Whether you grew up in the UK, glued to the BBC, or you started asking questions when your entire flist declared that bowties were cool, you know that Doctor Who is a force to be reckoned with. No con is complete without a few Doctors running through the halls and running into each other, and even non-Whovians can spot the Fourth Doctor at 20 paces. For the inexperienced or time-impaired cosplayer, Doctor Who can be a treasure trove of simple, low-maintenance, recognizable costumes. So here’s your guide to quick and easy Doctor Who cosplay.
First, a few notes for those just wetting their feet in the Whoniverse and some general comments on characters.
Doctor Who is a British science fiction series about a man called The Doctor who travels through time and space in a big blue phone box called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space). The Doctor is almost always joined on his adventures by a cast of different characters, known as Companions, who are usually -but not always- humans from contemporary Earth. Doctor Who aired consistently from 1963-’89, included a TV movie in 1996, and returned as a series in 2005. Currently, it airs on Saturday evenings on BBC1 in the UK and BBCA in the US, and it is broadcast on delay in 49 other countries worldwide.
Since 1963, the Doctor has been played by 11 different actors, and you’ll often hear fans referring to different incarnations of the Doctor by number. In the series, when the Doctor finds himself dying or close to death, he is able to “regenerate” and essentially become a new person, played by a new actor. (Yes, this is the Cliff notes version.) Though certain aspects of the Doctor’s character remain consistent across Regenerations, every version exhibits a different energy, personality, and style. For the purposes of cosplay, we should consider each of the 11 Regenerations as a different character requiring its own costuming approach.
Likewise, every Doctor has his own Companions, and pairs or groups of Doctor Who cosplayers can make quite a scene. The good news is, the Doctor and his Companions typically have basic, simple costumes that can be put together with a little ingenuity and a trip to the thrift store.
I’ve broken this post into discussions of each Doctor plus Companions, from One to Eleven, with pictures, a little background, and points on hitting the high points. In the places where the pics are grainy or I’ve used pics of action figures, it’s because those provided the best view of the costume as a whole.
The First Doctor
William Hartnell, 1963-’66
Basically, he’s a grumpy old man in an Edwardian suit.
Costume breakdown: long-cut black suit jacket, black and white (or grey) plaid pants, white dress shirt, black cravat.
Most men should have a suit jacket and dress shirt in the closet, already. (If you don’t, you have bigger problems than finding a costume.) Suitable pants should be easily found at a thrift store or vintage clothing vendor, as they’re pretty ‘60s-tastic. The tie could be a store find or homemade. This is a good cosplay for older fans, but it could also be cool done by a young person with make-up and a wig. Just remember to be extra grouchy.
The First Doctor has three major Companions: his granddaughter, Susan, and Barbara and Ian, both schoolteachers. They tend to dress in contemporary clothes, so go for a stylish ‘60s look. Susan is notable for being waifish with short, mod-style dark hair. If you’ve got that kind of look, already, Susan might be a good, easy costume for you.
The Second Doctor
Patrick Troughton, ‘66-’69
If you’re thinking he kind of looks like one of the Three Stooges, you’re not too far off. This Doctor is sharp, disheveled, and super snarky.
Costume breakdown: black suit jacket (the more obviously passe, the better), blue button-down shirt, polka-dot bowtie, moppish bowl-cut hair.
Once again, all things easily found at your local Goodwill. They key, here, is really the bowtie and the hair. After that, just make sure everything’s a bit rumpled, and you’re good to go.
The Second Doctor has a number of Companions, but the most recognizable will be Jamie, an 18th century Scottsman who wears, you guessed it, a kilt. As you can see, Jamie’s costume is pretty epic, and you’ll probably have to make most of it yourself. Even so, it’s a fairly simple look and should be easy to replicate. And, let’s face it, no one’s going to look twice at a con-goer running about in a kilt. Here’s a write-up, with pics, from someone who did this costume.
The Third Doctor
John Pertwee, ‘70-’74
Think James Bond, but from another planet. This Doctor is smooth and has lots of gadgets.
Costume breakdown: velvet smoking jacket, generally old-fashioned formal clothing.
The look you’re going for is old-school English dandy, which will take a little bit of research but gives you some room to move. Despite being one of the Doctor’s more ornate incarnations, this costume may actually be one of the easiest. Accessories like cravats and formal riding boots, though possibly expensive, never go completely out of fashion, so they’re not hard to come by. You can get a smoking jacket at any decent costume store, especially since Austin Powers costumes continue to be everywhere.
