Retrofuturist Hemlines: June Hudson

Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty (HarperCollins Voyager) and Siren Beat (Twelfth Planet Press). She blogs at Stitching Words, and podcasts at Galactic Suburbia.

I’ve always been a sucker for fake future fashion. As a fantasy writer, I love the use of clothes to express the culture of imaginary worlds – but there’s a limit on how far you can take that, in fiction. In TV and movies, though, costuming is one of the key ways to express another world, and particularly in science fiction, to shape and convey the vision of the future.

And then twenty years pass, and suddenly the vision of that future’s clothes is HILARIOUS.

Quite recently, it occurred to me that there have been a zillion books about the making of Doctor Who with particular focus on the writing, production, monsters and technology of the show, but apart from one 1980’s pattern book (make Tegan’s boob tube! Make your own badge for mathematical excellence!) there has been very little on the costuming of the show’s history. If someone was to write and research a massive coffee table tome about the making of the clothes in Doctor Who’s history, I would be all over that, and I suspect so would the many cosplay enthusiasts who run around making TARDIS frocks and K9 handbags.

Cosplay - Dalek & TARDIS frocks

And, I have to say, I think it’s pretty likely that the absence of such a book is because the makers of Doctor Who merchandise still haven’t come around to the fact that there are a lot more female fans of the show than ever before. Which is not to say that women are the only ones who would be interested in such a book, but they would certainly represent a large percentage of those interested.

Since I came to that realisation, I have been keeping an eye out for any information about Doctor Who and costuming, particularly in the classic series. I was delighted a few months ago when Doctor Who Magazine published a shared interview with Tom Baker and June Hudson, whose name I had always heard in relation to the show as a major costumer. I was surprised when it turned out she had only worked on eight of the Fourth Doctor’s stories – but each of those stories were ones that immediately conjured up strong memories of the costuming style.

She was responsible for several of Romana’s most iconic outfits (both Romana I and II), and in particular is credited with the final redesign of Tom Baker’s costume in his final season, keeping the same hat, coat, scarf style but reinventing it in dark reds, to fit his gloomier and more serious persona. I was rather pleased to hear her snarky impatience at the question marks on the shirt, which John Nathan Turner insisted upon, and her opinions on some of the less appealing costuming choices the show had made.

I then discovered that this feisty, creative woman was the head of costume on Blake’s 7, and it was hard to restrain the fangirl squee, because when I turn my mind towards future fashions, and the importance of clothes in science fiction, Blake’s 7 is always the first TV show that I think of.

Every episode provides moments of sartorial brilliance, horror and hilarity. Avon in red leather. Avon in black, silver and studs. The fur-lined parkas with a dial on the front, which provided climate control high-tech enough to allow our heroes to wander across a snowy planet. The episode with the giant brown vinyl smocks. The episode where everyone dressed like they were in Revolutionary France. Cally. Jenna. Dayna. Soolin. The women of the show were rarely given as much to do as the men, but my gosh they got to wear the most extraordinary clothes. (Though to be fair, they never looked flashier than Avon.)

Above all there was Servalan, the serene and vicious Supreme Commander who rose to be President of the Federation – Servalan and her many extraordinary outfits, her monochrome ensembles, her startlingly short haircut, her high heels in the desert, and the one time she wore the most extraordinary red dress ever designed.

The decision to put Servalan all in white, “like Marilyn Monroe,” was June’s. This costuming choice worked marvellously, on many levels, contributing subtly to Servalan’s image. Even at her most dangerous, she was supremely privileged, and showed this with her outfits which became more and more outlandish.

The crazier her costume, the more snootily she ignored that she was wearing anything out of the ordinary. She only broke the all-white rule once in the first two seasons, when she was “in disguise” on a gaming planet, and wore a sports-car-red ballgown, just to lounge in. Also, early in season three, we see her down on her uppers, which is expressed through a borrowed mauve dress. It fits perfectly, of course, but the colour is so wrong, it shows how desperate things have become for her, though she would never admit it.

June discussed her love of monochrome outfits in the DWM interview, to which she wore an all-blue outfit. It worked as powerfully on Servalan as it did on the Doctor. In many ways, Servalan is the ultimate retro-futurist. While Jenna and Cally’s outfits often screamed ’seventies,’ and there was something unmistakably 80s about Dayna and Soolin’s shiny girl soldier ensembles, Servalan eclipsed them all with the dramatic use of costumes which looked like they came off a catwalk in the 1780s, or at the very least, the 1930s. Her all whiteness, never showing the dirt, showed that she was the kind of military commander who never got her hands dirty, who created death at the push of a button rather than at the end of a ray gun or bayonet. Later, her presidency was likewise one of glorious decadence, at the heart of a Federation that otherwise maintained the pretence of austerity. When on the run, without her power base, as the vicious Commissioner Sleer (who most certainly did get her hands dirty), her all black outfits conveyed that change without a word of her performance needing to change.

Likewise, the male personalities of the show were reflected in their clothing – Avon’s spikiness and secret desire to compete with Servalan at everything, Vila’s desire to stay hidden from sight at all times, Gan’s medieval chivalry, and the stupid, brash heroics of Blake and Tarrant, who both took turns echoing Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

While June wasn’t responsible for all the clothing choices of Blake’s 7, she certainly set the tone in the early days. She not only established Servalan’s look, but she also put the crew of the Liberator in leather, something which made the appearance of the show and the characters quite unforgettable. Her use of colour as well as strategic non-use of colour gave the show a very coherent appearance that, while time has rendered much of it more amusing than enviable in the fashion stakes, certainly provided a powerful image of a future society, and one which owed much to catwalks past.

Among other things, I have learned in my brief researches online that I now have to get season 3 of Blake’s 7 on DVD, and Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive, because both contain June Hudson interviews/retrospectives! I might well have a new obsession on my hands.

Doctor Who episodes with costume design
by June Hudson:

  • The Ribos Operation
  • Destiny of the Daleks
  • Creature of the Pit
  • The Horns of Nimon
  • The Leisure Hive
  • Meglos
  • Warrior’s Gate
  • Logopolis

June Hudson’s alternate designs for Doctors Six & Eight as well as Romana and Fitz.

Who wore this coat best, Romana or Servalan?


  1. Sarah Xu
    Posted 18 January, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Who wore this coat best, Romana or Servalan?

    was that rhetorical? no contest. Servalan totally owns it.

    thanks for this wonderful post, I have been a big fan of Hudson’s work and without even thinking about who was behind it!

  2. Posted 28 January, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    While there hasn’t been a book, there was a collection of prints published of June Hudson’s Season 17 and 18 design work on Doctor Who. From memory they were pretty expensive though – certainly more expensive than I could afford at the time.