Posts Tagged ‘Daleks’

David Whitaker (1970’s)

November 20, 2009

As promised, here’s more from David Whitaker, talking about the creation of Vicki’s character, his Troughton-era Dalek scripts and his work on the first Doctor Who novelisations.

“The new girl Tanni (later Vicki) was intended to be something of a waif and stray, someone basically for the Doctor to adopt in place of Susan and to carry on her role in the series. I don’t think it was a particularly inspired piece of writing, but it was a necessary one.

“The Crusades is the story I am technically proudest of. It achieved almost to a word what I set out to depict and was people with some particularly interestingly real characters. I became fascinated with the relationship between Richard and his sister, which was almost incestuous in its intensity. I relished the dialogue that the story allowed me to write, and the period itself was so interesting that it became almost a labour of love to produce a script worthy of the colour and depth of drama that had inspired it, within the limits of the budget – and what was permissible for that time slot and indeed for that time, when television was not the liberated lady it has since become. The final satisfaction came with the truly inspired acting and direction – Douglas Camfield worked my words into some beautiful and taut images.

“I was approached to write the ‘Doctor Who’ novels and, once I agreed, found that I had taken on an incredible amount of work, because the whole of Terry Nation’s story for ‘The Daleks’ had to be re-structured and largely re-written by me to make the thing stand up on its own as a novel, separate from the continuing threads of the mainstream television series. I was quite pleased with the result and though it was hard work, I enjoyed it. The second book, ‘The Crusades’, was much more straightforward and less complicated, though, as I liked that one so much anyway. I found it enjoyable from the start.

“With ‘The Power of the Daleks’, it was around the time that William Hartnell was leaving and so, aware that the idea was to replace him with another actor, I wrote the Doctor’s part as sketchily as possible, so that it could be easily altered. I then concerned myself with the rest of the story and delivered my script just before I was due to leave the country. It was a very different kettle of fish when it appeared, and I wasn’t desperately happy about the whole thing.

“The Evil of the Daleks had a lot to it, and it included a theme I’m very fond of – the lure of alchemy. It was as good opportunity to write an atmosphere story, and I had some pleasing characters to work with. It still suffered from re-writes, however, and although it was intended to be the final Dalek story, as Terry wanted to launch them in America, I didn’t really think they’d be gone for good.”

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Terry Nation (1987)

September 30, 2009

Here’s Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, talking about his time on the show in a DWM interview. He discusses his hopes for the Mechanoids, his dislike of the Troughton Dalek stories, and his thoughts on Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor.

“I went to London, where I auditioned as a stand-up comic, and I failed time and time again. Somebody told me ‘the jokes are  very good, it’s you who’s not funny’, and that was hurtful, but then I figured I had to make a living. I was hustling around, and somebody gave me an introduction to Spike Milligan. Milligan wrote me a cheque for five pounds, which was a lot of money then, and he said ‘Why don’t you write a ‘Goon Show’, and if we like it, we’ll represent you. Anyway, I wrote a ‘Goon Show’ that night, delivered it the next morning, and he liked it.

“After two or three weeks of doing that, I was doing a BBC radio show called ‘All My Eye’, and it was fine to have said that you were a comedy writer, but the truth of it is that you’re suddenly faced with the possibility of doing thirty minutes of radio comedy for thirteen weeks, and it was truly an ordeal by figre. I went on to other comedy shows, worked with other writers, and ultimately having worked through a lot of comedy, decided that I wanted to do drama.

“ABC were doing a series called ‘Out of This World’, and I was asked to adapt a story by Philip K. Dick called ‘Imposter’. This was maybe the first science fiction being done in Britain. That was successful, and I did some more episodes. I now had a leg in each camp; I was a drama writer, and I was also a comedy playwright, so I was three-legged in one way, and nobody quite how how to slot me.

“I started to write for Tony Hancock, the most beloved comic in Britain. He had a Thursday night show that was giant, tremendous. We were working in a theatre in Nottingham, and my agent called from London and said ‘The BBC wants you to do a think called ‘Doctor Who’, it’s for the children’s television slot, science fiction’, and I said ‘How dare they? I don’t do things like that!’, but then I’d been asked because of this ‘Out of this World’ story. Well, this particular night, Tony Hancock and I had a big dispute. I wanted him to try some new material, and I’m not sure if I was fired or if I walked out, but the result was that I was on a train back to London, thinking ‘Hey, wait a minute! I’m out of work!’.

“I went and talked to David Whitaker, the script editor of ‘Doctor Who’, and I came up with a story idea. They liked it, they bought it, and that takes us up to where the Daleks started. I don’t know to this day what the enormous appeal of the Daleks was. I’ve heard all sorts of ideas about it, but they were slightly magical, because you didn’t know what the elements were that made them work. I’d been a cinema-goer all my life, and loved going to what were rated in those days as horror movies. Whatever the creature was, somewhere in your heart of hearts, you know it was a man dressed up, so my first requirement was to take the legs off. Take away the humanoid form, and we were off and running.

“Further inspiration came from the Georgian State Ballet, the Russian dance trouple which was performing in London at the time. There was a dance that the women did, where they wore floor-brushing skirts, and evidently took tiny steps, so they appeared to  glide across the stage. There was no suggestion of what form of locomotion they were using. That’s what I wanted for the Daleks. The rest of it comes easily, you put on an eye, and something else for hands. We made a big mistake with the hands, of course, we should have been smarter, but I had no faith in the show. It was the old writer’s axiom, ‘Take the money and fly like a thief’. I really didn’t think that it could work.

