The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

Doctor in This Dress

Looking back at the Who’s Who of science fashion.
Gareth Milner
The Sixth Doctor’s costume. Photo by Gareth Milner. Accessed in wikimedia commons .

He is running through the corridor, with only moments left before the base explodes behind him. He is turning to face the robotic saltshaker menacing this moon base. She is scanning the walls around her with a small metallic device, its yellow light buzzing through the hallway with its distinctive hum. Or it is a green light. Or a red one. And what kind of face was holding it? It is an older one, with a shape worn by both years and experiences. Or it is the face of a child warrior, still old but with the appearance of youth. And what are they wearing, right now? A suit and tie, maybe. Or a sweatshirt and a tee. Or is it something more elaborate? A frilly Victorian suit. Or a vest emblazoned with red question marks. A wonderful rainbow suit. What about their accessories? They are wearing a fez. And Sandshoes. What else? A bowtie? A long, impractical scarf? A celery stalk? No matter. When the universe is in trouble, the Doctor is always there to help. And they look damn good while doing it.

“Doctor Who,” British television’s flagship science-fiction franchise, is turning 60 years old this November. With Ncuti Gatwa’s “Fifteenth Doctor” just around the corner, the show is feeling none of its age— least of all in the fashion department. In all the recent promotions for his first season as the time-traveler, Gatwa’s wardrobe has been exquisitely crafted, with the Time Lord sporting plaid brown and black pants, a coat and a bright orange shirt. He also sports several rings on his fingers and a great  mustache. Gatwa looks suave and svelte in the role. In the spirit of moving forward with Gatwa’s incarnation of the character, I wanted to take a brief look at the past 60 years, spotting other notable costumes from my favorite television show.

For the first six years of “Doctor Who,” broadcast in the 1960s, there was not too much that was notable in the wardrobe. Both the First and Second Doctors wore some variation of Victorian-style clothing, though the Second Doctor was more tramp-like in appearance. But in 1970 the show changed. It had moved into the color era, and with Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor riding around in his bright yellow car, he needed a suitable costume to boot. While this Doctor’s wardrobe was again Victorian, there was an emphasis on elaborate frills and bright velvety colors to emphasize this new nature of the show.

By the time Tom Baker’s legendary portrayal of the Fourth Doctor made it onto television in late 1974, costuming was everything for the established program. Baker’s costume is, in a word, iconic. It ditched previous Doctor’s established Victorian fashion senses for the more everyday frock coat and vest. Not to mention the Time Lord’s amazing scarf, so impractically long that it used up all the BBC’s allotted wool budget. It is the costume dreams are made of.

Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor Costume. Photo by Gareth Milner. Accessed in wikimedia commons.

After Baker finished up his record seven years in the title role, a young man named Peter Davison took up the role. His costume was a bit of an oddity: it was a cream-colored cricket uniform, strangely enough with a green celery stalk tucked into his left lapel that went unexplained for the rest of his tenure. It was odd, and ratings of the show did begin to wane during Davison’s run. But the next Doctor was truly something.

The mid-80s was a time of turmoil for the screen, amid cuts in audience size and show budget. Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor reflected much of this, with his crueler personality bordering on outright abusiveness. His costume certainly had to reflect this. So, the showrunner of the program at the time, John-Nathan Turner, chose to outfit his star was the most outrageous, garish costume possible. What ended up being chosen was a sight for sore eyes, to be sure: a mishmash of bright colors sewn onto a regular frock coat. Every time this man appeared onscreen, I think I really did taste the rainbow on more than one occasion.

After the Sixth Doctor’s run ended in 1986, the show went on hiatus— and so did the costume department. Even when Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor debuted in 1987, things never quite clicked. McCoy’s Doctor has an idiosyncratic costume, yes, with a typically atypical Panama hat and Question mark motif covering everything. Then the show was canceled by the BBC. It was briefly brought back in 1996 as a failed TV movie pilot, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and a return to the Victorian costuming of the first ten years of the program. This kind of costuming was also used in the various “Doctor Who” revival attempts and parodies of the time, worn by stars such as Lenny Henry and Rowan Atkinson.

And then, in 2005, the show was brought back. The revival’s first season starred a leather coat-wearing Christopher Eccleston, who left after only one season on the new show. After him came the actor who could be called the most heart-throbby actor to ever portray the character. David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was and still is the most popular incarnation of the character, wearing a long coat, tight pinstripe suit and sandshoes. 

Matt Smith followed David Tennant to become a popular Doctor, as well, this time in the United States. His costume was nothing special at first, with the average tweed jacket and suspenders. But it is the accessories where Smith shines. During his run, both bowties and fezzes became popular, even meme-worthy, amongst the fanbase. This trend continued with the Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, who sported “Sonic Sunglasses” along with a suit playing homage to the Third Doctor. Even though his costume later mellowed out, trading the suit for a sweatshirt, he kept the trademark sunglasses. 

And finally, the most recent Doctor played by Jodie Whitaker has a costume that is just okay. The first female Doctor tried something less than feminine, which is great and groundbreaking, but the sweatshirt t-shirt combo does not do much for me.

All of this brings us to the present. David Tennant is due to return to the show, this time playing the Fourteenth Doctor for a series of specials. His costume differs from his previous role, being more flamboyant in a suit and possibly a little bit less sexy. Nevertheless, once his role comes to a close, we will be experiencing Ncuti Gatwa’s performance as the long-lasting Time Lord, a character who I, for one, cannot wait to dress up as.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

Comment approval is subject to the discretion of the Scarlet editorial board.
All The Scarlet Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Mark ~ Dec 5, 2023 at 5:37 pm

    Great review. Very descriptive and amusing!