Recently an image of Matt Smith in costume as the Doctor (version 11) has hit the interweb:
I shall remain mute on my opinion, but allow me to offer up some costume options both successful and not so-successful from Classic Who:
William Hartnell (1963-66)- While the program was in black and white making any choices on color more or less irrelevant, this is still a rather distinctive costume, and that is a quality that would come to define the ‘look’ of the Doctor as the program evolved. Whereas the character wore a contemporary dark suit and tie in his first appearance, this was later decided to be far too simple and the designers changed the ensemble to evoke an Edwardian look. This lends heavily to the ‘frail old man’ look yet it must be said that Hartnell as an actor seems stretch beyond the confines of this visual when the need arises, a quality that was a magnificent boon to the series as it showed the character’s versatility.
Patrick Troughton (1966-69)- The rumpled hobo look was initially topped off with the most bizarre tall hat I have ever seen, making the second Doctor appear to be some kind of wizard. Patrick Troughton continued to embrace the ‘children’s entertainment’ angle of the program yet as a seasoned actor he also had a rather uncanny range that encompassed the silly and the deeply subtle. This was reflected in his costume which consisted on drab colors yet the over-sized dress coat could also be manipulated comically in any number of his famous running scenes.
Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)- The crumpled velvet smoking jacket and ruffled shirt is a mixture of stage magician and Victorian adventurer. Pertwee has also been called one of the two men who could ever pull this look off, the other being Jimmy Hendrix (though Jimmy never wore a bow tie or fought dinosaurs). Pertwee’s costume changed some over the years but retained a kind of dignified air mixed with mystery. One could also say that it hinted that the program was for children and that is fair enough. Pertwee as an actor stated several times the need to portray the Doctor as a champion to children.
Tom Baker (1974-1981)- The velvet jacket is still there, but the addition of the sweater vest and knotted nedckerchief scream absent-minded professor. The costumers mixed up Tom Baker’s costume some over the years but the overcoat and scraf were the constants (Tom wore the hat less as he got more comfortable in the role). It is difficult to criticize one of the most instantly recognizeable costumes in televised sci-fi, so I won’t even try… but it is absolutely classic. The deep pockets hide jelly babies and numerous gadgets that the Doctor would procure at just the right moment. The scarf was so absurd yet at once at home in the program. It must have looked bizarre at first yet now one cannot think of Doctor Who without also thinking of that multi-colored scarf.
Peter Davison (1981-84)- John Nathan Turner’s first real decision on the program… the costumers must have been looking for something off-the-wall yet distinctively British when they decided on the Cricket whites and frock coat that covered the youngest Doctor at the time. The story goes that Davison had some say about the costume and thought that he would be a ‘vision in beige.’ The result is a lead actor that nearly blends into the background. The subdued character of Doctor #5 adds to this lack of impact and really does not help the program at all. That said, the Fifth Doctor’s costume has become part of the program’s history. It may simply be due to the fact that Davison was the Doctor during a time when the program saw unparallelled popularity in the United States that I find the look so acceptable, yet I also think it looks far too much like a costume and keeps any real chance of sophistication from joining the series… which brings us to:
Colin Baker (1984-86)- What can one say that has not been said about Doctor #6 and his awful costume? Frustrated costume designer John Nathan Turner must have been looking at his own wardrobe of Hawaiian shirts when he came up with this monstrosity. Actor Colin Baker who had prepared himself for a dark and dangerous performance was more likely than not bowled over when he saw this outfit. If the addition of question marks to the lapels seemed obnoxious when they were added back in 1970 (again, by JNT), this look was a depth charge of garishness. Even so, Colin Baker took it in stride and adapted it into his performance. Many say that ‘the coat’ is what keeps Doctor #6 from being a popular Doctor, but I think it’s just part of his character.
Sylvester McCoy (1987-89)- I can see what they were trying to do here with the ‘adventurer meets safari meets professor’ look… but it’s a rather garish costume in the end, isn’t it? While the question marks have left the lapels they have instead taken over the entire sweater vest making the Doctor look 100% like a children’s TV character. Despite all of this, McCoy tried his best to out-act his costume (just as Colin Baker had done before him) with varied results. I have said that McCoy’s era is under-rated and that mixture of children’s TV with bizarre sci-fi is rather successful (at least more successful than the straight ahead action dramas). That said… the outfit seems to give away far too much and any time the character of the Doctor arrives on the scene he looks absurd and silly. Unusually, a few attempts were made to ‘fix’ the problems with this costume from the ‘dark look’ of season 26 to the more refined revision of the entire ensemble in the 1996 movie (which was a rather nice suit that McCoy appreciated, allowing his Doctor who arrived awkwardly to at least retire in style).
Christopher Eccleston (2005)- I am cheating here but I wanted to give a complement to the new series in its decision to go against type for their re-introduction of the Doctor in the 21st Century. Eccleston himself had decided that his Doctor would be less ‘stagey’ and more down to earth in character and this is translated almost immediately in the costume. A leather jacket is instantly offensive in the modern world, yet it also sparks debate and makes an impact, so I’m standing by it. The rest of the costume makes little to no impact leaving all the work to the actor and in this case they chose wisely as Eccleston had charm in spades.
Before I gush too much about Doctor #9, I must admit that I did not appreciate him before he was gone. Maybe when Tennant departs I’ll eat the words of my many reviews… or not.
Maybe I’ll also think that Matt Smith’s costume is something other than uninspired.
For a program that has become a national icon that influenced everything from special effects to electronic music… the bar is admittedly high for Doctor Who. Perhaps it is only natural that any changes are disappointing? The ‘geek chic’ look of Doctor #10 David Tennant was in many ways a safe bet and evocative of Tom Baker (just as his performance was).
Matt Smith…? I’m not so sure. It can be said that the costumes in the new Doctor Who program are far less ‘costume-y’ and resemble contemporary clothing. The look of the 11th Doctor has also been said to resemble that of Patrick Troughton (presumably because it includes braces and a bow tie) while evoking a 1950′s TV scientist-look.
Whatever the case, before Matt Smith (or his ‘look’) is judged by fandom it is important to remember that playing the Doctor could currently be the highest profile acting gig in the U.K. With many tweeners already exchanging cries of ‘squee’ for shouts of ‘NO!’ over Tennant’s departure, the deck is stacked against this newscomer.
So… be kind.
That said… red on a redhead? Boo!