It’s not everyday that you hear Doctor Who costumes being referenced on prime time BBC One. When The Great British Sewing Bee contestant Mark Francis was asked by Joe Lycett if his fabric would work well in Doctor Who, he confidently answered: “Well Tegan would wear something like that!”
Those of you who followed the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee will know that Doctor Who costumes were a real inspiration for Mark, and eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted the odd piece of Who paraphernalia lurking in the back of his house. But when we heard The Mouth on Legs herself – Ms Tegan Jovanka, the Fifth Doctor’s companion – being name-checked on mainstream television (in 2020!) we had to make an interview with Mark Francis a priority.
Now it was obvious from the minute I started chatting to Mark that he was a Who fan through and through. When I asked him how he came to be interested in sewing – having only started in 2016 – he told me that it was all down to a Turn Left moment. I laughed and immediately told him that I appreciated the reference (a nod to a Tenth Doctor adventure.)
For Mark, it all began when the bank that he was working for moved him to the Stratford branch.
“A new haberdashery’s had opened up in Stratford that was offering courses,” he explains, “and I thought, ‘this will be great for my husband Clive! He can come along, brush up his skills,’ etc. And then I happened to get sucked into that world as I got to know the owner – who used to come into the bank – and from there I started doing an introduction to sewing course. If I hadn’t been in Stratford, none of this would have happened.”
That’s not to say that it’s been an easy journey for Mark, though, whose relocation came after a bout of mental illness. But the hard work on the courses paid off, with Mark now at the stage of being able to create his own bespoke creations – as demonstrated in his appearance on The Great British Sewing Bee. In fact, Mark freely admits that Doctor Who costumes serve as a great source of inspiration for his work.
“A lot of people like to copy stuff and that’s absolutely fine, and I appreciate the lengths that some people go to to get things spot on, but I like to take those costumes as a starting point. Some of the stuff in the series is quite unique; it’s not off-the-peg, a lot of it has been specially made and designed. So I take those as inspiration and say, ‘Well how can I wear it? And what else can I do with it?’
“Also, as I’ve grown older – not that I’m old! – I’ve realised that you can dress the way you want to dress, and if that means you’re going to wear a Victorian shirt one day, then that’s absolutely fine.”
Of course, at this point I had to ask Mark how he feels about some of the more ‘controversial’ Doctor Who costumes. What does he think, for example, about the question mark-emblazoned Seventh Doctor jumper, or the “totally tasteless” attire of Doctor number six?
“When it comes to the question marks, it comes to the day that I’m thinking about it!” he admits. “It is a nice little quirky thing. It’s very identifiable – like a grand image. I wore the tank top to work once and it did divide opinion!
“I like the Sixth Doctor’s costume though. I’d like to make one of my own but in a different colour palette… Maybe something a bit calmer. Maybe blues or browns, but still keeping it different kinds of fabric and different shades.”
It was in chatting in more detail about Doctor Who costumes that Mark gave me some fascinating new insights. For example, our conversation about the famous question mark motifs led to a discussion about the Doctor’s rarely-seen question mark braces. To our knowledge, the only times they’re seen are in ‘Planet of Fire’ and ‘Vengeance on Varos,’ and Mark – having closely studied some of the studio recordings – suggests that they aren’t a standard part of the Doctor’s costume(s), but were in fact added for the jacket-less moments. A fun tidbit for copsplayers!
Moreover, Mark had some interesting points to make about Adric’s costume (companion to the Fifth Doctor.)
“I saw a picture of Adric’s costume being sold at auction,” he says, “and it was a really clear image. There’s far more going on with that costume than I ever gave it credit for. There’s the top and trousers and a sort of tabard thing over the top, but look at the detail – there’s a lot more thought in the design. It looks really simple – I mean it’s not exactly couture tailoring! – but there’s a lot more going on than I was expecting.”
Mark notes that we get a glimpse of this in the TARDIS scene in State of Decay where Adric is seen without his tabard, a moment which Mark believes is simply a mistake. Perhaps the real intention had been for Adric to appear in his full costume? We may never know.
It’s fascinating to speculate, though, and I can safely say that this is the first time I’ve ever chatted to a fellow Doctor Who fan at length – and in such detail – about the specifics of Doctor Who costumes. It’s obviously a melding of two great passions, and Mark even persuaded me – a confirmed non-sewer – to get slightly excited about Tom Baker’s tall-collared shirts! I tend to just look at the aesthetics, but Mark is intrigued by the overall process.
Indeed, it made us wonder where the Doctor sourced all of his incredible garments. (Obviously, we have Madame Nostradamus to thank for the famous scarf, and Janis Joplin for the Tenth Doctor’s trench coat.) But could there be a secret sewing workshop lurking in the depths of the TARDIS? Mark thinks so.
“I like to think that he could actually make his own clothes,” he explains. “He can do everything else! Why can’t he have a hobby of going and making himself a new frock coat or waistcoat? It wouldn’t be very difficult for him!”
I agree, and it’s certainly something that I could imagine Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor having a stab at, even if she does a have a preference for the thrift stores of Sheffield. What do you think? Would the Doctor be interested in making his or her own clothes? Did the Doctor stitch his own question marks? Or, if he bought his Season Eighteen scarf at Lovarzi, have we just incurred the dreaded bootstrap paradox, meaning that we’re in danger of an imminent attack from a hoard of reapers? The speculation starts here.
Seventh Doctor jumper – Doctor Who 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) question mark tank top sweater – order now from the Lovarzi shop!
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