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Mystery man returns

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2005-04-03 Times-Colonist.jpg


CARDIFF, Wales is only a short few blocks to Millennium Stadium from the central train station in Cardiff. But the walk on this day is rather momentous. Built to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup, Millennium Stadium is an impressive structure that can house 72,500 sports fans. Notable for having the first retractable roof in Britain, it is busy year-round as a venue for athletics and concerts.

On this day in late October 2004, however, it is science fiction that has overtaken the inside of the sports complex.

Unbeknownst to the innocent pedestrians passing by outside, the inner sanctums of Millennium Stadium have, on this day, become the setting of one of the most top-secret TV projects imaginable — Doctor Who.

The BBC has updated the classic movie and TV franchise, coming up with a new, 13-episode TV series that began airing March 26 in Britain. The series will make its North American debut on Canadian television, premiering 8 p.m., Tuesday on CBC.

British actor Christopher Eccleston has become the latest thespian to play the heroic Doctor who travels through time and space to battle all sorts of evil monsters. Joining The Doctor on his various adventures this time around is his trusty companion, Rose Tyler, played by actress Billie Piper.

Just inside the gates of Millennium Stadium, there is a small, discreet sign bearing only the words "BBC Wales Set" to guide approved visitors into the interior of the complex. As a guest of the CBC, CanWest News Service joined a CBC network representative, a BBC publicity executive and a newspaper reporter from Australia for this exclusive, first-hand look at what has been keeping sci-fi fans around the world on high alert for months.

At this point, filming on Doctor Who has reached the halfway mark of the series, but security is still extremely tight. The show has been in production at various locales around Cardiff as well as in London. The scenes being filmed on this day are from the sixth episode of the series, a storyline that takes place in an underground installation somewhere in Utah. After signing confidentiality agreements and vowing not to breathe a premature word of all the fantastical things about to be witnessed, we are guided through a maze of concrete corridors that leads to a production workshop under the stands of the stadium.

And suddenly, there we are, in the middle of a cluttered room, face to face with one of Doctor Who's most sinister arch-enemies — a small but menacing robotic creature known as a Dalek.

Doctor Who fans know all about the Daleks. And the new rendition of the villainous robot seems to have been spiffed up a little. It looks more metallic and machined than some of its more cheesy-looking predecessors. "No, there's no chicken wire," one of the technicians quips as we inspect it more closely.

In silhouette, though, there is no mistaking the Dalek. It almost looks like a distant, evil cousin of that Star Wars robot, R2D2.

With a long gun barrel as its left arm and a dreaded "sucker" (it's actually a toilet plunger) as its right arm, the Dalek is probably one of the most famous icons in the history of TV science fiction. Doctor Who fans will be pleased to see that, although it has been updated, the Dalek hasn't changed that much.

"We were actually allowed to change anything," another production technician explains as he touches up the paint job on his creation. "But how do you redesign an icon? Fans would go berserk! So, we didn't change the spirit of it."

Indeed, living up to the spirit and tradition of the entire Doctor Who franchise has been a monumental challenge for the entire production team on the new TV series.

"It feels like we're taking on something that's a British institution," producer Phil Collinson says later, during a lunch break on the set. 'There are very few shows that have ever achieved the kind of public affection that Doctor Who did. But, having said that, I want to make something completely fresh, new and exciting — something that's going to appeal to people young and old. I think, in order to achieve that, you almost have to forget the past.

"I think the danger would be to try and make a copy of the way Doctor Who was before. And that would be wrong, I think, because Doctor Who has been around for such a long time. If you look at some of those shows now, they are of their time. Things have moved on."

Although the new Doctor Who remains faithful to some of the devices of previous incarnations, the serial nature of the storytelling has mostly been abandoned this time around. According to Collinson, the new series has a single, self-contained story in seven of its 13 instalments.

But there are three two-part episodes, meaning the infamous Doctor Who cliffhanger is still alive and well.

"If you watch it as a diehard fan, you'll be in very familiar territory," Collinson says. "He's the same man he always was. What we wanted to do is just make him a man of mystery again."

Back in the production workshop, meanwhile, the technicians are busily getting their Dalek ready for a quick demonstration in the outside hallway before it's time to film a scene. The Dalek will show up in the sixth, 12th and 13th episodes of the new series. Suffice it to say that the Dalek storyline is huge.

In addition to such traditional icons of Doctor Who lore, the new series relies on a lot of sophisticated computer animation to help bolster its action-packed storylines. But getting the balance just right is all part of the challenge for Collinson and his team as they pursue their quest to update this cherished sci-fi classic.

"Science-fiction is a very difficult thing to achieve," Collinson explains. The temptation is always to put people in spangled suits and cover them with buckles and put them in daft hats.

"We need to make this as modern as it can possibly be. The expectation is enormous. We owe it to the show, and we owe it to the fans —and to the new audience — to make it as big as it can be."

Caption: Christopher Eccleston is the latest actor to play Doctor Who, with Billie Piper as his assistant Rose Tyler. The new TV version of Doctor Who will premiere in Canada Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBC. Eccleston has already said he only plans to play the role for one season.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Kohanik, Eric (2005-04-03). Mystery man returns. CanWest News Service .
  • MLA 7th ed.: Kohanik, Eric. "Mystery man returns." CanWest News Service [add city] 2005-04-03. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Kohanik, Eric. "Mystery man returns." CanWest News Service, edition, sec., 2005-04-03
  • Turabian: Kohanik, Eric. "Mystery man returns." CanWest News Service, 2005-04-03, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Mystery man returns | url= | work=CanWest News Service | pages= | date=2005-04-03 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 April 2024 }}</ref>
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  • Title: Mystery man returns
  • Publication: Times Colonist
  • Date: 2005-04-03

  • Title: Doctor Who fans on high alert
  • Publication: The Windsor Star
  • Date: 2005-04-04