A director of photography — often abbreviated DP or DOP, and somewhat arguably interchangeable with the term cinematographer — is a key department head on the production of film and digitally-captured productions set in the Doctor Who universe. In charge of the lighting and actual shooting of an episode, the DP is perhaps most simply thought of as the person responsible for the visual tonality of principal photography. Whilst shots are broadly dictated by the director, a cinematographer both practically realises, by decision-making about lenses and lighting rigs, and creatively fine-tunes, in terms of framing and camera movement. Combined with the post-production talent of the colourist, the cinematographer is one of two key people whose artistic choices are indispensable to the way an episode looks.
Consistently present in Doctor Who universe credits since the 1996 Paul McGann movie, the job has no true analogy in the 1963 version of the Doctor Who — perhaps mainly because the term is almost never applied to videotaped entertainment. Instead, the job of the modern DP was then effectively split between the "lighting director" (often completely uncredited, or listed under "studio lighting" or just "lighting") and the "camera supervisor" (often completely uncredited or the first name given under "cameras" or "camera operator").
Though the term is often interchanged with the word cinematographer, debate within the industry as to a definable difference between a "cinematographer" and a "DP" has meant that Doctor Who and its related programmes have preferred to formally use the credit "director of photography". Nevertheless, as many DPs, including almost every credited example on the BBC Wales series, have been members of selective national societies of cinematographers, the line between a "DP" and a "cinematographer" on Doctor Who is a fine one.
On the BBC Wales version of Doctor Who, the DP uses the American definition of the job. They are thus in full charge of both the lighting and camera departments. Their principal duty is to design the lighting plan for the episode and to manage the technical details of actually filming it.
People that report to the DP include, but are not limited to: gaffers, best boys, grips, lighting riggers and camera operators. The DP notionally reports to the director, but relationship between the two is usually consultative and collaborative.
An example of cinematography
The short scene where Donna Noble and the Tenth Doctor initially met affords an unusual chance for the ordinary viewer to clearly see what the cinematographer actually does. Ernie Vincze had lit the original take of the scene in Doomsday, but Rory Taylor was The Runaway Bride's DP. Because Vincze preferred to use gels that cast the set in blues and greens — and because Vincze tended to light for heavy areas of shadow in the console room — it would not have been possible for the production team to merely "lift" the scene from Doomsday and insert it into Bride. So much of the episode was set inside the Doctor's TARDIS, that the difference between the two cinematographers' choices would have been visually disharmonious.
At right is a comparison between the two takes of the scene, taken from exactly the same moment in the respective takes. The dramatic difference between the two clearly illustrates the impact a cinematographer can have on a scene, but also instantly reveals Taylor to be a director of photography who preferred rich, warm colours, like reds and yellows. It also shows a penchant for strong, even lighting in interior TARDIS scenes. This preference was not limited to Bride, but the Christmas special was a kind of turning point. The first Who production undertaken at the Upper Boat Studios, the difference between the two men's work was henceforth somewhat less pronounced. This can easily be seen by comparing any Taylor series 4 episode to any Vincze series 4 episode. Even greater proof of the shift in Vincze's resultant imagery can be plainly observed by comparing his series 1 episodes with his series 4 work. Rose's initial scene in the TARDIS (TV: Rose) is lit quite differently to her final one (TV: Journey's End).
List of directors of photography
- See separate article.
Though the main director of photography retains overall control over the filming of an episode, sometimes specialised units have their own DOPs.
Model unit DOP
Aerial DOPs are somewhat rare in the history of Doctor Who generally — much less the BBC Wales version. This is because it involves camera work from within a helicopter or plane — and these sort of shoots have historically been too expensive for the budget of Doctor Who. Nevertheless, an aerial DOP was known to have been employed on the opening sequence of The Eleventh Hour. (WC: Doctor Who Video Explorer)