Archive for the ‘Peter Moffatt’ Category

Peter Moffatt (1987)

October 30, 2009

Here’s Peter Moffatt talking about the various stories he directed, ranging from ‘State of Decay’ and ‘The Visitation’ to ‘The Five Doctors’ and ‘The Twin Dilemma’. Happy Halloween!

“I was on holiday in Johannesburg in South Africa where my wife was doing a play. We were just going out for the evening, when there was a phone call from John Nathan-Turner asking me to do one of his ‘Doctor Who’s. I knew John vaguely from the days when he was a Production Assistant, but on ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ I got very friendly with him, as he was our Production Unit Manager and I did a lot of the shows.

“For ‘State of Decay’, we had a fairly early planning meeting, unlike a normal play where it’s usually just before rehearsals start. The biggest challenge was the King Vampire, the great heaving monster under the ground, which didn’t work. First we opted to do it mechanically, which looked dreadful. Then we had a man with a flapping umbrella type costume. I cut it down to the briefest glimpse. It was difficult to make it believable. Looking back, perhaps it would have been better to have used a vast noise – as suggested by light and sound. The model shots were quite a challenge, but they worked all right, though we had to slow them down so they didn’t look like toys. Also, the filming was done before the second studio, and the colouring of the lighting where the spaceship should have been differed from location to studio – thus I had a matching problem when I came to editing.

“I asked Emrys Jones to almost ham Shakespeare, so that he could disguise his true identity. It was interesting for them as actors to do – we decided that even when they were alone, they were so used to this manner of behaviour in front of the peasant population that they carried it on and never dropped it. The vampires themselves were, after all, playing the part of King and Queen. I worked out with them all these very formulized movements – rather balletic and extremely elegant. I contrasted this by directing the scientists and peasants to be as naturalistic as possible.

“Matthew Waterhouse had only done a tiny part in ‘To Serve Them All My Days’. He was fairly professional, given that he’d never been to drama school, but at first he tended to move rather badly – it was difficult to stop him skipping about. He did learn quickly, though. By ‘The Visitation’ he was much more assured, thought the difficulty with that story was having so many main characters. He was always extraordinarily receptive and willing, but his body, not being trained, didn’t behave like an instrument. An actor should be able to use his body as a pianist uses his piano.

“I thought ‘The Visitation’ was most ingenious – though I didn’t entirely feel sure about our ethics in explaining the Great Fire! We had the Terileptils for that, with Michael Melia with a mic inside his mask, which was operated brilliantly by Peter Wragg using remote control. Peter asked if he could come to a rehearsal to see the long dialogue scenes of the Terileptil leader. I said ‘This is going to be very difficult, as the Terileptil has to express its tainted beauty, intellectual anger, the lot’, but Peter said that’s all he needed, he didn’t need a script. True to his word, he just felt his way through the dialogue and made that face extremely mobile. Michael Robbins was pushed to the ground rather too forcefully in the beheading scene, and he got a bad case of housemaid’s knee – it swelled up to an enormous size, and recording had to stop while he visited the Television Centre doctor.

“In ‘Mawdryn Undead’, Mark Strickson was wonderful – he learnt so quickly. I remember his very first scene on the filming, which we did at Middlesex Polytechnic, Trent Park – as the public school. He started off with a very off, very modern accent and I said to him ‘You’re supposed to be a public schoolboy’. Immediately, he assumed the right accent. He felt himself into the part and gave the same enthusiasm and attention to detail even when he’d got nothing to do, as in ‘The Five Doctors’. He never complained, although it must have been frustrating.

“There was a scene where David Collings as Mawdryn has lost all his strength and was crawling along the ship’s floor. The make-up girl provided him with some revolting-looking sick, which he threw up all over the floor. I didn’t like it, so we recorded it again without the sick, and I used the second version. It was unnecessary. I don’t shoot people sitting on a lavatory any more than I shoot people being violently sick. Also, if you dwell on horror too much, the audience becomes dulled to it. In ‘The Twin Dilemma’, we shot about ten minutes of Mestor’s death scene, and it was a bit horrific so I took brief shots of it and cut back to the actors’ reactions.

“Maurice Denham was absolutely thrilled to do ‘The Twin Dilemma’. Kevin McNally adored it – and it wasn’t even a very big part. Because of the strike, we had a long period of rehearsal so I mixed it up rehearsing both recording blocks together to keep everybody fresh. As a consequence, they became like a naughty family with practical jokes, the lot – they loved it. After our last recording, we all went out to have dinner in a restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush. We were hours later, but they’d kept open for us, it was tears all round – nobody wanted to leave this family.

