matt zoller seitz

Seitz Asks: What Item From a TV-Character’s Wardrobe Would You Most Like to Own?

TOM BAKER ( DR WHO) LATE 70s Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Seitz Asks: What item from a TV-character’s wardrobe would you most like to own?
Seitz Answers: Tom Baker’s scarf from the seventies-era Doctor Who.

So many TV characters are defined by their garments: Emma Peel had her mod miniskirts, Columbo his raincoat, Kojak his fedora. If I could loot eBay like some virtual Hun, I’d collect hundreds of these items and open up a museum someplace. But if I had to pick just one, it’d be the scarf worn by Tom Baker’s incarnation of the fourth Doctor Who (1974 to 1981), which wrapped around the Time Lord’s neck in boa-constrictor coils and dangled down at accident-waiting-to-happen length. It was an astonishing garment — a wrap of many colors that seemed to have an infinite ability to expand, contract, and otherwise adapt. 

Supposedly the scarf was one of those happy production accidents that ended up defining a character. The show’s costume designer, James Acheson, gave his friend Begonia Pope a lot of raw material in various colors and asked her to turn it into a scarf. There was way too much wool, but she followed his instructions to the letter. The result was a firehouse-length monstrosity with bands of color stacked like geological strata. It was astonishing, so they kept it.

There were, of course, multiple versions of the scarf for different situations and purposes, though in theory it was always the same scarf. The garment’s physical and narrative elasticity were of a piece with the hero’s surreal adventures.  He used the scarf to dangle or swing, à la Indiana Jones’s whip. He also used it as a garrote, a trip wire, and a rock-climber’s rappel. Whatever the Doctor needed the scarf to do, it did. It was one of the great emblems of pop-culture dream logic, right up there with Snoopy’s doghouse, a wooden box with a sloped roof that turned out to contain a palatial bachelor pad with multiple rooms and a basement.

What item from a TV-character’s wardrobe would you most like to own?

What TV Clothing Item Would You Want Most?