Blogtor Who is sad to report the death of Michael Pickwoad, Production Designer on Doctor Who from 2010 to 2017.
Michael Pickwoad, Doctor Who Production Designer from A Christmas Carol until the end of the Peter Capaldi era, has died. He was 73.
Pickwoad’s enduring legacy will probably be his beloved “high tech pumpkin,” as he called his TARDIS console room. Introduced in 2012, it was designed to be self-illuminating and to ensure that every corner and level could be used actively used in filming. As a set, it was a piece of engineering only a little less astonishing than the Doctor’s time machine itself. It was thanks to Pickwoad’s innovative design that Peter Capaldi, in concert with director Rachel Talalay, was able to develop the Twelfth Doctor’s free-roaming style. He popped up in unexpected niches, writing on blackboards, playing the guitar, and moving up and down stairs as he talked.
Pickwoad himself clearly loved his creation. Every season he introduced new improvements and refinements of the design. He proudly showed off the new brackets for the TARDIS scanner he’d had installed on BBC’s Youtube channel. When production on the Twelfth Doctor came to an end, Pickwoad timed his departure to avoid the painful sight of the TARDIS being dismantled. For many, the Twelfth Doctor’s console room was the ultimate combination of old and new.
It is important to remember that Pickwoad led production design on Doctor Who for seven years. With his team, he created settings as diverse as the creepy hotel from The God Complex to the flight deck of a Silurian dinosaur ark.
Beyond the TARDIS
Beyond the confines of Doctor Who, he was also known for his tireless and imaginative design work. He was production designer on Withnail & I (Paul McGann and Richard E Grant), the 1987 film featuring a future Doctor and future Great Intelligence. In the 1990s he worked on many shows including Murder Most Horrid and Kavanagh QC, and he was tapped for the epic task of creating the expansive Egyptian backdrop of Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Death on the Nile and the Village of the remake of The Prisoner.
Michael’s father was the wonderful character actor William Mervyn Pickwoad, who performed under the stage name William Mervyn. Mervyn portrayed Sir Charles Summer in 1966’s The War Machines. Speaking about the connection, Michael often commented that he would have loved to redesign the set from his father’s Doctor Who appearance. “It would be quite a fun one to do again in the way that we could now do it. It had some curious corners to it, but the story itself was quite fun and given a twist now it could work well.”
“Wherever you are, look around you. Because you need to know what life is like.”
Pickwoad was passionate about science and engineering and included that love in the TV show he worked on. “The power of imagination. You have to use a lot of imagination in a thing like Doctor Who where nothing really exists that you want to use.” He expressed the hope his work inspired a new generation of fans in engineering. “Doctor Who is an inspirational show. You hope that young children will think ‘I’d like to try that. I’d like to make that work. Why can’t I do that?'”
When asked to describe the key qualifications to becoming a production designer, Pickwoad noted that what was needed more than anything else was an interest in life itself. “I did an engineering degree. I never went to art school but I could draw so that didn’t matter. But generally, the more you know about almost everything else is even more important. Wherever you are, look around you. Because you need to know what life is like.”
Reaction of Michael Pickwoad’s death from his Doctor Who colleagues has been swift and heartfelt.
Matt Lucas (Nardole) mentioned the “huge loss” and described Pickwoad as a “kind, humble and brilliant man.”
I have just heard about the passing of ‘Doctor Who’ production designer Michael Pickwoad. He was a kind, humble and brilliant man who made an immense contribution to the show. A huge loss.
— Matt Lucas (@RealMattLucas) August 28, 2018
Director Rachel Talalay described herself as “heartbroken” by the news.
Heartbroken to hear of Michael Pickwoad’s passing. Few have taught me as much about so many eclectic things. Location recce’ing with him was an education in life. And his tardis – a very happy place for me and many visitors. I toured w/a few. RIP. #DoctorWho icon. pic.twitter.com/qSunFk0LVj
— Rachel Talalay (@rtalalay) August 27, 2018
Writer and actor Mark Gatiss said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news.
Terribly shocked and saddened to hear of the untimely passing of the great Michael Pickwoad. A gentle, hugely talented man with a wonderful eye for the truly bizarre. RIP
— Mark Gatiss (@Markgatiss) August 27, 2018
Writer Neil Gaiman said he was “so sorry to hear” of Pickwoad’s death.
So sorry to hear this. I loved what Michael Pickwoad did with production design in the Doctor’s Wife, and enjoyed our conversations so much. Thank you Michael (and I loved learning from him that his father was William Mervyn from All Gas & Gaiters). https://t.co/tkUc6pIvuy
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) August 27, 2018
Barnaby Edwards also express his condolences.
Deeply saddened to hear of the untimely death of the great Michael Pickwoad. It was always a delight to walk onto one of his sets and even more so to be taken on a little tour by the man himself, eyes twinkling. Funny, friendly, a true gentleman and a frankly astonishing talent. pic.twitter.com/XR0byRK1I8
— Barnaby Edwards (@BarnabyEdwards) August 27, 2018
Former Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury called Pickwoad “an incredibly talented man, and an absolute gentleman.”
This is horrible news. What an incredibly talented man, and an absolute gentleman. RIP Michael https://t.co/LPwpm9Hcap
— Tom Spilsbury (@TomSpilsbury) August 27, 2018
Kate Walshe of Millennium FX said that he was always “the smartest guy in the room” at production meetings.
So sad to learn that Michael Pickwoad has passed away, he was a huge talent and such a gentleman. His TARDIS was a thing to behold. I’ll remember him most sketching away in meetings, pausing to reference some obscure but wholly relevant subjects, the smartest guy in the room. https://t.co/136ER4BCE3
— Kate Walshe (@MFXkate) August 28, 2018
All here at Blogtor Who extend our sympathies to Michael Pickwoad’s friends, family and colleagues. He will be missed by all.
Thanks to Antti Karppinen and BBC for the use of the beautiful picture of Michael Pickwoad and his TARDIS.