In Defense of Plaid Pants and Faded T-shirts
Notice, this will contain spoilers for the last few seasons of Doctor Who, though if you haven’t been watching Doctor Who you probably don’t care about this in the slightest.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten the impression that I am possibly one of the only people on the entire internet who actually likes the Doctor’s costumes in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar. I’ve see angry rants, snobby posts, and mocking fanart. I, however, am quite enjoying the Doctor in faded t-shirts and plaid pants.
Historically Doctors haven’t changed their looks much over the course of their tenure. There might be a subtle change in coat, one flavor of tweed for another, or a major change for a particular situation, like the 11th Doctor in his death tux, but there has always been a feeling of them being costumes instead of clothes.
In college I took The History of Fashion and Dress as taught by the fabulous Tara Maginnis of the Costumer’s Manifesto. Or as she called the class The History of Western Civilization through Sex and Shoes. I also took a year of costume design and construction from her. While all of this was well over a decade ago I do remember a lot about clothes and costumes not just reflecting who a person is but their past, culture, situation, and society around them.
This concept of clothing and costumes as a changing reflection hasn’t always happened with the Doctor. Instead there seems to be a habit of hinging costumes on signature, slightly over the top, pieces, bow ties, long scarves, celery in the pocket, leaving the impression that the Doctor is in fact in a costume and not clothes. A bit like a cartoon character that is always drawn with the same outfit. With the newest Doctor there was an obvious attempt to backtrack from some of that. Perhaps because they cast an older actor (and major Doctor Who fan) the original costume for 12 with a simple white shirt and black coat harkened back to the first Doctor. It went with the redesign of the TARDIS with its bookshelves and chalkboards (which admittedly I do like). The Edwardian gentleman time traveler I think was the brief. This look didn’t last long. Not even a full season. They even hung a lamp on the fact that it wasn’t quite working by the fifth episode.
‘I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I came out with magician. – Time Heist’
The first shift was the holey jumper in season 8 episode 4 – Listen. I read some absolute rants about it. ‘Why would the Doctor have something that looks so trendy but hipstery but obviously for someone younger and it looks like he just threw it on’. The jumper came from Peter Capaldi’s actual wardrobe and was in fact what he wore to his very first table read as the Doctor. And why wouldn’t the Doctor have something like that? He has all of time and space. Think about how much random bits of clothing you have that you haven’t worn in years, haven’t thrown out, and have forgotten you even owned. Now imagine if you had the TARDIS as your closet and a thousand years. Plus everything left behind by companions. Just picture Jack’s corner of the TARDIS closet.
They tried to keep with the gentleman time traveler look for the rest of season 8, with an occasional change in shirt color here or there and the holey jumper coming up now and again, except the Doctor isn’t an Edwardian gentleman. He’s an overgrown juvenile delinquent. He only passed his time lord exams by 1% on the second try. He’s a thief, not above breaking and entering, and really not good at following orders. He’s a runaway. Peter Capaldi’s own personality seems to have bled into the Doctor a little. He spent his youth not only as a giant Doctor Who fan but as a punk rocker who dropped acid and spent his nights hanging out with Craig Ferguson drinking beer and eating curries. His previous big roll was a character who could out cuss anyone in the history of television, ever. By the Christmas episode the hoodie and holey jumper had made the publicity stills.
The Doctor’s costumes in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar completely threw the idea of the gentleman time traveler out the window and I think made a bold statement about this Doctor’s priorities. When 11 thought he was going to die he put on a tux and made sad faces at River Song. When 12 thought he was going to die he threw himself a party and stopped doing his laundry.
It makes me happy, the idea that the Doctor grabbed a pink t-shirt he got somewhere, maybe noticed a couple of curry stains on it, tossed a second faded out t-shirt on top of that, then thought ‘It’s the middle of a mini ice age and I might have to sneak around for some reason’. So one black hoodie and some plaid pants, because why the hell not have plaid pants and done. I would not be surprised if that t-shirt came out of Peter Capaldi’s wardrobe as well.
And let us be honest, there are very few of us who haven’t gone through phases of our life where we’ve dressed like that; grabbed the thing on the top of the wash pile that didn’t smell too funny and hope for the best. For me it was all four years of college, year two of grad school, and the first six months after becoming a parent. And if I was facing the possibility of death at the hands of my arch nemesis I like to think that maybe I’d have more important things to think about than the laundry.
For Under the Lake and Before the Flood they have gone back to the black holey jumper, appropriate for a ghost story. There are also pictures floating around apparently from Season 9 Episode 10 where the Doctor is in red velvet echoing the third Doctor a bit. But I like that. Costumes should be clothes, and until it is canon that the Doctor doesn’t sweat, spill food, and can sonic out stains it never made sense that he wore the same thing day after day.