THE CHAIRS OF DOCTOR WHO – Season 15

Last time on ‘The Chairs of Doctor Who’.

Season 1 was a trip through history. A series where real life Louis XV chairs might just stretch the budget a little too far. So despite a lack of actual identification – always part of the challenge of this silly little series of posts – there are some interesting observations about times past.

During the series, I noted a couple of chairs that would feature in Doctor Who for another 15 years at least. So perhaps it’s a good chance to move forward to that 15th run of stories. A series where Doctor Who really goes ‘space age’.

I bloody love season 15. It’s my favourite Doctor Who of all. I’ve never understood its poor reputation. It’s fantastical, witty, full of myth, superstition and hi-tech futures. And for anyone who tells me its a cheap looking season, I say “fine, but look at the chairs!

So lets sit on them.

Horror of Fang Rock

Being the turn of the century, Fang Rock contains a suitable mix of Victorian kitchen chairs and, at the back of the living quarters, a Windsor Grandfather Armchair. I wonder if the chairs were ‘Made in Birmingham’. Either way the props store of Pebble Mill studios contained plenty of historical artefacts, contributing to an excellent and claustrophobic setting.

The Invisible Enemy

Hang on to your medi-hats everyone!

Let’s start in the Titan mess room. This bloomin’ amazing chair is an Italian LEM Lounge Chair by Joe Colombo for Bieffeplast, 1970s. If the name Columbo is familiar, it will be through his ‘Elda’ chair – the one that the controller sits on in ‘Day of the Daleks’ in 1972. And 1972 was the year that the LEM was released to the world. It has a futuristic steel frame, and best of all ‘LEM’ stands for ‘Lunar Excursion Module’, due to its similarities to the NASA vehicle used during the moon landings. Perfect space age sensibilities!

And that’s not all. Columbo’s ‘Sella 1001’, circa 1965 for Comfort Italy is a real collectors item. This lounge chair is covered in iridescent blue/black leatherette with a chrome-plated steel frame and a white lacquered pressed plywood shell. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to see such as long standing supporting artist such as Harry Fielder, sitting in such a classy chair.

Joe Columbo’s influence is felt elsewhere in this story. On the shuttle deck are two chairs that are less easy to identify.

The first one is the heart shaped chair that Silvey (the Patrick Troughton lookalike) sits on. At first glance it looks like a knock off of Columbo’s ‘Elda’ – is a swivel chair, with a white base, and is very well padded.

It isn’t the ‘Elda’, it is in fact an ‘Alda’ lounge chair by Italian designers Cesare Casati and Enzo Hybsch. It was manufactured by Comfort, Italy 1966. I really like this chair, and I’m surprised it isn’t seen more in Doctor Who.

Barry Newbury is clearly an exceptionally talented production designer, and his split level set for the shuttle is fascinating in its unorthodox layout. Mind you, sticking two different chairs right next to each other is an odd decision.

The other reclining chair looks similar to a number of other chairs, such as a De Sede DS50. However the lighting on set doesn’t reveal everything, so I’m not 100% certain what it is, and therefore I can’t put the customary pink border around the image to say it’s 100% certifiable! Bah!

Meanwhile in the Titan control room, Lowe sits on what, from a distance, looks like a generic tubular office chair. In fact, he is sat on a 1960’s Brazilian lounge chair, known as the ‘Alpha’ sling chair, designed by Maurice Burke for Pozza. It’s an interesting design, with a horizontal chrome frame halfway down the the back support. The sling itself is a one-piece leather design, so when ‘contact of buttocks on leather has been made‘, the actors can be assured a degree of comfort.

Throughout the Bi-al Foundation, we can see the ‘Vicario’ by Vico Magistretti, for Artemide. This fibreglass moulded chair, was designed in 1972, making it a regular on the sci-fi circuit. It’s perhaps most visible in ‘Space 1999’, but that’s not the chairs fault. (He says, running from the Space 1999 mob). It’s a nice chair.

Also on Bi-al is the Selene chair 1968 by Vico Magistretti. It was created by a single injection moulding of fibreglass reinforced polyester. Please forgive me if I go 100% chair with this next quote from Magistretti himself, but I think it says something about a lot of the chairs from this season.

“You finally create a chair that distinguishes itself from everything that has been realized up to that point in time by not adhering to the rules but by listening to the possibilities that the new material whispers to you.  In the mould, the material acts like honey.  You must comprehend the expressive potential of this fact; modern technology won’t give you anything if you cut yourself off from it.” (2)

More immediately however, is the fact that, like the ‘Vicario’ chair, it is wipe clean – useful for a medical institution.

By the way, I couldn’t find the identity of the stool that the receptionist sits on. I’ll keep looking. However there’s a nice side table I was able to identify, designed in the style of the Kartell side tables of that period. This is a ‘Giano Vano’ by Emma Gismondi Schweinberger for Artemide.

Image of the Fendahl

Fendelman’s dining room features a range of wooden dining chairs, including a classic British design – the ‘Wheelback’ chair – named after the decorative wheel incorporated into the slats. This is a classic design that originated in the early part of the eighteenth century in the area of Windsor. It’s a chair with a very long heritage, perhaps why it continues to be so popular with traditional British pubs and restaurants.

There are a number of different office chairs/high stools for lab use. These are primarily used to house the posteriors of Thea Ransome and Adam Colby. It’s impossible to know where to begin looking for these industrial items.

There are some historical chairs for the corridors of Fetch Priory, and the house of Ma Tyler. This includes a Tudor style renaissance era oak chair from around the 16th century.

