Listen, Watch & Enjoy Doctor Who Tonight!

Much has been written about apparent problems with sound levels and dialogue on modern shows including Doctor Who. So, what is the best way to enjoy TV shows recorded with multi-layered soundtracks comprising dialogue, special effects, and music?

Note: if you have a genuine hearing issue, this article isn’t aimed at you.

How to Listen, Watch, and Enjoy Your Favourite TV Shows

Whether it’s a general difficulty distinguishing voices from the incidental music and audio FX, or something more visual (surprise BBC continuity or Graham Norton) we think the time has now come to attempt to address a creeping malaise affecting television for the past 20 years that simply refuses to go away.

Let’s face facts: this isn’t about accents. Jodie Whittaker is from Yorkshire; Peter Capaldi from Scotland. They’ve both been working in the industry long enough to know that if dialogue isn’t satisfactorily presented, it’s time to go back to college.

So, what can we do? What will make the Doctor’s delivery more listenable, and following the latest adventure much easier? Here’s a list of things that might help you to enjoy your favourite TV shows tonight.

1. Invoke The Silence

There is no reason to speak when Doctor Who is on. Questions? Ask them later, preferably online.

2. Close the curtains

Doctor Who has always been better in the dark, even “comedy” episodes like Robot of Sherwood benefit from this. Cut all light from your viewing area.

3. Turn the volume up

This is the first of several hardware-related tips. Make sure Doctor Who is at an appreciable volume. If you’re annoyed that you have to change the volume on your TV, don’t be – it’s adjustable for a reason.

4. Check your audio settings

Problems hearing the TV correctly might not be down to the broadcast show, but rather the sound reproduction on your TV or home theatre system. Make sure you have everything set up correctly. You may need to read the manual, check online for your TV model or generally fiddle around with the settings to get a result here.

5. Use headphones

Whether you’re watching on a computer or tablet or on your TV, if headphones are an option, use them. The depth of sound will be a revelation, and all channels should be clear (and easier to adjust correctly if they’re not).

6. Switch off Twitter and Facebook

To most of us, this might be dizzyingly obvious, but to the rest of you: if you’re watching Doctor Who, then bloody well watch it instead of tapping away on your smartphone/tablet/laptop/desktop/Smart TV etc.

Whinging about not being able to follow the show on your chosen social networks because you’re not paying attention seems self-defeating.

Don’t do that.

(With thanks to mrjohnm and DonnaM)

13 thoughts on “Listen, Watch & Enjoy Doctor Who Tonight!

  1. I agree with most of the points you raised but I struggled to distinguish the dialogue last episode and found myself having to rewind and replay certain scenes and then ultimately stuck subtitles on; all of which killed the momentum of the episode. For the record I’ve had no problems with audio on any other show but on this one the sound levels just didn’t seem to be all that they might have been.

  2. BBC America ran commercial a couple of years ago recommending using closed captions. They said, after that recommendation, that they don’t understand the accent either. While that was humorous, I have done that in some of David Tennant’s episodes as many of the lines were delivered quickly with techno-babble involved. I still got most of it, but deciphering types of energy and the polarity of the neutron flow (okay the new doctor hasn’t done that, more the classic series) and sorting through the accent is sometimes an issue, though most of the time it isn’t. So far, I haven’t had trouble understanding Capaldi. I guess if an American can understand his accent … 🙂

  3. Yes! I’m mentioned in a news article! Well, now that my 15 minutes are over, I hope many people start to listen to this advice (see what I did there?) and actually pay attention to whatever they happen to be watching, be it Dr. Who, The Avengers (TV show or movie, take your pick), NCIS, or whatever is your cup of tea! Believe me, the enjoyment of the show increases when you’re aware of what you’re watching!

