Luke Dyson

Doctor Who: Time Fracture – Providing a Sonic Service to London’s Latest Immersive Experience

Doctor Who: Time Fracture is a ground-breaking immersive theatrical experience which plunges a live audience into the world of the iconic British sci-fi series. Set within a central-London location, the show features a brand-new Doctor Who adventure and is produced by Immersive Everywhere and officially licenced by BBC Studios. Having worked on a range of immersive productions in the past, White Light (WL) was called upon by the production’s lighting designer, Terry Cook of Woodroffe Bassett Design, to provide over 1,500 lighting fixtures.



Doctor Who: Time Fracture is based on and inspired by the iconic tv show, of which there have been over 800 episodes. This brand-new adventure is set in 1940 during the Blitz when an unknown weapon destroys a small corner of Mayfair and simultaneously opens a rift in space and time… It was the task of the creative team to bring to life this ambitious story and transform the Central London space into a detailed, interactive theatrical environment which the audience would instantly recognise as the world of Doctor Who. Terry explains: “Whilst the show is immersive, we start the process as we would on any production – and that’s to understand the piece by looking at the initial scenic design and discussing with the director, writer and production designer their thoughts on the various spaces and the action within them. We then go away and create mood boards for each world to share with the team to ensure we are all imagining the same look and feel. This show is made by the connection between the scenic design and lighting, and these two elements working together meant we spent many hours on Zoom looking at sketches, discussing locations and how we would take on this epic task”.











Regenerating an Empty Space



The space used for the production used to be two adjacent buildings: an old army base and a series of antique shops. For the premise of the show, it had to be transformed into 17 different worlds, set across two levels, and even have a stream flowing through the basement. Terry comments: “Rebecca Brower, the production designer, created an amazing and incredibly detailed world to work with. Our challenge on immersive theatre is finding the ways to treat the scenic worlds and light the action without making the spaces feel theatrically lit and to also create a seamless experience for the audience as they move throughout the story. Many of the sets in this production had relatively low ceiling heights and a large challenge was finding small compact fixtures that can be hidden away but still be bright enough for theatrical use. If you can see all the technical equipment, whether that’s the speakers, projectors, lights, rigging, it detracts from the world we have created and can distract the audience. Of course, there is always compromise and some things simply cannot be hidden but I was determined to try my best to hide almost all of what would be literally thousands of lighting fixtures used within the show!”.



All of this meant that site visits were of paramount importance as Terry had to become extremely knowledgeable of the various spaces. He explains: “As the show is built around the venue walls etc, things naturally are uncovered and so it then becomes part of my role as to whether I hide or highlight these. Normally we would all be able to make multiple trips down but, due to COVID, we had to schedule these, and plan a COVID test as all the works were reduced for distancing reasons. Thankfully, the COVID plan that the producers and production had put in place was easy to follow and we all felt very safe”.



After discussing the initial concept design, Terry then worked closely with the project’s Head of Lighting, Adam Povey, whose role was to run the lighting install and set up the department. Terry comments: “Without Adam, this show simply would not have been possible. The producers have been amazing to create a show during a global pandemic and made the decision early on to actually purchase a large part of the rig for long-term use, with both Adam and I working closely with them to decide what needed investing in. As such, almost 80% is now owned by the production whereas the remaining units, control and effects we knew we needed to outsource; hence why we approached the team at WL”.











A Monster Lighting Rig…



Terry then worked closely with WL’s Key Account Manager Dominic Yates to draw on the fixtures he required. He explains: “Much of the lighting is practical driven – hanging pendants, converted lamp shades, wall mounted sconces, chandeliers, lanterns, LED candles, LED fluorescent tubes, festoon, LED Non-Neon and even a practical fly zapper!”.



The main generic fixtures in the rig are ETC Source 4 Mini LED profiles and PAR16 birdies with a full gamut of lens tubes and lamp types. These are complemented in the larger spaces with ETC ColorSource Spots and SGM P2s that provide greater flexibility with colour and the brighter light levels needed. The team tried to use as many LED fixtures as possible for both environmental and maintenance reasons. The rest of the rig is a combination of specific effect fixtures (strobes, egg strobes and LED pars), with a number of LED battens to backlight windows and several scenic cycs around the experience. 



