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Friday, 4 July 2008

Radio Times - Doctor Who Monsters

Radio Times sent Nick Griffiths into the lair of every Doctor Who monster: the workshop where Neill Gorton and his team make those aliens come alive.

"These are just some of the things that happened to be in the workshop," says Neill Gorton as he shows off his handiwork for RT. "A fraction of the stuff we have built. It feels like a lifetime of work crammed into four years."

Although head of Millennium FX, he never watches the episodes before transmission. "I enjoy the whole process of sitting down on a Saturday night waiting for that music to start. It's a thrill. You have your tea, sit down and watch Doctor Who. It takes me back to being a kid. It's a buzz."

Here are some of the best creepy creations from the past four series.


I put a lot of pressure on myself because I always loved Davros when I was a kid and now I'm getting to do something I've wanted to do for over 20 years. Everyone had the same basic idea - to honour the original look, go back to the first Davros, actor Michael Wisher's, back in the 70s, rather than the 80s version.

As soon as you see him you go, "It's Davros!" You don't need any more pointers. It's got to be that iconic image, just updated really. Davros had his hand shot off in the 80s, so now he's using a robotic-looking one. It was a bit of continuity - to make sure we were following on from old Who and keeping to the story.


Russell very much wanted the look of the original 70s Sontarans, so when they took the helmet off, you went, "It's a Sontaran!"


I think she was the high priestess [in 2008's The Fires of Pompeii]. It was fun because it was one of those really simple things to make - a big foam latex mask and she had a denture and bits and bobs - but it was so effective on screen. It really looked very spooky. It needed to evoke the feel of those plastercasts of the "bodies" found at Pompeii.

Time beetle

This is the fibreglass giant beetle that sits on Donna's back in Turn Left. It's all radio-controlled so it can writhe and snap its mandibles, but it also had to be reasonably lightweight so that it could be attached to a harness. People are afraid of insects - put a giant one on someone's back and it's going to cause a shiver.


Sometimes it's the simplest stuff that's the most effective. They had to look like hessian sacks because [in 2007's Human Nature/The Family of Blood] they were meant to be real scarecrows from 1917. If overdone, the design would lose its authenticity, but we shaped them a bit to look scary. [Millennium FX colleague] Rob Mayor designed it.


This is an Ood with its brain hanging down [from 2008's Planet of the Ood]. We tweaked the animatronic one used in The Impossible Planet [2006], because we knew it was going to get a lot of screen time and "talk-time", as it were. We added extra animatronics to give it more movement in the face and brows for a bigger range of expression.


One of the very first things we made [for the 2005 debut episode, Rose]. With that first series, we had no idea if anybody would watch the show or if it would sink without trace after one season. Also it was a real learning curve. No-one knew anyone, so we were all getting to know one other. Looking back now, everyone's like family. It's an amazing journey we've been on.

Stone arm

This is the arm Phil Davis wore in The Fires of Pompeii and it snaps off [at the wrist]. He had his arm strapped behind his back and had this thing strapped on. It's made of fibreglass and had to break and be reset each time, so it's held together where it breaks. There's a very visible join there, with magnets. If you pull on the arm, it comes away easily.


They featured in the first special [The Christmas Invasion, 2005]. After all the chaos and trauma of the first series, in terms of everyone finding their feet, we all felt a bit more confident and I think that started to show in our work - everything really upped a step. The Sycorax were a nice start because they were a proper, brand-new alien.


[From The Runaway Bride, 2006.] A fantastic piece. You don't quite get it when you see it on TV, but to stand in front of this thing rearing up 15 feet on set was a jaw-dropper. Everyone was blown away. And Sarah Parish was so game, strapped into it. We tortured her!


We used a powdered aluminium, mixed with a resin and brushed on as a surface coat. Because it's metal particles all glued together - a process called cold-cast metal - when polished, it looks and acts like metal. Up close, they don't feel like some sprayed plastic thing. They look like steel and they feel cold to the touch. And it shows on screen. [First seen: Rise of the Cybermen, 2006.]


It's a little funny head in a ball! It was a bit of a challenge because it's a tiny head, but our animatronics guy Gustav put so much movement in the eye area that it really brought it to life. It was just for that one shock moment [in Last of the Time Lords, 2007] where Martha opens up the Toclafane sphere and you see the face inside.

Clockwork Droids

The finish on them is gorgeous - up close it looks like porcelain. They're a very simple mask but they really creep people out. You take something mundane, a carnival mask, and turn it into something that sends kids scurrying behind the sofa terrified. [Seen in The Girl in the Fireplace, 2006.]


Although insectoid, Chantho [from Utopia, 2007] had to be very sympathetic, likeable. I think we ended up looking at grasshoppers and trying to get a feel of that look. It had animatronic mandibles so when Chantho was more agitated they would twitch more, and when she was relaxed they'd move more slowly. Actress Chipo Chung really brought the character to life.


We did a couple of designs and they selected one that we called the Big Purple Chicken. It has animatronics in the eyes to bring them to life, and we did that lovely tube and the copper element around it with a light and green fluid so it all glowed. They had to be very alien and unusual. {Seen in The Doctor's Daughter, 2008.]


One of Russell's animal ideas that was just brilliant. Take off the helmet and there's a blooming great rhino's head. But it worked and evokes this solid military idea. It was all radio-controlled animatronics so it could talk away. [First seen in Smith and Jones, 2007.]


[We got to rebuild the Slitheen] for The Sarah Jane Adventures. It gave us an opportunity to fix and tweak all the things that were done in a rush the first time and didn't work [back in series one]. The heads were originally too heavy - when the guys walked around, the heads wobbled. We built new animatronics that were much more lightweight and agile.

Aged Doctor

That's part of David's old-age prosthetics for the The Family of Blood [2007]. At the end, there was the scene of the Doctor as an old man. So that was the first "old age" I did on David and, of course, I got to do another one for the series-three finale where he was extremely old. David's just so chilled out; he's lovely to work with. He'd spent ages working alongside people wearing rubber heads and was fascinated to see what it was like from the inside.


That was revealed under a Santa mask in the Runaway Bride [2006]. They wanted something blank with no emotion. Just a very simple sleek design.