Exactly what it says on the tin, really.
I came up with the idea near the end of last year. I’ve been working with various tarot decks since 2000, mainly the Sacred Circle deck and the Robin Wood deck. They’re both gorgeous and have their strengths depending on the question I want to ask. Unfortunately each has limited use for me because their different symbolisms are a bit opaque.
Robin Wood uses the Rider-Waite system but with prettier pictures than the basic Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which does make a difference, but I don’t know enough about all the encoded symbols (from numerology to Hebrew letters to colors) to really be able to access the deck without the little booklet, even though I’ve had it for four or five years now. I tend to use this one for quick-and-dirty readings, because it’s fairly easy to map the keywords from the booklet to the cards and trace the connections.
Sacred Circle takes the Rider-Waite framework and dresses it with symbolism from British Traditional Witchcraft instead; some cards have altered meanings or orders or have been replaced. It’s fascinating, but as I don’t a background in the British Trads the symbolism isn’t any more accessible to me than the Rider-Waite. I still have to use the book ten years later. The cool thing is that it’s a real book, not a booklet, and the symbolism on each card is explained as well as the upright and reversed meanings; the info’s all there, but it just doesn’t resonate enough to stick in my head. I tend to use this one for long-term or in-depth readings because there’s so much to digest.
Basically, I’m left with two very pretty tarot decks that I don’t use as much as I should. I don’t automatically think to pull them out to help unravel confusing questions or situations because they don’t really resonate with me. Very nice tools, but not My Tools. Published decks I lust after include the Shadowscapes deck (freaking GORGEOUS) and the Ancient Egyptian deck (right up my pagan alley).
The latter half of 2009 was when I really embraced Doctor Who. I’d watched an episode or two of the new series in the year or two previous, and had various run-ins with hardcore fans and exhibitions without really knowing what the big deal was before that. My girlfriend’s former housemate @pacmanlawyer named his wireless network “TARDIS” and his computers “K-9” and “Master.” I happily teased an English forum-friend about her Doctor Who fixation when she posted pictures of characters and props and sets without feeling the proper envy for her location relative to the big exhibitions. I saw the long-running and now closed exhibition at Longleat in England when I was a kid without having any idea what it was I was seeing—I came away with a vague impression of tentacled dioramas, a man in a coat and some odd metal things, and that I’d just seen something to do with The Who—the band!—because I didn’t have any other entry in my brain at the time to connect to what I’d seen. If my dad had come on that trip too instead of just my mom, I’m sure I would’ve been a fan much earlier, and a Time Lord for Halloween that year. I still have no idea why I knew about The Who and not the Doctor at that age.
But last fall, my Doctor Who fuse finally lit and I fell in sci-fi love. I watched all of the 2005-onward series (minus a few extra episodes) and two seasons of Torchwood and a season of The Sarah Jane Adventures by the end of November, just in time to wait for “The End of Time” with everyone else. In the meantime I watched Torchwood: Children of Earth—ouch.
I also had the thought that a Time Lord’s regeneration would make a great image for the Death card in a tarot deck.
Ding ding ding ding! Suddenly I started getting ideas for all sorts of other cards. Soon I had a spreadsheet drawn up to keep track. I found a Buffy the Vampire Slayer tarot deck online, but no mention of a Doctor Who deck. After several permutations (should I put Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures characters in there too?) I arrived at the version I have now—which isn’t an entirely accurate phrase because I’m really still developing it. The Major Arcana and Court cards are largely intuitive and mostly fell right into place, some even with several options to choose the best from, but the pips in the Minor Arcana are always the hardest for me to read in a deck and they are proving to be the hardest to design. So I actually have a second spreadsheet with ideas for an oracle deck that doesn’t follow the Rider-Waite tarot structure and is drawn entirely from my analysis and intuition of the themes and emotional impact of certain scenes and the outlooks of the main characters.
When I started, I thought this was just going to be a fun concept, or possibly a way to associate symbols in Doctor Who that I understood with Rider-Waite constructs that I didn’t. If I think “the Doctor sitting across a table from little Amelia Pond” whenever I see the Two of Cups, perhaps that will help me remember what the damn thing means. I know that the tarot’s Death is a card of changing phases and transformation of self, but all those skeletons doesn’t actually make me feel that when I see the card; the Doctor regenerating would.
I’ve already sketched two cards and I’m planning to do more sketches, and eventually get to digital versions. If I draw one a day (which, honestly, I won’t, but it’s fun to think), I’ll have a full deck of sketches in two-and-a-half months, which isn’t bad. Making them pretty in Photoshop will take quite a bit longer than that because I’ll need more than a day per card at my most optimistic. After that, who knows? I don’t know how I would go about having the deck printed properly. Surely I wouldn’t be able to sell them. And that’s assuming I end up even liking the art enough when I’m done to want to do something other than forget it.
I’ve been posting thoughts and sketches for the cards on Twitter with the tag #DoctorWhoTarot, and I’m going to start posting them here as well with longer explanations of why I chose the imagery and what references I used. I’m only using New Who for a lack of familiarity with Classic Who, and I will be getting new ideas as Series 5 progresses but I will spoiler-warn for those. I hope readers who are familiar with tarot and/or Doctor Who will comment along the way with ideas. 🙂
You can follow along as I post them, or browse the Doctor Who Tarot category, or look on the Doctor Who Tarot page where I will be collating the entries by their cards’ positions in the tarot deck (since I won’t be drawing them in order).