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Doctor Who: A Contemporary Costume Evolution

Doctor Who, the quirky British sci-fi television series about a time travelling alien and his friends, premiered in 1963. Since then there have been twelve Doctors (and a War Doctor), each with their own unique looks to match their unique and often eccentric personalities. With the debut of the Twelfth Doctor fast approaching, this post takes a look back at the three Doctors we’ve seen so far (not including the War Doctor) on Doctor Who since it was rebooted in 2005 (or New Who, as some like to call it) and guesses at what we can expect from Doctor number twelve.

Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor Who. Costume designer: Louise Page.
Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor Who. Costume designer: Lucinda Wright.

The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) arrived on our screens fresh from the end of the Time War, and still living with the horrors of this war and his choice to end it by destroying not only the Daleks but his own people and planet. The character is hard, harsh, and his costume reflects this.

The Ninth Doctor wears black, loose fitting trousers, a knit V-necked shirt (usually in shades of plum and green), and a worn, double-breasted leather jacket. Overall his clothes are utilitarian, easy to move in and hard working, able to withstand a lot of wear — all of these qualities being important in the clothes of one fighting a war. Although the Time War is over for the Ninth Doctor, his harsh experiences of the war still colour his clothing choices.

Overall the costume of the Ninth Doctor projects a tough image, and reflects the idea of a lone wolf. The costume recalls the iconic look associated with classic actor James Dean, who often played tough loner characters in movies such as Rebel Without A Cause. After suffering so many losses in the Time War, the Ninth Doctor uses his harsh exterior as a type of armour to protect against further suffering. But when he meets and falls in love with Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), that harsher exterior slowly melts away.

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Costume designer: Louise Page.
David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Costume designer: Louise Page.

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) reflects the softer influences of Rose, projecting a much more romantic appearance. He alternates between two cotton suits, each the opposite of the other. He wears a 4 button single-breasted, pinstriped suit that is either brown with blue stripes or blue with brown stripes, a whimsically patterned brown and blue tie, a long, swashbuckling brown coat, and Converse sneakers.

The costume is a study in contrasts. Blue and brown are contrasting colours, and their combination in the pinstriped suits subtly strikes the eye. The formality of a pinstriped suit gives authority to the character, and reflects a sense of Britishness. But the unusual color combination of those pinstriped suits also subverts authority and brings a strong sense of mischievousness to the character. This is emphasised by his informal Converse sneakers, whimsically patterned ties, and swishy, swashbuckling coat. And while the suit is a typical type of garment for a man to wear, the unusual colours and footwear mark the Doctor out as different from the rest of the crowd.

There is a romance to the Tenth Doctor’s costume, with it’s swishing coat, classic suit, and quirky details. His costume conveys his lighter, more optimistic nature as well as his authority and power as a Time Lord. The fabrics reflect the softening of his personality as he opens his heart.

Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Costume designer: Ray Holman.
Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Costume designer: Ray Holman.

The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is at once an overgrown child and a weary old man. Both of these qualities are reflected in his first costume. He wears a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, tight fitting, rolled up trousers, suspenders (braces), a subtly patterned shirt, and of course a very cool bow tie.

There is a great sense of the absentminded professor in the look, which reflects the qualities of age and authority as well as youth and playfulness. The old-fashioned tweed jacket, suspenders, and bow tie are the sartorial choices of an old man; fitting as this is the oldest incarnation of the Doctor yet. Yet Matt Smith’s young face and long limbs can’t help but express a youthful quality that is reflected in his squiggly patterned shirts, bow tie, and overall mismatched ensemble. The Eleventh Doctor acts much younger than his predecessors. The childlike curiosity to see and explore the universe, which has been present in all of the Doctors, is more dominant in this incarnation and this is reflected in his eccentric and quirky ensemble.

But like the Ninth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor uses his appearance as a type of armour. No one looking at such a light-hearted, playfully nerdy appearance would suspect the tortured and broken soul within.

Matt Smith’s second incarnation as the Doctor.
Matt Smith’s second incarnation as the Doctor. Costume designer: Ray Holman.

The Eleventh Doctor’s second costume, worn after his tragic parting with Amy Pond, reflects the growth of the character. His suit still has elements of playfulness, but is overall more polished, fitted, and mature. The colour palate is more sombre and mature, and the sleek, fitted quality of the jacket reflects a more grown-up character. This Doctor has grown into himself more, and into his relationships with others.

Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Costume designer: Howard Burden
Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Costume designer: Howard Burden

So what can we expect from the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi)? All we know about his character as yet is that he doesn’t like the colour of his kidneys and has seemed to have forgotten how to fly the Tardis. As publicity shots have shown, he wears a deep navy blue three-piece suit, a white shirt with no tie, and Loake loafers. Peter Capaldi has described his costume as “simple, stark, and back to basics,” saying, “No frills, no scarfs, no messing, just 100% rebel Time Lord.”

In comparison to the other Doctors we’ve seen in New Who, Capaldi’s Doctor’s outfit is certainly the most traditional. The dark color and well tailored, three-piece suit suggests formality and recalls the costumes of the classic Doctors from the 1960s and early 1970s. It gives the character a much more grown-up appearance and imbues him with a greater authority. His costume has none of the playfulness which characterized the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors.

However, our favourite swashbuckling Time Lord has not been completely lost. The longer coat swishes around the Doctor’s hips, creating glamour and intrigue. And it is lined in bright red satin, an eye-popping detail that brings in some of the flamboyance of the previous incarnations of the character. The colour red has traditionally symbolized many strong emotions such as anger, power, and passion, all essential elements of the Doctor. The Twelfth Doctor’s enemies may only see a distinguished older gentleman in a dark suit at first, but that flash of red is a warning to all — don’t mess with this Time Lord!

By Katy Werlin. Katy writes about fashion history at her blog The Fashion Historian.

© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.