❉ Simon Guerrier and Ben Morris on costumes and cut-outs!
The latest in BBC Books’ varied range of Doctor Who spin-off titles is Doctor Who Paper Dolls, a collection of sturdy cut-out-and-keep card figures & costume accessories designed by illustrator Ben Morris and with an info text from Doctor Who writer Simon Guerrier, accompanied by an introduction by cosplay enthusiast and ‘The Doctor Who Show’ presenter Christel Dee.
A little over a year ago, We Are Cult chatted with Simon and Ben about their previous collaboration, the stunning infographics book Whographica, so we caught up with them to find out more about Doctor Who Paper Dolls, a beautiful book that is bound to be enjoyed and admired by childrens and adults alike as both collectors item and fun activity book.
Hi, guys. We last chatted when Whographica hit the shelves just under a year ago; what have you been up to since then and how did the idea for Doctor Who Paper Dolls first come about?
SIMON: Hello James. I’ve been busy writing – a documentary for Radio 3 broadcast earlier this year, stuff for various magazines, some audio plays for Big Finish and more stuff for BBC Books. My life is pretty much all typing and childcare, sometimes both at once.
BEN: Albert DePetrillo at BBC Books got in touch with me in the summer of 2016 when Whographica was about to be released. He’d got an idea for a paper dolls book and asked me if I’d be interested in illustrating it. He’d known how much I’d enjoyed working with Simon on Whographica and suggested we worked together again. While I was thinking about the project, I saw the potential in tying the book in with cosplay, which Albert liked. Simon already knew Christel and thought it would be ideal if she was attached to the project too, and we all had a meeting at ComicCon in London to get the ball rolling. I think the illustrations were done over a ten week period, with a target of completing two to three spreads a week. Before that though, I drew the Donna doll as a prototype, so that the American backers and other interested parties could get an idea of what the book might look like.
When creating this book, what was the creative dialogue between the pair of you as writer and designer? Did you go through past looks of the Doctor and companions together in deciding which looks to feature? Were there any particularly iconic costume designs you were keen to include?
SIMON: We mostly spoke by email, and most of our conversation was in the early stages as we haggled over which characters to feature. Ben originally referred to it in emails as a “dressing up book”, and I knew that cosplay wasn’t really my area so I suggested we brought Christel on board. She didn’t just write the cosplay tips but also chipped into our discussions, offering ideas and spotting things I’d got wrong. In turn, I read over her cosplay tips and we worked out the introduction between us.
But apart from an initial meeting at ComicCon last October – which we were all at anyway – we didn’t meet while working on the book. Once we had a list of characters and what costumes Ben wanted to draw, we just got on with our bits of it.
There were a few things I suggested, such as the First Doctor’s white Astrakhan hat from The Web Planet, because I had something to say about it. But mostly it was down to Ben. As I think he will tell you, the choice of costumes was partly what he thought looked good or particularly interesting and partly what reference was available. He needed to work from photographs that show the whole costume – including the shoes – which a lot of publicity images, especially for older stories, don’t do. So we started with a list of what he was going to draw, and I started researching. And then the list would change as we struggled to find images. At one point, BBC Books provided me with access to an archive of photographs so I could help picture-research The Book of Whoniversal Records, and I was able to dig out a few good shots for Ben.
BEN: Initially there were only going to be the Doctors and four characters from the modern series. But Albert managed to arrange for the book to be more substantial. After that was confirmed, Simon, Albert and I debated who to include. Sarah Jane was a given (as she straddled both the classic and modern series). As were all the main modern companions. Captain Jack was in there for a while too, as he’s really popular with cosplayers. But I felt that he didn’t have enough costume alternatives, and the page would end up being rather spartan. So we substituted him for Osgood, another cosplay favourite.
Simon really wanted Victoria to be included, as he had great colour reference for her dress. But sadly we had to drop her, as the number of classic companions we could fit in was limited.
I was determined to include Romana, as she was one companion who seemed to have great fun dressing up – the schoolgirl outfit from City of Death had to be in there! – as well as Sarah’s Andy Pandy outfit from The Hand Of Fear, as it’s so memorable.
