(Reboot) Doctor Who Historical Costumes, Part II


To continue our review of historical costuming in new Doctor Who, let’s move from the all-too-brief Christopher Eccleston era on to Doctor #10, David Tennant. With each of his companions and alone, this Doctor takes plenty of trips through the Earth time stream. Some of them look better than others, costume-wise, but even the weak visual ones can be entertaining episodes. Allons-y!

David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor Who Historical Episodes

In his second episode, “Tooth and Claw,” the Tenth Doctor and Rose accidentally drop into 1879 Scotland and encounter Queen Victoria on her way to Balmoral Castle. There’s some bother with a werewolf, the Doctor gets knighted, and then the Torchwood Institute is created, leading tidily into a spinoff series (yay, more Captain Jack!). Costume-wise, Queen Victoria looks exactly like you’d expect her to, no biggie. The additional characters include men in typical Victorian suits or uniforms, some women in maids outfits, one chick in a subdued bustle gown, and some crazy monks.

Two episodes later in “The Girl in the Fireplace,” the Doctor, Rose, and the Tin Dog aka Mickey visit 1750s France via windows on a 51st-century spaceship. Naturally, the Doctor meets and falls in love with Madame de Pompadour, first encountering her in 1727 when she’s 7 years old, and then again at her 37th birthday. Unfortunately, clockwork androids need to steal her brain (don’t you hate when that happens to you?).

This has perhaps some of the best costuming in a Doctor Who historical episode in ages. Because it’s all borrowed! The elaborate, sparkly, panniered gown that Sophia Myles wears in the ball scene as Madame du Pompadour was actually made for Helen Mirren as Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George III in 1994, and it was worn in at least three other movies too. Check out the page on Recycled Movie Costumes for details. Several other gowns worn by extras in this episode appear to be recycled from major movies as well.

Funny story — one dress that Sophia Myles wears was actually made for Doctor Who, but for an episode in 1982 titled “Black Orchid.” While that Peter Davidson serial was an historical episode, it was set in the 1920s, and the 18th-century gown was for a fancy-dress ball (the Doctor dressed as a harlequin; not one of his prouder moments, as I recall). I kind of love how “The Girl in the Fireplace” gave the staff an excuse to raid all the nearby costume warehouses of every interesting 18th-century gown available for rent!

My only quibble is that the hair is off. Pompadour wears various Victorian updos with ringlets or braids, the King of France has totally modern hair, and the ball guests have Dolly Parton hair or Halloween-y white 18th-century wigs. Also, the clockwork androids all wear full-bottomed wigs, which is a rather old-fashioned for the period. Not inconceivable, but it does stand out (especially on female-attired androids!).

After losing Rose in an alternate universe (and good riddance to her, in my probably-not-popular opinion), the Doctor teams up with Martha and heads to 1599 London to visit the Bard in “The Shakespeare Code.” They make a bunch of Harry Potter jokes (this episode aired in spring 2007, right before the last Harry Potter book was published, plus David Tennant played Barty Crouch, Jr. in Goblet of Fire). The Doctor makes a lot of references to Shakespeare’s plays yet to be written. There’s a group of alien witches behind the building of the Globe Theater. It’s a jolly good time. The costumes appear to be stock 16th-century garb, no real standouts. Except for Shakespeare, who insists on running around without a hat and with his doublet hanging open all the time. Just because you’re a genius playwright, you think you’re all hot stuff, sheesh.

The leader of the witches, Lilith, gets an upper-class gown that’s not especially bad nor especially good either — and it’s another recycled gown, apparently created for a minor character in Shakespeare in Love (keepin’ it in the family, so to speak). Read all about it on Recycled Movie Costumes. At the very end of the episode, Queen Elizabeth shows up wearing a very fancy 1590s wheel-farthingale gown with a ginormous standing ruff, so there’s one nod to the specific date. It may be a gown recycled from Elizabeth starring Helen Mirren in 2005, but Recycled Movie Costumes hasn’t confirmed this (and I couldn’t get a clear screenshot of the full thing). That site does believe that the standing ruff was recycled from The Virgin Queen starring Anne-Marie Duff in 2005.

Two episodes later, we hit New York during the Great Depression for a two-parter, “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks.” Set in November 1930, the costumes are appropriately drab for the mostly male residents of Hooverville in Central Park. There’s a side-plot about a Busby Berkeley-esque dancer and her boyfriend, and the dancers have cute, but rather generic showgirl outfits.