  4. I have to agree that too many people claim they watch TV while doing something else. I honestly (not a word of a lie) witnessed a 9 year old sit down at a computer, start playing a game, start Skyping someone AND put a cartoon on, all at the same time. I don’t believe people have evolved to the point where they can pay full attention to multiple things at the same time like that. For example, even with Robot of Sherwood you need to pay attention to catch things like the single line of dialogue (after the edit) that revealed the Sheriff’s origins. People complained his story was never resolved; yes it was, you just had to pay attention.

    1. Al, what you’re describing is multi-tasking. And you’re right; the human brain is not capable of performing more than one complex task at any given time. Sure, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, but neither one of those activities require complex thinking skills!

  5. I pay full attention every week, my TV works fine and I even know how to turn the volume up and down but the incidental music is just too darn loud and virtually never stops! I agree there’s nothing wrong with Peter Capaldis delivery but when he lowers his voice or intonation the dialogue gets swamped in the music and that’s where the “I can’t understand him” complaints come from.

    1. Actually Geoff, what you’re describing is a complaint in the “I can’t hear him” dept., which is different to the complaints of not understanding him. I would have to agree that, sometimes, the incidental music and sound effects are a little too loud, which is the only complaint my wife and I both have about the Big Finish audios, but when I can hear Capaldi, I certainly do understand what he’s saying.

  6. Seriously, anyone who even has their phone or laptop near them while watching Doctor Who shouldn’t be watching. It’s a stupid distraction. Yes, I know it’s wonderful that we have all these marvelous devices but you know what? They really work well when you use them one at a time. Just pay attention to the show.

    All that being said, yes, they have always had problems with their sound mixing on the new series, ever since 2005. Capaldi’s not the problem, the sound engineers are, period.

    Even back during McCoy’s era, they changed things up and had horrible sound mixing making it tough to hear dialogue, so the problem’s been around a long time.

    1. I’ve seen clear signs that some people weren’t paying attention to Listen (given some criticisms I’ve read regarding things that are clearly shown and/or explained on screen. Including one major plot point that is confirmed using everything but a bit neon arrow pointing at it, but some people either missed it or somehow ignored it.)

      I agree with the sound issues with the McCoy era. The Canadian and US broadcasts were so muddy with the sound that I honestly was rarely able to clearly make out what the actors said until I watched the episodes on DVD decades later (worst offender: McCoy rattling off the names of companions during Curse of Fenric. It’s clear as day on the DVD. The original broadcast back in 1989 that I saw all you heard was a low mumble).

  7. Bravo, sir!

    I appreciate that accents are an issue at first to some people; like everything else, when you encounter something new, it can take a while to adapt. The point about Capaldi’ s delivery is well made: the man has been working for 30 years, and I don’t imagine that would happen if he wasn’t perfectly comprehensible to a good portion of the population.

    The level of background music has bothered me now and then, not just with Doctor Who. There seems to be a view in television today that we need to be metaphorically hit over the head to understand the significance of certain moments, but it’s seemed less intrusive to me this series so far.

    Perhaps it’s that old chestnut, personal preference again. I’m finding this series more enjoyable and more engrossing than I have since Series 4 (modern era). Maybe that means I’m paying closer attention, not being as easily distracted, and therefore I’m not missing what I previously might?

    On the social media point- I read a review of The Time of the Doctor which basically consisted of the writer whining about how she and Twitter found it incomprehensible while her kids understood it perfectly… I mean, seriously?

  8. I had no problem with the sound or Capaldi’s accent in Listen. In fact it was clearer than usual, probably because of its focus on sound effects.

  9. I suffer from tunnel hearing, especially when more than one person is speaking, yet had no trouble with the sound or dialogue, though I do have to repeat a few phrases for my southerner husband, who doesn’t always catch either the scots or Blackpool turn of phrase first time.
    Like DonnaM I’m really enjoying the surprising shift towards subtlety in Murray Gold, and watching a second time (in the dark, yes) i appreciated the sound even more.
    Maybe with so much tv being made for dvd and instant replayability missing the odd word isn’t such an issue.

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