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How did costume designer Louise Page ensure that the Tenth Doctor’s first trip to an alien world would look convincing?
The Doctor (David Tennant) and Ida Scott (Claire Rushbrook) examine the remains of an ancient spaceship in The Impossible Planet (2006).

“They had a specialist spacesuit costume designer on Alien Covenant”, says Louise Page, betraying just a bit of envy for the 2017 blockbuster.

Louise was a Doctor Who costume designer between 2005 and 2009, overseeing almost all the Tenth Doctor’s adventures. She’s had a varied career, from the English National Opera through to television and film, and is currently working on the crime series Bancroft for producer Phil Collinson, her old boss on Doctor Who. “It stars Sarah Parish”, she adds, “who was the Racnoss spider in [the 2006 story] The Runaway Bride.”

Apart from Doctor Who and the comedy series The Strangerers (2000), Louise has overseen relatively little science-fiction. Yet the spacesuit she designed for the 2006 Doctor Who two-parter The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit has been seen again in five subsequent stories and worn by three incarnations of the Doctor, so it’s clearly a convincing-looking costume.

In fact, that statement raises questions about how space travel is depicted, not just in Doctor Who but also in other TV and film projects. Louise cites Alien Covenant because she knows the film’s associate spacesuit costume designer personally. “My friend Michael Mooney does all those big science-fiction films directed by Ridley Scott”, she says. “He did Prometheus [2012] and The Martian [2015]. Janty Yates is the costume designer but Michael deals just with the spacesuits. They have a lot of money and time. Michael can spend five months developing a spacesuit to get it right.”

What makes a spacesuit, or space setting, seem authentic? Perhaps we should ask a further question: ‘authentic to whom?’ For example, in February 2014 the science-fiction film Gravity won six BAFTAs, including best director, cinematography and visual effects. The following month it won seven Academy Awards, including – you guessed it – Best Director, Cinematography and Visual Effects. This surely acknowledged the painstaking efforts of director Alfonso Cuarón and his team to make the film’s setting convincing. It’s not just a story about astronauts stranded in Earth orbit; watching the film in a cinema, we can almost believe we’re in space, too.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

“Space: the final frontier. Final, because it wants to kill us...” The TARDIS doesn’t just travel through time – stories set in space have been an essential part of Doctor Who for six decades. The inhospitable void between the stars has served as the backdrop to epic space operas and nerve-racking thrillers, while harbouring some of the most dangerous adversaries the Doctor has ever encountered. This lavish publication navigates a revealing course through the space lanes of Doctor Who, with exclusive interviews, rare images, and guides to some of the most memorable episodes.