‘I tried to make it big like Star Wars’: the artist behind Doctor Who’s blockbuster image
Doctor Who's Series 7 posters by digital artist Lee Binding
If you're a Doctor Who fan - either "classic" or "new" Who, or both - you've undoubtedly been blinded by the work of digital artist Lee Binding. His designs are epic in both the traditional sense of the word and in modern slang: from blockbuster posters to alluring box-set cover motifs, Binding captures the adventure in the heart (well, two hearts) of Doctor Who, supported of his longstanding passion for the show.
"I've been a fan since I was six," says Binding. "As far as I can tell, it's part of my genome."
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Binding, 45, credits his mother for making him a Doctor Who fan. "She called me downstairs one day and said," Your show is on, you like this. "She was sure of these things," says Binding. (Similarly, he credits his mother for making him a Girls Aloud- Fan made.)
His first Who adventure was the Peter Davison series Kinda in 1982. "In the end, she was right - yes, I liked it," he says. "I can't remember anything other than being a little scared and aroused by this feeling. I blame my mother."
Binding, originally from the Midlands and now based in West London, speaks to me through Zoom. He's extremely optimistic and tells me that he broke up at university and studied engineering, but found his way back to being an artist. He's pretty impressive self-taught. "I'm completely without training - I've been winging it for years," he laughs. "Sometimes you can say it, sometimes you can't and that's the good thing, I think!"
Journey to the center of the Tardis, designed by Lee Binding
Binding did his first Doctor Who design job for Big Finish, the production company behind the vast universe of Doctor Who audio adventures. He started working for the BBC "accidentally". ("Much of my career has been completely random," he says. "Right place, right time, right people.") He began designing online commercials in 2005 for the newly launched Doctor Who series. His first website image was for The End of the World - the second adventure in Christopher Eccleston's short but brilliant tenure.
Binding recalls that even before Who returned to screens in 2005 - and certainly before anyone knew the show would be a Gallifrey-sized hit - it was a stealth production.
"When Doctor Who came back, it was under tremendous secrecy," says Binding. “The name Torchwood [the 2006 spin-off] came about when they were sending tapes back and forth between the BBC and Cardiff. To keep them under the radar, they were drawn into Torchwood. It was very secret stuff. "
Binding recalls a preview of the second series episode Army of Ghosts, the climax of which - the return of the Daleks to today's earth - was cut out. "It just went black and said, 'Cliffhanger here,'" he says. "Even after you've dealt with the secrets, there was always an added level of secrecy - always something you weren't familiar with until the show actually went out."
From the series "6B" - the second half of Matt Smith's second season, which aired between August and October 2011 - Binding began producing blockbuster movie posters for new episodes. They were a huge part of the hype around that era of Who and its big cinematic feel.
"They went down really well, I think," says Binding. "I don't think anyone realized the impact they would and will have. I still get messages saying, 'Oh my god, this poster got me excited about the episode!"
A Time Lord Victorious designed by Lee Binding
Binding creates his work with real photography, and the storytelling in his poster and DVD designs has a clear art: capturing the story and the characters, packing the picture with details - but without giving too much away. The show had to sell his posters to non-fans and die-hard Whovians.
Binding's most iconic poster design for the 2013 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor is perhaps its simplest. "There are so many wonderful lore and backstories on Doctor's Day," says Binding. “We had to seduce people with it. I wanted to try and make it as big as Star Wars. But producer Marcus [Wilson] had this great idea. He said, "It's the story of these three doctors, we should do that."
The poster shows Matt Smith and David Tennant in a row and frames John Hurt's mysterious but explosive "War Doctor". In retrospect, Binding cites this as his favorite Doctor Who artwork. "I really like this episode," he says. "There is a lot of emotional attachment. I absolutely love this era."
He also designed works of art for the Blu-ray SteelBook "Der Tag des Doktors" (a special Blu-ray version in a premium metal case). It's an action packed design. "I have to go back and do the Star Wars thing," he says.
Along the way, Binding had to keep some key details of the plot a secret, such as the redesigned New Paradigm Daleks - clunkier, color-coded versions from the 2010 episode Victory of the Daleks - and the return of Tom Baker and Paul McGann for the 50th time Celebrations. He accidentally stumbled upon photos of them on a hard drive. "Those were interesting secrets!" he says.
Doctor's Day designed by Lee Binding
But even in its proximity to production, Binding's security clearance for secrets and spoilers was limited for the big anniversary. "Oh, I was so low," he laughs. There were "different levels of scripts" and one script, he recalls, revealed a glimpse of the brand new 13th Doctor Peter Capaldi. "But there were whispers and rumors about this additional script," he says. "But I think the ending was missing too." We all said, "Oh what could it be ?!"
The binding seems to be happy with the release of the lower tier. "As a fan of these episodes, you want to be as excited as you always have been," he says.
Binding continued to produce posters for the first Peter Capaldi season, in which the tone and graphics changed. "It was always a fairy tale with Matt Smith," he says. “Everything should be spiced up. With Capaldi it was more realistic. "
Binding now works for Sky and has created artwork for shows like Game of Thrones, the Mel and Sue comedy Hitmen, and Karl Pilkington's sitcom Sick of It.
He also designs the artwork for the Doctor Who's The Collection Blu-ray series - classic Doctor Who seasons, restored and reissued, with special features, a collector's booklet and Binding's breathtaking art. (There is hardly a Who fan - myself included - who has neither bought nor coveted these sets.)
So far, the collection has included seasons of Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. If we speak, Binding has just finished working on two new collections - Jon Pertwee's eighth season and another that is still under wraps.
Doctor Who's The Collection, Series 12, designed by Lee Binding
To create classic Who art, Binding is allowed to search the BBC archives for Who photographs - a dream job for lifelong fans - and conjure up designs with old-school doctors, companions and monsters. His cover for the upcoming season eight set - featuring the great Pertwee and classic villains The Master, The Autons, Daemons and Axos - is a retro treat. "I have complete freedom with what is both brilliant and daunting!" says bond. "It's very generous on the BBC to trust me enough to do what I like."
Working with and refreshing photographs between the ages of 30 and 60 is an artistic challenge in its own right. “These images have been through the BBC archive a long time and the quality has deteriorated,” says Binding. “They were often shot through a sock at 40 paces, with a lot of smoke on set in the dark. With these publications, we always have the challenge of making them as modern as possible. So, it's not some grainy old TV show, but part of a legacy - part of this rich Doctor Who story. "
Doctor Who returns to BBC One on New Years Day with Revolution of the Daleks. Binding doesn't like to speculate about what might happen. "Though I would love if The Doctor and Yaz got together - they would make a cute couple," he says.
He is enthusiastic about the series-changing phrase that the doctor is no longer a master of time, but a mysterious, unknown being. "I love it," says Binding. "The best thing about Doctor Who is that it's completely unformatted. I think where this is going now is incredible. It brings the 'who?' Back to Doctor Who."
For more information on Lee Binding, please visit his website here
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