What to Expect from Director Nick Hurran in The Day of the Doctor
Guest contributor Samuel Baker on what to expect in the The Day of the Doctor from the director.
So here we are, finally into November and slowly the 50th Anniversary and the highly anticipated special is getting ever closer to our television and cinema screens. The excitement and expectation for this momentous occasion is now reaching catastrophic heights, what with the BBC finally getting under way with their marketing for the occasion and the episode itself. Most of the press and the fandom this year have been talking about the man who has penned the aptly titled “The Day of the Doctor”, Mr Steven Moffat. So far most of the talk has been about what Moffat will attempt to do with this special, and how the writing will affect the way in which we view Doctor Who in the future. But hardly any talk this year has gone to the man who has been hand picked out of the repertoire of Who’s talented bunch of directors. I speak of course about the marvellous Nick Hurran.
To me, Hurran is one of the finest directors to have ever worked on Doctor Who, and so all those months ago when it was announced that he was the lucky man to helm the 50th special (beating countless other top candidates), I was immediately excited for what was to come. You only need to look at his past work to realise how safe we are in his hands, with Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan in particular containing some of the finest pieces of direction we have ever witnessed on the show. Yet amongst all the fandom uproars about the supposed lack of Classic Doctors and trailer, the announcement of a new Doctor, female Doctor debates, you name it; sadly Hurran seems to have drawn the short straw and has been forgotten about – which is funny when you think if that this was a Hollywood film, he would be at the forefront of it all. So I think it’s time that Hurran is discussed, and it’s time for the fandom to get hyped about the magnificent direction we are sure to get in the 50th special!
So to do that, I am going to break down what we can expect from Hurran, by looking at his past episodes and how they might have an impact on the special itself. I have chosen a few of what I feel are his most recognisable traits and that showcase his amazing talents as a director. So let’s get right into it shall we…
Epic Establishing Shots
Now this is a shot that every single director will use and arguably the most important of them all. The establishing shot is there to set the tone, the mood of the special and requires you to grab the audience’s attention from the very first second. However only a handful of them can use it to their advantage and draw the viewer right into the story and evoke an emotional response from them. Hurran is one these people; in all of his episodes he has been able to captivate the viewer from that very first scene.
Look at Asylum of the Daleks for example. In that very first opening shot we have a warn torn Skaro, a sweeping shot zooming through this now baron and lifeless planet, the camera closing in on the giant monument of the Dalek that is now corroded, the smoke slowly rising from the once proudly standing buildings that used to symbolise the Daleks power and authority, the sky a horrible murky red. From this very first sequence we are already drawn in, we know this is the Daleks at a time when they are no longer the most powerful creatures in the universe, and we get the connotations of loss; the Daleks reduced to nothing. So we know that we are going to be seeing the Daleks at their most desperate, they have lost everything that made them so powerful, and they are here to reclaim this power back. We get all of that just from one tiny scene, and it’s all down to Hurran.
Other instances of his breathtaking uses of the establishing shot are in his other works The God Complex and The Angels Take Manhattan. With The God Complex you get the old, grainy, camera effects of a CCTV camera, cutting through shot after shot of empty rooms, creating an uninviting ambiance and a tense, uneasy atmosphere. Coupled with the bird’s eye shots of the twisting staircase and the long shots of the narrow corridors, Hurran manages to make you feel claustrophobic and the viewer immediately get the sense that something is not right in this seemingly ordinary motel. With The Angels Take Manhattan on the other hand you get the stunning shots of the New York skyline, with a cross fade of a person typing away on a type writer, and then the close ups of the cherubim and the other statues scattered across New York. It’s a very bleak opening sequence, and similarly to The God Complex you know that this episode is going to deal with some very dark issues, it’s perhaps one of the most inventive scenes he has ever produced.
So from looking at these shots from his previous episodes can you imagine what treats Hurran has in store for ‘The Day of the Doctor’? If the rumours of a Time War heavy 50th are to believed can you imagine how unbelievably awesome it would be for Hurran to have the opening shot of Gallifrey in the midst of War? There could be with Dalek ships and Battle TARDISes locked in a massive confrontation, explosions firing off in the distance as slowly the camera zooms down onto one solitary figure stood on a mountain side, quietly observing the monstrosity before him, as the camera closes in on the face of John Hurt. This probably won’t happen and is only one of the many possibilities of what we could see from the opening of 50th anniversary, and yet we can be rest assured that whatever opening scene we do get, Hurran will have us hooked and begging for more before the first minute is even over with.
Explosions Galore and the Action Sequences!
I touched upon this in the previous paragraph but the 50th is bound to have plenty of explosions and it’s going to have plenty of epic action sequences; Hurran sure knows how to do both of these.
Whether it be the moment where Old Amy and Rory are racing through The Two Streams Facility to get back to the TARDIS, fighting their way through the army of Hand-bots, or where the Doctor sends the self-destructing Dalek flying backwards into the Asylum, causing a colossal explosion, or even when he blows up the Asylum itself, Hurran never fails to create moments that make us sit on the edge of our seats in exhilaration. His fantastic continuous cutting between scenes flow seamlessly into one another; he never lets the audience relax or catch their breath, he just fires scene after scene at us which creates marvellous, entertaining moments for the audience to sink their teeth into.
