‘The Chairs of Doctor Who’ is an attempt to identify as much of the seating featured in that ‘first great age’ of Doctor Who from 1963 – 89.
This ludicrous project started about six months ago, at the beginning of 2020, following a similar quest to find the seating used in Blakes 7 (BBC 1978 – 82), and that titan of school sickness Pebble Mill at One (BBC 1972 – 86).
I will forever associate lockdown with Doctor Who and chairs. Lots and lots of chairs. Click on a season below, and let’s see what out there.
Season 1 – Season 2 & 3 – Season 4 – Season 5 – Season 6 & 7 – Season 8 – Season 9 – Season 10 – Season 11 & 12 – Season 13 & 14 – Season 15 – Season 16 & 17 – Season 18 & 19 – Season 20 – Season 21 – Season 22 – Season 23 & 24 – Season 25 & 26
So what have I learned about Doctor Who, and its use of chairs? If I was to write an entry in the Encyclopedia Galactica, I would write something along these lines.
Doctor Who started in 1963 with an assortment of prop historical chairs. During the first few seasons, Roman, Renaissance and Regency chairs vied for attention with mid century modern, tubular chrome and black leather.
Towards the second half of the 1960’s, distinctive ‘Space age’ furniture started to creep in, including Joe Columbo’s famed ‘Elda’ chair, and by season 10, futuristic moulded fibreglass seating had found its natural place in the series.
The Jon Pertwee era is also notable for its use of Barber’s chairs as hi-tech furniture.
1977 was a notable year for space adventures in a galaxies far, far away, and Doctor Who was very much a part of that, with Season 15 being the pinnacle of exciting, daring and downright bold furniture within the televised stories.
As the initial excitement of the space race started to diminish, sleek and ergonomic office furniture became the norm, and there was a distinct increase in the use of modular sofas by De Sede and Don Chadwick.
In 1983, Doctor Who celebrated its 20th anniversary with a tsunami of Rattan, and even into the mid 1980s, Doctor Who was still able to effortlessly blend the occasional custom built prop and futurist design, with Victorian dining chairs, Edwardian wingbacks, and 1930’s industrial swivel chairs.
Towards the late 1980’s the series shifted towards a more postmodern approach, utilising furniture that jarred against the story settings, or suggested an atmosphere all of its own. If you are a fan of Czechoslovakian bus station benches, or spun garden furniture, then this is the age for you.
And then in 1989, the series quietly disappeared, while the BBC worked out what to do next with it, while shedding its own skin as an organisation and redefining way programmes were costed and produced.
I love Doctor Who. All of it. From Hartnell to Whittaker, Lambert to Chibnall. Even the 1996 TV movie, which I was convinced would be the end of the show, (it was my 18th birthday and I was very drunk) had many wonderful moments. And chairs.
And as for the second great age of Doctor Who (2005 – present), there are so many wonderful things to spot. I love the fact that in 2058, ‘Bowie Base One’ can make use of Herman Miller’s Eames ES 104 executive chair.
Or that Christopher Eccleston can retain his brand of intensity even when sat on a Gaetano Pesce La Mama chair.
Or, how in ‘Flux’ (2021) there is a glimpse of the ‘Pantonova’ seating system, designed by Verner Panton in 1971.
But I do want to answer a question about why I am only focussing on the 1963 – 89 series. It’s simply because this is the era that I grew up with. My blog posts about Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and various other shows from the past are as much about that formative part of my life, and how those memories have stuck with me, in many cases evolving into something new. Perhaps my drunken 18th birthday was a watershed moment. It fell on the day of the transmission of the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, and was a miserable watch. From thereon in I watched Doctor Who as an adult. My goodness, adult viewpoints are so dull.
I have to confess that ‘chairspotting’ is now a regular pastime. Only yesterday I was watching this killer 1975 interview between David Bowie (in California) and Russell Harty (in London). It’s a wonderfully tense affair between schoolmaster and rock star, heightened by Bowie’s insistence that the expensive satellite link required to promote his forthcoming UK tour isn’t relinquished to international coverage of General Franco’s death. Perhaps some of the white powder might have had a part to play too. For the record, Harty sits on a 1960 Vitra Eames lobby conference chair ES108 by Charles and Ray Eames.
Or Jon Pertwee’s far more good humoured interview with Terry Wogan in 1989. Wogan sits on an Artifort office chair by Geoffrey Harcourt.
Or the fact that all those Doctor Who interviews on the BBC’s ‘Breakfast Time’ red sofa, took place on a DS-11 by De Sede.
Big thanks to those on Twitter, who have pointed me in the direction of chairs I could not find, and to the amazing Tragical History Tour, which pointed me in the direction of images I couldn’t be bothered to capture.
Finally, the last word goes to those fibreglass chairs that kickstarted this project.
With no further clues offered, and looking at the inside of the chair, I can only conclude that they were custom built for stage and screen.
But it doesn’t really matter, they look brilliant. And that is all that matters in the heat and bright lights of the television studio.