The two-parter of “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” is set in 1913 in a small English village. Not only is this a wonderfully poignant episode (poor Martha, rebound relationships suck!), it’s a lovely period piece. It’s also a rare episode where the Doctor isn’t dressed in his typical outfit. Instead, we see the Doctor as a 1910s teacher in vintage-style suits, sometimes topped with a mortarboard and robe (bonus scene with him in dressing gown and PJs, yum, I’d like to wake up to that). Martha plays a primly dressed maid, and there are some excellent, if mostly plain, middle-class gowns worn by the school’s nurse, Joan Redfern. Random cross-over info: The actor who plays one of the bad guys in this ep also played Viserys Targaryen in Game of Thrones!

After Martha leaves to pick up the pieces of her broken life, the Doctor teams up with Donna and goes on the now traditional “new companion’s second episode TARDIS trip back in Earth time.” They go to the day before Mount Vesuvius erupts, 79 CE, for “The Fires of Pompeii.” Donna tries to go native but wears an old mother-of-the bride gown instead (don’t get me wrong, I love Donna. She’s my very favorite of the New Who companions. I also appreciate that she’s not some skinny girlchild like certain other actors, and her character is supposed to be an Everywoman. But sometimes the wardrobe people just seemed mean.). The locals are dressed a little better, especially Peter Capaldi (testing the waters for his later Doctor-hood?). The use of color in this episode is really great, reminding us that just because the marble surviving from Ancient Rome is white now, there was actually a ton of color used in clothing, art, and architecture at the time. Stuff like those pesky volcanoes wore some of it away.

A few eps later, the Doctor and Donna crash a party with mystery novelist Agatha Christie in “The Unicorn and the Wasp.” Set in 1926 England, this is quite a good period piece, full of elegant gowns and fluttery daywear. As the pivotal figure, Christie gets the most interesting outfits and costume changes, and her blue floral dress is particularly pretty.  Lady Eddison’s locket necklace looks a little cheap, which is noticeable since it’s a key to the plot and is given a big, fat closeup. But then there are many other, less closely seen but much more historically accurate accessories and outfits. Even Donna gets a lovely dress with gold beading that suits her coloring — quite a feat, considering how unflattering 1920s costumes can sometimes be. Overall, this is one of the better looking Doctor Who historical episodes, plus it’s funny.

Tennant’s run winds down with “The Next Doctor,” and this has what I consider one of the best costumes and one of the worst costumes in the new Doctor Who historical episodes. Set in 1851 on Christmas Eve in London, we follow the Doctor, companion-less, as he meets a man who thinks he’s The Doctor. It’s a ton of fun, but about those costumes — the best one is Mercy Hartigan. She’s the vehicle for the Cybermen to take over, and she wears a gorgeous, vivid red silk 1850s gown with pleated details, set off beautifully by her jet black hair and worn with black leather gloves. The red also stands out wonderfully against the black suits of the men around her and the snowy white settings; it’s a great visual design.

And then there’s the worst costume. Why is the faux Doctor’s companion Rosita dressed like a renfaire reject? She’s not the one with the memory problem. Her back story is simply that she was walking along, a Cyberman assaulted her, and the man who thinks he’s the Doctor rescued her. So why the elastic-topped, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse worn with a laced-up peasant bodice and tiered skirt, plus her long, curly hair worn down? All the other women shown in town are in proper Victorian hoop-skirted gowns and bonnets? WEIRD.

Next, we follow Matt Smith through Earth’s history to renaissance Venice, World War II, 1969, and more!

Don’t miss the Frock Flicks Guide to (Reboot) Doctor Who Historicals, Part I, with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor (or Frock Flicks Guide to (Reboot) Doctor Who Historicals, Part IV, with Peter Capaldi).


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

4 Responses

  1. Marlies

    You forgot about “The Idiot’s Lantern”? 1953 London. Nice article otherwise, you’re so right about Rosita.

  2. Jean Martin

    I love, love the historical and “historical” costumes during David Tennant’s tenure. Well, everything about the David Tennant era was great for me :) So much variety in costumes and colorful and exciting. Thanks for the rundown. While I’ve done several of these already, you gave me some more ideas for future cosplays. Mercy Hartigan’s gown is drool worthy. BTW, Felicity Jones who played Robina Redmond was the lead in Northanger Abbey and went on to star in Rogue One and various other historical movies. She’s awesome.

  3. Imry

    Regarding Rosita in “The Next Doctor”- I dont know if this will in any way excuse that outfit, but it is implied in the episode that she’s a prostitue. At one point Miss Hartigan tells her “I doubt he pays you to talk”. So maybe thats why she’s dressed like that.