‘Pass The Salt’ by author Glenn James

Dark Fantasy Writer and Illustrator Glenn James has a long standing familiarity with Doctor Who. In the summer of 2014 he was asked to undertake a rather special commission for a private collector, a man with a deep and affectionate knowledge of the programme. The resulting illustration followed a very unusual route, as the following article reveals.

© By Glenn James 2014                                                                                                                                                               (Black Biro and Ink, Black watercolour Paint and Chinagraph Pencil on Mount board.)

© By Glenn James 2014 (Black Biro and Ink, Black watercolour Paint and Chinagraph Pencil on Mount board.) Left to right: The War Doctor (John Hurt), the 8th Doctor (Paul McGann), the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), the 10th Doctor (David Tenant), the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith), River Song (Alex Kingston), Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman, standing), the First Doctor (William Hartnell, seated centre), the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi, standing), the 2nd Doctor (Patrick Troughton, seated), the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker, standing), the 3rd Doctor (Jon Pertwee, seated), the 6th Doctor (Colin Baler, with cats), the 5th Doctor (Peter Davidson), and the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)

As a fantasy artist I have been asked to undertake some unusual works in my time, but this one was a real challenge: How to portray all the incarnations of Doctor Who together, and do something really fresh and original with the composition.

Putting all the Doctors together is no new thing in artistic terms. You often see illustrations or posters depicting all of them in one composition, and this was especially true at the time of the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2013.   Conventionally this is usually a matter of showing the various actors faces side by side in one illustration, usually in chorological order of the incarnations, with the most current one to the fore.

Author Glenn James

Guest Author Glenn James

But these are usually pieces where the characters are all looking at the observer, and isolated from one another in the drawing or painting, not actually meant to be together in some kind of setting or location, or portrayed against a star field. I cut my teeth as a student on amateur Doctor Who fanzines, back in the days when they were made of paper and stapled together, and so I had a good insight into all this and the mythology of the show. I wanted to have a bash at doing something a bit different, and I had an idea come to me which seemed to lend itself readily right away, and which would give a format for all the Doctors and a companion or two to be together in the same setting.

The show of Doctor Who has been filled with biblical allegories since it came back in 2005, and for a number of very good reasons it seemed a really fun idea to use the theme of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Di Vinci. Not only was there a solid theme I could reflect, but I could work in some really mischievous Di Vinci Code references, too!

I have been a fan of Doctor Who ever since I was a teenager, and its often occurred to me to wonder if the writer Robert Holmes (who set the number of a Timelords regenerations at 12, in the story “The Deadly Assassin), was mischievously thinking of the apostles when he set the limit; With the regenerations emanating out from the first Doctor in the way that the saints surrounded Christ. With the creation of the figure of the War Doctor, who “betrayed” what all the others took as a vow of their intention in undertaking the name of “The Doctor,” this parallel becomes even more obvious; there is a reflection of the way in which the War Doctor betraying his other incarnations, and original self, in the way that Judas betrayed Christ. That seemed a really solid hook for the drawing, and I followed up the idea.

I gave this an awful lot of thought before I started drawing, and studied Leonardo’s world famous painting, and the conspiracy theories about the work which have sprung up in recent years. It was fascinating stuff, and I tried to follow his lead with an affectionate application of the themes of the show.

The following notes about my drawing, and how I applied it to Leonardo’s format, will I hope be an interesting insight to the work. (It tickles me that the original was painted by a man often known by the nickname “The Master!”)

COMPOSITION: THE SUN AND THE SEASONS OF THE YEAR

Leonardo’s composition was set out in such a way that it was designed in five panels; Four panels with three apostles on each, surrounding Christ on one at the centre. It is said that he did this to reflect the four seasons of the year and the way we orbit the sun. Leonardo’s composition read as starting with the first group on the left as spring, the next three as summer, then Christ in the centre, and the following three as autumn, and the last grouping on the left as winter.

I altered this slightly to reflect the history of the programme and the character of the Doctor, as it was drawn with an affectionardo’s appreciation in mind.

William Hartnells Doctor occupies the centre space dominating the feast, as the original incarnation, and then it reads to the left, jumps back across to the right, and comes back again to the centre: the first three Doctors following him, (Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee) represent Summer, as the high successful run of the original series and three of the most iconic early Doctors.

Then the following three incarnations, (Colin Baker, Peter Davidson and Sylvester McCoy) represent autumn, as both the series and the character started to experience troublesome issues; the programme was famously paused during Colin Bakers time, and his incarnation was deeply troubled by the thought of turning into The Valyard. Then it was originally cancelled during Sylvester McCoy’s time, and his incarnation was the one who ruthlessly took the bull by the horns and started manipulating time. For this reason he sits back in his chair ambiguously, slightly contemptuous of his other selves, as it is also suggested in the Missing Adventure novels that the 7th Doctor caused the regeneration which bought him into existence, and thereby killed his 6th self!

