Interview with a LEGO Designer: Sam Johnson of Doctor Who

“The idea of this set is a transition between Matt Smith the Doctor and Peter Capaldi the Doctor. It was an idea of BBC’s to have more than one Doctor, which I wanted as well because that’s part of the fun of series.”

You might know Samuel Johnson as the LEGO Designer who worked with Andrew Clark to design LEGO Ideas 21304 Doctor Who, but his connection to the TV series go further than that – his uncle, actor Paul McGann played the 8th Doctor on the series.

“When my uncle was hired as the Doctor, it had a big impact on my family. I had a poster of him on my wall, it was sort of aspirational like, ‘I want to be as cool as that.’”

After a fan of Andy’s project tweeted it to Paul McGann, the actor responded saying he’d be happy if the set was produced, on the condition that his nephew designed it.

When it came time to choose a designer for the project, Sam volunteered.

“[LEGO Ideas designers are] really chosen if they have any real interest in what the Idea team wants to do, because you can see the passion that goes into a model.”

That passion came into play through some of the challenges Sam faced while working on the model.

“We knew that the fans really want LEGO Doctor Who, we’ve seen all the requests, so we thought we should go with a middle price point where we can achieve a lot more in a model. We were able to include some really cool characters, and a model which is bigger on the inside.”

Sadly, this meant some elements of the original project had to be changed or even removed to make the model perfect for this middle price range. Another difference is the complexity of the model, since Doctor Who fans are often as young as five years old, the model had to be easy enough for young builders, while having as much playability as possible.

Original project by AndrewClark2

Final model

 “The original way to connect the interior of the TARDIS with the blue box was just with one stud. I discussed with Andy a lot, and it needed to be able to fly…if you pick up this model and it’s attached by one stud, the blue box wouldn’t come with it, or vice versa. So we made it so you can actually pick up the model and it’s stable.”

A surprising challenge turned out to the exact color of the police box.

“At the very beginning, I built it in standard LEGO blue, and [the license partners at BBC] were not fans at all… I had tons of images of it, and in every one I swear it was normal blue. And then they actually sent me a photograph of the actual prop, which turned out to be much darker.”

Then they learned the the LEGO DIMENSIONS™ team was also working on a Doctor Who level pack and fun pack for the LEGO DIMENSIONS video game. To make each product as unique as possible, the design of the 12th Doctor varied between the two products. The LEGO Ideas set is modeled after a specific episode, and the outfit Peter Capaldi’s Minifigure is wearing appears only in this episode. In the Dimensions level pack, the 12th Doctor is wearing his daily outfit.

On the left, the LEGO Ideas Doctor, on the right, the LEGO Dimensions Doctor,  

The Daleks in the LEGO DIMENSIONS Fun Pack are also designed differently, and there were many different versions of the design.

“There was a big discussion on which Daleks to include, because there are many designs of the Daleks, many colors of the Daleks.”

Ultimately, they decided to go with the only style of Daleks the 12th Doctor had then faced, the gold/copper color Dalek, seen above on the left.

“I’m really excited to see the comments people have about this set. I’m looking forward to seeing how people will customize it.”

Learn more about the latest LEGO Ideas set, LEGO Ideas 21304 Doctor Who, available beginning December 1st.

  • 21304
  • doctor who
  • andrewclark2
  • sam johnson