There is a definite reason for selecting the 1972-73 season of Doctor Who as my first port of call, in my quest to study the chairs (and occasional home furnishings) of this rather fine television drama.
Here is the story so far…
As I watched ‘Blake’s 7’ (BBC 1978 – 81) I realised that many of the futuristic chairs were not, as I suspected, custom built props made by the BBC, but in fact some of the most classic designs of the 20th century, most of which were and are available to buy, if you have a spare quid (or three).
The resulting blog post documented as many chairs as possible from the 52 episode run. There were a handful that were either unidentifiable, or custom built, or a cheaper knock off of an established design.
Then there were these…
These rather fabulous moulded fibreglass designs popped up in many episodes during the first three seasons of Blake’s 7.
My attempts to identify these lovely artefacts have so far proved unsuccessful. In fact, the two featured in the image were found by a collector in a charity warehouse in Scotland. There is a belief that they were made at a prop studio, in readiness for a number of film and television productions. The closest I can come to identifying them is as a knock off of this mustard colour Alberto Rosselli design from 1968.
So I would welcome any sightings of these chairs pre-1973.
They made a ton of appearances in Doctor Who, but to the best of my knowledge, their first appearance was in season 10. So, let’s take a look.
The Three Doctors
From a production design point of view, season 10 is a step forward from previous Jon Pertwee seasons, where the predominantly shiny and metallic surfaces of various drilling sites, industrial warehouses, Dalek control rooms, and sea forts, are replaced by bold, sometimes lurid, statement designs.
Take ‘The Three Doctors’, where the control centre of the Time Lords is a garish mix of perspex, back lit psychedelic wallpaper, and bold coloured scenery. But it needs some futuristic looking chairs to complete the mix.
Moulded fibreglass designs were the order of the day. It seems only fitting that we start our journey with two of them. One being the aforementioned unidentifiable chair, alongside a more familiar one.
Yes! It’s Servalan’s chair from season B of Blake’s 7! A chair for both good and nasty pieces of work.
Meanwhile ‘The Three Doctors’ also contains a wooden lab stool at UNIT HQ, and a couple of rather nice ornate pieces, presumably dug out of the the BBC prop store.
So a nice little story for the interior design nerds, even if many of the objects are unidentifiable.
Carnival of Monsters
It’s good to have a go, I try to tell myself.
“Early 20th century ship cabin bench” is a good search term on this occasion. This green bench is the closest I could find. But alas, I think this will remain a mystery.
Frontier in Space
This is the story where we really hit pay dirt!
First up we have the chairs featured onboard the Cargo ship C982. These are a pair of Jetson Swivel Chairs by Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson for Dux in 1970. For me the steel base under the seat as as interesting and space age as the seat itself.
On Earth, the office of the president contains a famous lounge chair, and a not so famous one.
The famous one is Joe Columbo’s Elda chair. It was designed in 1963 for Comfort, Italy. It’s a mix of fibreglass and leather, and is perfect for ‘the powerful character’ in sci-fi. However I would say that directors and designers have to be careful that it is only used in a far future setting. For every Servalan and Earth president who benefits from its 360degree rotation, I can’t see the Brigade-Leader turning around to see Pertwee, John Levene and Caroline John wearing eyepatches in that type of chair.
No doubt there will be more on this chair when I reach season 10.
The less famous chair, required a bit more detective work.
This is the seating that General Williams likes to park his bottom on. It was made by Lurashell – a company that was only around 15 years old by the time ‘Frontier in Space’ was broadcast. This ‘space age swivel chair’ features a head rest, which has been removed on this occasion. It probably dates from 1971, and apparently featured in other productions of the era, including the mid 1970’s series ‘Star Maidens’, which supports the posterior of Roj Blake himself!
Inside the Draconian Embassy, the Doctor is questioned on a Zermatt lounge chair. This was designed by Duncan Burke and Gunter Eberle for Vecta Group in the early 1970’s. I was impressed by Pertwee’s ability to roll back on this cantilever design.
Onboard the prison ship, the Master enjoys ‘The War of the Worlds’ on an Eames Aluminium Group EA-116 chair, designed in 1958. This lounge chair, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, retains many of the hallmarks of their office chairs of the same era.
Man alive, that villain sat in style…and without seatbelts, the naughty time lord.
There is the intriguing use of a barbers chair onboard the Master’s ship.
In fact, the chair in question is the ‘Apollo 2’ manufactured by Takara Belmont. This beast apparently set the standard for the hairdressing industry since its introduction in 1961. It has a cast metal body and spring loaded seat cushion. It also includes a strop hook, gown rail and ashtray – useful for Gruntleigh the Ogron to have a crafty cigarette when the Master isn’t looking.
These chairs are also pretty tasty. They are Chromecraft Sculpta lounge chairs. The most distinctive design element here is the V-shaped aluminum base. These leather one-piece chairs were a part of the Decorables 1967 series – whatever that means. A key selling point are some fleeting appearances in the original ‘Star Trek’ series, but then a lot of chairs also featured during that run. Either way they are ace, and complement the brown of the flight deck.
Back in the office of the Earth president, an intriguing late 1960’s design can be seen. This is part of the 9900 Colani Collection by the German designer Luigi Colani. He was interested in the use of organic forms. This lounge chair TV-relax is still readily available on the market today – for the right price.
Of course, there are chairs that are, at present, unidentifiable. These include seating found on the Moon, and a couple of white armchairs that feature in the Draconian embassy. Feel free to shout out with any suggestions.
Yep, ‘Frontier in Space’ is rightfully noted for its epic quality, and its innovative production and model work. But scratching the surface, its use of chairs is really quite something. I reckon, at this early stage, it doesn’t get better than this, and all other posts will be the law of diminishing returns.
Planet of the Daleks
The following chair was designed by Arne Jacobsen for the professors of St. Catherine’s College in Oxford in 1965. The chair’s extra tall back served as a symbol of prestige and created a space of its own. Apparently there was uproar that a ‘foreign modernist’ dare to be commissioned for such a task, but it appears that everyone got over themselves in the end, with Jacobsen receiving an honorary doctorate.
The stools used inside the Dalek base are the tulip stools designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957. Saarinen vowed to address the “ugly, confusing, unrestful world” he observed underneath chairs and tables — the so-called “slum of legs.” (1)
No, ‘Planet of the Daleks’ isn’t a sitting down type of story. It’s more about getting messy and muddy, the type of tale that gets screened twice on BBC 1 – 20 years apart.
The Green Death
Identifying the executive seat that Stevens sits on was trickier than I thought, as there are so many similar high backed leather armchairs dating from the 1960/70s. However it was the whipstitch detailing that gave it away. This is a DS35 High Back Executive Swivel Office/ Lounge Chair by De Sede of Switzerland.
Towards the right hand side of the below image there is another interesting armchair. This is a Rodney Kinsman-designed T2 lounge chair dating from 1969. This tubular chrome design is really rather lovely.
There were other stools and Victorian dining chairs in the Nuthutch, but they are unidentifiable. For now.
Finally we have one of those archetypal moments in Doctor Who. ‘Doris’ the cleaner. The chairs behind Yates and the Doctor are Plush Kicker chrome chairs, designed by Peter Wigglesworth and R.V. Exton in 1968.
So there you have it. Season 10 of Doctor Who. It might be the first season that I have explored chair wise, but I really can’t see it being beaten. Who knows…
Right, I need to sit down after that.