Archive for the ‘Fiona Cumming’ Category

Fiona Cumming (1980’s)

October 21, 2009

Fiona Cumming directed some classic Peter Davison stories, including his first, ‘Castrovalva’, and the highly-regarded ‘Snakedance’ and ‘Englightenment’. Here, she talks to DWM about the zero cabinet, working with Peter Sallis, and going to Lanzarote for ‘Planet of Fire’.

On ‘Castrovalva’

They’d already worked on at least three stories, so the rapport between them had constantly to be toned down – it was a case of reminding them the whole time. Peter’s main concern was that he wanted to get the element of all the other Doctors in it, and so he was busy looking at aspects of Bill, Patrick, Jon and Tom. This element was something that John Nathan-Turner had specifically wanted – the fact that the character had not stabilised and that there were these offshoots into the other characters.

Harrison’s Rocks looks very much higher than it is, and indeed it’s an area that’s used very extensively for training people in rock-climbing, because the rocks just come straight up out of the deck. Janet Fielding doesn’t like heights, and of course she was in these ridiculous high-heeled stewardess’s shoes and a tight skirt. She was never in any danger whatsoever, because you can do so much with camera angles. I’d worked all those out beforehand, and we also had a trainer with us to tell us ‘Don’t go down this area’ and ‘There’s a super angle here’. There were bits where we were only three feet off the ground, yet it looked as though you were in the Himalayas. The Production Manager and I had searched for ages to find somewhere and we tried all sorts of places. You see, the further you go from London, the more filming time you lose.

That zero cabinet was enormous. It had to be big enough to get Peter in, but it was so unwieldy, even without Peter in it, so that some of the uppings and downings were a real strain. Then there was the TARDIS. We wanted that to land on its side, and we placed it in a kind of grassy hollow. This gave us all the problem of not letting the grass get trampled down, because otherwise there’d have been a funny jump between the mix of shots for the de-materialisation. There was a point where there were the three companions, the Doctor and a props man all squeezed in there. The props man was there to keep the door in its proper position and he was holding the door closed while the thing was poised sort of two-thirds onto its back. They had to stay there long enough for us to be able to do the mix between shots and it was a hot, stinking day. Matthew Waterhouse wasn’t feeling too well, as he’d over-indulged in the bar the night before, so as you can imagine it was very uncomfortable all round!

The Escher set took up practically one whole studio session. We also had the Master’s chamber in that studio, as this was simply a re-painted zero room set. It worked quite well because we had a very clever designer, Janet Budden, and she managed to give us a certain amount of corridor and then by putting in an extra set of steps, you could make it look like another corridor.

On ‘Snakedance’

I didn’t initially realise how much of ‘Snakedance’ was influenced by the Buddhism which the author subscribes to. So I went about it in my fashion and when I met him, we were talking about the show and then we’d both been able to add something to it.

The concept of the snake was an enormously difficult one, and it helped that somebody else had fought their way through it. You could see what had worked and you could discard the things that you knew would be too difficult to do and try instead to get other things out of it.

I’d worked with Preston Lockwood before on a classic serial. I thought Preston would have fun with the part, and I said to him ‘This is the part, how would you feel about it, and by the way you’ve got to handle snakes’. And so he said ‘Yes, why don’t we meet up?’, and I agreed, adding ‘Why don’t I bring along the lady with the snakes?’. ‘What, you mean real snakes?’. And so I said ‘Yes, obviously you’re going to have to handle them, and if they turn you off as they do some people, then it just won’t work’. So we met these little garter snakes who were beautiful. They were completely harmless, of course, but I was taken aback at how strong they were. I’d thought of them like worms, but the muscle is very s trong. So Preston said yes, and has dined out on the story ever since.

On ‘Enlightenment’

I lost my original Striker and Mansell – Peter Sallis and David Rhule. There was always that depressing feeling that we might not get together again, and that you might have done all that filming for nothing. For me, that meant keeping my team clued up and going. It wasn’t too bad because of the sets, which made it fall into two studios, which is why we only lost those two.

Peter Sallis did one day’s rehearsal. He walked in and we described the set and he said ‘And where do I sit?’. We said ‘No, Peter, you stand over there’. He took one look and came back with ‘Oh, my agent didn’t tell me that. Oh, no – I don’t do standing parts’ and he sent us up rotton, because at that stage everyone had been thinking ‘Gosh, it’s Peter Sallis!’. As for Keith Barron, his replacement, I something think that when you’ve had something very firmly in your mind, it’s better to go totally, totally away from it, in case you try to impose that person onto another actor. Having realised Peter was committed elsewhere and couldn’t do it, it was a case of wipe the slate clean.

Of all the scripts, it was the one that appealed most initially. I think the idea of a space race is wonderful, and I’d seen quite a bit of the Black Guardian and I liked that feeling of black / white and good and evil, coupled with the fact that those two actors together were outrageous! If you actually go into it, though, the hole in the Eternals is that they’d all know who won as they knew everything.

On ‘Planet of Fire’

I sent John Nathan-Turner a postcard from a holiday in Lanzarote as a gag, saying something like ‘Weather wonderful, planet smashing, troglodytes willing – how about it?’. The following year we went back. The more I walked around it, the more I thought how terrific it could be, so I took a roll of film specifically with none of the family in it. When I came back I had them developed and put them on John’s desk. He loved it and said if it was ever possible, he’d definitely think about it. In the months that followed, he started saying things like ‘If there were ways’, and finally ‘When we do it’, but he never actually said I could direct it. He’d taken it as read!

We had a lot of co-operation, mainly with an organisation called Lanzarote Villas, who heard we were going, came to us and said they could smooth our paths quite considerably. Judy, the daughter of the firm’s owner, acted as interpreter and that made a terrific difference for us. She knew all the locals and when you wanted to go to the diving schools, she just picked up the phone and rang Manilo, whereas if we’d been dealing with a fixer from mainland Spain they wouldn’t have known.

I wanted someone very extravagant as Timanov, and Peter Wyngarde came up with some wonderful comments on the character, which made me wonder if I’d made a mistake. He felt that he should be as old as the hills, and his delivery was getting slower and slower and slower. So one day I said, ‘Peter, you know we spoke about him being 150? Well, I think he was 193 today’, and he said ‘What you mean is faster!’.

On ‘The Ultimate Evil’

I was booked to direct ‘The Ultimate Evil’, but I didn’t see the script. I knew that it was to feature Nicola Bryant quite strongly, which is why I think I’d been chosen. The writer was Wally K. Daly. It happened so early, I hadn’t set foot in the building. I was standing in our London flat doing a spot of cleaning when John rang me up. I was desperately upset, as I was looking forward to working with Colin.

Advertisements