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Last year, in the preview for Season Seven, Doctor Who‘s producers announced that each of the episodes would pack the punch of a blockbuster movie. And in keeping with that aim, a dramatic, movie-style poster would be released for each installment. The campaign proved extremely popular, with fans enthusiastically collecting and dissecting each image for details and references. We spoke with Lee Binding, Doctor Who‘s talented graphic designer who helped bring these visions to life, about his sweet gig, the collaborative process with producers and the team behind the posters, and the single image that took three months to create.
What’s your history with Doctor Who as a fan?
Lee: I remember my mother calling me downstairs when I was six, yelling “Doctor Who‘s on! You like that!” and me thinking “Do I…?” but going downstairs anyway. She was right, you know.
Were you the kid who sits in the back of the class doodling in notebooks?
Lee: Yeah, actually I was. I was obsessed with the shape of the Police Box. When I first started, it was like little Amelia Pond’s rough oblong models, but you keep trying and eventually you get all the detail in there — the roof and the door flanges and stuff like that. I love that Police Box. It’s a beautiful shape, and I love what it represents: the start of the adventure. I’ve seen some fan artwork where they’ve put the TARDIS on a planet, and the door’s open with the light spilling out. That for me is just the most exciting image ever. Anything can happen!
What’s your background as an artist?
I’m totally self-taught. I gave up art to go to university and study engineering! Hated it, but passed. Then got back into it in my last year, doing little projects for myself. I taught myself Photoshop… it was like version 4 or something on a knackered old PC, and just kept trying and trying.
Since these Doctor Who posters are like movie posters, did you have a history designing posters in the film industry?
Lee: Oh nothing large. Just a couple of indie films. I love movie posters, though: you have to sell the story in a single image. I love the new Iron Man 3 posters. The colors and the storytelling in them are just gorgeous. And technically they’re immaculate. So I keep my eye out for new posters all the time. And to process that into Doctor Who is a big deal as the stories that Steven and everyone come up with are so big and interesting that to refine that down to a single picture is a wonderful challenge.
How did you get the gig as a designer for Doctor Who, and what were you told about your new job?
Lee: I started off doing little bits of artwork for the Doctor Who website back in 2005. The webmaster James Goss wanted a picture of Jabe from the Forest of Cheem pasted in front of Platform One. I had to promise not to tell anyone anything or show anyone. It was all very exciting. He then started wanting pictures for each episode each week, so I started helping out. That just got bigger and bigger. For the movie posters, that was the brilliant [former executive producer] Caroline Skinner‘s idea. She always wanted to publicize the seventh season like a huge event — and rightfully so. So we came up with the concepts for movie posters, and we bashed some ideas together and came up with some stuff.
What are the hours like?
What was the process of locking in the concepts for each poster?
Lee: It’s kind of been different each time. Sometimes we’ve been able to see scripts; sometimes we’ve had meetings early in the production so we’re ahead. There’s a team of three of us who start it off — myself, the very talented Alexandra Thompson and the brilliant Jason Baron. We have meetings and meetings about what we feel would be the best way to sum up an episode in a single image, to condense the story down to one shot. Everyone feeds in ideas, from the traditional to the ridiculous. I’m more technical, so I say what can and can’t be done. Alexandra comes up with some brilliant concepts and tells me what can and can’t be photographed. And Jason is an all-rounder so is great at both. Once we have that, we go to the producers with our concepts. The people who work on this show are very clever and imaginative and come up with some great ideas. At that point I just have to facilitate their concepts, make sure they’ll work. So, for example, if someone wanted a giant statue in a picture, but with the main cast in there too, I have to make sure that everything will line up, and you’ll get to see everything.
Finally I hand it over to wonderful Alexandra and her team of photographers, who take our notes like “Make sure you get a low angle shot and light from the left” and take these gorgeous photographs of Matt [Smith] and Jenna-Louise [Coleman]. And then these are delivered to me in the utmost secrecy. Because of all the groundwork, it’s normally a pretty smooth ride. There’s only twice I’ve had to start again, both times because I’ve not been happy with what I’ve come up with.
What was it like collaborating with Steven Moffat on the posters?
Lee: He’s a genius. We were knocking together some concepts for “The Name of the Doctor,” and they were a bit too grand and not really nailing the story, and Steven just said, “I want this,” and banged out exactly how it should look. And “Name” is now one of my favorites — so simple and evocative. He’s a legend.
Did you have to watch the episode before creating the poster?
Lee: Do I “have” to? You make it sound like a chore! Not usually as we’re working at the same time that the episode is being completed. There was one day this year where the final eight episodes of this series pinged into my inbox completely out of the blue. You can imagine my face: eight new episodes of your favorite show to watch there and then. Just brilliant. Its very helpful, though. You can only imagine so much in a script, and some scenes you don’t think about have been turned into these pivotal moments by the directors. And all of a sudden you can see everything much more clearly.
How were the posters created? Was it all Photoshop magic, and were there hand-drawn elements?
Lee: If you want to be technical, they’re A2 size coming in at around… 14 gigabytes each. Put it this way, if you’d want to burn it to disc, each one would spread across three DVDs. They’re all done in Photoshop with other elements added in from Illustrator. There are few “hand-drawn elements,” though I did do the text for “The Crimson Horror” freehand to keep in with that old school horror vibe.
Which poster is your favorite, and why?
Lee: I think my favorite is the Series 7 generic we did with Amy being carried by the Doctor through the Daleks because it was the biggest thing that I’d done for Doctor Who. And it had everything I liked — the Doctor, Daleks and explosions! There were so so many drafts of it because we wanted to get it right. I think it ended up being around three months’ solid work, amending this and changing that. And we’d be changing the Daleks along the way. Originally they were all bronze, then the team decided that we should be showing the old Daleks too. [Drama account manager] Edward Russell, who helps get things approved, actually went off and photographed the Special Weapons Dalek for us because it happened to be in the basement of BBC Cardiff at that moment! I love the idea that it’s just been roaming around various places since 1963 before deciding that the basement of BBC Cardiff would be its new home.
What has been the reaction amongst family and friends to your new job?
Lee: My mother doesn’t understand what I do. She thinks I color stuff in. And my friends are pretty jealous and keep prodding me to tell them what’s upcoming, but I’ve signed my life away and am not even allowed to say anything. I’ve kind of perfected this owlish “Oh, is that what you think?” reaction when people say “OH MY GOD IS THE RANI COMING BACK FOR THE 50TH?” and they just nod to themselves for a bit and walk off. It’s for the best.
How has it been interacting with fans?
Lee: Very positive on the whole. A few people have found me on Twitter and say how much they like what I do, which is very very nice of them. Every now and again they say that what I’ve done is their current screen background, and it still kind of blows my mind. I love that I have a job that does that — still wows you after all this time. I’m terribly, terribly lucky to be doing it.
Click an image below to launch the poster gallery:
Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.