The Third Doctor worked with UNIT (UNified Intelligence Taskforce), so it might be awesome to have him wandering around with a random UNIT soldier in tow (fatigues, red baret, UNIT insignia). If you want a more specific and interesting character, try the Brigadier, leader of UNIT. Officer’s uniform + epic mustache = classic Companion!
This Doctor’s story also introduces us to the Master, a fellow Time Lord and the Doctor’s long-time enemy. Just as the Third Doctor puts us in mind of James Bond, this version of the Master makes me think of a Bond villain. Seriously, though. Is anyone not getting a Dr. No vibe from that guy?
The Fourth Doctor
Tom Baker, ‘74-’81
The longest running Doctor and by far the most recognizable. Excited and unpredictable. If you’re going to cosplay Four, be sure you’ve got the energy to do it.
Costume breakdown: 12-foot striped scarf, frock coat or long burgundy coat, vest, cravat, curly hair.
In this case, it’s all about that damn scarf. The only requirements for the scarf, really, are that it be multi-colored and impossibly long. You can buy different kinds all over the place online, but making your own Tom Baker scarf is a point of pride for Whovians. As long as you’ve got the scarf, you’re golden.
The Fourth Doctor, seeing that he was around for so long, has a lot of interesting Companions. However, unless you decide to stick with Sarah Jane, who was also a Companion of Four, your best bet might be Romana, who’s looks are both recognizable and easy to replicate. Romana, a Time Lord like the Doctor, regenerates during her tenure as Companion, so you have two versions to choose from.
Though Romana I wears a number of different and very cool costumes, by far the most fun is this white gown with an amazing feathered... cloak... thing. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be, and it would be a pain in the ass to make. But seriously, how fierce does she look?
Romana II is all kinds of adorable, and her straw hat and sailor ensemble would make for quick, easy cosplay. In both Regnerations, the character has lots of intelligence and attitude and would be a blast to play.
The Fifth Doctor
Peter Davison, ‘81-’84
It’s worth noting that Davison’s turn as everyone’s favorite Time Lord is what made a young David Tennant want to become an actor. So take a minute to chew on that. And, yes, that is celery in his lapel.
Costume breakdown: matching sweatervest, frock coat, trousers, and straw hat; plimsoll shoes (Chuck Taylors), stalk of celery.
This costume is an old-school cricketer’s uniform with, yes, a stalk of celery pinned to the lapel. The sweatervest, hat, and trousers should be easy enough to find, and some red or orange piping sewn onto a cream jacket will do the trick for the rest. It should also be fairly easy to piece things together from scratch, if you have the time and motivation. Celery is, obviously, available at your local grocery store, though you may want to pick that up on the day of the con to avoid unsightly wilting.
This Doctor has a few Companions carried over from Five (Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan Jovanka), but none that are especially iconic or that would be recognizable to any but the most devoted Whovians.
The Sixth Doctor
Colin Baker, ‘84-’86
I confess I haven’t seen any episodes from this period, but, judging by that outfit, I imagine they would have been fun to watch high.
Costume breakdown: trench coat in mis-matched colors, yellow pinstripe trousers, garish vest, equally garish tie.
Baker himself described the costume as “an explosion in a rainbow factory”. Ironically, this makes it a little easier to put together. Get some brightly colored pants and a vest that don’t match and add an ‘80s-rific cotton scarf. The coat, obviously, you’ll have to make, which might be a bit complicated. I have to say, though, that this looks like it would be a really rewarding cosplay to pull off. Just as recognizable as Four or Five, and there won’t be a dozen of them running around. On the other hand, non-Whovians are likely to just assume that you’re Willy Wonka.
The Sixth Doctor, unfortunately, has no Companions of note, unless you count the rainbow umbrella.
The Seventh Doctor
Sylvester McCoy, ‘87-’89, 1996
This Doctor’s style is about scattered, but I can’t help but think he looks like a stuffy college professor on a school trip.
Costume breakdown: Safari jacket, paisley scarf, vest (waistcoat or sweatervest), Panama hat, fob watch.
Seriously, though. Professor on a trip. All of this should be fairly easy to find, especially if you have older relatives who like to hold on to their old clothes. Bonus points if you have the right watch.
If you want a Companion from this era, go with Ace, a spunky young woman with a cool, punk-inspired style. She may not be immediately recognizable, but you’ll look great, anyway.
