Archive for the ‘Cybermen’ Category

Gerry Davis (1980’s)

October 13, 2009

Gerry Davis co-created the Cybermen (with Kit Pedler), but he also worked as script editor on the show during the period when William Hartnell left and Patrick Troughton joined. Here, he talks about the problems involved with ‘The Celestial Toymaker’, about the genesis of the Cybermen, and about returning to the show in the 1970’s.

“We had three or four stories, but the viewing figures had been going down because of the inclusion of fanciful historical stories. I trailed through ‘The Massacre’ and ‘The Ark’ and then I wrestled with ‘The Gunfighters’. That had a delightfully clever and sophisticated writer called Donald Cotton, but he was too much for ‘Doctor Who’. In one or two scenes, Hartnell showed what a great comedian he was – he could really handle comedy.

“The Celestial Toymaker was written by Brian Hayles, who I’d just been working closely with. We suddenly had a crisis on this one. Gerald Savoy had written this famous play called ‘George and Margaret’ and Donald Tosh thought it would be terribly funny to do a ‘Doctor Who’ version of this. This was a bit precious for a young audience, I felt, but Hayles had been asked to write this thing about two characters who actually never appear in the play – they are expected throughout but they only arrive, off stage, at the very end.

“We had booked the players, Carmen Silvera and on other whose name I’ve forgotten, and then suddenly Gerald, who was our head of department, read the script and threw his bombshell. He didn’t like the script and wasn’t having the names of his characters used for this. And it was actually pretty tedious, but the framework was good. The content was a sort of pseudo-smart Noel Coward comedy which was wrong for the audience. I literally had to sit down in the garden of the bungalow I’d just bought in Cookham and dash out an act a day. What happened was the Toymaker characters suggested toys, which suggested nursery and I played around with somethiing sinister on these lines. Had I more time, I could have done a better job.

“I got on with Bill Hartnell because I discovered it was no good confronting him, because as soon as you did he’d get angry. There was a lot of anger in him. What I would do was, having the necessary knowledge, talk about something to do with his past. For example, there was the occasion of the chair. He came onto the set, took one look at this chair, and said ‘This is ridiculous – I can’t sit in this chair, it’s wrong. Take it away and I won’t do anything until it’s taken away’. They used to send for me and I’d come down and say ‘What’s the matter?’, and he’d say ‘Look at this, it’s an insult and completely wrong for the scene’. So I’d reply ‘Doesn’t it look familiar to you? When Barrymore played his 1925 Hamlet he used a chair identical to that!’. And Hartnell would pause, think and then say ‘Oh yes, I saw him’. So we talked about Barrymore for five minutes and then I said ‘Well, sorry to disturb you, you’d better get on with the scene, but first we must get rid of that chair’, and he said ‘Oh no, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that!’.

“I liked Peter Purves (as Steven), but Innes Lloyd decided he wanted a change. Peter was good but he was a bit unvarying in his portrayal. He was robust but stiff, and I think we wanted somebody a bit more flexible, so we got Ben, the cockney sailor. Dodo was dropped because the camera picked up that this was an older woman and we thought the audience would identity better with this leggy swinging Sixtiees girl. Ben and Polly were contrasts – light and shade, and Innes had a big input into those characters, while I was to create Jamie entirely on my own.

“I wanted a scientific adviser for the show, and I wanted to generate new science fiction-based story ideas, as we had decided to phase out the historical stories. I’d been having meetings with Patrick Moore, Alec Comfort, Professor Laithwaite and the like, with one or two stock questions to see if I could provoke their imaginations. I said to Kit Pedler ‘Supposing something tried to dominate from the new Post Office tower’, and he immediately said ‘Oh, it would have to have a control network, possibly using the telephones, and that’s how ‘The War Machines’ started. Ian Stuart Black was booked to write a script, so we gave him the storyline and between us, Kit and I came up with lots of stories. Every time we met, we’d talk for hours and ideas would start bubbling out. The Cybermen came because we’d lost the Daleks and wanted a new monster.

