Fifty years ago, television history was being made when the BBC managed to create an alien time machine inside the small confines of Lime Grove studio, for Doctor Who. And now, you can see the floor plans of that very set, thanks to director Waris Hussein.
It’s a miracle that Hussein, who helmed the very first Doctor Who story, managed to hold on to these plans for all these years. The plans show how the first episode managed to cram a school room, a junkyard, and the inside of the TARDIS, into a very small studio:
The four different color-coded circles represent the four cameras that Hussein was working with, in filming the entire episode in one go, with only a short break halfway through. Hussein told the Radio Times, “In those days, we shot continuously on four cameras with very few breaks in the tape. You had to know exactly what you were doing. It was almost mathematical in its strategy.”
Here’s just the section of the TARDIS control room:
The outline of the original control room follows exactly the outline and a weird kink in the studio perimeter. The “walls” include a 40ft artist cloth at the back, a long section of 28ft photo blow-ups of circular “indentations” and, lower down, a 12ft 4 “floating screen on casters” and of course the door section, which proved problematic during the pilot recording, as the doors refused to close.
The back of the set features a complicated structure containing the elevated scanner screen, perspex panels and what would later be identified as the fault locator. There’s also a curious mirrored column.
The central hexagonal control panel is surrounded by aluminium floor sections, alongside a “canopy suspended at +10ft”. This piece was so cumbersome, it would feature in few subsequent episodes. (For this November’s BBC2 drama, An Adventure in Space and Time, which painstakingly re-creates this Tardis set, Mark Gatiss told me the canopy will be rendered via CGI.)
All four cameras (colour-coded by Waris) peeped through the section of the set that was left unbuilt – aka “the fourth wall” – primed for the long scene that takes up the latter half of An Unearthly Child.
The original pilot was recorded 50 years ago on Friday Sept 27, 1963. For more of these drawings, and details, head over to the Radio Times.