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Terrify them, absolutely terrify them

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THE man behind Doctor Who's scariest monsters wakes every morning with the aim of "absolutely terrifying" viewers.

Swansea-born production designer Edward Thomas has spent the past four years heading the design unit for the hit BBC Wales sci-fi show.

His creations will go on display when a new exhibition opens tomorrow.

In an exclusive interview with the Western Mail, Thomas revealed the inspirations behind television's most frightening creations.

"Terrify them, absolutely terrify them - that's my remit," he said.

"Make it as scary as we possibly can and let the editors and producers decide how far to go. We don't show blood, unless it's green alien blood. We would never show red, human blood.

"Kids love to be scared, it's a fact: children love being frightened and that's part of the appeal of the show.

"Whenever I talk to people about Doctor Who, the first thing they say is that they remember hiding behind the sofa. Well the children today are the new generation who hopefully will grow up hiding behind the sofa.

"I don't know if anyone has suffered psychological problems, but we've just got to hope and pray we don't have an alien invasion."

Thomas was speaking ahead of the opening an exhibition and art sale at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay unveiling some of the first-draft drawings which were eventually brought to life in living rooms across Britain.

And it's not just Doctor Who, written by Swansea scriptwriter Russell T Davies, for which 39-year-old Thomas is responsible.

He also heads the design for edgy spin-off Torchwood, starring John Barrowman and Eve Myles, and the children's-themed Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC.

"It's my responsibility to put the art department together for the three shows," said Thomas, who grew up in Cwmffrwd, near Carmarthen.

"There's an awful lot of crossover and overlap among the scripts and characters in the family of shows, so my job's about continuity."

Thomas and his team of concept artists from Department Six are based at Upper Boat, near Pontypridd, and have their registered offices in Port Talbot.

It's up to them to depict the ideas generated in Davies' script and eventually formulate the characters and sets.

Three artists work on each 45-minute show producing, according to Thomas, "literally thousands of drawings".

"It all starts with scripts from Russell, then we know what we have to produce," Thomas said.

"Our concept artists come from various backgrounds - art colleges, engineering and so on - but they all have incredible imaginations, the ability to draw and use Photoshop and get ideas down on paper.

"Some work very loosely, others are very technical. We work on the whole concept: props, set dressing, paintings, graphics, monsters, spaceships - everything that appears in the show.

"We don't want anything to look too technical or too organic. Sometimes the show will be set in medieval times, others it's on a spaceship. We need different artists with abilities to work across the board."

Staff are given five weeks to prepare each episode, with another two weeks to shoot.

Thomas said: "You can get ideas from anywhere. Very often I'm driving down the street, see a building and think, 'That would make a great this or that.' "It's about looking at things in a slightly different way. We're very influenced by the choice of location, its textures and the like, things we can carry through into a set design.

"It might be Cardiff City Hall or a steelworks - anything that has different architecture. When I designed the Tardis I wanted something that had grown. There had been so many Tardises in the past and I didn't want to throw away the history, but also I wanted to make it new.

"So I came up with the concept that you grow a Tardis, which is where the glass, wood and coral came from."

Thomas says his favourite monsters are those whose eyes are obscured, like Daleks. He also cited the angels in the Blink episode as "very successful", adding: "They were typical sculptures of angels in graveyards, but if you turned away or blinked they got closer to you and the minute you took your eyes off them they covered their eyes.

"They were very, very scary."

Thomas became a Doctor Who fan as a young viewer shielding himself from the horrors portrayed on screen.

"It would be on as part of every Saturday night's television," he said. "I never thought then I would end up working on the show.

"At eight years old I thought the monsters really existed and the Doctor was out there battling them.

"I just didn't give it a second thought - and that's what I want children to think now.

"It's always a shame when they find out there's no Father Christmas and I think it's a shame when they find out there's no Doctor Who, because the kids take it so seriously."

Thomas' favourite episodes are those which are "more psychological thrillers than romps", but he said: "The whole of Doctor Who is a romp of sorts."

And the runaway success sparked by the show's return four years ago left him dumbfounded.

"I don't think anyone knew how big it was going to be when we first started and I'm glad I didn't realise how successful it would become because I would have been even more frightened," he said.

"I knew there was a huge amount of pressure, but I didn't think the show would ever reach the dizzy heights it has, being translated into so many different languages for screening in so many different countries."

Career began as opera designer

Edward Thomas was always destined to work in television and art, taking a keen interest in theatre and creativity as a child.

He completed an art foundation course with a distinction at Swansea College in 1989.

He graduated from Wimbledon School of Art with a BA (Hons) degree in 1992 and his theatre career began at the Royal Opera House as an assistant designer.

Thomas spent the next two years art directing and designing various commercials before breaking into films, where he worked on the period drama The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He later worked across Africa and other parts of the world on 17 films including westerns, thrillers and science fiction.

When he returned to the UK, Thomas established the art department for the first three series of Russell T Davies' revamped Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

He has been nominated for British Academy of Film and Television Awards and Royal Television Society accolades for Best Design.

In 2006, he won a Bafta Cymru for Best Design for Torchwood.

He lives in Swansea with his partner Nathalie and daughter Nell.


MONSTER'S BORN: The first design visuals of the images that we eventually see on our television screens of the Cybermen

ANOTHER WORLD: Bringing the Doctor's home planet Gallifrey to life on screen

CHILLINGLY CHEERFUL: Santa mask, designed for 'The Runaway Bride' Christmas special

MASTERS OF DISGUISE: Slitheens can disguise themselves by fitting into the skins of their victims

ICONIC: The full colour re-design of the Golden Dalek as seen in the episode 'Dalek'

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  • APA 6th ed.: Glaze, Ben (2008-12-04). Terrify them, absolutely terrify them. The Western Mail p. 20.
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