Flipping back to the left, you have the next three: the War Doctor (John Hurt) facing away from everyone and almost emerging from the shoulders of the 8th Doctor, (Paul McGann). Next to themis the careworn 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston). This represents the Winter of the Doctors life; the days of the Timewar, its immediate aftermath, and an incarnation traumatised and in denial.

We come then to Spring, with the 10th Doctor (David Tenant), the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) and his wife River Song, (Alex Kingston) as the Doctor starts to rebuild his life again, starts to solve the problems which beset him, and resolve his issues.

Returning to the Sun at the centre again, we have Jenna Coleman’s Clara and the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) standing behind the first Doctor, indicating a whole new beginning, and the cycle renewed, as he embarks on a new series of regenerations.

BETRAYAL                                                                                                                                                                            In Leonardo’s original work, Christ has just revealed that he knows that one of the disciples will betray him. All the disciples are shocked, but Judas is so shocked to hear this that he has knocked over the salt, in reaching for the bread. This is where we get our superstition that its bad luck to spill salt, as due to what Judas did, there is an old Middle Eastern saying that to betray ones benefactor or behave treacherously, one is “spilling the salt”.

I carried the metaphor across into this composition as there are strong echoes of this theme of betrayal in “The Name of the Doctor” and “The Time of the Doctor”. In my drawing, the First Doctor has just mentioned that one of his future selves will reject “The name of the Doctor,” which is in essence a betrayal of himself, and the later successive incarnations who have held true to his vows. The later incarnations have appropriate expressions of shock or discomfort.

The War Doctor has his back turned to the company, but he cannot ultimately be held accountable because he had no say in his nature, which was foisted on him by the decision of another. But he appears to be emerging from the back of the 8th Doctor…

This is because it was No. 8 who chose to become “A Warrior”, and drank a potion which would make him into one, after musing that “I don’t suppose there’s much need for a Doctor anymore….”

Therefore he betrayed the name of the Doctor, not his haunted successor!

The 8th is shown having jumped to his feet and his chair is seen going over backwards on hearing the first Doctors words, and on the table before him is the grail he drank from to change, given to him by the Sisterhood of Karn.

There is also a tiny Dalek shaped salt cellar which he has knocked over, and which has spilled salt all over the table. All the other Doctors seated have full meals before them, but his plate is empty….. No appetite?

THE GRAIL                                                                                                                                                                             I did like the idea of the 8th Doctor choosing a chalice to select his next incarnation, and I wanted to make reference to this by placing one before him, and him alone on the table.Putting a grail there is also a visual joke, as famously there is no cup of any kind visible before Christ in Leonardo’s painting, or anywhere on the table!

In a reference to the famous conspiracy theory of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” and “The Di Vinci Code”, (which states a conjecture that it is Mary Madeleine as Christ’s wife seated to his right, and that the “V” shape between them is indicative of a womb, or “Grail”), this is also referenced. River Song, the Doctors wife is seated to the first Doctors right, with a V shape between them; however, she is married to the 11th Doctor, and is turned to him and is holding his hand.

LOCATION                                                                                                                                                                                    This is set on Gallifrey. The Gallifreyan domed capital can be seem through the window between the 11th Doctor and River, and on the right side of the composition a Dalek saucer is seen behind the 4th Doctor, approaching the city. There is likewise a Dalek between the 6th and 5th Doctors, with a cup and saucer on a tray! (A Dalek Saucer!)

The 6th Doctors love of cats is referenced by him holding one in his arms, and two under the table by his feet; one is the Cheshire cat from “Alice in Wonderland” and the other, the black cat, is my lucky trademark.

MENU                                                                                                                                                                                          The Doctors are eating fish and chips, as a reference to Catholics eating fish on Fridays, and also to the feeding of the 5,000, as well as the Doctors profound Englishness.   The 6th Doctor has only a single carrot, in reference to his vegetarianism and marked distaste for carrots, and the 7th has a bowl of soup as a mischievous reference to what happened to the Police Inspector in his story “Ghost light”. The 8th Doctors plate is empty, as after what he has just heard, he has completely lost his appetite…..

DECOR                                                                                                                                                                                                          The pillars supporting the ceiling are designed to resemble the Dark Tower, the Tomb of Rassilon, in the Death Zone of Gallifrey. The table, with its semi-circular cut outs, references the counsel table of Rasillons Timelords in “The End of Time”, David Tennant’s final tale. The gargoyle table legs are based on Bok, the gargoyle which comes to life in the Jon Pertwee story “The Daemons”.   The circular tops of the chairs behind the Doctor’s heads references both the high Cardinals collars worn ceremonially by Timelords, and the halos of saints.

This is a drawing which was a true pleasure to undertake, making such a neat reference to both Christian iconography and Doctor Who. And as the 4th Doctor was such a friend of Leonardo’s no doubt he would be delighted by the reference, but I can assure you there are not six other copies bricked up in a cellar in Paris….

GLENN JAMES                                                                                                                                                                              MAY 2014