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Dressing Doctor Who

Interview: “He’s definitely a Doctor who thinks he’s cool but nobody else does.”

In this exclusive interview to kick off SFX ’s Doctor Who Week , Matt Smith, costume designer Ray Holman and producer Piers Wenger talk to Nick Setchfield about the evolution and design of Doctor Eleven's sartorial style. And yes, the bow tie was Matt’s idea…

SFX: So how does Doctor Eleven discover his “look”?

Ray Holman: “Matt wears David’s costume during the transformation. We start episode one and he’s still transforming, so he’s still wearing David’s costume. But what we needed to do, and what’s in the script, was make David’s costume more Matt’s. During the course of the story he turns into what we call the Raggedy Doctor, so we’ve broken down the costume. We did several versions of the broken down costumes – we didn’t have several versions of David’s costume to work on, but we did have different distressing techniques on different pieces. The Doctor has 20 minutes to save the world, and during the course of that 20 minutes he regenerates and finds his own identity. You’ll see where he gets his clothes from, and the clothes he gets are the tweed jacket, the bow tie, the big boots and the squiggly shirt. That costume turns into the Eleventh Doctor’s iconic costume. Matt wanted to go through a process – and we wanted to go through a process – of searching for the Eleventh Doctor’s costume. At the end of the search the costume was chosen that was good for the script but also one where Matt felt absolutely comfortable and confident to go forward and not have to think about the costume, to go forward and have a very strong identity as the Doctor. The tweed jacket is a bit old for him, but that way he’s professor and student at the same time. It gives him that quality that the Doctor’s still learning, but also has some authority.”

Piers Wenger: “He tried on lots of different things. And until he put that on he just looked slightly crestfallen.”

Ray Holman: “We had to go through tons and tons of clothes. I think I took hundreds of photographs of Matt with different ideas, and in the end it all came down to a day when we were all in the room together. We had certain elements of the costume – we knew we wanted boots, we had the trousers, the shirt, there were a couple of different coats and jackets. The tweed jacket went on him and we thought, ‘That’s it!’ And then we didn’t know if it was going to be a T-shirt, if it was going to be open-necked or if it was going to be a tie. Matt said, ‘Can I try a bow tie?’ And we all went, ‘Ugh, no, not sure!’ We got a bow tie. I actually put it on Matt’s neck and said, ‘I’m sorry about this, but let’s have a go.’ I put it on him, stepped back, and we just went, ‘Wow!’ It was a really tingly moment when we knew we had it.”

SFX: Did you always a rough idea of where you wanted to go with the Doctor’s look?

Ray Holman: “We just searched. We searched and searched. And the more we searched the clearer Matt became about what he needed.”

Piers Wenger: “I think it became really clear what worked on him, as well. It was a bit like casting the Doctor. We would all have baulked at the idea of that costume for Doctor Who in 2010, but when we were casting we didn’t set out to cast Matt Smith – he kind of found us, and it felt instantly right, and it was the same with that costume.”

Ray Holman: “Matt is six foot tall and he can wear things easily. You can put a coat on him and it will look completely cool. And then you have to decide – is that cool because it’s right for the Doctor? Or is that cool because Matt is such a good model?”

Piers Wenger: “The other thing that’s different about this Doctor. I think David Tennant’s Doctor was quite cool, in his Converse and his Jarvis Cocker suit. The thing about Matt is that his Doctor thinks he’s really cool, but everyone else spends the whole series going, ‘What are you wearing?!’ We didn’t set off with that as an intention, but it’s something that evolved, and that got written into the scripts. I think he’s definitely a Doctor who thinks he’s cool but nobody else does.”

Ray Holman: “If you see that costume, and it isn’t lit, and Matt Smith is wearing it, you know who he is. You know who that silhouette is. You will know that it’s the Eleventh Doctor without seeing his face.”

Does he have different bow ties during the series?

Ray Holman: “He does, yes. Because it’s such a strong image, and Matt is very comfortable in his costume, we’ve kept the costume changes to a minimum, so that we have a really, truly established silhouette for him. The braces match the bow tie, and the bow tie matches the shirt. So far!”

