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Credit: Doctor Puppet

How one Whovian brought the Doctor to life through puppets and stop-motion animation

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Jul 17, 2018, 12:00 PM EDT

Doctor Who's titular Time Lord has found himself in quite a few wibbly-wobbly adventures over the years. Fans have seen the Doctor travel time and space on TV, in comic books, novels, and audiobooks, and now, thanks to the dedication of one Whovian, in stop-motion animation as an adorable puppet.

Stop-motion animator Alisa Stern became a Doctor Who fan right before Matt Smith started his tenure as the 11th Doctor in 2010. Stern has been a professional animator and puppet maker for more than 10 years and describes herself as always having been a bit of a nerd. After getting into the show, she had the idea to combine her two interests and create a puppet of the 11th Doctor. At the time, she was conveniently teaching a puppet-making class and needed to make one as a demonstration for her students.

“It was work, but also kind of fun. A lot of my friends thought the puppet was really cool so that’s why I started taking photos of the puppet and sharing them. I figured other Doctor Who fans would like the puppets, too, so I started posting photos on Tumblr,” Stern told SYFY WIRE.

After about six months of working on the Doctor Puppet blog, posting pictures of her creations and receiving a good deal of attention from fellow fans and even the BBC, Stern decided she wanted to do something bigger. This was her first experience receiving online attention for a fan work and she found it addictive; it motivated her to try something more.

She looked into making a stop-motion video.

“I had this crazy idea because Doctor Who does Christmas specials and in America, stop-motion is associated with Christmas. I said, 'Why not make a Doctor Who stop-motion Christmas special?'” Stern says. “In 2012, that fall, I started making [the video] in my apartment and it was really just me. It took me a few months to make the sets, animate it, and then I found this guy online who agreed to do the music for it."

Since then, Stern has made more Christmas specials and a total of seven episodes following an original storyline she’s been telling since 2013. While Stern originally expected the series' plot to only take a year, she's been working on it for five. But, she told SYFY WIRE, she’s glad they didn’t rush through.

The first few videos she created took a few months and after the first video, she received help from an animator friend named Rachel and others. Stern and most of her friends were all working full-time and professionally as animators, but, accommodating everyone's busy schedules, they could make the episodes a reality. Over the course of a few months, Stern wrote the scripts and the entire team made puppets, sets, and props, often during parties Stern would host. A seemingly simple 2-minute video could take up to three months to make.

Stern's unexpected fans even become an important factor in her series. After all, that's how Stern found her composer, Scott Ampleford.

“We were doing more and I got him more involved to do more music," Stern says. "He was a total stranger, but then we became friends and he started helping me write and he got more and more involved, too. I got more people involved until I had this whole nice little groove. Mostly local people in New York, but people would contact me sometimes who lived overseas and they would help me out with storyboarding and different things that I could outsource. One of my episodes was storyboarded in Israel.”

Doctor Puppet Doctor Who

Credit: Doctor Puppet

For inspiration, Stern need look no further than the show that started it all. She says she probably approaches her story the same way the real Doctor Who writers do since the show has been on-air for so long.

“Everyone writing Doctor Who right now is a fan, so they look at past episodes for guidance, which is basically how I treated Doctor Puppet," Stern says. "Like any Doctor Who episode, I looked at the past but applied it to an original story. There are lots of little nods to things, but my original plan with Doctor Puppet when planning out the story was I wanted to do a story that the show couldn’t do,” Stern explains. “Unfortunately, some of the earlier Doctors’ actors have died so I wanted to do a story that had every single Doctor in it. I didn’t have to recast anyone because they were puppets so I wanted to do all these combinations of what if the 11th Doctor met every single other Doctor?”

As the series continued, episodes became more complicated. While each one at first was only a few minutes long and took a few months to make, the one they are working on now, Episode 8, has been in the works for two years. According to Stern, the animation is done and she finished editing it a few weeks ago. It’s almost 10 minutes long. The score is currently being composed. 

This eighth installment is a special one, as it marks the end of Doctor Puppet episodes for the foreseeable future and acts as the finale for the original story Stern first had in mind in 2013. As of right now, she doesn't have plans to make any more or do a different story. The series has been time-consuming and made entirely in her small apartment’s living room. She’d like to have that space back for a little while. Stern and her crew have also faced challenges with not actually owning the Doctor Who intellectual property — no matter how much fans might love the Doctor, Stern's team is limited in the stories it can tell.

It will be a bittersweet premiere when the final episode of Doctor Puppet is shared, which Stern said should happen in September. Still, this isn’t the end of all things Doctor Puppet. The puppets will still be around; Stern will be posting pictures of them online, and fans will still be able to watch the episodes whenever they want on YouTube. Stern also wants to do more projects that focus on her own characters. But that doesn't mean her love for the Doctors will dwindle any time soon.

Doctor Puppet Doctor Who

Credit: Doctor Puppet

“I think even though the 11th Doctor has kind of been the face of Doctor Puppet, the 12th Doctor has been the Doctor the majority of the time we’ve been making Doctor Puppet so I’ve kind of grown really fond of my little Peter Capaldi puppet,” Stern says. “He has a special place [in my heart]. And of course, now I have a 13th Doctor puppet... I’m sure I’ll have some fun adventures with her even if they’re not animated.”

You can find the latest updates about Doctor Puppet on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

And get to know Alisa a bit better here: