Last time around, I explored season 4 of Doctor Who. This was an era where the show was shedding its skin and morphing into a something new – in every sense of the word.
So this time, I thought I would explore an era where the series had found some stability.
For many, season 13 and 14 are the pinnacle of Doctor Who. While it is not my favourite era, it is certainly has many hallmarks of quality. But the real test, as we all know, isn’t the acting, scripts, tone or direction, but the quality of chairs used. Surely?
So, let’s throw everything we thought we knew about this golden era of Doctor Who in the bin; and ask ourselves, is this truly the best in show, or have we all got it so wrong, for so many years?
Terror of the Zygons
The final story from the previous production block includes a Burgundy Chesterfield Directors Office Chair. Chesterfield is a familiar style that is over 200 years old, using deep buttons in a diamond formation, and rich leather. History lesson coming…
“There are many different stories about the origin of this typical English furniture, of which the following story is most plausible:
In 1773 Philip Dormer Stanhope – English writer, the statesman and 4th Duke of Chesterfield – received a visit while on his deathbed. He spoke to his faithful servant: “Give Mr. Dayrolles a chair “. The clerk, confused by the approaching end of his master, insisted that the visitor, upon his departure, take the chair where he had just been sitting upon. This chair is probably the forerunner of the Chesterfield style that we know today.” (1)
Meanwhile the pub includes your traditional wooden and leather seats. Too tricky to identify. As the Brig once said “I’d rather have a pint“.
And the library steps the Caber carries in are wonderful, but untraceable.
Planet of Evil
Where would Doctor Who be without the the Pieff Eleganza high backed office chair? These chairs were designed at the end of the 1960’s by Tim Bates, and initial publicity photos showed the new furniture against a background of Lamborghini supercars, with the Italian theme resulting in the name ‘Eleganza’. (2)
Frustratingly the low back white chairs are out of reach right now, but at the back of the base camp there is interior design interest, with functionality meeting pop sensibility, thanks to Joe Columbo’s ‘Boby’ storage unit from 1970.
And there is also a familiar stool that can be glimpsed. This a is tubular chrome Tractor stool by Rodney Kinsman. Dating from the early 1970’s, this is the version with foot rests, which immediately conjures up images of Mutoids sitting at Servalan’s battle cruiser in season C of Blake’s 7.
I reckon the moulded fibreglass shelving was also commercially available. I’m leaving it up here, to remind myself to keep looking.
In episode four Sorenson sits on a 1960’s Plia folding chair by Giancarlo Piretti for Castelli. It’s a classic, but somehow I don’t think the Professor understands this.
Back on the Morestrian ship, there are further Kinsman stools, and a chair that I recognise from Blake’s 7 – Project Avalon. I think it’s a custom prop, possibly inspired by this Charles Hollis Jones Lucite Chair from the 1960’s. Maybe its origins can be traced to Pinewood Studios, where it featured in ‘Live and Let Die’ (1973) with Solitaire predicting various futures.
Pyramids of Mars
We have a collection of Edwardian ephemera to feast our eyes on. Exact matches are difficult, but Mahogany Howard style armchairs / library chairs can be glimpsed, alongside artefacts from an even earlier era. A good example is a 19th century renaissance style wooden throne chair, which is a nice touch, as Laurence Scarman was clearly a privileged collector of things.
The Android Invasion
Mixed bag here. The leather lounge chairs in the space defence station are similar to the famed Barcelona lounge chair, but I can’t identify them.
Nor the black leather office chair that is featured in the Brigadier’s office – we just don’t get enough of it on screen.
But all is not lost. A classic ‘Wheelback’ chair – named after the decorative wheel incorporated into the slats – is seen in the pub. The design originated in Windsor in the eighteenth century. It pops up again in ‘Image of the Fendahl’.
Is this heinous act of chair based vandalism, or should I be happy that the chair is playing such an active part of the drama? On the receiving end is another of the late 1960’s Eleganza range. This time it is the bar stool, that looks like it is playing a part in a pub brawl.
The Brain of Morbius
This was a fascinating puzzle. I reckon these chairs were custom built props, but what was the influence? My explorations took in Strozzi stools, plank chairs, Medieval, Norse and Ango Saxon. In the end I’ve gone for a cross between a Renaissance era Sgabello chair and an ‘arts and craft’ Welsh Spinning Chair.
