The official Doctor Who site recently caught up with Michael Pickwoad, production designer on the current series of Doctor Who – and designer of the new TARDIS interior which debuted in the Christmas special, The Snowmen.
He explains that the previous TARDIS interior, while beautiful, created a problem for writers, as more dialogue had to be written for the Doctor, Amy, Rory and (sometimes) River as they went from the console to the door:
Working in the previous TARDIS it became apparent that the gallery was not only difficult to get to, but awkward to use and so the idea of a gallery that could go right around the interior and give a lot of scope for shooting would be a positive design feature.
Pickwoad’s first work on Doctor Who was 2010’s The Christmas Carol, in which he used quite a warm, Victorian palette. But this TARDIS interior is more technical, futuristic and metallic, a complete contrast to the surroundings of The Snowmen. He says how a modern invention that hit headlines worldwide inspired the design:
The feeling of technical precision in the Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and highest- energy atomic particle accelerator, Hi-Tec Architecture and what might Barnes Wallis, the great inventor engineer who I once had the privilege of meeting, have come up with, were some the of the inspirations.
Part Two of the interview looks at the interior in more detail, as he recalls the biggest challenges of creating the best-known Time/Space ship in… uh, all of time and space:
The design of the main ribs was the most crucial feature as they needed to support the gallery without obstructing floor space and be a shape that suggested high technology, but of an organic nature that would sweep from the floor to the central rotor like a magnetic field diagram… Various numbers of ribs were experimented with in the drawing stage, and with twenty ribs being too intense and sixteen being too far apart and out of balance with the intended scale, eighteen appeared to be just right. The overall size of the new TARDIS is the same as the last, but appears to be larger as all of the space is accessible.
The Snowmen was a landmark for direction as well, as, for the first time ever, we swept from outside – straight into the TARDIS, following Clara in. Obviously, a lot of thought was put into this incredible ship:
The entrance was designed to make the arrival within the space, rather than on the edge, and give a sense of weightlessness by not being aware of how the bridge to the console platform is supported.
The staircases connecting the different levels, all in different directions, take on the essence of an Escher drawing and were designed to give a confusing yet magical look.
He explains how the actual console harks back to Classic Who:
The console itself returned to more of the look of earlier designs, allowing for more positive technology, veering away from the whimsical, yet retaining a sense of entertainment. This may be considered retro, but allows for a greater range of controls and levers that can be combined with touch screens and computer panels, which in themselves have less shape. The Doctor, of course, always needs a lever.
I’ll miss the type-writer, of course, as well as the ketchup and mustard. Presumably, there’s still a zig-zag plotter…
Michael’s favourite thing about the new TARDIS, however, is probably my favourite too: the contra-rotating time rotor, covered in intricate Gallifreyan. He says:
By making it revolve it would suggest that it was computing the time co-ordinates and setting the course through time… Each ring of the rotor is divided into eighteen parts, complimenting the eighteen ribs of the TARDIS structure, and being finished in silver and furnished with Gallifreyan symbols, adds to the sense of precision.
Of course, as production designer, Pickwoad was responsible for the look of The Snowmen, and he says his favourite from the episode is early in the 60-minute special:
Probably my favourite was the London Street with the back of the pub, based on a wonderful 16th Century building in Oxford, where I live.
One the enjoyable things about Doctor Who is the great variety of sets and locations and they all require the same attention. So the London Street had to be worthy of a costume drama and match with the charm of the period Bristol streets where we filmed some of the scenes.