THE CHAIRS OF DOCTOR WHO – Season 1

Previously on ‘The Chairs of Doctor Who’.

Season 10 was a season that took a leap forward in set design, with all kinds of bases covered, from the far future curves of Time Lord technology, to the high status and opulence of Global Chemicals. The chairs featured in that season are a testimony to the extra pizzaz that at 10-year anniversary can bring.

One thing I did predict with the season 10 post, was that I wouldn’t find as many chairs in other seasons I’m exploring. What a pessimist I was! I’m happy to say that some other seasons are proving fruitful so far. But some other seasons are trickier. Seasons where history isn’t as kind in identifying exactly what equity card carrying citizens have parked buttock on Bauhaus.

So with that tenth anniversary in mind, it seems apt to take a step back to one of those tricker seasons. One with fewer chairs fully identified, but one where the histories can be matched and interesting observations can be gleaned. So get out your copybooks, and let’s go back a decade from season 10, to where it all began – mild curiosity in a junkyard.

An Unearthly Child

Thinking about it, a junkyard is the perfect starting point in the journey of Doctor Who. It’s full of artefacts, histories, timeframes, stories, and stuff that could be buried forever. And it’s all ready to be discovered if we choose to.

Our eye is drawn to the TARDIS, but in that junkyard, there is a wicker/rattan chair – the first chair of Doctor Who.

And just like the uncertainty surrounding why different actors played the Police officer in the first transmitted and untransmitted episodes, it is uncertain where the chair came from.

It’s the Reg Cranfield of chairs. Or is it Fred Rawlings?

Thinking back to the first time I watched those first scenes inside the TARDIS. I remember Ian and Barbara forcing their way in, and the moment where the camera panned across the control room. It was the objects that I noticed first, before the roundels and the console. The same is true of the transmitted episode. The ornaments, and the chair, were quickly identified as a mainstay of those early seasons of Doctor Who.

In ‘An Unearthly Child’ it looks like a Renaissance style armchair, or possibly a Frailera or Monk Chair.

But in the untransmitted pilot, it looks like a replica French Louis XV chair from the 18th century.

200 years later Duggan the detective is stirring…

And that is not all. There is, poking out behind the console, a replica chair from Knossos circa 1900BC. Knossos is a Minoan archeological site associated with the Labyrinth and Minotaur of Greek mythology, so clearly the designers were taking seriously the historical remit of the series, which was established from the very start. It’s a chair that will feature in the TARDIS for another 15 years or so.

Back to London, 1963. We have Coal Hill school, with it’s array of lab stools, and…yes…I’ve found the exact school chair used in Ian Chesterton’s classroom – you can see it on the far left of the image below. This is a school chair manufactured by Esavian, originally designed by James Leonard in 1948. Cast aluminium frame with plywood seat and backrest. Ones that would have stood up to all the high-jinks at my Comprehensive school.

Yep, these are proper bruisers.

The Daleks

Skaro – understandably – had less need of chairs, so it is back to the TARDIS for our next sighting.

The Edge of Destruction

When Susan launches her attack on Ian, I’m not shocked at the level of psychological violence in a Saturday drama for all the family. No no, I’m drawn to the 1960’s Dahlen Mobler AB side chair. It features a unique egg shape with a chrome wire design. It has a swivel base, sculpted wire frame, and a thick padded vinyl seat, and should be able to stand up any kind of disagreement in a confined space, a million miles from home. 

There is a chunky Chaise Lounge, or is it a lounge chair, or is it some kind of medical table, or contour recliner? Anyway, it lacks much in the way of aesthetic joy. There is a three seat sofa as well, which looks similar to an Overman space age egg pod sofa, although this one has a wooden base. Frustratingly, both remain a secret confined to the TARDIS.

The Keys of Marinus

Let’s start with the disappointing news – the unidentifiable.

We have a modernist, square Chesterfield sofa, with a chrome frame. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of the word Chesterfield was already used in England in the 1800’s to describe a leather couch, and its purpose was to allow the noble gentlemen of the day to sit upright, without wrinkling the sofa.

The sofa featured here is a bit more modernist. It’s a bit like this Ward Bennett button-tufted leather sofa for Lehigh Furniture, circa 1960s (left). Or this sofa designed by John Vasey (centre). Or this sofa in the style of Edward Wormley (right).

But it’s not any of those sofas. And not a day goes by when I think about the crushing disappointment of this.

On the plus side, doesn’t this picture ooze 1960’s-ness.

On the plus side, we have, at the back of the room, this fascinating wooden 1960s ‘Scandia’ senior lounge chair by Hans Brattrud for Hove Mobler.

What can also be glimpsed is a black EA 105 office chair, designed by Charles & Ray Eames for Herman Miller. These were released in 1958, and have no arms, but that won’t have stopped them being purchased for a host of conference venues and estate agents across the land. They will feature many times in the future…

Finally we have a curio. This chair appears to be medieval representation of a Roman folding chair. A curule (chariot) seat is a design of chair that originated in Ancient Rome for those important folk who wielded political power. The design has lasted through the ages, with the version seen having a back, which apparently wasn’t present in the original Roman designs.

The Sensorites

The Eames EA 105 office also appears in plentiful supply on the spaceship.

The collaboration between Eames and Miller, resulted in one of the most famous chairs of all. In 1956 they produced their responses to the old English ‘club chair. The Eames Lounge chair has gone on to become one of the most celebrated seats on the market, so naturally it appears in one of Doctor Who’s more forgotten stories.

The Reign of Terror

A plethora of prop 18th century French furniture adorns many of the chambers. Based on the time that the TARDIS landed in France (1794), the Rococo era of fine, swirling details, had given way to the Neoclassical style, which was somewhat more restrained in its decorative carvings. So regardless of whether the chaise lounge featured is exactly of the era, it is suitably more restrained.

There are nods to the Neoclassical age with the choice of dining room chairs.

And suitably we finish with a nod to the beginning, and that untransmitted pilot episode – the replica Louis XV chair.

This was a season of historical reproductions, rather than an opportunity to accurately identify designers and manufacturers. But it clearly shows that the designers, and prop buyers of the day took their jobs seriously, and respected the remit of the series – they really did their homework in researching the designs of the time and spaces the TARDIS travelled to.

So, while this season is both frustrating and fascinating in equal measure, prepare yourselves for the next season – a season where you can’t move for space age chairs!

2 Comments

  1. As few props would have been bought especially for the series as possible. It would make the thin budget stretch much further if props such as chairs were either from the BBC’s own extensive prop store which they had at the time, or rented from independent prop houses.
    I am also sure that many of the props would appear time and time again in other BBC productions of the era. While the more common designs would be impossible to specifically identify, I would bet that some of the more unusual chairs had been especially made for previous BBC productions. Thrones for example (there obviously being few genuine survivors outside of museums) were probably made for period dramas before being placed in the prop stores ready for re-use.

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    1. They have indeed, so much cross over between series and different shows. There have also been quite a few instances of ‘recycling’ from And movies, ITC, and stuff from Pinewood. It’s been really fun to play ‘guess the journey’ of all these artefacts. Thanks for the comment!

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