Hugh David directed two Patrick Troughton stories, ‘The Highlanders’ and ‘Fury From the Deep’, and was also approached for ‘The Underwater Menace’, which he eventually deemed impossible to film on the available budget. Here, he talks about simulating the Battle of Culloden, discussing water tanks with the James Bond special effects team, and filming in Margate.
“The Highlanders was the very last story set purely in the past. Innes Lloyd and his team decided that the history stories were not popular enough. And I think it was a shame, because there’s a limit to what you can do with science fiction, how many times you can have a man in a suit covered in tentacles running around. The contrast between the sci-fi and the past was important.
“The story introduced Jamie. The character was worked out well in advance, but I actually cast Frazer Hines in the role. The end of episode one had Michael Craze being keel-hauled by the vicious slave traders. He was covered in a sack, tied to a plank and lowered gradually over the side of the ship – into the tank at Ealing Studios. It was a very dangerous stunt and we had a special, quite expensive team in to handle the wiring system. I asked them if anything could go wrong, and they said they never made mistakes and that was why they were so expensive. Michael Craze did survive the ordeal.
“I had to simulate the aftermath of the battle of Culloden, and I could have spent hundreds of pounds on extras and props and period costume. However, the story began with three Highlandesr fleeing the massacre, and I had them come running over the top of a ridge behind which we’d set up a lot of explosives and the like. Adding a few sounds effects completed the illusion and cost nothing.
“Another script landed on my desk, a story called ‘Atlanta’ (The Underwater Menace), which eventually I didn’t do. It was passed onto Julia Smith, who now produces ‘EastEnders’. The concept seemed to me to be too weighted against us. I loved challenges, but this was too difficult. It just didn’t work. I have no rules – I just say ‘Does it work?’. That story called for things that were impossible to achieve on our budged. We had so little money then. It concerned a sort of Hitler, who’d gone down in a U-boat and arrived in an underwater city, Atlantis, and started up a kind of Nazi enclave. Quite a good story, as long as we could do the underwater photography.
“I contacted a guy at Pinewood, who’d just done the James Bond film ‘Thunderball’, which featured a lot of underwater sequences, and I thought there might be equipment left over which they didn’t require. I asked if he could give me any advice, and told him the outline of the plot. He asked me how much money I had, and I said £3,500 above the line for the whole show. He signed and said ‘£3,500? Mmm, well, on our underwater sequence alone we spent £3m, and that wasn’t enough. Any more questions?’. And I put the phone down and told Innes I couldn’t do it. You couldn’t take a tiny tank at Ealing and pretend you were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean indefinitely.
“Patrick Troughton told me ‘Fury From the Deep’ was one of the best he’d done. That was quite a big story – equally bizarre. It required about ten days filming altogether, down near the Thames estuary. We had terrible weather! The sea was frozen over at the water’s edge. The basic story was extraordinary. It was about a gas platform out in the North Sea, but not far offshore. The gas was being pumped through pipes to an installation on land, and some evil force had taken it over. Like ivy choking a tree, this seaweed was working its way from the platform, up the pipeline, to the shore where it was infecting the humans. There were two immediate problems. Would the British Gas Authority let us have a natural gas platform? And if so, would they allow us to cover it with seaweed? Well, I didn’t have to phone up – I knew what the answer would be. Not on your life. Had they said yes, I don’t know where we’d have got that amount of seaweed from.
“In the end, I thought of some of the old Thames forts, once used by pirate radio stations. Their resemblance to natural gas platforms was about one per cent – the fact that they were stuck out at sea! In the end, we went to Radio 390, about forty miles from the Thames Estuary, which had been completely abandoned. The only remaining problem was how we were going to cover it in seaweed, so I went to Jack Kline, in charge of the Special Effect Department, to see if he’d got anything which he could produce in bulk, inexpensively. Funnily enough, he’d just discovered a device which could pump out fire-fighting foam in massive quantities. It was very impressive, but I thought what’s it got to do with seaweed? Then I had a brain-wave. I remembered cuckoo spit, produced by little aphids on plants, and I had the idea that all the seaweed figures would surround themselves with this lather they produced. I was very pleased with the results.”
“The studio set was rather like a James Bond set – only done on fourpence! It was raised up on to different levels, and we had lots of perspex cylinders coming in filled with gas, which were being attended to be white-coated scientists. The seaweed figures were going to appear behind the perspex and smash their way through, letting in all the foam. And I intended filling the massive set with foam. Well, I had no idea of the speed of this foam. Apparently, there were about fifty gallons of water a minute going into it. So I gave the word, and it all started up. For about thirty seconds nothing happened, so I called ‘Keep acting, it’s gonna happen in a moment! Suddenly, the place convulsed. Foam gushed in at an incredible speed. A lot of actors were on a high platform, and when they got down, they couldn’t see where they were gonig. They really did panic. What ensued was fantastic from my point of view, because it was real-life panic. There was about six inches of water in the studio after that.
“I wanted to get the feeling that the TARDIS was going up like a rocket, leaving Victoria behind on the beach. It was rather a plaintive shot, because as we had such terrible weather, nobody was walking along the front at Margate, and the shoreline was in a very strange configuration, and the sea was right out. We got up in the helicopter, just above her head, and looked down on her. We added a 20 to 1 lens, which allows a picture to grow twenty times bigger. So as she stood there waving, we soared up in the helicopter and zoomed out the lens, and she became a tiny dot on the beach below. We stuck that on the screen in the TARDIS in the studio – the last shot of Victoria.”