And that’s pretty remarkable considering how difficult designing a Doctor’s wardrobe is. Think about it: you’ve got to please fans both of modern and classic Who, weave in callbacks to Time Lords of the past while sculpting an original outfit that fits all sides of the Doctor’s eclectic personality. And you’ve got to do that with the pressure of knowing previous costumes for the character have been the most iconic in TV history.
It’s a challenge that would ring most people’s cloister bells, but fortunately the task fell to Who’s sartorial stalwart: Ray Holman, the costume designer behind Matt Smith’s series five outfit, Peter Capaldi’s in series nine and the majority of the Torchwood cast.
How does he deal with the out-of-this-world expectations? How much say does the actor or showrunner actually have? And does Holman have any wardrobe habits we should look out for? Earlier this year – before Jodie Whittaker was cast – we sat down with the man himself to answer these answers and discuss all the secrets of designing a Doctor…
The incoming Time Lord traditionally plays a huge role picking out their outfit
When the new Doctor is given a key to the Tardis, they don’t find a new outfit waiting for them by the control panel. They will, however, be met with a few companions to help navigate the Time Lord’s wardrobe. “For Doctor Who, it’s a massively collaborative process between the actor, costume designer and showrunner,” explained Holman. “But, ultimately, we’re all trying to do the right thing for the actor and script.”
Take Matt Smith, for instance. A huge part of The Eleventh Doctor was the contrast between his schoolboy appearance and his 2000-year-old knowledge of the universe, with then showrunner Steven Moffat describing the character as “an old man trapped in a young man’s body”. This trait called for the young-looking Doctor to be dressed in a Tweed jacket, a move welcomed by Smith himself: “He was only 28 at the time and wanted something that would make him feel a bit older,” said Holman.
However, it’s not uncommon for the actor to take the lead in this collaborative process, completely inventing new parts of their Doctor’s outfit. “I really wasn’t keen on the idea of the bow tie at first – that was solely Matt’s idea,” admitted Holman. “I didn’t think it would work, but I knew something was missing from the outfit. But then Matt put it on and that was it: we all instantly knew it was right.”
“It’s never about my ego – the actor always has a huge say on what direction to take. They need to have the final say.” Holman said before Whittaker had been cast. “There’s a lot of pressure dressing this 2,000-year-old alien, but my secret to designing a new Doctor is dressing the actor appropriately – doing the right thing for that person. It’s all about making them feel good.”
…But the costume designer will add their own flair
Holman has a signature extra he has added into past costumes – a red button – and although we can’t see one in the first look at Whittaker’s outfit, that doesn’t mean it won’t present itself.
Not only did Holman add a red button to the cuffs of Matt Smith’s tweed and Peter Calpaldi’s purple velvet jackets, but the designer also injected a splash of red onto the buttonhole of a certain Sherlock Holmes. “That quirkiness simply worked for both Sherlock and The Doctor,” said Holman. “Plus, it inspires fans to go looking for red buttonholes and buttons – it’s a bit of fun.”
More than one outfit is made
Not that you’d notice, though. Although we’ve seen one version of Whittaker’s costume, it’s likely she’ll have different outfits depending on the demands of the scene – that massive coat looks great on top of a windswept cliff, but might get in the way if she’s chased by Daleks.
“John Barrowman actually had three different versions of his long Captain Jack coat,” explained Holman. “One long and windswept, one a bit shorter for running in and another with space to put harnesses to allow him to stand on the top of a building without falling.”
It’s not clear how much Captain Jack-style rooftop brooding Whittaker will get up to, but expect her to have several outfits prepared for all her adventures in time and space.