For its sins there has been one good thing to come out of Paul McGann’s gifted costume at the recent Armageddon event in Auckland: it has generated new (albeit brief) interest and discussion surrounding the Eighth Doctor. The timing could scarcely have been better, given that the TV Movie has recently enjoyed a re-release, putting McGann’s also brief and otherwise off-camera incarnation back into the limelight. It’s just unfortunate that the ensemble made for him has proved so uninspiring.
This criticism likely won’t go down well with those involved in its creation. Certainly by all accounts McGann seemed very happy with the new leather jacket, sonic screwdriver and satchel made especially for him by WETA Workshop. I say ‘made especially’, but have some real reservations with its design and even its fit. It’s comfortable, allegedly, and gives the Eighth Doctor a NuWho-styled sonic-handling stance, and maybe that’s all that matters. But even with the full costume not yet being showcased, I feel uneasy about this set-up.
We’ve been here before, in some way. The most famous early example of a Doctor Who lead wanting his own hand in the Time Lord uniform is Colin Baker, to no surprise given the “deliberately tasteless” brief of his costume. I never minded it, really, and even Big Finish’s expedient blue variation has some appeal. Pertwee and McCoy both had aspects of their audition attire incorporated in their ensembles, but Baker (like McGann) had no input whatsoever and later expressed a desire for a ‘black’ version – even updating his preference more recently to something akin to Ecclestone’s U-Boat jacket or a Matrix-style leather coat. In Baker’s defence it should be added that there was also very little designer control over his costume, the brief coming from (and being revised by) John Nathan-Turner. McGann’s idealised costume on the other hand appears to be the product of inspiration from the actor’s late father (a man who has been a great influence on the actor, as evidenced by McGann’s Q&A session in Wellington this year) and the appearance of the Ninth Doctor’s costume. As such it’s an unfortunate visual coincidence looking at worst like wardrobe-envy, and tempered only by fan association of the still-untouched-and-likely-never-to-be area of the Time War. It’s an easy compromise, but far from a satisfying one because as a rule we like our incarnations to be visually distinct. The fact that McGann also hated his wig and for some time opted for a crew cut might have hampered things more if he had not been grown his hair out recently for another role.
Yet, when your ‘official’ look has dated and become a parody of itself, what can you do?
The McGann/WETA costume is clever in many ways though, incorporating aspects of the actor’s aesthetic and personal identity, and referencing the character’s future in a battle motif. But for now the jacket looks new and therefore unlived-in, and that’s a major fault I find with it. It looks ‘off the peg’ and lacks the sense of individuality that a ‘Doctorish’ costume might otherwise have. Cat badges, celery or flying duck badges might not be your cup of tea, but they helpt to individualise a character’s look and therefore the character themself. Wear and tear, or patina give clothing and props provenance and tell their own story – something the show’s last creative force understood quite clearly:
“It’s a great costume. Russel gave a stage direction about when the cape – the gown or whatever you call it – is opened, revealing a battered flak-jacket: the script says, ‘This man is a warrior.’ I know nothing about the Time Lords, but there’s a uniform, isn’t there? With the big collars? Uniform is about losing individuality. The robes were always done up, but the minute you open them, showing what’s underneath, you’re revealing something of the personal life, the kind of person that this Lord President is. Now, I’m not wearing a flack-jacket as such, but it is redolent of… I mean, it’s got texture, and feeling, and a history to it. Yeah, he’s a soldier.”
(Timothy Dalton interviewed in DWM, December 2009)
In this sense the ‘new costume’ is very much an unfinished piece. Small details offer great opportunities to expand or further personalise wardrrobe – buttons incorporating the Seal of Rassilon (a cliche, but an inescapable motif of the TV Movie), other colours to either provide continuity with the Wild Bill Hickock fancy dress the Eighth Doctor has more often worse, or contrast with the leather jacket to come.
The sonic screwdriver? It’s grown on me. Initial blurry photos weren’t promising, looking like a make-do ‘steampunk’ than anything researchd and designed. Persumably it’s supposed to fit in with the ‘Jules Verne’ TARDIS interior, but if this is the case it falls a little ashort with the crystal end and wood panelling. The more recent in focus shot helps define it more, but like the jacket in the way it’s now held (like a torch, end forward) it’s a shout to the new series and its chunkiness is a dead giveaway, Capitulation!
As for the satchel – what’s the point of this? Really?
There’s an irony that the TV Movie was criticised so greatly for its adherence to the series past in look and feel. It’s natural that fifteen years in public with little change has aged that look. Change is inevitable, change is good – I just hoped for something a little better than this.