The Puppet Is Who!? Meet the Duo Behind ‘Doctor Puppet’

/ Jan 16, 2014

Group of Doctors

By Michael Varrati

In the last year, the omnipresent nature of “Doctor Who” was virtually undeniable. This past November, as the crown gem of British sci-fi celebrated its 50th anniversary, pop culture, and seemingly the world itself, rolled out the red carpet in mass celebration. In addition to the show’s anniversary episode being simulcast in theaters and on television worldwide, there were a range of special events commemorating the Doctor’s half-century hold on our imaginations. Puffin Books released a range of year-long digital short stories of new Tardis tales featuring notable authors (Neil Gaiman, Eoin Colfer, and Richelle Mead, etc.), and the good folks at Big Finish, who are responsible for brand new audio adventures featuring classic Doctors, rolled out a remarkable anniversary special of their own, “The Light at the End,” a multi-Doctor story starring all of the living classic Doctors up to Paul McGann’s Eighth.

It has been a year of all things “Who,” and, of course, that celebration extended to YouTube.

Venerating the adventures of the Doctor isn’t a particularly new notion for YouTubers, as the likes of Charlie McDonnell and my pal Alex Day routinely sing their praises (and they do literally sing in their Who-tribute band, Chameleon Circuit) of the show on their respective channels. In fact, sometimes, there’s so much devoted “Who” content on YouTube, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Because of this fact, despite being a devotee of the show, I don’t always mire myself in the fan created content. While most people are extremely well-meaning, the hardest thing to capture, in my mind, is the sheer enchantment that “Doctor Who” manages to embody. Technobabble and monsters are not the heart of this sci-fi epic, but actually heart itself. You can wave a sonic screwdriver around all you want, but if you can’t capture that underlying charm, it’s just not going to work.

No one understands that need for enchantment and charm better than Alisa Stern, the dynamic animator behind the wildly popular Doctor Puppet channel on YouTube.

I first became aware of Alisa via Tumblr, back in the days when one might occasionally catch a glimpse of a stop-motion puppet that looked remarkably like Matt Smith’s Doctor having photographic adventures around New York City. The pictures were whimsical and fun, and certainly captured Smith’s childlike spirit.

The puppet was originally intended solely for photographic journeys, but after a fated trip to England, Stern realized she couldn’t top herself after taking the Doctor to his “native” country. As the puppet was created in the stop-motion fashion, Stern decided to take the leap into a full-fledged animated adventure, crafting a Christmas Special that launched a 2013 she would never forget.

Joining forces with Scott Ampleford, a composer from the United Kingdom who not only provides music, but also voices to “Doctor Puppet,” the Christmas Special caused no small deal of excitement in the fan community. It was a brand new Doctor adventure, all made with puppets! Eventually the special caught the attention of nerd supreme Chris Hardwick and his crew at The Nerdist. Seeing that Alisa and company had crafted something truly above and beyond, The Nerdist offered them a chance to partner with their channel, and create a whole, fully realized season of “Doctor Puppet” adventures.

Now, as the first year of “Doctor Puppet” draws to a close with a remarkable new Christmas special (the musical “A Timelord Christmas”), Alisa, Scott, and their team have amassed an army of devoted fans for their work that captures the imagination and warms the soul.

Furthermore, on a personal note, the quality of the show is as such, that it goes far beyond any fan project. As Steven Moffat, the current showrunner of “Doctor Who” once said, “A television series which embraces both the ideas of parallel universes and the concept of changing time can’t have a continuity error — it’s impossible for ‘Doctor Who’ to get it wrong, because we can just say ‘he changed time.'” As such, there’s no wrong way to present a Doctor story if the heart of the Doctor is there. If that adventure exists for you as a reality, then it’s an actual adventure of the Doctor. What Alisa, Scott, and their gang have created here, for me, is as much part of the Whoniverse as anything else, and I submit, a wonderfully perfect way to keep adventuring with the Doctor while you’re waiting for the new season to start.

Luckily, amidst all this celebration and praise, I was able to catch up with both Alisa Stern and Scott Ampleford this week to talk all about their remarkable work on “Doctor Puppet.” In a glorious transatlantic video conference, we met up over three different time zones (how very Whovian of us), and discussed their history, their future, and all the remarkable whimsy it takes to bring The Doctor, albeit in puppet form, to YouTube.

So, without further ado, I present to you the delightful Alisa Stern and Scott Ampleford. Allons-y!

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