Bad Special Effects

Doctor Who will never never never have good special effects and that they don’t mean dick when it comes to enjoying the story. The lack of quality special effects on Doctor Who should be considered under two separate categories: pre-cancellation stories and NuWho episodes.


It's best to approach the classic pre-cancellation programme like a filmed stage play.  And not a big, “good” stage play, like one of todays’ Broadway monstrosities such as “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dork” or a well-respected Royal Shakespeare Company production, but more like a production put on by a community puppet theatre that rehearses and performs for bored family members in the back room of a local church. Sure sure, Auntie Beeb paid for the cameras and cameraman, lighting and the occasional actor to all be there, but that’s it - it has always been up to the cast and crew to pass round the hat and see what they could find in the rubbish bin to re-purpose for costumes, sets and so on. This explains why the simplest of video effects and threadbare costumes that had been hastily painted silver were considered palatable up through the programme's demise in 1989.  The British acting tradition has just never wavered in its strong affinity for stage work, perhaps because the country is so small that approximately one third of the population can clearly hear you when you raise your voice.

The BBC's budget was so dire they couldn't even afford green screens for their greenscreens.

It’s also best to keep in mind that television in those days was itself quite primitive, being broadcast in black and white and later simply-coloured patterns, only viewable with a surgically-implanted device in one’s head.  No one planned for or expected the advent of mystique-killing technologies such as screen-caps, a freeze-frame feature on your Beta max Walkman, or holograms which might allow you to endlessly and obsessively rewatch episodes or whatever.  These programmes were meant to be seen once and then promptly forgotten about as you drank yourself into the customary gin haze for the night surrounded by your numerous orphan siblings.

Anyone experiencing the classic programme who tells you the show is terrible because of the special effects is, not to be too rude about it, a shallow prick with no understanding of history nor imagination.  They’re probably fans of the Transformers movies as well, a solid fact about them which shall continue to inform you about their worth as a person the more you consider it or watch a Transformer movie.


The execrable special effects in NuWhoop are completely and totally the fault of two men, RTD and Moffat of course, who aren’t the true fans we are and would think nothing of signing off on some crappy-looking CGI dinosaur that pales compared to the masterful puppet work used, for example, during notable episodes of the Third and Fourth Doctor's run.  Those who argue about the expertise and validity of the special effects in today’s Doctor Who stories are just as bad as those who’d dismiss the pre-cancellation stories for the lack of sophisticated special effects, being easily distracted enough by the shiny lights and explosions and swooping spacecraft that they can’t see that the episode they’re watching is clearly shit for the plain fact that it is.

Enjoying The Bad Special Effects: Old Series Vs. New Series

When it comes to programming (of computers, not televisual fare or hypnotisable victims), a programmer’s maxim that bears remembering is as follows:  

  • You can have it done well.
  • You can have it done cheaply.
  • You can have it done quickly.
  • Now choose two.

You can probably guess which two the BBC always chooses for its CGI bad special effects, but at least they managed to save a few bob and put the show out on time right?   In the old days of “filmed stage play” Doctor Who, “enjoying” the “special effects” was rooted in seeing the production team attempting to create a dinosaur or giant rat and enjoying it even more when they inevitably failed, because you knew there was no way they could hope to succeed with that era’s technology of felt and bent-up coat-hangers.  We the viewers just chuckled and went along with it because it’s all a lark innet? Today the production team merely fails to design an eye-catching costume, a believable prosthetic or a plausible arrangement of all those ones and zeroes (“pronounced “zed-rows” in the corrupted tongue of the British savages).  In other words, they have the budget now, but not always the talent or capability to gin-up perfection; the programme’s usually lucky to achieve the edge of the cliffs above the uncanny valley, much less tossing themselves over it, but at least they keep striving for that rather than just throwing up their hands and giving us another Alpha Centauri, right?  Such is modern day Who.  But the light-hearted larkiness of it all isn’t quite the same, huh?

"Giant Rat Problem"

The “Giant Rat Problem” is a subspecies of “Bad Special Effects,” so-named for the infamously ineffective giant rat prop created for the deeply unpopular “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” story from the programme’s original fourteenth season.  The prop rat was so unconvincingly executed that it has lead people to ask “why the hell would they even consider writing a goddamn giant rat into a script when they know full well it’ll get fucked up by those retards at the BBC on such a shit budget?” 

A good question the show still raises for its fans nearly forty years later.

By the way, this rat prop was indeed so horrible that you literally can't find any images of it online, to this day; the above image is merely an artist's recreation of the laughing fit Louise Jameson ("Leelah") had when she saw the prop.

If you think the giant rat is the worst thing about the episode, you might be a racist.