Thijarian (Doctor Who)

Doctor Who Series 11, Episode 6
Picture Shows: Kisar (NATHALIE CUZNER), Almak (BARBARA FADDEN)
CR: Ben Blackall/BBC

When I saw the 2018 Doctor Who episode “Demons of the Punjab” I immediately wanted to make one or both of the aliens that were featured. Their design is incredibly striking and original, and the closer you look the more amazing details reveal themselves. Not to mention the episode itself was a standout of the season. I’d never made an organic alien mask before though, so I wasn’t sure what technique would be best to use. I dragged my heels for a while, but as it was looking more and more like an in-person Chicago TARDIS would happen in 2021, I decided I was finally going to build one of these things. I tried to get Lynette on board so we could represent the two Thijarians that are in the episode, but she wasn’t feeling it. That turned out to be fortunate, because it took me every spare moment I had just to crank out ONE of these.

Inspired mainly by the work of Kazul and of Steven K Smith, I decided it would be possible to build the head out of EVA foam, and sculpt the details with a combination of carving away the foam with a rotary tool, and building on top with foam clay. After doing some preliminary materials tests to make sure my ideas would work, I started by covering my plastic bust with foil and tape to bulk it out a bit, then covering it in Monster Clay and sculpting half of a Thijarian head. My plan was always to strip off the ears, eyes, and tusk details to then pull a pattern, but I had to sculpt them (at least roughly) in order to make sure I had the shapes and proportions right. I can now see where I didn’t quite nail it – specifically the lower front of the face – I think I needed to add some mass there – but I got it to a place where I was happy with it. First I pulled patterns for the ears, side-ridges, and tusk socket things. Then I ripped those away and got a pattern for the bare head.

I traced my patterns onto heavy brown paper, then cut them out of 8mm foam from Michael’s. I heat-formed each piece to give then some curves, and then glued everything together with Weldwood contact cement. I left the back 8 inches or so open, and installed a zipper, again with contact cement. The ears were a bit tricky. What I ended up doing was cutting them from the same thick foam as the rest of the head, but then thinning down the parts that would make up the tips. That was challenging with such soft foam, but I mounted my belt sander upside-down in my bench vice, and carefully took it down a little at a time until I was happy with it. I used 2mm foam for the interior of the ears, and embossed some parallel lines in them with a wooden sculpting tool. In order to figure out where the ears should be placed, I took some time to rough-in the eye positions, using the pattern lines to match up the left and right sides. After gluing the ears together, I attached them to the head and further shaped them with a rotary tool and sanding drum. In the end, the ears don’t quite wrap around the back of the head like they should have, probably due to small errors introduced between clay and tape, tape and paper, paper to foam, and foam ears to foam head, and then me not catching it until everything was glued and painted. Not a big deal, but something I notice.

In my experiments, I had been using glass cabochons to stand-in for eyeballs, but they are heavy and not transparent so I wouldn’t be able to use them in the final mask. I took a trip to the craft store and just wandered around for a while trying to find something appropriate. What I ended up getting was a string of led Christmas lights that have tinsel inside the colored plastic globes. My first plan was to cut each plastic globe in half, but that ended up protruding farther from the head than I wanted, AND left me with a supply problem. There were only 5 of each color bulb, and 14 eyes total. I couldn’t mix and match different colors, and the lights were too expensive to buy another strand just to harvest the plastic globes. I had already cut one globe in half, so I only had 4 globes left to work with and I needed 12 more eyeballs. Some quick math told me I could cut them into thirds and have enough, so that’s what I did. VERY CAREFULLY. Each globe had to then be sanded down so it would sit relatively flush against the foam. Luckily this created exactly the size and look I was after.

After a bit of fiddling around, I scrapped the flat patterns I’d made for the tusk sockets, and carved them from stacks of foam circles instead. I then glued these to the head. Using a rotary tool with a small sanding drum, I made holes for each eye and for the nose. Then I painted the area around each eye hole black, and used hot glue to attach the eyeballs. I painted them black because otherwise the white foam might be visible through the plastic eyeball, and the eyes in the show look dark or completely black. Once the eyeballs were all attached, I started sculpting the eyelids and other details with foam clay. This was my first time using it, but it’s pretty easy to work with. Following SKS’s youtube tutorials, I made sure to wet the foam in the area I’d be working, and used a wet finger to smooth and blend all the edges. One thing I noticed is that if you want to put details like wrinkles into the foam clay, you have to press them deeper than you think. As it dries, those lines will pop back out a bit.

I had done some tests with liquid latex as a sealer over the foam and foam clay, and it seemed to work really well. However, when I started brushing it onto the actual head, problems arose. Areas that I had previously covered a few seconds before would start to dry immediately, and as I was brushing the next section on it would start pulling that partially-dried section up into little latex boogers. I tried to power through and see if I could remedy that by going faster or something, but it was not working. I had to peel off everything I had applied. I think there’s still potential for this to work, but it would have to be applied differently – maybe through an airbrush. I ended up using Plastidip instead, which worked fine but has the drawbacks of being finicky about temps and giving off nasty fumes.

After that it was just a matter of airbrushing the mask to look somewhat organic. I’m not the most experienced with an airbrush, but I think I did a decent job. One thing I would do differently would be to use a matte clear coat. I think the gloss ended up too shiny.

Finally, I punched some doll hair into the chin.

For the rest of the costume, I used very basic patterns and improvised a lot. For the skirt, I designed the print based on the reference photos and had it printed at Spoonflower. For the jacket, I used a pattern for a sleeveless jerkin I had made for Robin Hood and made it from a black faux-leather. I then drafted one-piece sleeves, and used some black fabric from my stash onto which I satin-stitched a red embroidered grid pattern. I used the same fabric for the collar, which I drafted through trial and error.

The shoulder armor was made from 4 or 5mm craft foam and sprayed with plasti-dip. The rest of the pieces were also made from foam and painted. Brads are used both as attachments and decoration. I used snaps to attach everything to the base garment, so I could easily remove and re-attach everything as needed.

I made the belt from some leftover crocodile-scale pleather from my Vigil build, and designed and 3D-printed the buckle.

Finally, I used the arms and hands from a gray zentai suit that I airbrushed some organic patterns on, and glued foam fingernails to.

This costume ended up winning the Masters division at Chicago TARDIS 2021. I have very limited visibility – basically I need to maneuver my head around to see out of any individual eye at a time. I can kind of also see out of the “nose”, but that’s mostly for ventilation.


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