehearsal take there are a couple of coughs. I used this with my own vocal recording, and a glass of water, to make it sound like it comes straight back up after drinking. If you listen carefully I added flies into the room to give it that horror edge. I wasn’t sure I’d get away with such material but it passed approval without any cuts!
The music in this story is very minimalistic. Even in the action scenes the music didn’t go in the same direction because there was no call for it. I didn’t want it to overpower the sound design and neither did Barnaby because sometimes too much music can spoil the production. I have heard quite a few audio dramas and a lot of them, especially in the early noughties, seem to have music playing all the way through. The problem with this is that it can start to sound very basic and almost like generic filler musak, which I despise. In light of this I composed a creepy wind-like cue and used it a lot where music could enhance the story. There are a few percussive drum cues that I find work very well when building tension and I layered some brass over it while bringing in some creeping strings before the big crescendo. Sometimes I find the chemistry between the Doctor and Lucie quite comical so I couldn’t resist composing a few plucked string pieces to allow these comedy moments to shine.