Flicks And The City was lucky enough to attend the Doctor Who Official 50th Celebration at ExCel in London last Saturday. There was no better day to be surrounded by thousands of Whovians as the time had finally come for the 50th Anniversary episode to air that night! After all the excitement, we’re taking a look back at some of the highlights of the convention and what some of you may have missed, or if you unfortunately didn’t get to attend.

With numerous panels across the weekend, one highlight was the SFX talk with Bang Goes the Theory presenter Dallas Campbell. Joined on stage by Danny Hargreaves, a special effects supervisor from BBC Wales, Campbell gave us all an insight into just how much work goes into making Doctor Who look as good as it does today.

Let’s have a look at some of the most interesting things we learnt…

1. Daleks are built to specification and need.

In particular, we heard about the ‘break away’ Dalek which was blown to pieces in Asylum Of The Daleks. Instead of completely ruining a Dalek every time, they simply blow up a huge chunk that flies off the top with an interior fireball and air. This saves on budget and also looks fantastic.

2. The SFX team get a fair crack at creative input

When Danny first started, the scripts were very specific as to what the SFX team needed to put together. However, over time trust developed, and the show-runner would simply say ‘action sequence’ and leave the creativity to the team based on the script. This is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job.

3. A certain Doctor might not be as brave as you think…

While he won’t admit it, Matt Smith is very nervous and jumpy around pyrotechnics. All that nervous energy that comes on screen isn’t always acting!

Untitled4. CGI isn’t taking over as much as you’d think.

Audience feedback has shown the BBC that real explosions and SFX are wanted, so they try to maintain a healthy balance between something physical and what can only be created on computers. Obviously spaceships etc can’t be created convincingly for real, but Earth weather elements and similar can be.

5. A Slitheen is the most fun to work with.

The gunge goes everywhere! They use a huge number of buckets of slime that are fun to get everywhere, though the making isn’t quite as enjoyable. It’s made out of food additives in case anyone tastes or swallows it, but it’s not nice. It’s similar to Haribo but you wouldn’t want to buy it.

6. School might not be the best way into the industry.

While we always advise kids to stay in school, Danny managed to get into filmmaking by sheer passion and luck. From watching Terminator and Alien, he left school and researched companies, going straight into behind-the-scenes work. His first job was London’s Burning 18 years ago, and look at him now!

7. Health and Safety can be a pain in the…

Danny had Matt Smith running down a corridor with explosions behind him in a real working power station. With so much electricity working right next to them, they ran the risk of cutting off South Wales! It was such a hard thing to do technically as there was a real possibility of danger, and it was so loud with machines and steam too.IMG_2411

8. Who you gonna call?

If you want snow on set, Danny and his team rely on a group they call the Snowbusters. If you were lucky enough to be at this panel in the front few rows, you’ll probably have left covered in a pile of synthetic snow! It’s a combination of foam and paper to give the most realistic effect possible.

9. Torchwood gave James Bond a run for its money.

With Gwen blowing up a big building, the team ended up using 500 litres of fuel, which was similar to the kind of effects you would get in a Hollywood blockbuster. Of course, it was only meant to be half that amount of fuel, but it worked great!

10. It’s not always plain sailing.

Danny admitted to setting David Tennant’s hair on fire, and Matt Smith even had an accident with a sonic screwdriver sparking and burning his finger. Being the Doctor is certainly a risky job!