New book features never-before-seen images from classic Doctor Who set designer

Barry Newberry The Signature Collection cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Telos Publishing has just released The Barry Newbery Signature Collection, an indispensible collection of photography taken by Barry Newbery of sets he designed and constructed as production designer on the Doctor Who television series from 1963 to 1984.  Now in his eighties, the most prolific designer of sets from the classic era of Doctor Who discusses decisions behind the design of historic sets well-known to long-time Whovians as well as a behind-the-scenes look at his work as a designer working for so many years at the BBC.

Expect to see several images of the Daleks, the TARDIS, and the various interior designs of the ship that has always been bigger on the inside.

Early TARDIS crossing the Gobi Desert
A great early image of the TARDIS being carried across the Gobi desert.

The book showcases more than 250 black and white and color photos in surprisingly good quality considering their age.  It includes many full-page photos as well as up to five images of items per page for things like further set detail.  The Barry Newbery Signature Collection also includes design sketches from “The Awakening,” “The Brain of Morbius,” “The Aztecs,” and “The Silurians.”

What may be surprising is the historical accuracy with which Newbery created set pieces that may have been only used as background detail, influenced by historic artifacts and design history.  Like most early television series, the creation of this accuracy also had to be balanced against low production budgets.

Interior page from Barry Newbery Signature Collection
Book contains nicely designed pages with clear text and quality photography.

Interesting segments include how Newbery designed set pieces for the model of the Great Pyramids of Egypt for “The Daleks’ Master Plan” story arc. Newbery discusses his research and making a wattle and daub 11th century Saxon cottage and church ruins for “The Time Meddler.”

In one anecdote a teacher mentioned her students did well any history class answers “because they had learnt it from Doctor Who,” prompting the series to spend extra time on historical accuracy.

Swiveling 15th century Aztec tomb door as one of his finest achievements
Newbery counts the swiveling 15th century Aztec tomb door as one of his finest production achievements.

Newbery’s research of architectural history was needed to designe King Richard’s palace for the 12th century Palestine sets of “The Crusade” story arc.  He mentions using the limitations of black and white filming to their advantage, like the production trick of using sawdust to fake snow since the color looked the same once filmed.

It made more sense to destroy and rebuild than store sets so at one point Newbery simply re-ordered sets for “The Stone Age” storyline from the original ordering information from prior use of the sets.  Newbery borrowed set pieces from other productions to save money and time.  Modern propmaking was in its infancy and included the then-new vacuum-forming method and materials such as Jablite.

Burke chair used for the future of Doctor Who and Trek in the late 1960s
Easter egg: A chair ahead of its time–the famous Burke chair used by both Doctor Who and the original Star Trek as the chair of the future.

For the 50th century Titan base in “The Invisible Enemy” you really get to see the origins of design of many current franchise sets, including the giant pipe-filled engineering sets from Star Trek 2009.   The various TARDIS and other world sets all have a sense of realism and rarely seem dated, for a 1960s and 1970s look forward to the future.

As a rare glimpse at a decades-spanning look at never-before-seen detail of elaborate sets and set props from one of the biggest science fiction franchises, The Barry Newbery Signature Collection is a nicely presented and finely designed book full of interesting, quality images.  It is also a testament to the creativity of Newbery and his years of production design.  The Barry Newbery Signature Collection will be a must-have for fans of classic Doctor Who.  Softcover and hardcover editions are available in limited supply, including a version that contains a Newbery autograph (already sold out so you’ll have to track one down in the aftermarket).

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