A production designer is the head of the art department. He is ultimately responsible for producing the overall look pf the physical elements seen in an episode. He helps the director of photography and director choose locations for out-of-studio filming. He is also responsible for the practical manufacture of most of his designs, either in-house or by prosthetic or CGI specialists. He is one of the key personnel in the pre-production process, and one of the first people to be involved in the making of an episode. Since the art department is comprised of many sub-departments, the production designer also has managerial responsibilities over a large number of the people working on a programme, equivalent to that of the production manager or the post-production supervisor.
Fully describing all the things under the control of the production designer would be difficult, as he touches many aspects of the production. However, there are certain key tasks that can be highlighted. It should be pointed out that many of these tasks are completed by their own departments, but all of those departments come under the aegis of the production designer.
- Concept artistry for sets, props, characters, models, signage, images on the screens of in-scene computers and other graphical elements
- Overseeing prop construction and continuity
- Overseeing set construction
- Location scouting (usually done in conjunction with other senior staff, such as the director and director of photography)
- Overseeing the costume department to make sure their designs harmonise with sets and props
- Acting as a "governor" to the imagination of the writer by providing a budget for achieving the script as initially written. This can greatly affect the final form of the scripts.
- presenting ideas to others involved in the production, such as actors and camera operators.
People credited with the position
Only three people have ever been credited with this position in the history of Doctor Who: Richard Hudolin for the Paul McGann film, and Edward Thomas for every BBC Wales episode as of the end of the 2010 series, barring Amy's Choice and The Lodger, on which Tristan Peatfield filled the role.
Thomas production-designed virtually every episode of the BBC Wales Whoniverse until the first Matt Smith series. He held the post on every episode of Torchwood through series 3 and the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Although Arwel Wyn Jones replaced him on series 2 and 3 of SJA, the job of the production designer — insofar as the Whoniverse is concerned — is largely the job Ed Thomas has made of it.
After Thomas' departure in 2010, Michael Pickwoad took over for Doctor Who starting with The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Keith Dunne took the role of production designer for the final two series of SJA, and Gregory Melton production-designed Torchwood: Miracle Day.
As compared with designers
Though related, the job of designer on the 1963 version of Doctor Who was much smaller in scope. Designers only worked on one or two serials at a time. They also might not have had complete control over the design of every element. For instance, on An Unearthly Child Barry Newbery was lumbered with a TARDIS interior set that had been created by Peter Brachacki, who quit the programme after a very brief stint. Thus, one of the central design elements of the show was rendered by someone who did not survive in his post long enough to see his episode filmed. Especially in the 1960s, many of the props were not made in-house, but shipped off to specialty manufacturers. This often resulted in uncontrolled deviations from the original designs which could not be corrected before filming began. There was no single person in charge of the overall look of the programme as a whole, as there is with the production designer. In a practical sense, the "designer" of old had the greatest control over sets and those props they could make in-house.
Designers were also not heads of the art department in the formal sense that Thomas is. Their staffs were not under their administrative control, as is the case with the modern production designer. Because they were employees of the BBC rather than of the Doctor Who production office, a designer typically had no powers of firing and hiring as is enjoyed by the production designer of today.
As documentary subject
Ed Thomas and by extension the job of the production designer has been highlighted on multiple occasions in the history of Doctor Who Confidential and Torchwood Declassified. However, the most concentrated look at the work of the production designer was an instalment of the BBC Wales arts programme On Show. The episode, titled Designs on Doctor Who, focused entirely on explaining Ed Thomas' job. Tom Baker narrated the half-hour-long piece. It examined in detail Thomas' work for The Runaway Bride. It also gave some hints as to his contributions to the first series of Torchwood.