Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - DOCTOR WHO 5-8's Questionable Fashion
After having played the Doctor for seven years and getting into repeated disagreements with new show runner John Nathan-Turner, actor Tom Baker decided to step away from the role. In the TV story “Logopolis,” he saved the universe itself from being held hostage, but suffered a fatal fall in the process. As he lay dying, the Fourth Doctor assured us, “It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared.”
And in a flash of face-changing light, we found ourselves looking at a new incarnation of the famous Time Lord, one who truly began the Costume Era of the show that lasted throughout the 1980s. After the show ended, there were the “wilderness years” as Doctor Who fans mainly relied on books and comics to continue the adventures. But not long after a TV-movie in 1996 introduced the Eighth Doctor, the old guard came back in audio plays that continue to this day. And some of them even got new outfits in the process.
“For some people, small, beautiful events are what life is all about!” – Fifth Doctor, from “Earthshock”
In contrast to the eccentric, bizarre, and occasionally abrasive Fourth Doctor, we were introduced to a much more relaxed, paternal, laid back incarnation. Peter Davison portrayed the Fifth Doctor as a professional man whose manner and wisdom often reminded you he was much older than he looked.
Where the fourth incarnation would often yell denials when people brought up his limitations, the fifth incarnation was more open about his doubts and vulnerability. When he was faced with a situation he hadn’t expected, he would apologize to his companions about the mess they were in. He’d tell them he could figure out a way to save the day, and he often would, but he’d apologize just the same.
This far more human, less mysterious Doctor who often wore his heart on his sleeve was given a wardrobe that made him seem eccentric rather than ancient, anachronistic, homeless or bohemian. As the first major example of the new “costume era” of Doctor Who, he wore a stylized version of a casual cricketing outfit with a rather snazzy long coat added. He also often wore a hat, similar to the fourth incarnation.
Initially this is not a bad look. But the addition of the question mark collar and the decorative piece of celery on the lapel puts this over the top and truly cements that this is a costume and not just a particular dress sense, as the previous four incarnations displayed. But JNT felt that the Doctor, being an alien with superheroic qualities, would look just fine wearing costumes instead of old styles of clothing, so we can’t fault that them for achieving their goal even if we may not care for it.
The question mark lapels were carried over from the Fourth Doctor’s final season, but the Fifth Doctor was unique for wearing a decorative vegetable. He didn’t have it during his first adventure, but then donned it at the very end before taking the TARDIS to his next destination. JNT had felt that the cricketing outfit and question marks were not enough and that the outfit needed some extra element to truly announce that this was an alien being. He later told Peter Davison that he had decided on celery as the key final element. Davison said he was fine with this, but asked that the Doctor give a decent reason why he would wear celery. Otherwise it was a meaningless decoration. JNT agreed to explain it in a story.
During his third season, Peter Davison decided to leave, taking the advice of Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor) that three years was a good long run for a Doctor and would prevent major typecasting problems. But Davison refused to leave the show without explaining just why his incarnation wore celery. So, in his final adventure, the Davison’s Doctor explained that his current body was allergic to certain gases “in the Praxis range” and that these gases also had the curious effect of making celery turn purple when it was nearby. Thus, the vegetable was a warning system of the gas’s presence.“Like Alice, I try to believe three impossible things before breakfast.” - Fifth Doctor, from “The Five Doctors”
Along with his vegetable and cricketing gear, the Fifth Doctor wore sneakers rather than fancy shoes or boots, giving his wardrobe a sense of youth. He occasionally threw on spectacles when he had to focus on looking over some data, though this seemed suspicious to some fans when they noticed he normally didn’t seem to have trouble reading small print. As a point of trivia, it was during the 5th Doctor’s tenure that the original sonic screwdriver was destroyed. We did not see it again during the rest of the classic Doctor Who TV program. John Nathan-Turner asked for it to be destroyed since he believed the device was becoming similar to a magic wand.
Though Peter Davison ended his tenure as the Doctor in the 1980s, he returned to the character in 1999 when Big Finish Productions decided to start releasing new audio plays featuring “untold adventures” of Doctors 5-8 (and recently earlier Doctors, too). Peter Davison has been performing as the Fifth Doctor in regular new audio plays ever since.
“Look, it’s perfectly understandable. I go zooming around space and time, saving planets, fighting monsters, and being... well, let’s be honest - pretty, sort of marvelous. So naturally, now and then, people notice me.” – Fifth Doctor, from the “Time Crash” charity episode
“So that’s it? ‘Come with us or we hurt your friends?’ No. My friends mean a great deal to me but they’re still expendable when put against the fate of the universe. You won’t get what you want by killing anyone.” - Sixth Doctor, from “Real Time”
The biggest victim of the “costume era” mentality was Colin Baker, who portrayed the Sixth Doctor. The regeneration into the Sixth Doctor was fairly unstable, making the hero somewhat crazed for the first day of his life, prone to bouts of delusion and anger. When his brain finally settled, he seemed akin to a younger version of the First Doctor: brash, snide, and quick to remind people that he was not to be judged by human standards.