The Eighth Doctor
Paul McGann, 1996
I don’t know what it is with the <i>Doctor Who</i> designers and Edwardian costumes, but they seem to be a bit stuck.
Costume breakdown: green velvet frock coat, silver vest, cravat.
Okay, I’ll be honest here. Unless you just really dig this costume, don’t cosplay Eight. My impression is that Who fandom in general would prefer to forget the ‘96 TV movie ever happened. So let’s just get on with our lives, shall we?
It goes without saying that this Doctor is not cool enough to have any cool Companions... but I’m saying it anyway.
The Ninth Doctor
Christopher Eccleston, 2005
Now we enter the realm of new-Who, where costumes are more likely to be recognized and where you’re more likely to run into 20 people dressed the same way.
Costume breakdown: black leather jacket, dark sweater/t-shirt, black jeans.
Easy costume to put together, hard to pull off. If you’re a fit dude with buzz cut hair, go for it. Otherwise, you’ll wind up just looking either fashion challenged or like you’re cosplaying Neil Gaiman.
Though it only lasted one season, the Ninth Doctor’s tenure introduced us to two of the most popular Companions of new-Who: Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness. Rose is curvy, blonde, and dresses in funky, contemporary clothes. For recognition, try jeans and a Union Jack t-shirt or a cropped blue jacket over a fuschia t-shirt. I’ll talk more about cosplaying Jack in a few weeks when we discuss 10-minute cosplay for Torchwood.
The Tenth Doctor
David Tennant, ‘05-’10
At SDCC last year, I think I saw more Tenth Doctor costumes than anything else, and they all looked fantastic.
Costume breakdown: brown trench coat, blue or blue/brown pinstriped suit, tie, Chuck Taylors.
All these costume pieces should be easy to find, but they’re likely to be expensive. (As an aside, I’m totally assuming everyone knows what I mean by Chuck Taylors, but, for those of you who’ve never bought shoes, I’m talking about Converse All Stars.) Like the Ninth Doctor, you might want to avoid Ten unless you’ve got the right physicality. The costume is plenty recognizable, no matter what you look like, but, like I said, there will be a ton of them running around and several of them will look enough like Tennant to turn heads.
(Left to right: Sarah Jane, Mickey, Jackie, Rose, Ten, Martha, Jack, Donna)
Rose and Jack both carry over as Companions, but let’s not forget the awesomeness that is Martha and Donna. Martha has a tough, chic look, topped off by a very modern red leather jacket. (Bonus points to Martha for being the only character of color on this list. Way to go, Doctor Who.) Donna, bless her, dresses like an especially stylish mom, which is an easy, comfortable look for any ginger who wants to give it a try.
Matt Smith, ‘10-Present
Just remember one thing: bowties are cool.
Costume breakdown: brown tweed jacket, brown trousers, black boots, suspenders (or braces, if you like), bowtie.
Now that Smith is really hitting his stride as the Doctor, Eleven cosplay is becoming increasingly popular, especially since the costume is so simple. For a twist, add a Stetson or a Fez and mop, or just throw on a torn up dress shirt with blue tie and trousers and be the Ragedy Doctor.
With the Eleventh Doctor’s Companions, you have a wealth of easy, recognizable looks to choose from. First and foremost is Amy, for whom you might wear oversized red shirt and slippers or a Kiss-o-gram uniform. For the lovely and glorious Rory, blue hospital scrubs are a quick solution, but, for added visibility and sexiness, try the Roman soldier ensemble. And then there’s River Song, whose style is built less on a single look than on a sense of tough, timeless elegance. If you have the time and resources, though, turning up in the exploration suits from “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” would really make a splash.
Another vital character you might not have considered is, of course, the TARDIS. One of the simplest, most brilliant costumes I’ve ever seen was a young woman dressed as the actual TARDIS. She’d simply painted a cardboard box with the appropriate markings and put a flashing light on her head, and she looked wonderful. I spoke with her, and she said the costume had, in fact, been thrown together the day before leaving for the con. Evidence that good cosplay requires creativity above all else and doesn’t always have to break your spirit and your bank account. You could also go as Idris, the human embodiment of the TARDIS, but you might be mistaken for an extra from Sweeney Todd.
And that’s your rundown of iconic Doctor Who costumes, many of which can be put together without too much fuss and money. This series is a crucial part of science fiction culture, even for those who aren’t fans, and we who love it offer homage to its wild style.
In fact, I’m thinking I might go as Romana I, next year. Seriously. That coat is fierce.