“It was the same with ‘The Five Doctors’. They were all so thrilled to be back, even though there were only two scenes with everybody together. Frazer only came in for one day, rehearsed on Saturday, recorded on Sunday. When he came into rehearsal, Pat and he immediately started reminiscing. I had to say ‘Come along’. He looked rather sour, but I’ve never seen somebody kiss so many pretty girls in the canteen, apart perhaps from Maurice Denham. They both seem to know every actress in the canteen. Nicola Bryant got a very special kiss every morning when Maurice arrived and in the evening when he departed.

“Tom Baker withdrew from ‘The Five Doctors’ before I joined. I never saw a draft script, so I don’t know how it was originally divided. I was working on ‘Juliet Bravo’ when John offered it to me, so communication was a problem and by the time I arrived, the main cast were worked out. Tom sent me one of the best fan letters I’ve ever had from an artist, saying ‘State of Decay’ had been one of his favourite stories and one of his favourite times on the show. At a Chicago convention he saw me and flung his arms around me, saying how marvellous it was to see me again. It’s a shame he didn’t do ‘The Five Doctors’, it would have been a kind of thank you to ‘Doctor Who’ for making him a star – but he had his reasons.

“The clips from ‘Shada’ had to be isolated – one of the problems was that they were short clips before some other actor would appear. The punt dialogue was not special to the story. John and I sat through hours of it, and we changed the second extract, which looked a bit strange – why was he suddenly lying in a car park? The idea behind it was you got them all taking off in the TARDIS, though I’d originally suggested to John and he’d agreed to use a bit where Tom and Lalla were walking into one of the colleges, so that it looked as though they’d dropped back into what they’d been doing before.

“Richard Hurndall and Carole Ann Ford were in this strange hall of mirrors, where they were due to meet a Dalek. They were supposed to see it, go off left and the Dalek was supposed to follow them saying ‘Exterminate!’. It had been difficult to mark out those mirrored corridors in rehearsal, and in the first take Richard and Carole Ann went off followed by the Dalek saying ‘Exterminate!’, until we suddenly heard him add ‘Damn it, I’ve lost the buggers!’. As you can imagine, it brought the house down. They used the second take, where I’d been talking to a cameraman or somebody and forgotten to say ‘cut’. Poor old Roy went on saying ‘Exterminate!’ right up the vocal scale until he couldn’t get any higher. We all gave him a round of applause.

“Richard Hurndall I had the greatest admiration for – he’d never played a Doctor and had to presume exactly what he was doing, while all the others fell back into doing what they’d always done. I was never worried, but he was, fantastically so. He said ‘What am I doing now?’. I told him he didn’t have to be Bill – just suggest him. After all, we showed Bill as a prologue, so it was going to be obvious that here was a different actor. I said suggest him in your gestures and temper, and he was of the old-fashioned school of actors who never question – I always had to ask him if he was happy.

“I would have loved to have gone to some strange location for ‘The Twin Dilemma’, who filming was done in two very small quarries – one was near Harefield, the other Gerrard’s Cross. They were both deep in mud when we did it, and terribly limited, because pan the camera two inches the other way and you’d see housing estates or trees. I’d have liked to have used a burnt out forest area to show the required devastation. We did the location work between the two studios, which I liked because so often if you go filming first, you don’t have any rehearsal.

“Somehow Colin never had any doubts. It just seemed to go right. He’s very out-going and dominant, and yet he can be calm, quiet and gentle. There were no real birth pangs – it all came from those initial rehearsals, and for him it was lucky they were extended by the strike. Nicola Bryant’s got an enchanting personality. I can’t believe she hasn’t been acting for years.

“Edwin Richfield, who plays Mestor, could hardly move – it was very restricting. He had to use his arms like fins, because he couldn’t use his elbows. The difficult thing was in rehearsal actors playing monsters give a beautiful facial performance and you have to keep reminding them they won’t be visible in the studio. I chose Edwin for his voice – he had so much to express and it was recorded naturally on the boom mic, coming out slightly distorted from being behind the mask and then treated in cipher dub.

“I thought it was going to be impossible to get twins. I suggested to John opting for a boy and a girl, so it wouldn’t be noticeable that they weren’t identical. I interviewed a lot of actors and actresses with this in mind, when suddenly an agent rang up and said ‘We’ve got some real twins’. They read well, although not experienced, and so I took them on”.