“We thought of a South Pole setting (for The Tenth Planet) because of the atmosphere it gave, with the tracking station and something – what? – affecting it. Also, the South Pole is so inhospitable that nobody would expect anything to come out of those howling blizzards And the image of those great big silver monsters stalking was wonderful – we even devised the walk for them! The regeneration was inspired directly from ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, a simple inspiration to get the change-over between actors.

“It was a head of series decision to continue (when Hartnell left). There was definitely a threat and a lot of hard thinking as to whether we should continue, but in fact, Troughton came in. I was reminding Shaun Sutton about this the other day. We had these big meetings and we sat around trying out ideas. Patrick Troughton was getting more and more confused. Suddenly, after sitting there for two hours and listening to a lot of talk going backwards and forwards, I lost patience and slammed the table and said ‘Just a minute’, and everybody stopped and looked at the most junior member. I said ‘Look, he’s got to play it. I’ve got to write it and get the writers to follow on. It seems it would be far better to leave it to us. Sydney Newman said ‘Okay, you two intellectuals get to it’.

“Pat and I worked it out. I’d noticed his principle characteristic was a very fey quality, you could never pin him down. The other ingredient came from a very favourite movie character of mine – Destry from the film ‘Destry Rides Again’. I recalled that he’d be around and get other people to do what he wanted by sheer word play and telling them little parables. I thought that for a complete change from the autocratic Doctor who told everybody what to do, wouldn’t it be fun to have someone who never told them to do anything! So in the first story, the companions have to do all the figuring out.

“For The Highlanders, I got hold of Elwyn Jones, who had just retired as head of series and was a big-shot in the business. He created ‘Z Cars’ and we thought it would give it a nice twist to use him, so I booked him and he jotted down a few things, but didn’t actually do anything. One day I was called into Shaun Sutton’s office and Elwyn was sitting there. Shaun asked me to take over from Elwyn, telling me that he had great confidence in me! So, for sheer credit, I ended up writing the whole thing. At the end, Elwyn wrote me a little note, saying ‘Dear Gerry, how very clever you are!’. As I had no story from him, I sued what was at the back of my mind – ‘Kidnapped’. I loved that swashbuckling period.

“Tomb of the Cybermen was all very Freudian, with the symbolism of going down into the catacombs. It was an old-fashioned horror story with the breaking of the foetal membranes an added touch. That also gave us more scope with the Cybermats, who were based on silverfish. Although we devised them thinking mainly of the merchandise, they were also pretty horrific, with red eyes and the ability to leap up at you.

“I was offered the producership of the programme by Innes, but I’m primarily a writer and I didn’t want to get swallowed up into his kind of job. Peter Bryant was my assistant and I thought he was producer material rather than script material, so I pushed him in, in place of myself.

“With Revenge of the Cybermen, Mac Hulke called me and said he’d been asked to write this Cyberman thing, but he didn’t think there was enough material, so we talked and realised I was the one to do it. I did and was able to bring in some of my own background stuff. They asked me for more than I could supply, but I’ve fitted them in where I can. As for ‘Revenge’, which was the wrong title if ever there was one – mine was ‘Something in Space’ – basically what happened was that they wanted a cheapie, so I wrote the whole thing as a sort of Las Vegas in space. It was a little like ‘The Moonbase’ with the Cybermats. It was a kind of Marie Celeste space casino, at first, with these deserted roulette tables. The Cybermen were destroyed with the gold used there, gold being the only pure metal. Then they got more money and decided to write in a sub-plot, which I thought diffused the interest a bit. Though I liked the Tom Baker Doctor, he was a bit over the top in places and tended to dominate the opposition, whereas I always thought that the menace should be greater than the Doctor.”

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Roy Skelton (1992)

September 4, 2009

Roy Skelton provided a number of voices for the original ‘Doctor Who’ series. Along with Peter Hawkins, he was responsible for the voices of the early Cybermen. Here, he talks about working on William Hartnell’s last story (‘The Tenth Planet’), finding the right voices for the Cybermen, and working on ‘The Wheel in Space’, which was when electronic modulation was first used for the Cybermen voices.