In terms of the other fixtures, these were all used to bring to life the atmosphere and feel needed with the individual spaces. Terry explains: “Fluorescent tubes in the arrivals and unit spaces give the immediate feeling of an abandoned office setting, candles and chandeliers in the Elizabeth’s Courtyard give an authentic 16th century feel whereas hanging pendants surround the ZZ1 bar. These more traditional fixtures add texture and colour to the spaces and provide the punch needed to highlight the actors and action throughout the show”.



Atmospherics were also key to adding to the mood and look of the spaces so Terry drew on discretely hidden Unique 2.1 hazers, AF-1 fans and smoke geysers.



Terry explains: “I believe this is the first show we have lit in a long time that does not have a single moving light on it! This was a very conscious design choice, simply because the fixtures were too big to fit in the low-ceilinged spaces. What this meant was that we didn’t have our usual safety net of being able to quickly create a special in that ‘out of the way area’ for a particular moment. As such, every light had to be thought about a lot more in the design process and rigged very specifically for a definite purpose.”











Exterminating Any Issues…



Once Terry had decided what fixtures were required, there was then the unenviable task of controlling this complex system and ensuring that everything worked holistically. He comments: “Even prior to taking on this project, we knew it was going to be ambitious and unlike anything that has been attempted in the theatre industry before. Each main show has three groups of audience staggered per evening and each space runs and resets three times each performance with multiple spaces running at the same time. This equates to over 4,500 cues, running on 95 different cue lists so it simply cannot be operated in the traditional way of calling cues and pressing go.”



Terry called on the services of Matt Ladkin, his Associate Designer and Programmer, to help create a system that could work. He states: “It’s a programming master class. Not only was Matt programming the show’s lighting but also the cast triggers in order to keep the actors on time. It’s key they know when an audience group is arriving or needing to be moved onto the next part of the show. Tom Maller, the Director, would give me a list of moments when this needed to happen and we would program them in and at tech we would explain the trigger so they knew what to look out for”.



The show is controlled by a mix of MSC triggers and five different SMPTE Timecode streams which are fired from the sound QLab machines, programmed by Luke Swaffield at Autograph, from a selection of actor (and audience) pressed trigger buttons located around the set. There is also an ETC EOS system comprising of a 24k RPU3 as master and 16k Gio as backup with a further Gio brought in for the plotting and tech period. 











Creating a Show in a Different World…



With a show as ambitious as Doctor Who: Time Fracture, this means it has taken several years to finally come into fruition. And with it opening in spring of this year, this also means that production started during the midst of a global pandemic. Terry explains: “When the Covid-19 outbreak first happened, we were already into the design and planning stages of the show. By having the enforced closure, we were actually able to spend a lot more time on pre-production than we usually would on an immersive production. This then allowed us to be much more detailed in what the show was going to be both from the collective designs and the storyboard. It also gave the whole creative team more time to develop ideas which, positively, has resulted in a show that is the most complex and intricate immersive production we have collectively worked on”.



The lighting installation took place over three months, from February to May 2021. In terms of the plotting and tech process, this was also extended to ensure that Terry and his team could work safely, without the usual 30 or 40 contractors in the space. Similarly, this allowed more time to explore the spaces and build the many cues, with the show having over 80% plotted as a starting point to work from.



Doctor Who Time Fracture has now opened to rave reviews and will run until 2022. More information can be found here.



Terry concludes: “It felt amazing to be back in a venue together being able to collaborate on a live project. All of us have spent the lockdowns isolated from the in-room creative process working via video links and online calls so to be able to sit and create work communally was a refreshing change. We were incredibly grateful to have WL as our lighting partner for this project and our thanks to Dom Yates and the whole team for supporting us and the production so well”.






Lighting Designer – Terry Cook
Associate LD and Programmer – Matt Ladkin
Associate LD – Miriam Bull
Head of Lighting – Adam Povey
Lighting rental – White Light           



Production Electricians:



Dan Large
Adam Squire 
Al Watson 
Liam Cleary 
Dan Harvey 
Martin Strods 
Oliver Partridge 
Dan Parrott



Lighting Operators:



Bethany Bains
Jack Fenton



Photos courtesy of Luke Dyson.




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