Doctor Doctor Doctor 3D

The Day of the Doctor

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***to avoid confusion concerning the multiple actors playing The Doctor in this episode, I will refer to The Doctor by the actors’ names rather than the character***

In the same period that the Fiftieth Anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor was broadcast around the world, a number of cinemas showed it in 3D. It was so popular in New Zealand that it reached third place in the weekend box office charts. I saw it Wellington’s Embassy theatre where, on its third showing, it was full of Dr Who fans.

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Before the episode fully began there was an introduction by Matt Smith who directly addressed the audience. Intercut with some shots of David Tennant, they worked as a double act to highlight that the presentation would be in 3D and that there were possibly Zygons (shape shifting enemies from the television series) in the auditorium. Playing on the premise that audience members would have put on their 3D glasses, they conducted a simple test whereby viewers could tell if their neighbours had been taken over by a Zygon depending on whether one of the glasses’ lenses became darker when viewed with one eye closed (a trick that depends on the way the polarising filters in the glasses operates). On the one hand, this introduction spoke to fans of the show by utilising their previous knowledge of the Zygons in order to create humour. There was also a moment when David Tennant warned the audience about the protrusion of Matt Smith’s chin in 3D, similarly playing on fan familiarity with the TV show. On the other hand, the introduction made it clear that the stereoscopic elements would be integral to the episode and would be unashamedly playful and obtrusive.

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When the episode did begin it felt as if the 3D effects had travelled back in time. The first scenes with the doctor’s assistant Clara had artefacts such as strobing and harsh parallax jumps that brought about a sense of discomfort in the viewing process.  I hadn’t these seen since the earlier wave of digital 3D films. The 3D effects were so clunky that when Clara and Matt Smith were brought into the National Gallery in London in order to see a painting called No More, I thought the painting had accidentally been misaligned so as to appear stereoscopic rather then flat.  Instead, further dialogue from the characters pointed out that the painting was purposefully unusual in its qualities as a stereoscopic painting. Although the 3D effects could have been more effectively constructed in the scenes leading up to this moment, they were successful in creating a visual field that is unique to the 3D viewing process. The painting took on an unearthly quality that suited the development of the plot. At the same time that this moment begged the question of what viewers would have seen when watching the show in 2D, it made the case for why 3D can operate as a distinct, and unique visual environment.

NoMore

The rest of the episode continued to make this case by utilising a number of depth fields and by displaying a wide range of stereoscopic effects. These ranged from the relatively gentle, for example when the paperback Matt Smith is reading in the Tardis bulges towards the audience, to the more extreme, when objects fly into the auditorium during the war scenes with the newly introduced doctor, John Hurt. Throughout the episode, there were a number of close-ups on the doctors’ enigmatic faces. While these close-ups, and their enhancements in 3D, played upon the eccentricity of the characters and their quirky visual appeal, they also helped to make the doctors feel more present in the auditorium.

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As the episode progressed, the stereoscopic effects felt increasingly smoother and they were able to do what the best contemporary 3D films can do, which is to give audiences the sense of a thick, materially present space which is shared between the film and the auditorium. The episode was also effective in showing that there are strong visual moments when it makes sense to hurl and protrude objects towards the viewers’ space. From the sound of excited and happy fans in the auditorium where I watched the episode, there was little sense that the 3D was estranging them or making it hard for them to invest in the latest instalment in the Dr Who adventures. Instead, there was genuine delight in seeing the doctors on the big screen and in  stereoscopic 3D.

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