In the run-up to the new series of Doctor Who all sorts of people have been trying their hand at creating their own versions of the BBC series’ iconic opening credits, only encouraged by the fact that the credits used for the Peter Capaldi years were inspired by a fan-made edit just like theirs.
And with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor kicking off a whole new era in the sci-fi drama, graphic designer Stuart Manning (known for his stylised posters based on modern Doctor Who episodes) couldn’t resist getting involved himself, teaming up with motion designer Jonny Eveson and composer Blair Mowat to create a version of the opening sequence (and Ron Grainer’s original theme) fit for the Thirteenth Doctor.
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“I’d wanted to create a Doctor Who title sequence design for ages, and I’ve been kicking around ideas with motion designer Jonny Eveson off and on over the past couple of years,” Manning said of their finished attempt, which eschews the sequence’s usual style for something more abstract.
“I love Bernard Lodge’s work on the show’s titles during the sixties and seventies, and that very much informed our approach, which was an attempt to move away from the literal treatments of the modern era and return to a more abstract, graphic representation of space and time travel.”
“This was a really fun project to work on, and as a long-time fan of Doctor Who, it was really rewarding,” added Eveson.
“We were drawing from a rich history of iconic title sequences, and were able to play around with elements that we’d love to see as part of the show. There’s a lot of great title sequence design happening in film and TV right now, so it’s more important than ever to have a strong and iconic visual style.”
And given just how prevalent the trend for creating these sequences is, it seemed like the perfect time to find out exactly how much work goes into creating them – so watch Manning and Eveson’s attempt now, before heading below to find out exactly how they put it all together.
“We used slow camera movements to contrast with a smaller fast-moving TARDIS to emphasise the vastness of space,” Eveson said.
“We also wanted it to feel vibrant and alive, and used colours beyond the usual metallic colours that have been in recent title sequences; the colours we picked were brighter and more acidic, similar to the colour palettes of space adventure films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. Blair’s sound design brought everything together, and really helped to shape the feel of the visuals.”
And even though this was just a personal project, the pair explained that a surprising amount of work goes into creating a set of credits like this.
“Between us, we developed and storyboarded two different sequences,” Manning explained.
“The first was more radical, featuring a surreal alien landscape generated by the Doctor and the TARDIS. The second was informed by the sequences of the past, but with the aim of finding new ways to guide the viewer through those images: this route was realised as a full-length demo video.
“Both Jonny and I were keen to slow things down and get away from the roller coaster action of the modern sequences. We looked to references such as helicopter flight footage and underwater filming for ways of capturing a credible feeling of weightlessness, which worked in tandem with Blair’s more ethereal theme arrangement.
“Many of Doctor Who’s title sequences feature a circular tunnel motif. During the show’s classic era that was ideal, since the shape filled the square proportions of old TV screens. In today’s widescreen format, I’ve never felt it’s worked as well, with the cropping at the top and bottom creating a slightly claustrophobic feeling. I wanted to find a solution to that, so hit upon the idea of using a series of floating shapes to create a virtual corridor for the viewer to travel through, with the depths of outer space glimpsed through the gaps.
“For both of these two final concepts, Stuart would make the initial style frames (showing the look and feel of the sequence), and I would re-create them using 3D software, translating the still images into something that would work as a piece of animation,” Eveson continued.
“We’d work together to come up with the specifics of these scenes, having a constant discussion about colours, textures, camera movements and any additional elements. It was a great collaborative process, and we found a good middle ground between our two differing visual styles. Eventually, we settled on the second idea, containing the abstract shapes, as we thought it brought a sense of the history of the show, bringing together elements from the last 50 years of title sequences.”
And even the theme tune got some tweaking, with composer Blair Mowat – who worked on Doctor Who spin-off Class and promotional music for Peter Capaldi’s final Doctor Who series – finding a new take on the classic arrangement.
“The idea was based around taking the original 1963 theme and imagining how one might go about that now, rebuilding it completely from scratch and giving it some new twists,” he said.
“When I saw the stunning visuals they sent through I made some tweaks to connect it better with what they’d created. One of the exciting things about that piece of music is how malleable it is: there are endless directions you can push it in and because the basic elements are so strong it almost always remains recognisable.”
“The Doctor Who title sequence presents a pretty unique design challenge,” concluded Manning.
“Across 50 years of disparate designers and interpretations, its enduring qualities have emerged through consensus and instinct rather than ordered thought, latterly with the certain knowledge that there will be many more designs to come.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what new ideas Jodie’s Doctor brings.”
In the end, the finished opening sequence will probably look quite different to Manning, Eveson and Mowat’s effort, along with all the other valiant efforts currently flooding YouTube.
Still, it’s heartening to know that there are so many working so hard to create their own Doctor Who designs for the new era of the sci-fi series. The future is here – and we didn’t even need the Tardis to reach it.
Stuart Manning worked as a designer at Radio Times until 2015, and has contributed to recent editions of the magazine
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 this autumn