PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

BBC Books’ latest timely coffee table Doctor Who publication – seriously, stick legs on this one and you’ve got an actual coffee table – is a long overdue, stunningly-illustrated and lovingly-detailed tribute to the often unsung heroes who design the monsters, alien landscapes, gadgets, gimmicks and bits and pieces which populate every episode of the Time Lord’s never-ending adventures.

From the string and sealing-wax days of its 1960s origins to the sophisticated 3D modelling techniques and CGI options available to today’s programme-makers, Doctor Who has always excelled in the ingenuity and sheer genius of its production designers in creating brilliantly-imaginative alien creatures, costumes and props. This magnificent and weighty tome – by the show’s contemporary Supervising Art Director Stephen Nicholas  and Visual Effects Designer Mike Tucker (responsible for many of the miniature sequences which still, happily, pop up in the show now and again) explores in absorbing detail the history of the show’s design culture from its very beginnings. No stone is left unturned with lengthy sections devoted to the famous interior TARDIS control room, its ever-evolving modern designs very much inspired by the work of Peter Brachaki who created the striking original control console in 1963, the Daleks and Cybermen as they’ve been modified and upgraded across the decades (the ill-advised 2010 Dalek ‘paradigm’ is swiftly skirted over) and fans of the Sontarans, the Silurians and even K9 won’t be disappointed by the copious colourful design illustrations which all demonstrate just how much care and attention goes into every aspect of realising Doctor Who’s unique Universe.

The Design department cabinets have clearly been turned upside-down because the breadth of material presented here is really quite astonishing. Much of it focuses on the ‘new’ series, of course, but the ‘classic’ series gets plenty of coverage too, memorable stories selected as examples of how the show’s design ethos frequently broke new grounds and set new standards despite the often-primitive facilities available to them to get the job done. Some of the pre-production design work for the current series is feature-film quality; the concept art created for Time Lord planet Gallifrey and Dalek homeworld Skaro and various other alien locations is really quite beautiful.

Impossible Worlds is a book to savour. You’ll glory at the sheer volume of rare and never-before-seen design imagery and possibly drool over quite a lot of it. The not-insubstantial supporting text treads familiar ground for the hardcore Who fan but Nicholas and Tucker know their stuff and stride confidently through the show’s long history. Aimed squarely at the more seasoned and specialist fan – this isn’t one for your sonic-screwdriver wielding six year-old – it’s hard to fault for its enthusiasm and its completism. We could perhaps have done with a few less pages devoted to gun and rifle designs and maybe some images of the likes of the Ice Warriors and the Judoon who are referenced but never pictured but otherwise this is a book which needs to be on the shelf of anyone who takes Doctor Who seriously and is interested in what goes on behind-the-scenes to get the show on screen. It’s impossibly good.



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