The universe stands on the brink of a dimensional crisis – and the Doctor and Raine are pulled into the very epicentre of it. Meanwhile, on Earth, UNIT scientific advisor Dr Elizabeth Klein and an incarnation of the Doctor she’s never encountered before are tested to the limit by a series of bizarre, alien invasions. At the heart of it all is a terrible secret, almost as old as the Time Lords themselves. Reality is beginning to unravel and two Doctors, Klein, Raine and all of UNIT must use all their strength and guile to prevent the whole of creation being torn apart.
It’s all so big, in full colour widescreen surround sound IMAX 3D! It starts with those glorious covers, and it carries through into the cinematic soundscapes, the four-hour, cliffhanger packed, serial buildup. It’s genuinely spectacular, in the fullest sense of the word. It’s one of the best and most original things Big Finish have ever done!
Big Finish Reviewed
Really, no exaggeration, this is the best Big Finish audio I’ve ever heard. From start to finish, a truly stupendous piece of work.
Behind the Scenes
Regenerations 2011. One of the best Doctor Who conventions I have ever attended. It had been quite a while since I went to one and I had never been to Wales before, so I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to get away, catch up with friends and promote a couple of productions I was involved with. Also in attendance were the good people of Big Finish, a brilliant audio company I hadn’t worked with for a while, and it was good to see everyone again over the weekend of the convention. It wasn’t until I was waiting to go home at Swansea train station when I ran into Nicholas Briggs, who just happened to be catching the same train, when the subject of working with Big Finish on a 5-disc Doctor Who box set came up. Naturally I agreed and Nick gave me a few details about this 4-hour story, but not enough to truly give me an idea of what I was getting myself into. It took 6 hours to get back into Nottingham, that’s 5 hours longer than it takes for a London train journey! I didn’t care. I was incredibly happy! I had a fantastic weekend and I somehow managed to get some work that is important to me because I love doing it… Doctor Who.
I always ask for a script as soon as possible. This enables me to go through it and take note of the sound effects I need to record from scratch. It also gives me the opportunity to get my creative mind into the story early and with a production of this size preparation is vital otherwise you’ll just end up in a big digital mess with 280 pages of script everywhere! Nick had told me that Dominion was an epic story and during my first read through it became clear just how appropriate this description was. I have never read a script for an audio drama quite like this one. It was huge. They say that the mind can create imagery that is much better than anything film or television can achieve. This is an incredible ability I seem to have in everyday life, so when it comes to reading the script for the first time I find it easy to visualise an intricate scene of truly epic proportions and then transfer it into audio form. More often than not the visuals in my head during this read-through will stay with me for years after a production is finished so I make sure I have a few sheets of paper available to make notes on my initial thoughts about how it all should sound.
I put so much work into making Dominion sound like a summer blockbuster film. The entire atmosphere of the soundscape makes the difference between a cheap television drama and a big budget Hollywood film. I knew quite early on that I wanted to achieve the latter. In a lot of scenes there are many layers of sound going on behind the actors, not only during big UNIT battles but in scenes that contain little more than conversation, that it was quite difficult to mix correctly. For example, in part two the Other Doctor and Klein are talking in an ambulance but if you listen carefully with decent headphones there is a separate story going on in the background. You should be able to hear the crowd being directed by UNIT soldiers with megaphones while they attempt to begin a clean-up operation, running around with equipment and picking up weapons. It is this level of detail I like to apply to all of my work and while it isn’t needed I wouldn’t feel like I gave it my best effort otherwise.
I enjoy creating new sounds from scratch and it is a part of my work I’m especially proud of. Those I have worked with will tell you of my dislike for overused sound libraries. The first sound effect I created was the heartbeat of the living stone heard in the first scene of this audio drama. This was simple to produce by slowing down a quickly beating heart and adjusting some EQ to increase the deeper frequencies. It needed to sound like it had immense power flowing throughout the dimensions.
The Skyheads were a challenge. The script stated that they made a foghorn-like sound so I could have just used some random ship foghorn and put it through a filter. However, not only did I want them to sound otherworldly but they were from a completely different dimension. Cover artist Alex Mallinson sent me some images of all the aliens in the story and when I saw the Skyheads I knew exactly how they should sound. I have some recordings of a baby crying and I used a variety of different sound manipulation techniques to slow these cries and give them that foghorn-like effect without it sounding too overly processed. The final result when I first heard it gave me chills and I knew I had created something unique. It felt like the first time I saw the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. The Skyheads had that same uneasy, creepy smile.
The cubes heard in part three posed an interesting challenge. How do you make a metal cube sound alive and then use these sounds to build up an army of cubes? I tried not to concentrate on giving the cubes a hovering sound until they started connecting together. Instead I gave them presence with their laser blasts and kamikaze explosions, which can be heard during Klein’s description of them at UNIT HQ. This was because their lasers become an important part of UNIT defence later in the story so the listener needs to know what they sound like. When the cubes do start connection together I created a well-known sound that Transformers fans may recognize, but this is only heard briefly.
I have an acting credit in this audio drama! There were a couple of lines that were not recorded during initial studio sessions in London so I was called upon to fill the post. I had acted before but usually for productions of my own and for comic effect. There were two parts that needed filling and both were UNIT personnel in parts three and four. Both are over a phone line so see if you can figure out where I am in the madness of it all.
The first cue I wanted to work on was our first scene in the TARDIS. This scene needed to set the pace for the rest of the story so the music had to have that cinematic quality. As we begin to hear the transmission of the distress call the cue begins with tremolo strings that complement the troubling nature of the message. This message comes from Gallifrey and a three note brass motif gives us the Time Lord theme for the story, which later becomes a gothic cue in part four played with a very large church organ. As the TARDIS is dragged through the dimensional divide we hear that church organ with an elegant choir section. It was my intention to give Dominion a spoken choir to achieve that cinematic feel but I didn’t think it was needed as the mix was already busy enough. Rising strings take us into the scene at UNIT HQ where Klein is busy working on the living stone sample. The TARDIS arrives but the man who steps out is not who she expects. The Other Doctor is quite eccentric and that is a quality of his personality I wanted to portray in the music, which is fast and lively at first but then continues into a theme that parallels the thought that Klein can’t quite work out who this person is. That first cue had all the elements for the themes throughout the story and variations were composed during important dialogue and incursions. Nick and I agreed that music shouldn’t be a continuous presence throughout so that the sound design can shine through, and besides, I can’t stand persistent, inarticulate music. Another thing I wanted to try and avoid is the overuse of the snare drum for anything military related. We would then be heading back into cheap television drama and nobody wants that! Dominion was fun to work on. I really did enjoy composing the music for this story because I hadn’t composed any music for quite a while since most of the work I was doing already had an established composer. It was nice to get back to the kind of music composition that got me into this business in the first place… Cinematic music score.