So right now I should be making a documentary. Not blogging about the fact I’m making a documentary. But I’m discovering that actually making a documentary is like sex, or ironing perhaps. You really need to be in the mood to do it well. 

1976 or so, Longleat

1976 or so, Longleat

Doctor Who is the reason I’m in radio. I was captivated by the Sea Devils onwards, sitting in front of the telly with my Grandad, sipping orangeade, and waiting to be taken on a journey in time and space every Saturday (after switching over from the wrestling). Walking to school, I’d imagine what would happen if the TARDIS materialised and Tom Baker whisked me away from double PE.

As I got older, I wanted to be the Producer of Doctor Who. Seriously! And having read a book in the library called ‘How To Get A Job in Broadcasting’ or somesuch, was struck by the advice that a ‘proven interest’ in media was all important – and that experience in any medium, radio perhaps, was a good first step. I joined hospital radio in Aldershot, and still remember the buzz of being behind the Citronics mixer, playing in jingles off a cassette deck and cueing up Billy Joel. I was a red light junkie, and I’m still addicted.

Spin forward 30 years, and I’m an independent radio producer. Doctor Who is about to celebrate its fiftieth birthday. I pitch three Doctor Who radio projects – and one gets commissioned. Thanks, BBC Radio 1! The Story of Trock tells the story of the Doctor through Trock, or time lord rock. Music inspired by the characters and stories of Doctor Who, performed by talented fans like Alex Day and Charlie McDonnell and popularised on YouTube.

Here’s one of my favourite Trock songs, by the band Chameleon Circuit.

Since getting this dream job, lots of people have asked me how you make a documentary. I’m certainly not an expert. My first documentary (well, first for many years and the first I’d made digitally) was well received, but I suspect there as many ways of making documentaries as there are documentary makers.

So here are some first observations. Again, THIS IS NOT HOW TO MAKE DOCUMENTARIES. Just some personal thoughts mid-journey. I’ll save a second post for after The Story of Trock airs … “SPOILERS!” as River Song might say.

1. Start with the maths.

How very left-brain. In live/sequence radio, I love the way a good clock keeps you honest. And that discipline is even more important when you’re building a recorded show.

So for an hour of documentary, particularly for a Radio 1 audience, I want a range of voices, room for a few whole songs, and plenty of interesting production ‘moments’.

Working that out has dictated the number of interviews I’ve recorded and how much stuff I’ve aimed to record with them. And by plotting the hour, I know how much time I have to tell each part of the story.

2. Find great people to talk to. And not the same ones as everyone else.

The internet has shrunk the world. It’s your research tool, archive and contacts finder.

There’s a lot of activity around the fiftieth, and I didn’t want to use all the same voices and contributors who’ll be on Radio 2, BBC4, the Breakfast sofa etc. Ten minutes with the newly-skinheaded Matt Smith, and twenty with genius show-runner Steven Moffatt provided standout clips.

But around them are fans, musicians, academics and other stars of Doctor Who that were generous with their time, thoughts and memories. The best edit in the world can’t rescue dud interviews, so pick your contributors wisely.

3. Work in your way, and don’t sweat it.

For Your Story, I transcribed every interview before editing a word. I chose that way as all the interviews had been done by other people, and it helped me understand the audio better. I worked with Chris Holliday, the presenter, on finding common themes in those transcripts then hunting the audio, slowly building up the documentary on the time line before adding his script track, then all the music and archive that really brought it to life.

For Trock, I’m trying a different technique. As I did all the interviews this time, I’ve rough-edited everything into clips – de-erring, taking out all of me, losing superfluous phrases etc – then labelled everything on its own track. ‘Matt on DW theme’, ‘Alex invents Trock’ and ‘Anneke on Troughton’ are examples. The edit is the laborious, if necessary part. After it’s done, there’s still about 150 minutes of stuff, and that’s before any songs go in.

I see these in my sleep.

I see these in my sleep.

What I call assembly is where the fun starts. I like to group clips around subject areas, cutting interviewees up against each other making like (0r opposite) points. I’m thinking about the beginning, middle and end of the whole story I want to tell, but I’m building in sections.

Sometimes I sit down to edge the timeline forward a few more minutes. Nothing comes. Tonight is one of those moments, hence the blogging. What’s writer’s block for audio? Then other times, unexpectedly, wham. The words you’ve listened to so many times form into something perfect in your head, or suggest a new way of being arranged and you’re sailing through, smiling at how easy it is. << I just broke off here to go and try something else I just thought of. It didn’t work. Compare that to a mad idea I had on the train the other day. Fired up ProTools on my MacBook and did it there and then and was giggling to myself like a lunatic at how amazing it sounded. >>

4. Edit, edit, and edit again.

No-one will ever know what you took out. Every second is precious, so lose stuff that sucks the blood out of the radio. After the first edit above, when you thought every crafted clip was sounding beautiful, you listen through again and hear whole sentences, phrases, words that add nothing. Out!

5. Have talented friends.

You need confidence in your judgement. And friends. I’ve played little bits to people whose judgement I respect – not to mention my awesome Exec Producer, Jo. All indie BBC shows have these. They’re your second pair of ears, a critical friend to keep you on track and to pick you up on compliance.

You need time too. Time to go away and come back (like tonight). Time is running out though. On Monday, I take my Lacie drive to another talented collaborator, Eloise, who’s a sound designer. I don’t think she’ll be thrilled if I’m umming and arring about the order, when she’s sitting there waiting to go to work with her plug-ins, polishing the audio and make it sing like an Ood.

So. 1110 words and no spoilers. And it’s after midnight. Time for bed, and to come back to it fresh tomorrow. Somewhere in the time vortex, the Story of Trock is materialising. But now I need to sleep.

Somewhere on here is an hour of radio about my favourite TV show in the World.

Somewhere on here is an hour of radio about my favourite TV show in the World.

The Story of Trock is a 2ZY production for BBC Radio 1, part of the fiftieth birthday celebrations of Doctor Who


We now have a transmission date. You can hear The Story of Trock at 2100 on 25 November on BBC Radio 1, and for seven days thereafter on the BBC iPlayer.


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