Ray Cusick was the BBC designer responsible for the Daleks, although he only got the job because a colleague, Ridley Scott, was busy. Here, he talks about the reasons for some of the design changes that took place over the years, and recalls working with Douglas Camfield, who keeps cropping up in interviews, in which he’s invariably described (fondly!) in military terms.
“The designer who was actually scheduled to work on it was a person called Ridley Scott, who then worked for the BBC, in fact he worked on the next drawing board to me. But he wasn’t free to do the filming, and for continuity reasons they needed the same designed for the filming and the studio, so he was dropped and I happened to be chosen because I was free, I was spare so to say.
“With the Daleks, designers who design the sets don’t normally design the visual effects, there are designers who do that, but on the early ‘Doctor Who’s, the designers had to do both, that’s Barry Newbery, the other designer, and myself. We had to design all our props, special effects and so on. So really we were doing double the work. So what I used to do was work furiously in the office designing the sets, and in the evenings and weekends I used to design all the special effects, and the actual Dalek was conceived on a Saturday night and finally designed on a Sunday afternoon.
“I hadn’t designed anything like it before, so it was a question of feasibility and money. I was given a budget, but I had no idea how far this budget would go, so I did some sketches and showed them to the model-makers, Shawcraft Models, and they said ‘Well it is possible, if you had about ten times as much money’. So from that point on, the designs became modified.
“The creature inside was a mutation, there had been this war, a nuclear war, between the Thals and the Dals, and whereas the Thals had survived, the Dals had mutated into something horrible, and we, Verity Lambert and the director Chris Barry, we sat down and said ‘Logically, over the years, they’ve developed artificial limbs’, so they were just this brainy blob that lived inside the machine. Editorially, it was decided that it would never be shown, although I was asked by a magazine, ‘Tidbits’, if I’d draw it, and I did.
“The problem with the Dalek outside the studio… the Dalek inside the studio ran on rubber-type casters, which was great on flat surfaces. But on location, with bumpy pavements etc., they rattled like an old biscuit tin, and so Shawcraft Models went back to an idea of mine of using pneumatic tyres, small pneumatic tyres. Not a tricycle, which was my original idea, which meant deepening the skirt on the bottom to accomodate the wheels.
“I remember the director Douglas Camfield directed the whole thing like a military operation. For instance, one afternoon in the studio he said ‘It’s twenty-two and a half minutes past three, so we should be on shot fifty-two’ and he used to call me ‘Major’, he said that would be my rank if this was a military operation, and he was General Camfield. I remember filming at Ealing with all the model spaceships, that was quite a large model, that must have been about thirty foot square.
“Everyone was rushing around corridors saying ‘Oh, there’ll be Dalek films, Dalek soap, Dalek tea towels’, they thought there’d be lots of money. I was very friendly with Terry Nation and we appeared on a very famous show called ‘Late Night Line-Up’, and I remember asking him after the show ‘What about the films, Terry?’. And I never saw him again!”