Simon: You’ve accompanied each outfit with text notes about every item of clothing – along with quotes from the actors themselves. How did you go about researching each costume for these nuggets of info? Was there a lot of fact-finding involved?
SIMON: I basically followed Ben’s lead. We started by haggling over which characters we could feature, which was tough because there were so many we had to leave out for reasons of space. Even then, our brilliant boss Albert DePetrillo managed to find a way to fit a couple more in. Once we had the list of characters, Ben sent round a list of the costumes he was going to feature. That meant I could get on with researching the notes while he was drawing the dolls. The list changed a bit as we went – as I’ll explain in a moment – and by the end it was easier to work directly from his illustrations.
Really, I just looked for anything I could say about the costumes Ben presented. I wanted a mix of diagetic and extra-diagetic information. Blimey, I don’t think I’ve used those terms since I was at university. Anyway, I’d interviewed costume designer Ray Holman for Doctor Who Magazine, and went through my collection of DWMs looking for interviews and archives that might yield insights. I watched the DVDs, mining the information subtitles and commentaries, and there are lots of short videos on the BBC’s Doctor Who website and interviews online that were very useful. I also spoke to a few wise friends, such as Daniel Milford-Cottam, a fashion historian who works at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Richard Littler, who I only know from Twitter, guided me to information on where Sarah Jane Smith’s stylish outfits came from – the fashionable shop Bus Stop, run by designer Lee Bender.
From that point of view, the trickiest doll was Bill Potts, because we had to deliver the book before this year’s episodes were broadcast. Ben worked from what she wears in last year’s promo, Friend from the Future, and the few publicity images released in advance of the series. I then sent those illustrations to costume designer Hayley Nebauer, and she very kindly talked me through what she’d done. With Hayley’s permission, I’ve posted a transcript of our conversation at http://koquillion.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/dressing-bill-potts.html
Doctor Who’s costume designers are arguably among the unsung behind-the-scenes heroes of the show, and yet many of the main characters’ ‘looks’ are as iconic as the police box, the Daleks and the console room. Did you come across any new or interesting insights about some of these costumes that gave you a new appreciation for the costume designer’s craft or their contributions to the show?
BEN: You’re right that they are unsung. Off the top of my head, I think I can only remember Sandra Reid from the sixties, because she’s well known for having designed the first Cybermen costumes. And I’d struggle to name any from the modern era. What a bad fan I am! Everyone remembers Jim Acheson of course, because of his subsequent success in Hollywood. And Jude Hudson because Lalla Ward and Tom Baker often praise her ‘operatic’ style.
What strikes me is how – to use a good Mary Portas term – ‘on trend’ many of the characters are. From Katy Manning’s Biba boots to Matt Smith’s skinny rolled-up jeans. I can’t wait to see who gets to design the first female Doctor costume. I’m hoping that they’ll take some influence from June Hudson’s costumes for Romana.
SIMON: The thing that really struck me while working on this book is how rarely the scripts describe what the Doctor and companions are wearing.
A rare example is The Curse of the Black Spot by Stephen Thompson from 2011, which says Amy at one point dons a hat and doublet to look like a “pirate queen”, but that’s on top of what she’s already wearing – which is not described. So costume designer Ray Holman had to provide something that was suitably Amy but could have the pirate stuff added on top. He decided to put her in a tartan shirt and short skirt, which, when I interviewed him for DWM, he told me he is her “signature look”, and something he discussed with Karen Gillan the first time they met. I then found an interview with Karen where she explains that those short skirts express Amy’s confidence. So I was able to piece together how it came together – the needs of the story and the insights into character. And you’re right, puzzling that out makes you appreciate what a skilled, creative job costume design is.
How do you think the show’s approach to how the main characters are dressed has evolved during the series’ history?
SIMON: The obvious thing is the technology used in making the programme. The first two Doctors wear costumes for black-and-white television, with relatively simple fabrics that won’t flare or strobe on the relatively primitive cameras of the day. When the programme starts being made in colour, you get the Third Doctor in brightly coloured clothes. The Eleventh Doctor’s costume is full of rich detail – all the patterns on his shirt and cuffs – because the programme was now being made in high definition. In fact, when he appears in The Sarah Jane Adventures, which wasn’t made in hi-def, they had to change his shirt.
