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The University of Southampton

Tributes paid to Doctor Who designer and Southampton graduate Michael Pickwoad

Published: 29 August 2018
Michael Pickwoad
Michael Pickwoad completed his degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Southampton in 1967

Tributes have been paid to University of Southampton graduate Michael Pickwoad who has died at the age of 73.

Michael, a Civil and Environmental Engineering alumnus who completed his degree in 1967, was a highly successful BAFTA-nominated Production Designer who is, perhaps, best known for his work on Doctor Who (2010-2017).  

Over five series, Michael contributed to 71 episodes of Doctor Who including eight Christmas specials and the show’s 50th anniversary programme. His own father, William Mervyn (Pickwoad) previously acted in the Doctor Who episode ‘The War Machines’ with William Hartnell who played the first doctor.

Steven Moffatt, former writer and executive producer of Doctor Who, praised Michael for his “fund of knowledge” and his “exquisite visual sense”.

“Never have I met a man with such a fund of knowledge, about … well, everything. Literally everything. If there’s a university somewhere that confers degrees in Everything, then that’s the one Michael got,” said Steven.

“He also had exquisite visual sense, of course, but like a director he always saw everything through the lens. It didn’t matter how it looked in the studio, it mattered how it looked on the screen,” Steven continued. “He nailed that every time. Doctor Who never had the movie-scale budget it needed, and our secret weapon for hiding that was Michael Pickwoad. In no time flat, with next to no money, he gave us arctic vistas, Viking villages, the sheriff of Nottingham’s castle, any number of spaceships, the best submarine I’ve ever seen on screen and the finest ever version of the TARDIS control room. And through it all, he was kind, and courteous, and funny.”

Mark Gatiss who has both acted in and written for Doctor Who called Michael a “hugely talented man with a wonderful eye for the truly bizarre” and fellow Whovian actor, Matt Lucas, said that Michael was a “kind, humble and brilliant man who made an immense contribution to the show”.

Beyond Doctor Who, Michael was production designer on a wide range of films and television shows including the critically-acclaimed Withnail & I as well as Murder Most Horrid and Kavanagh QC. His designs extended to everything from the expansive Egyptian backdrop of Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Death on the Nile to the Village in the remake of The Prisoner.

Years after graduating from Southampton, Michael credited the University as one of the best for engineering. At one stage, Michael was keen to turn his love of ships into a career in yacht design.

“By the end of my degree, I could see that I was not destined to be a yacht designer, even though I was still interested in the subject,” he recalled during a visit to the University in 2014. “As my father was an actor, it seemed like a good idea to turn my attention to film design, which could offer wonderful design opportunities.

“Engineering was a wonderful degree to do,” Michael continued. “What my course and time at Southampton taught me is how things work, how to get things done and generally about life.”  


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