What's it like to be a Doctor Who costume designer?

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1. A stitch in time

There’s no other drama series like Doctor Who – you can go anywhere in space and time, and meet creatures and characters beyond your imagination! There are huge alien worlds to create and historical periods to venture through, and one of the production roles bringing those people and places to life is the costume designer.

Ray Holman was the costume designer on series nine of Doctor Who, having previously designed series five of spin-off Torchwood and many other television shows. But how did he become a costume designer? And what are the unique challenges when making Doctor Who?

From starting out on a college course to working in the film and television industry, Ray reveals what it’s like to work on one of TV's most challenging shows.

2. Meet the costume designer

In Ray Holman's huge experience, Doctor Who is a unique series to work on. He tells us here exactly why and how concept leads to costume.

3. Gallery: Costume concepts

If a costume needs to be made from scratch, Ray firstly draws a concept of the design for sign-off. Here is a selection of his designs from series nine of Doctor Who.

Under the Lake, Series 9 Episode 3 – Vector Petroleum Diving Suit initial concept and detail


Under the Lake, Series 9 Episode 3 – Vector Petroleum Diving Suit final concept


The Woman Who Lived, Series 9 Episode 6 – Knightmare Highwayman concept


The Woman Who Lived, Series 9 Episode 6 – Lady Me dress concept


The Woman Who Lived, Series 9 Episode 6 – Leandro concept


Sleep No More, Series 9 Episode 9 – 38th Century Soldier concept


Sleep No More, Series 9 Episode 9 – Rassmussen concept


Hell Bent, Series 9 Episode 12 – Clara’s diner waitress concept


Hell Bent, Series 9 Episode 12 – President Rassilon concept


Hell Bent, Series 9 Episode 12 – Cloister Wraith concept


4. How do I become a costume designer?

Entering the film and television industry can seem like a daunting task. But as Ray Holman explains, there are many ways, and many skills, that can lead you there.

It isn’t simply about fashion and fabric – understanding television, film and theatre production from the ground-up is vital, and being a part of a big and disparate design team is one of the most rewarding parts of the process.

There are many ways into the industry – some academic, some not – and many skills which can lead you to become involved in a costume department.

Ray’s own journey is completely unique and personal to him, but each member of the team he has assembled has come from a different background. They share one common trait though – a passion for a costume, character and storytelling.

Doctor Who is testament to why a team of people with wide-ranging talents is vital to its success. With each new episode are new design challenges and new characters.

Knowledge of period dress will always be necessary in designing for Doctor Who, but then so is an understanding of technology and modern design techniques which come from that. Creatures from new civilisations will always have tonal touchstones that influence every aspect of their design from costume to spaceships to weaponry, and a wide and varied skillset within a department is vital for capturing that.

There’s no one trajectory for becoming a costume designer, but Ray knows exactly what attitude, approach, and abilities will stand you in good stead for achieving your goal.

5. Gallery: From sketch to reality

In designing a costume, Ray has worked with directors, producers and actors to refine the concept before making the final costume with his talented team. Here we take the original concept and show you the completed costume as it appeared on-screen in Doctor Who – the journey from idea to realisation.

Under the Lake, Series 9 Episode 3: Vector Petroleum Diving Suit, worn by Steven Robertson playing Pritchard. The costume and helmet were specially made, with the final helmet being a bold yellow in line with the company logo designs.

Under the Lake, Series 9 Episode 3: Vector Petroleum Diving Suit. One of the major considerations was how it would play in front of a green screen for the underwater shots, and once visual effects have been applied to make it ‘ghostly’.

The Woman Who Lived, Series 9 Episode 6: Knightmare Highwayman outfit, as worn by Maisie Williams. The cut of the coat was historically accurate, while the cheekily heroic tone of the episode was reflected by the mask and hat with feathers.

The Woman Who Lived, Series 9 Episode 6: Lady Me dress, as worn by Maisie Williams. Again, another design influenced heavily by dresses of the period, but with a clear directive to make the character of Ashildr feel more mature and serious.

The Woman Who Lived, Series 9 Episode 6: Leandro costume, as worn by Ariyon Bakare. As a new creature, the costume had to feel bold and unique. Leather and fake fur was used to bring both a regal and animalistic feel to this fire-breathing monster!

Sleep No More, Series 9 Episode 9: 38th Century Soldier, as worn by Neet Mohan playing Chopra. This story saw a future human civilisation where Indian and Japanese cultures had fused together. Both influenced the colour and design of this costume.

Sleep No More, Series 9 Episode 9: Rassmussen costume, as worn by Reece Shearsmith. To support his characterisation of an unhinged Earth scientist in the future, Reece was keen to add a pair of clear plastic-rimmed ‘space glasses’ to his costume!

Hell Bent, Series 9 Episode 12: Clara’s diner waitress costume, as worn by Jenna Coleman. Encountered by the Doctor as a waitress in what appears to be a traditional 1950s American diner, this was Clara’s final costume in the series.

Hell Bent, Series 9 Episode 12: President Rassilon costume, as worn by Donald Sumpter. This opulent design was based upon the original Time Lord regalia created for The Deadly Assassin (1976) by costume designer James Acheson.

Hell Bent, Series 9 Episode 12: Cloister Wraiths, or Sliders as they were nicknamed, were the ghostly remains of dead Time Lords. The costumes were aged and distressed to give a decaying feel, with a VFX screaming face included in post-production.

6. Decide your destiny

The Doctor's adventures can take him anywhere in the universe, through time and space. What would you most like to design for?

The past

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The past

Corsets! Armour! Funky hats! A knowledge of the trends and practicalities of period clothing from the wealth of books, art and literature available, is vital.

The future

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The future

Spacesuits! Monsters! Freaky fashions! You may be designing for the future, but influences from the world as we know it will be key.

All of space and time!

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All of space and time!

Ray Holman has found working on different productions to be hugely rewarding. Be open to new ideas and new techniques and you’ll improve as a costume designer!