Refining the design

The first design Preloaded pitched to the BBC was considered to overly "clean". Tinkering some more, they produced a design based on the dirty machinery and the dilapidated look of the TARDIS console room.

"On a set visit we were able to take photos of the TARDIS console," says Adam McNichol, senior producer at Preloaded.

"It's fantastically detailed, with old switchboards, phones and dials. For the final designs, these were refined slightly so they would work on an HTML page. We also studied photos of the TARDIS and set props and relied heavily on Rob Francis' vast knowledge of the show to ensure the look was exactly right."

Several different routes were explored during the design phase. To begin with, the site was given a blue background. This was great for making the content stand out, but had the counter-effect of making the site look dark and oppressive. Another idea was to make the site brass, like steam-punk.

This was vetoed by the BBC, which preferred to use reds and golds as the primary palette. The site was then built by a crack team of tech gurus at BBC Wales New Media.

Technical project manager Andrew Dudfield applied the Preloaded designs to the in-house CMS, which works by tagging elements such as images and video clips. It then tags them to specific episodes and/or characters so they can be automatically presented in a number of ways throughout the site.

With the website designed and built came the mammoth task of updating and maintaining it. Whenever the show is running, this involves a hectic schedule for the web team at BBC Wales. "The earliest things we need to plan are our video featurettes," Rob Francis explains.

"These are exclusive to the website and range from interviews with the cast and crew to the specially scripted 'Monster Files'. We've also enlisted the services of a budding young film-maker by the name of David Tennant. He's been let loose with a camcorder to record his final months on the show. David's been a delight to work with, and shows his incredible commitment to Doctor Who and the multimedia world that exists around it."

An episode commentary from members of the cast and crew is next on the list. These are created by the same team who produce the short TV documentary strand Doctor Who Confidential, and are downloadable from the website and iTunes. "Compliance is an important part of our procedure: we make sure what's being discussed is fun, informative and appropriate for our younger listeners," explains Francis.

Episode content in the form of audio clips are made available for download. These are usually sourced from the episode's sound editor in order to get clean versions – ones that aren't too lost in the sound effects or music tracks. A teaser for each upcoming episode is also produced with the help of the post-production team.

The Doctor Who Art and Graphics departments supply episode concept art, graphics, storyboards and candid shots from filming, which have to be signed off by any featured actors before they can go online.

Trailers are produced by the team at Red Bee Media and are sent by overnight van from London to Cardiff shortly before appearing on TV.

Uploading content is broken into two stages: pre-and post-broadcast. Pre-broadcast material is usually uploaded on the Wednesday before transmission. Usually this includes the trailers, an exclusive clip, a selection of non-spoilery wallpapers, a script extract and a spoiler-free version of the Fear Forecast.

Transmission night

Immediately after an episode goes out on a Saturday night, the rest of the content is launched. In this case, an assistant producer uploads the content from the BBC's Cardiff offices. Rob Francis is on hand to test the content remotely, with timing all-important.

"Uploading content too early runs the risk of revealing something from the end of the episode before it's been seen on TV," he explains. "But too late and viewers are being pushed to the site by on-air promotion to find that the content is still stuck in the FTP queue!"

With an 11th Doctor in the wings and Russell T Davies making way for new producer Stephen Moffat, will this signal a further branding change for the website?

"We expect that we'll be giving the site a design makeover to embrace the look and feel of the 11th Doctor era," says Francis. "There will be a rebranding of the site for the new Doctor in 2010," agrees Paul Canty. "But between now and then there are lots of content updates for the four 2009 specials."

Recently, the team has been busy re-encoding all the video content to make it as high quality as possible. "We're in the process of removing the older pages and RealPlayer and Windows Media versions housed within them," says Canty.

There's also been talk of rolling out the design principles of the revamped website to previous series, including the 'classic' era.

"The current phase of work on the site is to see how we can begin to link the Doctor Who universe together, uniting the characters and stories that run throughout the history of the show," Canty explains.

The first phase of the revamped website launched on schedule and to much praise – although you can't please everyone. "The vast majority of feedback on the new site was positive," says Canty. "but this site is primarily aimed at children and it will always be difficult to please everyone.

In terms of hardcore fans of the classic series, Rob Francis has been a constant touchstone because he's one himself." It's surely this long-term commitment to Doctor Who – as well as the inspirational qualities of the show itself – that inspire those connected to it to pull out all the stops. The team delivers a website that spoils its audience with content and access unthought-of 10 years ago.

People so dedicated give you the feeling that this bonkers show about a man who mooches around time and space in a blue box is in very safe hands.

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First published in .net Issue 188

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