This is exactly the type of viewing experience the audience needs for the 50th, and I can guarantee we will get with Hurran behind the camera. Just look at the Dalek promo pics we were treated to earlier in the year, you already get the sense just by glancing at them that this 50th is going to contain lots of exciting action packed scenes full to the brim of explosions, that will exhilarate the audiences to their hearts content. And with the special having been filmed in 3D, you just know that they will look completely stunning too. Excited yet? I know I am
Slooooow-moooo and the Emotional Scenes!
Whilst the 50th does need to have moments to exhilarate us, and entertain us, what would make The Day of the Doctor such a treat for the audiences is if it were to contain the moments that touch us emotionally, the scenes that punch us in the gut, and maybe even make us cry, the moments that allow us to stop, sit back and reflect on what we are witnessing. Hurran is a master at this, and it’s The Angels Take Manhattan and The Girl Who Waited that exemplify this talent.
Many people are probably sitting here now and saying to themselves: “But isn’t it the writing that evokes an emotional response to the viewer?” well you are correct, at least partially, the writer merely provides the director with a blueprint. It’s then up to the director to elevate the emotion that they read into the script and makes it so the audience feels what the writer intended them to feel in that moment, and Hurran does this brilliantly.
Take the roof-top scene in The Angels Take Manhattan for example. You have Rory, the camera zoomed in on his helpless face as he steps onto the edge of the roof, preparing to jump and kick start the paradox, but then it cuts to a high angle shot, with Amy grabbing hold him, Rory’s hands wrapped around hers, Amy clinging to him desperately whilst the cars zip passed in the streets below, the drop waiting for him. It’s a powerful moment, and in that scene we truly get a sense of how much Amy loves Rory, she doesn’t want to let him go, she cannot, physically let him jump; it would break her heart, just as that scene breaks ours.
But perhaps Hurran’s greatest trick is the use of the slow motion effect. It’s been used in almost every episode he has done, but perhaps the most powerful moment he has ever produced is the fall, and is arguably one of the greatest scenes to have ever come from Doctor Who. Amy and Rory are holding on to each other for dear life, arms wrapped around each other, falling in a slow moving spiral. In that moment it’s just them, the two of them in the frame; the boy and girl who waited for each other, together at last. It’s such a shocking scene that still resonates with me today and probably one of the only scenes in Doctor Who’s history to make me cry.
Hurran has proven that he can not only do the loud and explosive scenes, but also that he is a master at provoking powerful emotional responses from the viewer, and whilst the 50th doesn’t need to be as emotional as Amy and Rory’s departure, we can expect to see some, possibly very small, camera shots or movements that will resonate with us on a deeper level and stick in our minds for many years to come, just as it should be for the 50th year.
The WTF moment…or The Big Reveal!
I think there’s really only once scene that I can discuss here that actually stunned everyone that watched it; because nobody saw it coming. I am of course talking about the reveal that Oswin Oswald was a Dalek. It’s possibly one of the most shocking scenes I have witnessed on the show, and yes whilst it was Moffat who wrote it and came up with the idea, it was Hurran, again, who created those scenes, he was the one who evoked that shock upon the audience.
There were hints all the way throughout the episode of course, what with Oswin’s ship being the same shape as a Dalek casing, the Dalek letters that Oswin was using, also the screen that Oswin was looking through looked exactly like a Dalek eye stalk. But it wasn’t until the Doctor walked through those doors that we knew something was wrong.
Hurran closed in on the Doctor’s face, we could see the surprise on the Doctor’s face, but still we could not see what was wrong. The camera then deliberately stays on the Doctor, whilst cross cutting back to Oswin, who appears to be in a completely different place to him, but how? We then get a high angle shot of the Doctor, in the empty, white room. What Hurran does here is build the tension for the audience, we’re desperate to know what’s going to happen, and then slowly and deliberately the camera pans from the Doctor to the battered Dalek that has been left chained on the other side of the room. This was direction at its finest.
With Murray Gold’s comments about the 50th being controversial, and the “Hidden Doctor” reveal at the end of The Name of the Doctor, we know there is going to be many more shocking twists and turns to come, and we know that with Hurran directing, he will make sure the shocks pack a punch, and will not let us leave the room, or cinema screening until our minds have been blown all over the place.
So there we have it. These are only a few insights into Hurran’s talents as a director so I hope I was able to rest assure you that we are in safe hands with him at the helm. To me, Hurran is one of the finest directors to have ever worked on Doctor Who, and I really cannot wait to see what he’s come up with for The Day of Doctor. If looking back over his past episodes and his most recognisable traits has proved anything, it’s that come the 23rd of November we are sure to be presented with a spectacle of epic proportions that will be a treat for the eyes with incredible scenes that will stick in our minds for many years to come. Bring it on.
Do you agree that Nick Hurran was the right choice to helm The Day of the Doctor? Let me know in the comments below…