Editing Doctor Who – an audio adventure!

Hornets' Nest - The Circus of Doom by Paul Magrs

The Circus of Doom (c)BBC

What a job, eh?  Editing together the latest audio adventures of the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker.  It is, I am happy to admit, a childhood dream come true!  I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since, well, since forever.  And Tom was/is MY Doctor.  My first experience of Doctor Who was in the mid to late 1970s and there he was, Tom “The Doctor” Baker…larger than life, with scarf-a-flappin, a mile-wide smile and a manic approach to being a hero.  According to my mum, I was watching Doctor Who on a Saturday evening from the age of 2…no wonder Tom Baker has such a power over my childhood memories!

As I grew up, I always knew that I wanted to work in radio and what is now referred to as audio.  And I always knew I wanted to make science fiction.  But to be making Doctor Who…and Tom Baker Doctor Who?!  Wow wow wow!

So what is it I am doing?  A few people have asked what my role actually is in the Hornets’ Nest production crew?  First off, the producer/director is the uber-talented  Kate Thomas from BBC Audiobooks.  Kate has made pretty much all of the many, many BBC Audio Dr Who audio adventures…she is a goddess of Doctor Who.  So I’m not the producer or director (unusual for me nowadays!). I certainly didn’t write it or script edit it.  The writer is the mighty Paul Magrs, a man with much Doctor Who writing experience! I’ve done my fair share of writing for radio over the years, and will continue to do so, but I don’t think I’ll ever be good enough to write for Doctor Who!  Simon Willey and Wolfgang were the recording engineers for the drama scenes, so again, that’s not my job (also unusual for me, as I have recorded most things I produce!). So what the heck is it I am doing?

In the voice-over studio

In the voice-over studio

Part of my job was to bring my experience of BBC Radio drama directing/producing…in this role I advised on various aspects of the series, organised recording studios and engineers and ensured all the audio was recorded exactly as would be required to deliver the end result.

As part of this process, I also engineered the recording sessions with Tom and Richard Franklin, these were done in a radio studio rather than a drama studio (Electric Airwaves if you are interested – we used Motivation Sound Studios for the drama sessions).

The Stuff of Nightmares

The Stuff of Nightmares (c)BBC

Once everything was recorded my BIG job began.  It is my role to edit everything together, much like a film editor.  I have all the raw audio, and working alongside my script notes, I piece together each episode, using the best takes, making sure everything balances in terms of pace and style.  Once this is done I then layer in the music (supplied by the BBC), re-time everything to fit what the composer has in mind, and re-balance the volumes.  Finally I go back through the whole episode and add in sound effects (such as the wonderful original 1970s BBC Tardis SFX) and atmospheres.  With these three processes finished I have to listen through a few more times to check there are no mistakes, the pacing is right, the volumes are correct, the FX are in the right place, etc…  At this stage I send the episode to Kate at the BBC, and she, along with the commissioning editor Michael Stevens, listen through and send back a list of small changes they think need to be made.

Kate, Tom, me and Richard

Kate, Tom, me and Richard

You might think I would be annoyed by this short list of changes – after all, I’ve done all this hard work (something like 36 hours per ep) and these two people tell me to make alterations!  But actually it is a very useful and much appreciated stage – being so close to the audio for so long, I find that I end up missing a few things.  Plus, my opinion of pacing and style, may not suit others, and so Kate and Michael play the part of ‘first listeners’.  It is a vital and very positive stage of the production.

So, I take these notes, work through the episode to make the changes, and then master the episode.  Mastering pulls all the many audio files together into one single broadcast quality wav file.  At this point I listen through on headphones to check nothing has gone awry during the mastering process.  If everything is OK, I send an mp3 file of the episode to Kate for her to sign off on.  Once that is done I send a DATA CD and AUDIO CD of the episode to the chaps at BBC Audiobooks in Bath…they then send it through their duplication and distribution system and eventually the episode turns up as a CD and download all over the world – huzzah!

Mastering A DW Episode

Mastering A DW Episode

I’ve done this 3 times so far – ep 1 “The Stuff of Nightmares” is in the shops now; ep 2 “The Dead Shoes” comes out at the start of October; ep 3 “The Circus of Doom” is released along with ep 4 at the start of November.  Ep 5 comes out at the start of December – all in time for Xmas 🙂

Today I finished all the stages of ep 3 – so the master discs head off in the post tomorrow.  Ep 4 is already with Kate & co for notes, so not much left to do with that one.  Just ep 5 now needs to be built and edited…so I am very nearly there.  This production started back in Feb/March and is coming to a close in Oct…6 months for 5 CDs, not a terrible amount of time at all.

Tom does some 'acting'!

Tom does some 'acting'!

And through it all I’ve been getting to edit Doctor Who, Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor.  I’ve loved this job.  It’s been a dream come true, and one I’ve been able to share with friends all around the world through the blog and Twitter and Facebook.  For those of us who grew up with Tom as the Doctor, having him return has been a very special time.  Whether you enjoy the series or not, I hope you’ll agree that Tom coming back is a great thing.  Where he goes next, what he does next, whether it be more with the BBC or with someone else, I think we can all agree that Tom is a legend and a one-off and for me, he still exerts a ridiculous amount of control over my imagination…what a joy it has been working with him.

I just wish I could share with you the out-takes 🙂

The Dead Shoes

The Dead Shoes (c)BBC

“Doctor Who: Hornets’ Nest” is available via the BBC Shop, Amazon, Play, iTunes and other retailers.  There are 5 CDs in the series.

Some great places to visit:

Paul Magrs blog

BBC Shop

Tom Baker’s new website


About hokusbloke
30-something radio producer/director/writer, owner & MD of Ladbroke Productions (the UK's oldest independent radio production company). Lover of far fetched fiction, scifi and fantasy, my cats and all thinks tech. I am also the Chair of the Radio Independents Group, a former Trustee of the Radio Academy, and a Fellow of the RSA. I co-wrote, produced and directed Robert Rankin's "The Brightonomicon" audio series, produce Dr Who audiobooks for the BBC, and directed several sci-fi radio plays for BBC Radio 4 in 2009. I am a strong advocate for more SF audio and radio...keep watching this space for upcoming news!

One Response to Editing Doctor Who – an audio adventure!

  1. Brandi Jackola says:

    I think your part of the job is the most important! I don’t think many people realize what goes into editing…it’s the most crucial part of the project. You can have great raw material, but if it’s badly edited, you end up with poo. So well done, you! I’m jealous. 🙂 You’ve done an absolutely fabulous job, good sir!!

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