We are sad to report Michael Pickwoad, Production Designer on the show for series 7 – 10, sadly died at the age of 73 on Monday 27th August.
Pickwoad was the man behind the look of the series for 71 episodes, from the Eleventh Doctor’s first Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, until the Twelfth Doctor’s departure in Twice Upon a Time. His most notable contribution was the epic TARDIS interior. He also worked on several episodes of the spin off series, Class.
Born in 1945, Michael Pickwoad was the son of actor William Mervyn (who appeared in the Doctor Who story The War Machines), and theatre designer Anne Margaret Payne Cooke. He began his career as an Art Director in the early 1970s, working for the Children’s Film & Television Foundation. He became a Production Designer in the 1980s, with one of his first films being Withnail & I, working alongside Eigth Doctor Paul McGann
In 2010 he joined Doctor Who as Production Designer, taking over from Edward Thomas who had held the position since the show’s return in 2005. During his time on the show, he created a wide range of designs, ranging the desolate wastelands of Skaro to Victorian London to the Orient Express in space.
Many people who worked with Pickwoad on Doctor Who have been sharing their messages and memories on Twitter:
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
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
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
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
We often hear about ‘unsung heroes’, and while it would be misleading to say Michael Pickwoad’s genius was completely unsung, his brilliant contributions were a massive part of Doctor Who’s success over the past eight years. His sets were simply extraordinary. A wonderful man.
— Tom Spilsbury (@TomSpilsbury) August 27, 2018
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
Very sad to hear of the passing of Michael Pickwoad. A true gent and a great talent. RIP.
— Andy Pryor C.D.G. 🏳️🌈🇪🇺 (@pryorandy) August 27, 2018
Lovely chap. I often felt he was like a real life ‘Doctor Who’. Very sad indeed to hear this news. https://t.co/52idMadnvI
— Nicholas Briggs (@BriggsNicholas) August 28, 2018
Steven Moffat, who worked closely with Pickwoad during his time as showrunner, said:
“The first time I met Michael Pickwoad properly, I laughed, and you probably would have too. We were both heading to Michael’s first Doctor Who tone meeting, and he’d arrived wearing a tweed jacket and a bow tie. “In costume, I see!” I said. He gave me a bemused smile (I’d get very used to that smile) and we went into a dull white room and discussed flying sharks and cryo-pods for the Doctor Who Christmas special. Some time during the meeting, it occurred to me that Michael hadn’t understood why I’d laughed, and the more I listened to him talking the clearer it became that he wasn’t in costume at all: I was dealing with a designer who dressed exactly like Doctor Who by accident. Clearly, this man was born for this show. I’ve never been more right.
It wasn’t just the outfit either. Never have I met a man with such fund of knowledge, about… well, everything. Literally everything. If there’s a university somewhere that confers degrees in everything, then that’s the one Michael got. Every tone meeting, without exception, yet another nugget of learning would emerge. He was never showing off, of course, never parading his learning – just off-handedly mentioning another arcane branch of knowledge he happened to have mastered. Submarines! Roman Centurians! The interior stairs of large chimneys over history (no, really.) Once, during the Tone for The Magician’s Apprentice, he looked up from the script with that gentle frown which meant he had a question. It was the scene where Peter Capaldi’s Doctor rolled into a castle courtyard, playing an electric guitar. Now, you might think he was worried about creating an entire castle courtyard for what was, in all honesty, one gag, but no. His question was: “Are you sure you mean a Centurian tank? They’re the trickiest to drive.”
‘How many lives has he led?’ I asked Brian Minchin, my co-exec, as we left the meeting.
I’m still learning from him this morning, as I type this. I looked up some old interviews with him, and found this gem: ‘A production designer should think like a director and behave like a producer.’ Well that’s it exactly, of course – a typical piece of Pickwoad wisdom (I imagine his next sentence would have been about the correcting weighting of duelling pistols, or which sea has the most fish.) He had exquisite visual sense, of course, but like a director he always saw everything through the lens. It didn’t matter how it looked in the studio, it mattered how it looked on the screen. He nailed that every time. And yes, he behaved like a producer. Doctor Who never had the movie-scale budget it needed, and our secret weapon for hiding that was Michael Pickwoad. In no time flat, with next to no money, he gave us arctic vistas, Viking villages, the sheriff of Nottingham’s castle, any number of spaceships, the best submarine I’ve ever seen on screen and the finest ever version of the TARDIS control room. And through it all, he was kind, and courteous, and funny.
The only downside of great men, is that they make terrible losses, and we’ve lost Michael far too soon. He was a genius and a gentleman. and we will all miss him. Looking back on all those mad, happy years, I think he was right to wear that tweed jacket and bow tie. More than that, he was entitled. If Doctor Who had been a designer, instead of a rebel Time Lord, she’d have been Michael Pickwoad.”
Current showrunner also said:
“Everyone at Doctor Who is incredibly saddened to learn that Michael Pickwoad has died. His contribution to the show during Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi’s era was immense and varied, conjuring up distant galaxies and historical eras – as well as an iconic TARDIS interior – with equal brilliance. He was a beloved member of the Doctor Who team and we send our sympathy and love to his family.”