Otherwise the costumes for each Doctor have the same basic requirements. He’s got to look distinct from other characters around him, wherever he might be in time and space. For all his costume might change from story to story, each incarnation needs to retain a basic silhouette or style, again so he’s easily recognisable. And it’s got to be practical: for running, for filming in cold locations, for carrying props such as the sonic. Given all these things, it’s surprising the costumes aren’t a lot more similar.
On that note, one thing that comes through from the book is how ‘modern day’ companions’ looks have drawn on contemporary trends, from Polly and Dodo’s Mod outfits, to Ace’s ‘Face magazine’ look of bomber jacket and leggings, right through to the high street fashion of Rose and Bill?
SIMON: Companions generally get bolder in their choice of clothes the longer they stay with the Doctor, a sign of their growing confidence while with him. Costumes are not just influenced by what was in high-street shops, either. You get a sense of other things in the culture of the time, too – the Tenth Doctor’s look was based on TV chef Jamie Oliver, who was making headlines just as David Tennant was cast. Oliver’s still around but doesn’t have the same media presence – basing the Doctor on him is just as of its historical moment as the Doctor citing “happy-slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones” in School Reunion.
What do you think of the finished product? Like a beautifully made birthday cake, it seems almost a shame to cut it up!
SIMON: It’s lovely, isn’t it? I knew it would be, having worked with Ben on Whographica. And my advice is to buy at least two copies, one to cut up and one to keep.
BEN: I’m really happy with it! Like most creative people, I look at the finished product and focus on the things that I could have improved, of course. There’s one character whose face I’d have redrawn if I’d have had more time. But I’m particularly happy with the Third Doctor and his cleaning lady disguise. And, if the book is a success, it would be nice to think we could do another. The Master could take up a whole book all on his own!
If you were going to cosplay one Doctor Who character, who would it be?
SIMON: I’d make a pretty good Ogron.
BEN: Judging by my shaved head and long chin, it would have to be a Silent.
Can you tell us a little about your working method, Ben? How long have you been a designer/illustrator, and what are the digital tools of your trade?
BEN: I trained as a graphic designer and worked for a couple of years in design agencies, until I went freelance in 1991. Gradually, I took on more illustration work than graphic design work, as that was my preferred discipline. But I still enjoy playing with typography, as can be seen in Whographica. I use Adobe Illustrator. Only very occasionally do I use Photoshop; I’m a novice with that really, but I’ve been using Illustrator ever since I began, and I tend to stick with that as I’m most comfortable with it. It depends on the project whether I draw any of the illustrations by hand before scanning them in. On this project, however, the characters were completely digital (I use a graphics tablet and pen).
What are you guys working on at the moment? Do you have any other projects we should look out for?
SIMON: The Book of Whoniversal Records is out next month. In October, I’ve a Second Doctor audio adventure out from Big Finish – it’s called The Outliers, and it sounds amazing. I’m doing bits and bobs for Doctor Who Magazine and Doctor Who Figurine Collection – the latter meaning more research into costumes. And there are a few other exciting projects in hand that can’t be spoken of yet.
BEN: I’m about to work on an updated version of a book I illustrated a few years ago. And I’ve spent the last year working on a personal project I’ve wanted to take on for some time. It’s a collection of illustrations of various cityscapes. I’ve done a number of illustrations of Edinburgh (which is where I live), a few of Copenhagen, and I’m currently working on Glasgow. And I plan to keep building it up to include lots of other cities. You can see what I’ve done so far at www.lovethatview.com
It also looks like I may do some stuff for DWM soon, when the new team take over. I can’t wait to see how the magazine develops with the new era for Doctor Who.
❉ ‘Doctor Who Paper Dolls’ (Simon Guerrier, Ben Morris, Christel Dee) is published by BBC Books, 24 August 2017. RRP £12.99. We Are Cult would like to thank Simon, Ben, Christel Dee, Tessa Henderson and Sarah Garnham for their help in putting this interview together.