The Sun Makers

From contemporary England, to far out Pluto, it is time to explore what chairs an oppressive regime choose when subjugating the masses.

An old friend, the Oxford chair, is seen frequently in Megropolis One. This was designed for the professors at St Catherine’s College in Oxford by Arne Jacobsen. See Season 10 for more. In fact two different versions are on display – one with arm rests and one without. Two for the price of one, proving that the Usurians might have been stingy with the population, but generous with the television viewers!

It’s interesting to note that, on Pluto, there is still a need for a 1950’s dental chair, similar to this version by Sterling Sapphire. I get the feeling that the versions seen on Pluto weren’t remotely related to extracting teeth.

The crowds gather for the public steaming on Tractor stools. These British icons were designed by Rodney Kinsman for OMK in the 1960’s.

In both ‘The Sun Makers’ and ‘The Invisible Enemy’ there is a return to the chair that featured in that very first series back in 1963 – the replica chair from Knossos circa 1900BC – see the post about season 1 for more on this.

Finally, just to be completist, there is a Leather Terrazza DS 1025 Sofa by Ubald Klug & Ueli Berger for De Sede. This can be glimpsed at the back of the Gatherer’s office. But it ‘stars’ in a couple of other Doctor Who stories, so I thought I’d talk about it more another time.

Underworld

An old favourite can be glimpsed in the store room onboard the P7E – an Eames EA 108 office chair. Again this is discussed at length in the season 1 post. However ‘Underworld’ proves that its elegant design is still de rigueur in the far, far future.

Another familiar design is on display on the P7E flight deck. This is a De Sede DS11 modular sofa, Switzerland 1970. Ingeniously, Dick Coles and his design team have taken the sofa suite…

…flipped three units on their end, and at an angle…

…and placed them on a platform.

It’s the ultimate low budget solution. For the army of ‘Underworld’ fans, there is more here, if you have an hour to spare.

The Invasion of Time

We start with a very recognisable chair. It’s a high backed Pieff ‘Eleganza’ armchair. Designed by Tim Bates in the early 1970’s, it’s been seen many times on UK television shows, political conferences, and security headquarters on alien planets.

I present to you the ‘Pantonova’ seating system! Verner Panton originally designed this in 1971 for the restaurant Verna. He clearly liked the name.

There are three different seating modules of this chrome masterpiece: LinearConcave and Convex. These can create different shapes for different spaces.

The following chair will be familiar to some. It’s the ‘Moby Dick’ by the Italian architect Alberto Rosselli for Saporiti. As I noted in ‘The Chairs of Blake’s 7’ it is indelibly linked with the image of Barbara Bach being tied up in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. This chair is usually available in white. But on Gallifrey, those crazy interior designers prefer a light blue hue.

One chair is a case of ‘close, but no cigar’. It looks like a knock off of the Jumbo Chair, also by Alberto Rosselli for Saporiti, 1968. This version looks a little lower to the ground than the original ‘Jumbo’. Hopefully in time I’ll find the source of the Gallifreyan Habitat.

The lounger seen in next to the TARDIS swimming pool, is also tricky to find. So far.

There is another chair, that I think pops up in other Tom Baker seasons. It’s a gold octagonal design, that looks similar to a 1970 Willy Rizzo dining chair in metal and gold chrome, or a similar Belgo Chrom design. I have not seen anywhere else before, so I’m going to assume it is a custom built prop for the James Bond movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

On the subject of Bond, one thing that is interesting about ‘The Invasion of Time’, is that it was made just after the ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ had finished production.

And it shows in the choice of designs used. Perhaps the left hand of Pinewood was talking to the right hand of the BBC?

Finally, it is worth noting a couple of other interior design items that pop up a lot in this season. We have two distinctive space age lamps.

First up we have a Pileino lamp, circa 1968.

Aulenti was a Italian architect, whose work spanned industrial and exhibition design, furniture, graphics, stage design, lighting and interior design.

Just as Vico Magistretti noted the progressive features of the Selene chair 1968, there is a similar philosophy in Aulenti’s work.

Victor Shklovsky wrote that “The technique of art is to make objects unfamiliar…” The overlap between this notion and Aulenti’s work is quite incredible; what better could be said when looking at Aulenti’s Pipistrello lamp or her Jumbo coffee table? Neither are not a coffee table or not a lamp but strange versions of these objects. (1)

There is also the distinctive Sorella Table Light 1972 by Harvey Guzzini. ‘Space 1999’ will lay claim for the most lamps per scene, but James Bond, Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and many other empires will lay claim to their share.

With most of the people who made season 15 having passed away, I really hope that there will be a completely fresh approach to reevaluating this run of stories, if and when it ends up on blu-ray. Matthew Sweet, Chris Chapman and everyone else responsible for these rather wonderful releases – I will be watching in anticipation!

Long term victims of my witterings will know of my unnatural passion for this magnificent season, where Doctor Who threw off its (rather fine) shackles and launched into an unpredictable, exciting and eclectic era. Who cares about inflation and severe financial pressures, when the series paraded such a beautiful collection of chairs.

It has been an absolute pleasure writing about this season.

I wonder where we’re going next?

References

(1) https://www.core77.com/posts/26846/design-file-012-gae-aulenti-26846 (accessed Jan 2020).

(2) Vico Magistretti in Designer Italiani. quoted in http://www.objectplastic.com/2011/12/selene-stacking-chair-vico-magistretti.html (accessed Feb 2020).

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