Piers Wenger: “I think he’d really like to evolve it next series. He’s really keen to have a coat – but lord knows where we’ll end up with that!”

Where did you source the items from?

Ray Holman: “The boots are specially made. They’re based on a pair of boots that I liked and that Matt happened to own. The trousers were bought – I found them. The shirt was bought after looking for days and days and days, but it’s a very limited edition, so it doesn’t exist anymore. The bow ties are vintage, so I sourced them in a vintage shop, in a huge sack. I emptied the sack and found as many copies of that one as I could. The jackets are made specially for him, but based on a vintage tweed, a Harris Tweed. They’re ’60s bow ties, and the reason they’re ’60s is that the original tweed jacket that we fitted on Matt was a late period ’60s Harris Tweed. The bow ties are not clip-ons but we don’t do them up – they’re ready-tied bow ties, simply for ease of use.”

Ray Holman: “And because the costumes have to be made, because we need so many copies, they have to feel like real things, rather than feeling like costumes. Of all the coats we tried on, this is the one that feels real, rather than a costume.”

Matt Smith: “Although that said, I do think the costume will evolve over the next couple of years. I’m convinced that a coat will emerge! And also it has to be very distinct on camera, you need to recognise the shape and the silhouette. It’s the way I stand, too, it feels right for my shape, I suppose. And the hair is important for the Doctor. I was once working with a guy called Julian, who was very posh, and he said, ‘Do you know why I think you’ll make a good leading man? Because you’ve got a full head of hair!’ So I’ve always kept it long since then. So of course hair’s important for the Doctor. At first it was a little too long, and we found that it was constantly in my eyes and stuff. But again, nothing is set in stone. I think all these things will evolve. With the costume, when you start the process you’re bound by your predecessors so much, because you go, ‘Oh, I’d like a scarf!’ But you can’t have one, because Tom Baker had a scarf. We found so many pieces…”

Ray Holman: “We found great pieces, but we’d say, ‘It’s too Patrick Troughton,’ or, ‘It’s too Tom Baker,’, or, ‘It’s too Victorian.’ You want this to be original. There are references, but it’s original to Matt.”

So how would you like to evolve it?

Matt Smith: “This is a conversation that we’ll be having over the next few months, but I think just practically, because I get bloody cold, I want a coat. And I’d quite like a hat. But I don’t think he wears a hat in every episode. He’s just an ad hoc Doctor who sees something and plonks it on his head and wears it for 20 minutes, then throws it off and picks up a scarf in the next episode.”

Ray Holman: “In all honesty the coat would have been developed in this series, but we actually didn’t need it. To suddenly pile something on top of this great silhouette… But once this series is broadcast everyone will know the silhouette, and we can develop it.”

Matt Smith: “I love the boots. I’ve got about ten pairs of them. I owned a pair myself.”

Is the costume based on your own personal style?

Matt Smith: “Ha! I don’t know if it’s based upon my style – it’s based upon the Doctor’s, but coupled with my body and my shape and everything else. My friend came to see me yesterday and was laughing at me dressed like this, so I don’t think I’d rock it for the football! But I’m thrilled with it.”


Ray Holman: “The identity for Amy in episode one is not clear. She’s a bit feisty and you’re not quite sure who she is or where she comes from. You finally see her in her proper clothes in a later episode. But Karen is 5’ 10”, she can wear anything, so she can look very dressed up very easily. Karen personally is quite quirky. We mix things up. They always need double costumes for stunts, or for various reasons, and if we source a vintage piece then I’ll copy it, and mix it in with a high street piece. So Karen sometimes has her short skirts on because she can, because that’s okay with the script. Other times she’ll have her jeans on. She has cowboy boots, and a vintage early ‘70s jacket.”

Piers Wenger: “She wears that quite a lot. It’s like an old flying jacket, and the key thing for Karen is that she’s a born adventurer, so she develops this love of adventure and travelling. And the cowboy boots and the brown leather jacket tell that story.”

Ray Holman: “She’s very sexy, but she’s not overplayed sexy. She’s a bit of a feisty, independent girl, so nothing is clearly from Top Shop or from the high street.”