Doctor Who: Recording The DVD Commentaries

Toby Hadoke, Timothy Combe and Carol Ann Ford at the DVD commentary for “The Reign Of Terror”. Photographer: Simon Harries

Over in the corner of former Doctor Who composer Paddy Kingsland’s recording studios in Hammersmith, another former Doctor Who composer, Mark Ayres, is readying himself for an imminent “Planet Of Giants” commentary. Toby Hadoke, having just finished “The Krotons” chat-track, sidles over and informs Ayres that, “Alan Tilvern once tried selling cuckoo clocks.” “Ooh, thanks for that,” says Ayres, scribbling it down on his notepad. Tilvern, y’see, appeared in “Planet Of Giants” – so will this piece of trivia now make it into the final commentary? You’ll have to buy it to find out.

Ever since the Doctor Who DVD range’s second release – “The Robots Of Death” in 2000 – commentaries have been a vital part of its extras arsenal. As SFX arrives, Philip Madoc (sadly in the last months of his life) is just leaving, and there are three octogenarian faces sat on a sofa waiting for their turn. It turns out they’re Brian Hodgson, Clive Doig, Sonia Markham and David Tilley, who are here for the “Planet Of Giants” commentary. That story, as Toby points out, is the only one where all the guest cast are now dead. So, commentary producer John Kelly decided, it was a chance to go at it from a different angle and have a more technically-skewed chat, hence sound-nerd (he won’t mind the description) Mark Ayres being on moderating duties.

Matthew Kingsland and John Kelly oversee the commentaries. Photographer: Simon Harries

Kelly has been with the Classic Doctor Who DVD range since the early days, producing various Making Ofs and featurettes, before graduating onto masterminding the commentaries.

“I try to avoid excessive duplication with other DVD features, and am always keen to involve people who we might not have heard from before,” he tells SFX. “Working to my budget, I work out my ‘perfect scenario’, then start phoning people up and trying to work out dates and contractual agreements. This is the main bulk of the work. The biggest challenge can often be settling on a date where everyone is free.”

“The commentaries offer customers a unique viewing experience,” DVD branch boss Dan Hall tells us, while munching his way through two roast chickens (he’s on the Atkins). “It’s like having these people in the room with us, chatting along. I’ve always really liked the way producer John Kelly walks a tough line between information and informality. If the editorial were to skew too far in either direction it would become far less enjoyable.”

Gilbert Wynne, John Kelly and Toby Hadoke at the commentary for "The Krotons”. Photographer: Simon Harries

As well as having the right technical know-how, it’s essential Kelly knows his Doctor Who onions. At various points during the two commentaries SFX is present for today – “The Reign Of Terror” is also on the menu – Kelly has to stop to recording due to a guest misremembering something. Full-time Who spods Richard Bignell and Andrew Pixley provide copious notes beforehand while trivia-heads Ben Jolly and Simon Harries are usually there in the studio to butt in should somebody slip up.

“I keep an ear out for what I consider serious factual errors,” Kelly says. “If something like that creeps in, I will stop the recording, feed in the correct information, and we’ll do a retake. Sometimes we will wildtrack odd lines in at the end of an episode.

“Normally, you’ll find that a commentary picks up momentum as it runs along, so I try to avoid stopping the recording if at all possible. I think we have managed a few all the way through, but more often than not, there will be one or two stops per episode.”

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