Following the success of Blackpool Remembered and Blackpool Revisited, I felt the need to keep writing and reminiscing about life in Doctor Who fandom. I wanted to expand on some of the things covered in my 2010 publication, Who, Where & When as well as opening up my personal photo archive from various Doctor Who events and conventions over the past couple of decades alongside other musings and a recent visit to Neil Cole’s Museum of Classic Sci-Fi.
Check back this time next week to wallow in a feast of nostalgia!
I was sad to hear of artist Chris Achilleos’ passing yesterday at the age of 74. Chris was a renowned science fiction and fantasy artist, but most famous for his Doctor Who novelisation covers of the “Target” books in the 1970s. Chris’ distinctive cover art inspired a generation, perfectly encapsulating the stories, the essence of the show and the era.
My personal favourite is Planet of the Daleks. I first saw it in the junior school library when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I’d never seen a Dalek on the cover of a book before, and it blew me away. Not only was this a way into a story I had never seen (and at that time, there was no way of re-watching older stories), but studying that cover taught me how to draw Daleks and also taught me about creative composition and framing a piece. After seeing that artwork, even at the young age I was, I thought about drawing differently.
Until then, I had no idea there were Doctor Who books in the school library(!)… others followed! Chris’ covers were a way into the stories you hadn’t seen, and in the age before BBC Video releases were a regular thing, they were your only way of discovering past stories. They were also fantastic pieces of artwork in their own right.
Chris’ work continued to inspire me in my own science fiction artwork, decades later. Generations of fans felt a closeness to his work, because of everything those Target books meant to them as young fans, again growing up in the age before video or DVD releases and long before the internet. His absence will leave a dark hole in the worlds of fandom and SF&F art. Still working and as good as ever, it had been a pleasure to follow Chris online in recent years. He will be missed.
Delving back into the worlds of Doctor Who, I’m pleased to announce Up Close, another free digital publication exploring the various aspects of fandom. Up Close contains personal recollections, photos and nostalgia from Doctor Who conventions, exhibitions and events from the past two decades. It also takes a look at collecting, alongside a couple of exclusive guest contributions. More details to follow…
I was recently lucky to visit Neil Cole’s Museum of Classic Sci-Fi, tucked away in the rolling hills of the Northumbrian countryside. I was blown away by the sheer amount of screen-used props, costumes and production models in Neil’s collection, and most of all his impressive ‘archive’ of classic Doctor Who items.
While the Doctor Who section makes up the bulk of the museum, you’ll also see a vast range of items from films and series such as the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Alien, Prometheus, Planet of the Apes, Babylon 5, The Tripods, Blake’s 7, Battlestar Galactica and the Marvel films.
I have reviewed my visit in the new edition of Shoreline of Infinity magazine, which is out today. See the link below for more details!
Blackpool Revisited is here… John Collier’s follow-up to last year’s hugely popular Blackpool Remembered delves even deeper into the history of Doctor Who exhibitions in Blackpool from the 1970s to present day, with lots of stuff in between.
I’ve really enjoyed helping John realise this project, as well as writing numerous pieces and providing illustrations. With contributions from over 90 fans, here are over 600 pages of memories and nostalgia, all free to download.
Every artist has their own sources of inspiration. As a science fiction artist, I have always cited names from that iconic era of space and sci-fi art in the 1970s and 80s as a major influence, which captivated me from a young age. But as an illustrator and Doctor Who fan, I have always adored the very visual side of the show – the book covers, toy packaging, posters, etc – you name it. The various visions of the show as depicted by numerous artists over the years clearly had a profound effect on me.
For one of my contributions to the upcoming Blackpool Revisited book, I wanted to talk to some of the artists associated with the show, in particular those with a connection to the Blackpool exhibition.
Andrew Skilleter is arguably one of the best-known names in Doctor Who circles and is regarded the leading artist of the show in the 1980s and beyond. What I’ve always loved about Andrew’s work is his use of colour and texture; his shading and reflections on the metallic surfaces of Daleks and Cybermen or the slimy, lumpy reptilian visage of a Sea Devil – he captured these things perfectly and this really made his artwork so atmospheric. I still remember getting his 1986 Doctor Who calendar, which remained on my bedroom wall long after the year had passed. Although I was always excited to see what the following month’s artwork would be, there was always a reluctance to have to turn the previous page over! His work featured heavily in the exhibition shop, on numerous pieces of merchandise or book covers, and the 1985 season poster.
Leafing through his 1995 book Blacklight, it occurred to me, to get in touch and see if he would be willing to contribute to the project. I never thought I would find myself interviewing Andrew, and that has been such a pleasure, and I’ve rediscovered his work all over again.
Andrew’s interview took us back over a long and illustrious career, which produced some of the best-known Doctor Who pieces by anyone – and he’s still at it today.
All that remains of the Dalek t-shirt that I bought at the exhibition in 1985, is the printed front section, which at some point, I had cut out and stuck in a photo album. Fortunately, I still have it – though it has clearly seen better days. But as a seven-year-old, I loved that t-shirt. I wore my Daleks with pride, and really adored the illustration on it. I no doubt attempted top copy it countless times, as I learned to draw Daleks.
The Blackpool and Longleat exhibitions sold three specially designed t-shirts, featuring the Daleks, the Cybermen and Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor. Looking at the remains of my own t-shirt recently, I noticed the artist’s signature – Rod Vass.