John Nathan-Turner wanted to bring back an air of mystery with the Doctor and believed that the Sixth Doctor’s unstable regeneration was the best path to do this. The plan was to make the Doctor somewhat unlikeable and seemingly dangerous at first, then slowly peel back the layers as he settled back into a more familiar, heroic persona.
But this process took too long for the audience and it was not helped by the fact that the BBC did not increase the show’s budget despite rising inflation. The BBC Controller then cancelled the show, but the public reacted angrily and the series came back. However, to show he still had power, the BBC Controller said that this next season would be Colin Baker’s final one and that the show needed a new Doctor to win over audiences since they obviously didn’t like the Sixth. With no more time to develop the Sixth Doctor, his next season took place many months (possibly years) after the previous one and so we now saw a more relaxed, amiable version of the incarnation, closer to the version Colin Baker had hoped to bring to life.
“Well, what’s the use of a good quotation if you can’t change it?” – Sixth Doctor, from “The Two Doctors”
Colin Baker joked that the best thing about wearing this outfit was that he didn’t have to look at it himself. When asked how he would’ve styled his incarnation, Baker said he believed his Doctor should have worn dark, somber colors, or an all black outfit, emphasizing that he was darker and a little more dangerous than the Fifth Doctor. One thing he did add was the cat badge, as a reference to the Rudyard Kipling poem “The Cat Who Walks By Himself.” Colin Baker felt that this poem seemed to reflect the Doctor’s nature, particularly the line: “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.”
A decade after the stage play, Colin Baker returned to the role of the Sixth Doctor in full force. Big Finish recruited him to record various new audio plays revealing “untold adventures” of his incarnation (the Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors were recruited for the same reason around the same time). Through these audio plays, Baker was able to show what kind of Doctor he could have truly been and his incarnation rose greatly in popularity.
The Sixth Doctor audio play “Real Time” was animated for the BBC web-site. Since the multi-colored coat was too difficult for flash animation, the hero was given an all-blue version of his outfit. When the story was released on CD, an added scene explained that this was one of the Doctor’s “mourning” outfits and that he put it on because he misunderstood when his companion Evelyn had suggested he don a “morning coat.” A blue suit being worn to symbolize mourning was a callback to an idea introduced years earlier in the TV story “Revelation of the Daleks,” where the Sixth Doctor had sported an azure cloak and explained that this color, rather than black, was seen as a funerary color on many worlds. The azure ensemble seemed sadly suitable for a man constantly surrounded by death.
“What would you say if I were to tell you . . . that I once destroyed an entire race? That I have led friends to their deaths and caused numerous wars . . . That my intervention has led to peaceful races taking up arms and good people having their faith or reason destroyed . . . That because I failed to act, millions upon millions of people have been enslaved or killed . . . What if I had done all those things, but always . . . always believed I was doing the right thing?” – Sixth Doctor, from ”The Marian Conspiracy”
“What gives me the right to walk into situations like this and juggle with the fate of planets? Who gives me permission to stand up? My friends do . . . I’m the Doctor . . . I’m what monsters like you are afraid of . . . So tell me . . . are you getting scared yet?” - Seventh Doctor, from “Shadow of the Scourge”
The last Doctor to be featured on the original, classic Doctor Who program was Sylvester McCoy. The Seventh Doctor’s initial adventures had originally been scripted for Colin Baker, which added an extra challenge for McCoy. At first, his Doctor seemed fairly silly and mercurial, with occasional moments of solemnity. He played musical spoons and spouted off clichés that he seemed to screw up on purpose, such as “Time and tide wait for the snowman.”
But after a few adventures, he seemed to feel the weight of his age more. By his next season, he had changed. This was the incarnation that would become known as the “dark Doctor” or “the schemer.” Looking back on his lives, the Seventh Doctor decided it was irresponsible to only fight evil when he came across it. He would actively seek out his enemies, plotting out multi-layered traps to ensnare them, lying to his companions if it meant they would react in a way that would get the job done faster. He was always looking at “the big picture.” The novels later referred to him as “Time’s Champion,” a title indicating his new role.
The Seventh Doctor’s initial outfit really didn’t really convey this new, darker, more pragmatic nature. A light colored sport coat, a paisley scarf, a straw hat, and a ridiculous question mark jumper made up his look. And for accessories, he had question mark business cards and a question mark handle umbrella. One could argue that he dressed in such a way so his enemies could underestimate him as a clown. The hat, by the way, was McCoy’s own and he had worn it in the audition.
Occasionally, the Doctor would remove his hat and this helped him seem more serious. More effective still was the darker coat he wore in his last few television adventures, a color closer to his more somber nature. Although he still cracked jokes, this Doctor was very prone to introspection and doubt, nervous that his actions might bring dark consequences and that he was losing some of his old morality.
