The Doctor lands at the Great Wall and beyond in a sumptuous promo launch for the Chinese market.
Anyone watching the recent eleventh series of BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who will know we now have a female Doctor, as portrayed by Jodie Whittaker (actually, even anyone not watching the UK classic will be aware of this by now, unless they've been living under a rock on planet Skaro for the last 12 months).
This female-friendly change in personnel has also extended to the production talent behind the camera, and in that same spirit BBC Studios has called on the efforts of a female artist to illustrate the Doctor's most daring adventure yet - breaking the Chinese market.
Originally from Shenzhen, China but now based in New York, Feifei Ruan is a freelance illustrator and MFA alumni of the School of Visual Arts. With a background in book covers, editorial, murals and more, and a client base made up of the likes of Penguin and The Jim Henson Co, Feifei is a great choice even when you don't consider her Chinese heritage.
Her mission for the Doctor was simple - to create a series of illustrations featuring the TARDIS and different Chinese cities. The illustrations would be part of a huge new launch for Doctor Who on the Chinese market to celebrate the latest series, with each image designed to resonate with various Chinese locations and work across multiple platforms.
"The first image (above) was released to promote Doctor Who’s activity around the Taobao Maker Festival in Hangzhou, a four-day festival celebrating China’s young entrepreneurs," Feifei tells us over the TARDIS telephone; sorry, over email.
Feifei's remaining illustrations were then released at Shanghai Comic Con last autumn, but managed to find acclaim with Whovians around the world thanks to tweets from BBC Studios. But how did the project come about, and what inspired the artist to have the TARDIS spacecraft materialise in such sumptuous, classical-looking landscapes?
Feifei, who's favourite Doctor is Matt Smith, says it was no stroll by the lake. "It wasn’t easy when I first started playing with the TARDIS," she reveals. "It has so many tags — police box, time machine, spacecraft etc. After some crazy sketches and some back-and-forth with the BBC Studios Creative team, we decided in the end to keep it as simple as possible - the TARDIS as a character enjoys its journey in China."
Simple is best then, and indeed it's made for a series of wonderful looking illustrations featuring perhaps the most iconic symbol of the show. While Feifei didn't grow up with the show she still recognises the cultural significance of the big blue police box, and is especially a fan of the warm, futuristic feel of Jodie's model.
"I hope these images make sense to Doctor Who fans," Feifei says, "and seem intriguing to people who haven’t watched the show." The last part is key - Doctor Who isn't as big a show in China as it is in the UK and the States (or even in neighbouring countries like South Korea). In the show itself, the Doctor hasn't visited China since 1964, way back during the First Doctor's run(!)
The character is long overdue a visit, then - but where in the giant land of the Middle Kingdom should Doctor No.13 land her ship? While the locations and colour palettes were decided by BBC Studios Creative based on the activity around the campaign and the overall brand look and feel, Feifei had ultimate control over the elements of each picture.
"The selected locations are all either iconic or historic landmarks from the famous cities of China," Feifei explains. "Each city has its own culture and history which I pay homage to in my illustrations. For instance, while working on the Wuhan piece (below), I used the poems and the original murals in the Yellow Crane Tower as reference. The TARDIS looks towards the tower, like a poet of sorts."
"I used lots of photo references, but when it comes to colouring, it’s more about rules and feelings. I tried to give each image a unique colour scheme based on the cultural differences while also following the colour palettes to match the Doctor Who branding. As you can guess it was both fun and challenging."
The effort has paid off though, with both a new audience and hardcore fans of the show.
"Since the images were released on social media there've been many people contacting me for posters, which makes me happy," Feifei says. "It would be lovely if people can bring them home one day."
Since we spoke to Feifei, the prints have been released by the BBC on their Doctor Who store, which you can check out here. Also make sure to check out Feifei on Instagram and Behance, and enjoy the rest of her Doctor Who illustrations below.