from tone meetings to read-throughs to the shooting process

TV You will have heard the news that Doctor Who Confidential has been axed by BBC3’s channel controller Zai Bennett as part of the BBC’s massive budget cuts as he concentrates on the post watershed slot at the expense of the early evening. It’s not that much of a surprise.  Confidential was always something of a luxury item. What other show has its own weekly spin-off documentary making of series with episodes the same length as its progenitor? The real surprise is that it was a Three commission in the first place and came out of that channel’s budget and that it could be axed on their say-so. Hay-ho.

Twinned with the kids show, Totally Doctor Who, a sort of specially themed Blue Peter, Confidential had a crucial role back in 2005 when the show returned to the screen. Then just half an hour, it not only gave an insight into the creative decision behind the return of the series, it also included sections dedicated to illuminating parts of the show’s history for younger viewers with clips and interviews with older Doctors, companions and creatives. The Doctor himself might have been circumspect about his past in the actual programme but that was front and centre in Confidential, giving the classic DVD a helpful sales boost.

For fans whose first inclination of the work which went into the making of Doctor Who was the book The Making of Doctor Who by Terrance Dicks, they must have looked on at this glut of information with envious eyes, amid their giddy absorption of the minutiae of modern television production, from tone meetings to read-throughs to the shooting process to the creation of digital special effects. This was a televised media course about our favourite franchise and in a few years there'll doubtless be many fans who go into television production simply because of Confidential.

As the show matured and gained an extra fifteen minutes, Confidential branched out from simply reporting the production of a given episode into exploring aspects of fandom itself, with Maggot from Goldie Lookin Chain showing us his toy collection and a crash course in Trok. The apogee of this approach was the episode twinned with Blink, which made up for the lack of David Tennant in the actual episode by having the actor interview the writers and other uberfans about the series, including a tour of television centre with Steven Moffat, both standing on the site of so many childhood dreams with misty-eyed nostalgia.

At no other time have the people listed in the credits of a television series gained quite so much media exposure.  Personalities like Ed Thomas, Neil Gorton, Phil Collinson, Julie Gardener, Louise Page and latterly Piers Wenger and Beth Willis as well as the two showrunners, the writers and directors all became as much a part of watching the show as the cast. When the show was originally on, few people outside of the hardcore fanbase or Doctor Who Magazine readers generally knew or even cared that Ray Cusick designed the Daleks or that Eric Saward was script editor.  Now we could see second assistant directors going about their business.

The focus has narrowed as time’s gone on, with much more footage of pre-production and shooting days rather than post. There’s little or nothing about music composition now, or editing (perhaps because of the generally tighter schedule) and plenty about the writing with even Neil Gaiman reading out scenes and deleted scenes from the TARDIS set. Confidential’s clearly become a fixture on set with cast members greeting them on mass as “Confidential” which can be quite charming as the lead time between interview and messing about in front of one camera and the process of dramedy on the other narrows.

But as the series has reached its fifth and sixth years, it’s obviously become more and more difficult to find new things to cover. The latest innovation A Day In The Life has been fascinating as we see what the caterers and focus pullers actually do, and the complexity of directing. Increasingly cast members and creatives have been taken on trips tangentially connected to the series as a way of adding context (notably to Venice for an episode shot in Croatia doubling as Venice) and a noticeable increase in the number of montages when Confidential possibly had less access than usual or the episode didn’t lend itself to a more thorough exploration.

It’ll be sad to see Confidential go especially in this transitional moment when new executive producers arrive. It will at least mean that the likes of Doctor Who Magazine regain their status as the primary way fans will gain a sense of the production of the series though a question mark now hangs over how the making-of element of box-sets will be handled and what will fill the gaps on the official website where off cuts and preview materials would be. Perhaps Confidential will continue in a different capacity, still around on set, but able to give their material more focus without a timeslot to fill. Either way, thanks for the memories, Zoe and everyone. Cue montage:

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