“I first became involved as a Cyberman in ‘The Tenth Planet’. Derek Martinus, the director, I’d worked with him many times before, he rang me up and said ‘I have a new ‘Doctor Who’ I’m doing and we’ve got this creature, the Cybermen, and we’re not sure what we’re doing with it but we want a voice for it’, so I met him, he showed me the designs and we nattered between us and eventually decided that it might be a good idea to do a kind of computer voice, so it was half human, half machine. It was kind of computerised and cut. It was difficult for the actors in rehearsal because you’d be going through a sentence and they’d think you’d finished. (laughs)

“I remember very well being in the last episode of ‘Doctor Who’ that William Hartnell did and it was very sad, I remember being very sad, we all gathered round. It seemed like the end of an era, of course it wasn’t the end of ‘Doctor Who’ because in came Pat Troughton, and I was very lucky because I was in the next episode that came along with Pat Troughton in, and I remember the changeover very well, it was a mixture of joy and sadness.

“Originally the Cyber voices were done just vocally, with no mechanics at all, but by the time of ‘The Wheel in Space’ they decided it would improve the voice if there was a frequency modulator or something like that. A special palette was built, Peter Hawkins had this special palette that buzzed when he spoke. I came along for ‘The Wheel in Space’ and they didn’t have time to make me a palette, so I had to buzz without the palette. Peter and I have done an awful lot of work together, when we were doing the Cybermen there was this differentiation of voices, very often I’d hit a high tone Cyberman and he’d hit low tone Cyberman, or the other way round”.

> Roy Skelton obituary (2011)

Morris Barry (1992)

September 4, 2009

Here’s Morris Barry talking about his experiences directing ‘The Moonbase’ and ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’.

“Well the chief problem was that I’d never done a ‘Doctor Who’ before. Of course I’d seen them, I’d watched them with my young children and they kept on saying ‘Well you’re in the BBC, you ought to be able to tell us, how do they do this, dad?’, and I didn’t know, because all the things I’d been directing for eight or nine years, they were all cosy little plays or serials, a bit of soap, that sort of thing. So it was a challenge for me, anyway. Amazingly, when I found all the back-up that I had, with design and special effects, all that, if you didn’t know how to do something, they came along and said ‘How about trying this?’, so that was very nice. But it did tax one, I found. I had to pull out all the stops.

“The Cyber costumes were redesigned, but I can’t honestly remember why, exactly. I of course think that my Cyber costumes were better than anyone else’s Cyber costumes, they had bits and pieces on, piping down the sides of their arms etc., but I don’t know why they kept on changing them. There was one thing that was a purely personal thing, I’m not very good with heights but I did want to get a long shot of the TARDIS, and we had three sizes of TARDIS, the full size one, a middle one and one about 2ft high, and so of course if you use the 2ft high one on a set, a sort of blank set, and you got up to the lighting gantry at Ealing and you shot down from there, that was fine, that was excellent. But of course you can’t really ask a cameraman to go up there and shoot without you going up as well, and I was petrified, absolutely petrified going up that ladder and finding all the stage crew, the lighting hands and so on, sitting there smoking themselves silly, eating their sandwiches etc., and I was terrified.

“When I did ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’, I felt that it was a bit better than the last one I did, and that I was a bit better, mind you I’d have the experience of doing the previous one, and ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ was remarkable, I think. One of the scenes was when all the Cybermen came to life, or rather came out of their sleep and came out of their, well they looked like egg boxes, which was their, well their tombs of course. When I walked into the studio and saw what the designers had done for me, I was amazed, because this great big egg box thing went up. Part of it, the bottom part I think, was used at Ealing film studios first of all, and here again Visual Effects managed to film backwards, in other words reverse the camera. I think I’m right in saying they put fake snow on this cellophane thing that covered the Cybermen, and then gradually took it away. I may have got it the wrong way round, but you know what I mean, and it looks marvellous when it was shown, and this was cut into the studio stuff that I was shooting later on where you saw all these rows and rows of Cybermen coming to life very slowly, and eventually the Cybermen down below putting their hands through the cellophane and climbing out very slowly. It was I think, from my memory, quite remarkable. I remember that in the middle of it, we had a tea break, the PA said ‘Right, tea break everyone’ and we all walked off the set, and the extra Cybermen up on the top shelf of the egg box couldn’t get down, because they had to have a ladder to get down, and unfortunately they had to go without their tea. But all along, I felt that there was something about it that would be appreciated”.