‘Doctor Who’ Celebration: Inside the Special Effects

'Doctor Who' SFX supervisor Danny Hargreaves and star Matt Smith. (Photo via Hargreaves' Twitter)

‘Doctor Who’ SFX supervisor Danny Hargreaves and star Matt Smith. (Photo via Hargreaves’ Twitter)

One of the highlights of the Doctor Who convention in London this 50th anniversary weekend has been the Special Effects panels, led by SFX supervisor Danny Hargreaves. Hosted by Bang Goes the Theory‘s Dallas Campbell, the 45-minute sessions included active demonstrations of some of the series’ most dramatic effects.

Hargreaves says he never went to college and trained in his craft since he was as young as Doctor Who‘s tiniest viewers. He emphasized an absolute commitment to safety, although he does admit that he once set Tenth Doctor David Tennant‘s hair aflame. (Cue the “Not the hair!” cries.) “I might have blown up more Doctors than you think,” he joked. His biggest stunt was on Doctor Who‘s spinoff Torchwood, in a scene in which Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) blew up a building. That explosion required 500 liters of fuel, twice as much as anticipated.

But even with all of the pyrotechnics at work, Hargreaves says that the most difficult task is that old action-movie staple: people crashing through windows. And they can’t use breakaway glass or sugar glass—it must be real glass. Timing has to be exact: the window must shatter “right when the actor’s nose touches the glass, or it’s too late,” he says.

For the pyros out there, there was a moment in the session when the stage erupted in crackling flames, courtesy of a propane tank. The effect made it appear that the stage was completely consumed, but there’s the movie magic for you:

And Doctor Who‘s trademark Christmas specials often feature icy white precipitation, a few Ghostbuster-like men in uniform emerged with snow guns, covering much of the audience in realistic-looking foam crystals:

See more:
‘Doctor Who’ Celebration Panel Focuses on Matt Smith’s Departure, 50th Anniversary
‘Doctor Who’: 10 Great Moments from ‘Day of the Doctor’… in GIFs

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

See more posts by Kevin Wicks