The Seeds of Doom
From craggy horror, to contemporary thriller. The Antarctic base includes these upholstered 1960s armchairs, designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll.
In the lab, there are some industrial chairs, but they can’t be identified – they’re too generic.
At the back of the room are some 1970’s folding chairs from Sweden. I was happy to find them, but the designer is unknown. They are slightly leaner than many of the others on the market at the time.
We have some very distinctive wing back armchairs on show in Chase’s study. I’ve entertained the possibility that it was Victorian or Edwardian. Based on the design of the wings, it’s closer to a Queen Anne, or even more likely, Georgian. (Taps fingers on desk) “I wonder what era Mr. Chase would favour?”
Fittingly, there’s fine floral furniture in Amelia Ducat’s home.
And the Pieff’s pop up again in the bureaux, home to Tom Baker’s finest line of the season “If we don’t find that pod before it germinates, it’ll be the end of everything. Everything, you understand? Even your pension!”
The Masque of Mandragora
We start with the obligatory TARDIS check up. Barry Newbury’s secondary control room continues to make use of the Knossos chair, a mainstay from the first Hartnell season.
And although Hartnell’s Renaissance chair doesn’t feature in the ship anymore, there is plenty more of this type of thing in Verona…
…including these Curule Chairs
The Hand of Hear
The Nunton Complex houses the classic Tulip chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll – a masterpiece of 1950’s design.
Troubling treatment of Tulips. Another act of pure Hinchcliffean vandalism!
The Deadly Assassin
Surprisingly for Gallifrey, there is a lack of actual chairs, although the perspex Lucite chair (see Planet of Evil) is suggested in another, probably custom, design.
Luckily the next time we visit the planet, we won’t be able to move for moulded fibreglass.
The Face of Evil
Here’s an interesting creative decision. If I’m not mistaken, Kinsman’s Tractor chair is combined with some kind of unidentifiable orange fibreglass seat. No wonder they look a bit wonky in the photos.
Inside the computer centre, there is one of those lovely juxtapositions of space age and historical. In this case a button back sofa. My search started with Louis IX, and ended up either Regency or Victorian.
And there are some other mysteries, including the fibreglass seat that also features in Blake’s 7 frequently. I’m still searching for this design, but it’s a good excuse to put up this image of a Domus Danica chair by Nanna Ditzel.
The Robots of Death
Pah! These modular sofas look so much like a De Sede, or a Kagan.
But they’re not. My only option is to get the tin brains to make another search and this time do it thoroughly.
Following this fallow period of chair identification, we have reached sci-fi chair nirvana – the famed Terrazza sofa, by Ubald Klug for De Sede, 1970. Designer Adam Charlap Hyman, described it “...like something from outer space landed in your living room.”
Perfect, and a true test of any actor to sit on it convincingly.
And there’s an old favourite – the Aluminium Group EA 108 by Charles and Ray Eames.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang
We start with appropriate wooden furniture, thanks to the replica police station housed in the City Building, Northampton.
At Chez Lightfoot, there is a fine collection of Victoriana. Exact matches are impossible, but the furniture on screen falls into some basic categories. We have:
Dining chairs that echo the work of Thomas Chippendale. It’s Chinoiserie style in design, and might be a ‘pagoda’ chair. By the time of Ripper era London, the vogue for Chinoiserie style was on the decline, but it serves ‘Talons’ beautifully.
Queen Anne style dining chairs.
Intricately carved ‘hongmu’ (rosewood) throne chairs.
These are all educated guesses, but it proves that Hinchcliffe’s lauded production values are well deserved, with the designers thinking hard, and frequently upping their game in creating convincing worlds for the adventures in time and space to take place in.
Looking at the era overall, the most impressive use of chairs is when there is a historical context to them – from Renaissance Italian armchairs, to the grand statements found in the study of Harrison Chase. The use of space age furniture is a little more slap dash – that would find its natural expression the following season. Therefore it’s not full marks, but as Borusa judged at the end of ‘The Deadly Assassin’ – “Nine out of Ten“.