In Conversation With Legendary DOCTOR WHO Artist ANDREW SKILLETER

.

If you ever purchased a Doctor Who VHS video in the 1990s or collected one of the many Target novelisations of the series then chances are you've come in to contact with Andrew Skilleter's art work. For over fifteen years, from 1979 to 1995, he was professionally involved with Doctor Who, his work including the iconic 'The Five Doctors' Radio Times cover, countless book covers, BBC video covers, calendars, prints and other merchandise.

Outside of Doctor Who he is closely associated with the many Gerry Anderson titles published by Fleetway comics. Andrew has also produced hundreds of covers for adult, teenage and children’s books across numerous genres, and many audio book covers including a long creative partnership with the BBC for the Radio Collection covering The Chronicles of Narnia, Brother Cadfael, Tolkein and Journey Into Space.

For me though, and I expect many many others from my generation, Andrew Skilleter and Doctor Who go hand in hand. In the early 1990s, when there was no new Who on our screens, the VHS releases kept me going. Many of these stories I had never seen before, others I'd not viewed in a decade or more. If that wasn't reason enough to purchase them there was the wonderful cover artwork, the best of which was Andrew's. They would stand out and were instantly recognisable amongst the racks and racks of videos in HMV. To this day Andrew's covers remain my favourite from any of the mediums the stories have been released on, and often the images and designs he created are the first thing that spring to mind when I think of that particular story.


Recently I had the chance to sit down with Andrew and talk a little about his association with Doctor Who. I asked him if he was a fan of the show before his professional association began.

Andrew Skilleter: I watched and enjoyed the show from its beginning on the family’s first ‘steam’ TV set which was the size of a crate. And of course I loved sci-fi growing up with the fabulous stories and art of Eagle’s Dan Dare. I was never a fan in the sense that I was with Dan Dare, partly because print had a greater impact on me than TV back then, but once I was brought into the Doctor Who realm I fully committed myself to it.


Warped Factor: The first time I became aware of your name was on the front cover of The TARDIS Inside Out book in 1985. I thought the portraits of the Doctors were simply amazing. Did you have a particular Doctor that you preferred drawing? I was always partial to your Peter Davison, I don't think anyone else quite captured him the same way.

A.S: Yes, that book did more than I realised at the time for my work as it sold so well in the States. I still dislike the reproduction - the portraits are reproduced much better in my Blacklight book and in the calendars. Davison often gets remarked on and it was a good ‘un. They are all interesting but the older Doctors faces have more character.


W.F: I soon realised that you'd provided the cover artwork for many of the Target novelisations I already had, and it gave me a whole new appreciation of them. I know you created the covers for several dozen of them, along with some of The New Adventure series. Do you know just how many you actually did?

A.S: Where’s my Big Boys’ Book of Facts? I’m on record as calculating that I’ve done 49 Doctor Who book covers and 24 video covers. I’ve certainly done more than 24 Target covers - I covered the same story several times on occasions. Oddly I don’t seem to have the actual number at my fingertips! 


W.F: Many of the Target book covers would not feature the Doctor, I'm thinking of some of my favourite ones like Frontios and The Time Monster, were you given a brief for who or what to include in the artwork, or were they quite happy to trust your judgement?

A.S: Well, this comes up all the time and all I recall is that they were having problems with the agents or maybe an agent, over using the likenesses of the ‘Doctors’ and a decision was made by the publishers and art director that they would by-pass the problem by leaving out not only the Doctors but most other human characters. Willliam Hartnell was considered safe territory. So after completing a number of covers with Tom Baker featured, I had to make the best of things without the Doctors.


W.F: It must have been quite an honour to design the Radio Times cover artwork for The Five Doctors, how did that come about, and was there a lot of competition for the cover?

A.S: No competition at all. I had established a good professional relationship with John Nathan Turner, the Doctor Who producer, and he called the shots on everything to do with the programme. He obviously put me forward without consulting me and that was that. Consequently I had a sneak preview in the Doctor Who offices of The Five Doctors programme in order to make a few drawings from the video, mainly of the Gallifreyan tower. I find it bewildering what eventually happened to JNT - he was incredibly kind and supportive to me, always, and made what I did outside Target books possible. He was the Stephen Moffat of his time and probably more powerful in that what he said was ‘the word’.


W.F: I imagine every collector of Doctor Who VHS video in the 80s and 90s has come into contact with your artwork through the many covers you illustrated. Castrovalva is probably still my favourite of any Who release in any format. But I wonder, were there any stories that you wish you had designed the cover art for?

A.S: The VHS covers for the Beeb were a great bonus which I never looked for and a brilliant opportunity to show off my sophisticated acrylic painting technique, and to try new and interesting layouts. I guess Castravalva pushed that to the limit! It was my return to Doctor Who and I made the best of it. Of course there are many covers I’d loved to have done - I wouldn’t know where to start! But I did get some brilliant ones to do, but there are also a handful where time pressures showed (I sometime had two to do simultaneously) and I wish I could have done them better. Then, for reasons I don’t know, I was sidelined and told I would continue with the Hartnell only era, using the semi monochrome look I’d established. But that didn’t last long. In fact two (I think) commissioned covers never made it to print. But I continued to have a great time working for the BBC mostly on their audio projects. 


W.F: I see from your Facebook page that you're keeping up with the show today and have been creating a lot of fan commissions based on the new series. Do you have any new-Who professional artwork publications coming up soon?