When the series ended, the Seventh Doctor’s adventures were continued in various novels from Virgin Publishing. These books gave him an altered style, dropping the sweater and simply giving him a plain tie and sport coat. He now looked far more like the teacher he often acted like, the man who gained the nicknamed “Professor” from his companion Ace McShane.
Seven years after the classic series ended, the Doctor Who TV-movie showed the Seventh Doctor as an older man, wearing a much more muted look that suited him far better. The Seventh Doctor was a melancholy figure at heart, admitting in one of the audio plays, “I’m forever testing my companions, forcing them away from me to see if they’ll do what I always expect them to do and leave. I know that…”
With such remarks and personality, I doubt such a person who thinks such things would wear a ridiculous sweater decorated by question marks.
“I knew a man . . . who became obsessed with the future, with predicting and planning for every variable, who lost himself in the big picture. But the more he planned, the more he gained, the more he realized that he was losing the one thing most precious to him . . . He only wanted to be more human.” – Eighth Doctor remembering his seventh incarnation, from “Time Works”
“Breathe in deep! …You feel that pounding in your heart? That tightness in the pit of your stomach? The blood rushing to your head? You know what that is? That’s adventure! The thrill and the feel and the joy of stepping into the unknown! That’s why we’re all here and that’s why we’re alive!” – Eighth Doctor, from “Storm Warning”
Introduced in a TV-movie in 1996 on Fox (a failed attempt to spark a new on-going series), the Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann (a friend of Sylvester McCoy’s), was almost a complete amnesiac after his regeneration and wandered around aimlessly for the first hours of his life. Finding himself in the locker room of a hospital, he discovered a Wild Bill Hickock costume intended for a New Year’s Eve party. Our hero slapped it on, adding some other items he found, and we got an Edwardian-esque new Doctor who signified a return to the classic Pre-Costume Era style.
The Eighth Doctor was very much about adventure and hurtling forward into the unknown with a smile, someone who would focus on discovering dark secrets but would then become delightfully distracted by how comfortable his shoes were. With his Edwardian dress and wooden TARDIS console, the new Doctor seemed like a steampunk hero with all the enthusiasm and experimental spirit of a bygone era. Interestingly, Paul McGann was not terribly thrilled with the costume or with the fact that he had to wear a wig (his hair had been cut short just before filming and the producers insisted the Doctor needed long hair).
When asked how he would’ve styled it, McGann said that this costume made sense as something that the Doctor put together from what he found, but also believed the hero would have taken advantage of his immense wardrobe once he returned to the TARDIS. McGann wanted the Doctor to wear black leather and perhaps get shorter hair. When he suggested this, he was told that such a look would not be right for Doctor Who. Years later, short hair and a black leather jacket would become the style of Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor. At various conventions, McGann has joked that Eccleston stole the look from him.
The Eighth Doctor was intended to usher in the age of a new Doctor Who series. Fox had gotten the rights and got themselves a British director and screenwriter. Unfortunately, Fox and the BBC argued about whether this was to be a continuation of the original series or a complete reboot and whether or not to change the Doctor into more of an action hero (Fox didn’t understand why an alien time traveler wouldn’t have a ray gun). So, despite decent ratings in the UK and the fact that many people enjoyed McGann as a highly entertaining Doctor, the story proved to be rather lackluster and didn’t win enough of an audience in the U.S.
Years later, Big Finish asked Paul McGann to continue his Doctor’s life in a series of audio plays. He has been doing them on a regular basis since 2001 and has now amassed dozens of highly entertaining stories, stories that have continued even though Russell T. Davies (creator of Queer as Folk) brought back the TV program in 2005, starting it off with a newly regenerated Ninth Doctor. Since McGann has been producing regular audio plays for eleven years now, some have argued that he is, in fact, the longest running Doctor.
“. . . What was that?”
“I shall just find out by using my super Time Lord powers of . . . looking out the window!” – Charley and the Eighth Doctor, from “Memory Lane”
This new look is interesting in that it seems to be a halfway point between McGann’s initial outfit and the one that Christopher Eccleston wore as the Ninth Doctor. This works on a story level as well, since in the past few years the Eighth Doctor has become a bit more cynical in his audio plays, his personality showing hints of the Ninth incarnation to come. And since we don’t know exactly how much time took place between the Eighth Doctor’s “birth” and when he became the Ninth Doctor, there’s no reason McGann can’t continue acting as the character for even more years to come.
“A terrible lot. Just because I put an end to their reign of terror. Didn’t they know that’s what I do?” – Eighth Doctor, from “The Stones of Venice”
And that wraps it up for the Classic Doctors. I hope you enjoyed this romp through memory lane (which is quite a long lane when you consider that the original TV program lasted for 26 years). If you haven’t listened to the Big Finish audio plays or the Eighth Doctors adventures on BBC7, you are cheating yourself, trust me. If you don’t know where to start with them, just contact me on Twitter and I will be happy to give recommendations and explain where they fit into continuity. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!More Doctor Who on Newsarama:
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- Definitive DOCTOR WHO, TORCHWOOD, SARAH JANE Timeline Part 2
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