At the end of last month, BBC Books re-released seven of the iconic Target novels from original series of Doctor Who. The books, out of print until this recent publication, have been revamped with covers and illustrations from the iconic artist Chris Achilleos, the original illustrator for the 1960’s and 1970’s Doctor Who Target series. As part of this re-release, Achilleos created new covers for the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctor Who novels. All of these covers along with the past illustrations are currently on display at the Cartoon Museum in Holborn, London. We were lucky to be able to chat with this talented artist about his love for Doctor Who, his illustrations, and his other works.
If you look at any of the Target Doctor Who books, you can always identify a cover drawn by Achilleos. They are distinctive. The whole story is captured in a ring of information – complete with an image of the Doctor, his foe, and glimpse into his peril. For those who have seen the episode, the cover is an instant recall. This is something that Achilleos is consciously trying to do. As Achilleos states: “There’s a story in the picture. You have to capsulate the idea in a tiny little picture and that’s not always easy to do.”
When he was first involved with the Doctor Who Target Books in the 60’s and 70’s, having enough information to create covers was dependent on what reference he could get his hands on. In the age before recording and previews, Achilleos frequently had only a few bits of information. “It was always limited to what reference I could get. In the old days, I only had a couple of black and white photos and a synopsis to work with. But I watched the episodes and knew the Doctors and I was able to create something from that”
For the new three new covers – ‘The Visitation’, ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Battlefield’ – it was a different challenge. These weren’t Doctors that he was used to and wasn’t familiar drawing them. “I am looking at the three new ones like Vengeance of Varos. I didn’t watch Doctor Who in the 80’s. I had moved on. But I had the DVDs. And used them to find the theme for the covers.”
In the new covers, there is a certain gravitas to the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors that generally didn’t appear during their time on screen. Each of the Doctors exhibits more anxiety, pain, and emotion in his covers – an extra depth, so to speak. In particular, the ‘Vengeance on Varos‘ cover removes the distraction from the peacock costume that the 6th Doctor wore. Without it, Colin Baker’s Doctor has a stronger emotional impact. “I hate being negative about something I like but Baker’s costumes weren’t the best time for Doctor Who.”
But not everything from his new drawings can be seen in the new covers. If you visit the Cartoon Museum, you will see that the original paintings and find that there is a noose around Colin Baker’s neck that isn’t shown on the book cover but is part of the episode. As Achilleos elaborates, “It’s a tense moment, I always like to put the Doctor like he is in danger on the (2 the’s) cover of the books. The noose works on this one.” But as to why it didn’t make the final cover: “Unfortunately, the BBC think didn’t think it was wise to do that in case someone wanted to imitate it. So you will see that on the book the noose is not there but it is on the original painting.”
However, this didn’t prove to be an issue between the artist and the BBC. “It was no problem between the BBC and me. I just stood my ground and said I can’t change the original. You just can’t without ruining the painting. Once they are done they are done.”
For those that know Achilleos’s work, you will recall the iconic image of Taarna from the poster of the 1980’s animation movie Heavy Metal and if you take a visit to his website you will find a rarely seen unused poster for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Curious, I had to know the story behind it and Achilleos relayed the tale behind the beautiful artwork: “When I was commissioned for the film, I met Ridley Scott, who came with his wife and some other important people from Warner Bros. After viewing the film, I was told – we don’t want this to look like science fiction, we don’t want it to look like film noir. They didn’t really know what they wanted and just asked me to come up with something. So I went home with a few stills and came up with some concepts. The two paintings you see on my website are the ones I presented, not to Ridley Scott but to Warner Bros and the head of distribution. Unfortunately, there was a contractual agreement in place with the actors to show them in the context of the poster, which wasn’t made clear to me in the briefing. After further discussions, they decided to carry on using the existing poster.” The images can also be found in his book ‘Sirens’.
It has been a while since Achilleos was involved with Doctor Who. Does this mean we will see more covers from the classic artist? “I drifted away after Davison. When I was told the actor who was in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ was playing the Doctor, I thought it was Robert Hardy. In my opinion, that would have been great casting. So I was shocked when I heard it was Davison as I loved the old nutty professor Doctor formula, like the kind in ‘Back to the Future’. I am not against Davison as an actor but I just thought at the time that he was too young to play the role. It wasn’t right for me.”
“Nevertheless, I started watching the programme when David Tennant was cast and I think he did a great job of playing the role. I also think Matt Smith was another good choice for the Doctor despite my preference for older actors. Perhaps the time is more suited these days for changes to the show. Also, Matt Smith has a great face even though he’s young. He has these strange looks that make him interesting for an artist to draw. The new choice of using Peter Capaldi is wonderful news for me as an artist who always preferred the more mature Doctor. He has a fantastic face and has great screen presence. I can’t wait to get the opportunity to paint him. “
So perhaps we will see more of Achilleos’s artwork in the future, particular on re-prints of the older series. In the meantime, you can check out his work on display at the Cartoon Museum in London and on the cover of the new Doctor Who reprints now available on Amazon.
You can contact Chris Achilleos through his website at: http://www.chrisachilleos.co.uk