I thought it was time to talk to Rod about that t-shirt. Tracking him down was surprisingly easy. However, I thought I was going to find a jobbing illustrator, whereas it turned out Rod was one half of the company Imagineering Ltd, to whom the BBC subcontracted prop and costume building both for the television series and the exhibitions. Fantastic!
Beyond just the three t-shirts, Imagineering Ltd had also produced all manner of merchandise for the exhibitions, as well as replica latex masks, as regularly advertised by The Movie Store in the 1980s. Rod still works in film and TV through his company Armordillo, which produces armour, costumes and sets. If you’ve seen Gladiator, then you’ve seen his work in action.
Rod was generous with his time and responses, especially given that I’m asking him about work from around 40 years ago, that he has long since moved on from.
One of the other items I bought from the Blackpool exhibition was the most amazing poster of a cutaway Dalek – a dramatic painting of a Dalek before a burning cityscape, but with all of its workings on show. That piece of artwork fascinated me, due to the intricacy and detail of the circuitry, machinery, wires and tubes all crammed inside the Dalek, as well as the bubbling, pulsating Kaled mutant housed in the top section. I remember comparing this poster with the drawing of a similar Dalek anatomy in the Doctor Who Technical Manual.
Digging the poster out, I noticed a name in the credits at the bottom – Graham Potts. But despite Google’s best efforts, no website for Graham turned up. Nothing on Facebook either and only a brief reference to him in Telos Publishing’s Target book. I started to fear he may no longer be with us.
As a last resort, I tried searching on LinkedIn, and found a listing for an illustrator by that name, but with little other information. One private message later and as luck would have it, I’d found the right Graham Potts.
Graham only had a brief involvement in the Doctor Who world, having illustrated a few pieces of cover art including the novelisation of The Celestial Toymaker and Peter Haining’s popular 1983 book, A Celebration. Again, I was asking Graham about a piece of work from 36 years ago, but he happily obliged, and it was great to hear more about the background to that piece and his way of working back then.
As an artist, I’ve always enjoyed talking to other artists, and it is especially rewarding to be able to speak with those whose work inspired me. I can’t thank Andrew, Rod and Graham enough for their time, generosity and interest in the project.
All of these conversations have not only left me feeling enriched and inspired, but they’re absolutely fantastic contributions to the book.
Following my involvement with Blackpool Remembered and Blackpool Revisited, I have given my 2011 Doctor Who ebook, Who, Where & When a short, personal account of growing up with the show in the 1980s and beyond.
I’ve given the front cover an overhaul with some recent illustrations and the existing articles have undergone some minor edits where needed. However bringing the book up to date, are four new pages at the end, which I hope you enjoy.
I spent a large part of my childhood drawing Doctor Who. Any other fans out there will understand how an obsession over something like this can grip you, especially at a young age – and to have some drawing ability meant that I could visualise my own worlds and adventures (usually at the expense of homework!). But, my comics would often remain half finished (or half started) or they would just be another excise to draw the Daleks.
My obsession with the Daleks was probably equal to my obsession with the show – and still is. I loved drawing them (though they were, are, and will always be challenging things to draw!). But, until this year, I hadn’t drawn any Daleks for many years, and it was literally over twenty years since I had last done any kind of Doctor Who illustration whatsoever, especially as in the last decade, my science fiction work and cover art has been at the fore.
Earlier this year when I became involved in both Blackpool Remembered and Terraqueos Distributors’ Unofficial 1989 Dr Who Annual, I found myself returning to line-art and really enjoying it. In the past I would always prefer to work with ink on paper for line-art, but once scanned in, the results never looked as good, so I decided to work entirely digitally, which isn’t without its challenges on a graphics tablet.
The pieces for Blackpool Remembered were obviously heavily inspired by the original Blackpool exhibition; the lighting and colours in particular. But I also wanted to pay a subtle homage to the vintage annuals of the 1970s – the 1975 Daleks Omnibus in particular, at the same time as putting my own stamp on the pieces. Even though both book projects were complete, I felt that old urge to do some more, so set about doing more Daleks, Davros (based on Terry Molloy’s take on the character in the 1980s) and another old favourite of mine, the Sontarans.
Taking stock of this recent output, I realised that this collection of pieces – depicting some of the Doctor’s most famous alien adversaries as well as good old K9 – deserved to be more than digital files sitting on my hard drive or in social media feeds. They simply needed to be something to have and hold, and this led to the production of a limited edition sets of prints.
I’m really proud of this set – not only because of the project that spawned them, but rediscovering both my passion for illustrating Doctor Who and establishing a particular style was very rewarding, but also because it feels like a culmination of so many years of fandom and the simple joy putting pen to paper (or pixel).
This year, I have really enjoyed rediscovering my love of illustrating all things Doctor Who – to celebrate this, I have produced a limited edition run of A5 print packs.
Each individually numbered pack contains six A5 prints of classic Doctor Who characters – the Daleks, Davros, Cybermen, Sontarans and K9. Each print is finished and preserved with a smooth matt lamination.
This set brings together personal pieces alongside illustrations commissioned for the Blackpool Remembered project.
The packs are for sale on eBay for £9.99 each, including postage (UK only – sorry!). This is a limited edition item, with just 40 packs available. I’m also happy to receive payment directly via PayPal via email; just get in touch: alex[at]thelightdream.net