In this ongoing series of interviews with content creators, YouTubers and Web stars, Alisa Stern - creator of the Doctor Puppet - talks about her work in stop motion animation and her history in Doctor Who fandom.
Unsurprisingly, the trope of kitsch sixties sci-fi where characters are turned into dolls did not elude long-running BBC series Doctor Who, even as recently as 2011. But the work of Alisa Stern, a talented Brooklyn-based animation artist, and friends has shown that even a diminutive Doctor can be a hit.
Doctor Puppet is a series of stop motion animated shorts featuring characters and concepts from the sci-fi series that celebrated its 50th birthday last year. Alisa's handcrafted tribute to the show grew from work she was already doing. "I've always loved puppets and animation and studied it in college. I used to work at a stop motion animation studio in Oregon and I taught puppet animation at a college in Philadelphia," she said.
"Originally, I made the Eleventh Doctor puppet as an example for a puppet animation class I was teaching. The puppet was such a hit with my students that I started posting pictures of his travels on a Tumblr blog. That got popular and about 6 months later I decided to make an animated Christmas special. Then that caught the attention of the Nerdist Channel on YouTube and they helped me launch a full series. So making a series was not original goal, but I did always want to share the puppet!" said Alisa.
The unique charm of the Doctor Puppet series probably stems from the use of stop motion animation, which simulates movement using individual frames of minor changes in the puppet's position. "The most frequent criticism is that the gap between episodes is too long," said Alisa. "Unfortunately, stop motion animation is extremely time consuming, so I can't do much about that. Unless I can get my hands on a real TARDIS of course."
"I am really proud of 'A Timelord Christmas', the second Christmas special, because we made it in a little over a month. Scott Ampleford, who does all the music in Doctor Puppet and is the narrator, wrote and sang the song and recorded a slew of very talented musicians in England. Erin Natal, Rachel Gitlevich and I animated it in just three weeks. It all came together rather quickly, but wonderfully. I don't have a least favorite, though I think the first couple of episodes look a little less polished now. That's okay though. I've learned a lot from making each episode."
Alisa is a fan of Doctor Who, which you would probably expect, but was a latecomer to the world of Whovians. "I didn't grow up with Doctor Who, which is a shame because younger me would have especially loved it," she said. "I was introduced to it during the end of the David Tennant era by some coworkers who were big fans. I watched all of New Who on Netflix and was caught up before Matt Smith started. So he's very special to me because he was the first Doctor I saw start. 'The Eleventh Hour' [Matt Smith's introduction] is still my favorite episode. I'm currently working my way through Classic Who."
Though the Eleventh Doctor - as played by Matt Smith - has retired from the TARDIS, with his successor played by Peter Capaldi starting a new series in August, his puppet counterpart will continue having adventures. "I mapped out a story from the very beginning... I've always had an ending planned out. Right now I have scripts written for 3 more episodes, so the series will ultimately be 8 episodes long. It's still an Eleventh Doctor story though, so Capaldi's casting doesn't affect it. We are making some Twelfth Doctor mini episodes on the side though! I am so excited to see Capaldi start."
Just like Doctor Who itself, more from the Doctor Puppet will be arriving next month and some fans will get an early preview. "We are working on episode 6 and it will premiere at the end of August. We're actually doing something really different and exciting - we're premiering the episode at Dragoncon, a huge sci-fi and fantasy convention in Georgia, a day before it's on YouTube. I'll be in attendance along with several members of the crew. And the puppets of course. Also, there will be a new Twelfth Doctor mini episode in July!"
Above: Doctor Puppet and Doctor Who teaser trailers.
Hopefully, Alisa and the rest of the Doctor Puppet team can avoid the same extensive leaks that have plagued Peter Capaldi's debut in Doctor Who.