A.S: The Who’s Who of Doctor Who published by Race Point has brought me back to to Doctor Who professionally and it was great to illustrate some new series Who. This title was release January 2014 and is reprinting for USA and UK. I will be illustrating a second title this year for Race Point - we’re just starting discussions - far more ambitious than Who’s Who illustratively and I'll probably use a more painterly technique with some set pieces. With Who’s Who I was brought in at the last minute in the autumn to do forty illustrations in a month. This time I’m in at the beginning and it will be far more my project with my images throughout the book. And I will be very mindful that the series, and the visualisation of the series, has moved on. We're now in 2014 and this will show in my approach. It’s great we have new and younger fans and a strong US and worldwide following, and while also mindful of the classic series and it’s fans and those who appreciate my art, that fact will influence me. I am also discussing a further art based Doctor Who project that I’ve initiated.

W.F: After mentioning that I'd be talking with you I received several questions from readers of our website, I've picked a few out. Firstly from Shane Collier: "Andrew's Doctor Who illustrations were a great inspiration to me whilst I was young, actually inspiring a last minute switch to take Art at O Level. I wonder what artists or illustrators inspired Andrew when he was starting out?"

A.S: We are all influenced and continuing to be so unless you close your antennae down. My early passion for illustration was born out of the classic comic strip illustrators in Britain at the time, Frank Hampson, Ron Embleton, Don Lawrence, Keith Watson and others. Of course many other influences came later. Strangely, I am only now rediscovering a number of the illustrators who worked in the 1950s/60s for the magazines and advertising of the time, such as David Wright.


W.F: From Mike Key: "As a teenager in the eighties and collecting all the Target novels I used to very much look forward to seeing the art for the next cover and Andrew was and still is one of my heroes. The Gunfighters is my very favorite. I think those covers were painted in acrylic but more recently Andrew has joined me in the use of coloured pencils (hopefully one day I'll be as accomplished), I wondered what prompted the switch and which he prefers?"

A.S: At some point in the earlier 1980s I moved from gouache paint to acrylics (still using some gouache occasionally for highlights), The Gunfighters was in gouache and it was possible my first much larger original and it was one of my best - I was actually allowed to paint a portrait of a Doctor! To return to the matter of coloured pencils this is an interesting question. It started years ago. I produced some early Portfolios (Cybermen and Daleks) and offered a unique drawing with each, pencil and colour and these were well received. In addition I’d been adding around 40 drawings directly into a limited edition book series twice a year for many years. Most of this has been under the radar as they were private commissions or in limited editions until I created my Facebook Page.


W.F: From Steven Neal: "The John Nathan Turner years are my favourite era on the show. I think it was the most visually striking time, which seems to be very much reflected in the book and video covers. Could you ask Mr. Skilleter if he had much access to the actual production of the show and if he feels it influenced his work?"

A.S: Yes of course I was influenced - after all I was visually interpreting what was created for the programme and JNT did prefer to see his Doctors, his shows, represented, say in a calendar. That’s very understandable. My peak years with Doctor Who were the JNT years. He gave me access whenever I wanted it, whether to see him or to sit in on a production and take photographs. Warriors of the Deep, Resurrection of the Daleks, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy where I first met the lovely Sylvester McCoy. I'm so glad for him that he’s back in the professional limelight again.


W.F: From Dave Gee: "I've followed Andrew Skilleter's work on Doctor Who and the many Gerry Anderson titles he's drawn for. Which one did he enjoy the most, and what has been the most challenging?"

A.S: Doctor Who and Gerry Anderson were chalk and cheese really. Very different programmes, largely different audiences and publishing contexts. Doctor Who was more intricate, laden with history, and gravitas, while Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet were about movement, action, panache. I loved the 1960s TV21 comic strips so I think the essence of the strip art seeped into my approach but imbued with a very polished smooth technique. They usually had to be done quickly and it’s satisfying to look back on that canon of work now - another niche achievement.

W.F: Finally, I have to ask you about Cilla Black? Apparently she kick started your career? I'm not sure why but 3 people mentioned it to me.

A.S: Oh yeah - me and Cilla - we had a lorra laughs when we hung out. Some people are being very wicked out there. I have a checkered early illustrative history where I did all sorts of things including a failed attempt to get into comic strips via D C Thomson in Dundee! But that was all fine - income, experience, excitement. Years before Doctor Who my ability with likenesses was picked up and I ended up doing amongst other strips and art (some bizarre!) - mini-biographies of stars of the 1970s, Showaddywaddy, The Goodies, Roger Whitaker (who?!) and Cilla for an annual! I can admit this all now because I don’t care! These stars actually saw this stuff and I had lovely feedback from Roger Whitaker and his wife via the editor. Maybe not creative highlights, but a little period in a long career I can now say ‘aww...’ about. 

W.F: Thank you very much.

I did google it afterwards and found some interesting illustrations from a 'Judy' annual. You can check that out yourselves if you like.

All original images on this page are the work of Andrew Skilleter and are reproduced with his kind permission. Many more are on view on Andrew Skilleter's Facebook page and at his website, www.andrewskilleter.com, where you can also purchase original artwork from Doctor Who and many other sci-fi/fantasy shows, or even approach Andrew about a custom made commission. You can find out more about, and order, 'The Who's Who of Doctor Who' HERE.
Warped Factor
Words in the key of geek!