When sound recordist Deian Humphreys set out to capture all of the dynamic dialog for the BBC hit science-fiction television program Doctor Who, he turned to Sound Devices 788T-SSD digital audio recorder, 442 field mixer, CL-9 linear fader controller and CL-8 mixing control surface to record and mix all the audio. With 20 years of experience in professional audio, he has worked in many aspects of sound production, ranging from location sound recording for drama and documentaries to sound supervising for studio and outside broadcast programs.
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television program produced by the BBC depicting the adventures of a Time Lord – a time traveling alien known as The Doctor. He explores the universe in his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), a sentient time-traveling spaceship. Its exterior appears as a blue British police box, a common sight in Britain in 1963, when Doctor Who first aired. Along with a succession of companions, The Doctor faces a variety of foes while working to save civilizations and help ordinary people.
As the production sound mixer, Humphreys is charged with recording clean, clear dialog and reducing the amount of ADR needed. This can be quite challenging on a science-fiction show that has a large amount of special effects audio in the background, including smoke, steam and snow machines, as well as a multitude of explosions. Humphreys records the majority of the show using a trolley-based rig, which consists of a Sound Devices 788T-SSD with a CL-9 controller. When on the go, he takes his 788T-SSD using the more portable CL-8 mixing control surface.
“One of the features that I really like about the 788T is that it allows me to easily switch between a Schoeps SuperCMIT digital mic and a Schoeps analog mic without the need for any peripheral equipment,” said Humphreys. “I will often have eight iso-tracks being recorded and two mixed tracks, so the 788T is being driven hard. It always performs incredibly well.”
According to Humphreys the 788T’s versatility is key feature since the show relies on special effect voice modulations on a daily basis. The Daleks, the Doctors’ arch-nemeses, are voiced by Nicholas Briggs, who uses his own proprietary secret modulation equipment. “Nicholas will sit by me on set watching my monitors and I will take an output of his magic box and feed that into my 788T,” Humphreys explained. “I am able to iso that and give him a clean feed of what is happening on the floor. I use the Sound Devices 442 as his monitor, so I’ll feed a clean output into the 442 and give him his Daleks voice on another channel, so he has independent adjustment of his tracks, which he will often mix himself. I can then take another output of his voice and feed it to a loudspeaker on the floor for the actors, and another for the animatronics controllers, who make the lights on the Daleks flash, which serves as a speech recognition tool when they talk. It’s actually quite amazing and all made possible by the 788T-SSD with the 442.”
Humphreys explained that the 788T-SSD’s metadata features allow him to remain in close communication with the editors at the BBC. “When I initially started a year and a half ago, I had a long conversation with the dialog editors and one of the requests they had was to match the name of each character with each track,” he said. “Not just lav 1, lav 2, lav 3, but the character name, so I’m constantly in the 778T-SSD’s track naming menu, and I’m re-labeling tracks when different characters come in on those particular mics. That’s such an important feature for me and for the editors, who need to know exactly who is on each track, so they don’t need to waste time pre-listening to tracks to find out who’s on what.”