“After the Daleks, I was for a short time the most famous writer on television. The press interviewed me, there was mail arriving in great van loads. There was stuff coming to my house that said ‘Dalek Man – London’, and I was getting lots of them. Almost all the kids wanted a Dalek, and nobody was quick enough. The BBC, not being the great commercial operator, wasn’t ready, so there was no merchandising, there were no plastic Daleks, there were no buttons, there were no anything. My God, was that to change! Within the year, there were Dalek everythings.

“Raymond Cusick made a tremendous contribution, and I would love to be glib enough to put it into percentage terms, but you can’t do that. You start with something that’s a writer’s dream, that he’s put down in words, and amended, and added to in conversations. Something starts there. Cusick didn’t get anything, to my understanding. I think they may have given him a hundred pound bonus, but he was a salaried employee, and I think he knew the nature of his work, and it was what he did every week. The copyrights resided with the BBC and myself, and there were lovely legal words to cover these things, so that before they could merchandise anything, they had to have my agreement. I was very lucky. The salt cellar part is the legend: that gave Raymond Cusick the idea for the shape. He was restricted by budget, obviously – it wasn’t a big budget show we were doing. But yes, he made a tremendous contribution. Whatever the Daleks are or were, his contribution was vast.

“For ‘The Keys of Marinus’, I was already aware of what one could do with models, which were fairly new to the BBC. We could do models, and they did make them, and if I had an idea and thought the story was more important, then they could find a way to produce it. They were skillful, talented people.

“You’ll recall that we killed the Daleks, so we had to use the logic that this was trillions of years into the future, and we could now go back in history and find out whatever they did. We had seen them in that city, and they could only travel in that city, so the next generation of Daleks had to have something attached to them. I thought if the menace could be brought to modern-day Earth, it would really make the Daleks supreme in the minds of the public; actually bringing them in so we could see them crossing London Bridge, we could see them coming out of the Thames, that was the idea.

“You don’t kill off Carole Ann Ford! Didn’t she marry, or meet someone? That was ‘happily ever after’ and off we go again.

“The Chase was really the demand of the public. They kept saying ‘Can we do another Dalek story?’. We’d done them in their city, we’d done them on Earth, so let’s have a kind of chase through space. It’s a fun thing to do anyway, and we could go through times and locations, and that’s what we set about doing.

“They were so hot at that time, you couldn’t avoid The Beatles. I remember with great pride that the commercial channel was running the Beatles when they were really at their peak, at the same time as a ‘Doctor Who’ episode with the Daleks, and ‘Doctor Who’ got the ratings. I was pretty pleased with that.

“With the Mechanoids, you had your eye on the chance that anything could possibly catch on. The Mechanoids were manufactured as toys, but of course they didn’t take off. I remember the final battle of the Daleks against the Mechanoids. I set a city way up above the trees in the jungle, and the director did a stunning models battle. I haven’t seen it for years, but it’s a knockout battle.

“With ‘Dr. Who and the Daleks’, I was giving it away at this point. I’d done that story, my name was going to be over it anyway, it was all going to be based on my work, and David Whitaker was eager to do it so that’s what we did. I would have gone back very much closer to the thing we did on television. I’ve seen those first seven episodes, and they are really good. They are very well-constructed. I thought Peter cushing played the Doctor very well. I would have liked to have seen a little more snap, but he was very loveable, and that’s the way he wanted to play it. Bill Hartnell was, for me, the epitome of what ‘Doctor Who’ should be: a snappy, bad-tempered, absent-minded professor, whose interest in science and needing to know would lead them into terrible problems. Bill was absolutely perfect at that.

“‘Mission to the Unknown’ was clearly one that they brought me in for because I knew the show so well, and could turn one out quickly to cover all the problems. People were probably having holidays and stuff like that, and I think I used the episode as the central theme for the next big one I was going to do. I wanted to give a little trailer for that.

“Somebody up top at the BBC thought that if we had three months of it, we could really make an impact. It was a terrible mistake to think that you could do three months of the same thing, but we did. I don’t know how the figures went, but I imagine by the end, people were getting very bored with the Daleks. Dennis Spooner and I didn’t write them together, because I was working on ‘The Baron’ at that time. We may have met on a few occasions, and given a broad direction as to where the show was going. Dennis was script editor at that time, and we talked about it, and I went away and did my six, and he did his six. We certainly didn’t write them together.

“I think it was a tradition of the BBC that you did a special for Christmas, and we figured we were going to be playing at that time, so we would do one as well. At that time, the most staid of our English news readers would turn up in comic variety shows, and they would do something out of character or funny. On Christmas day, anything seemed to go, and I guess that’s what we wanted: something very bizarre and strange.

“I didn’t like ‘Power of the Daleks’, and I responded very badly to them. The Daleks were something that I understood better than anybody else. It appeared that they were simple robots, and all you’d have them do was say ‘Exterminate’ and you’d have it made. They were very much more complex in the way they should be presented. I didn’t like David’s episodes, where he had them being very sweet, and very polite; that seemed totally alien to me. This is not to say that they were not good episodes; this is just my personal opinion.

“I had known Jon Pertwee for a long time, and I knew what he was trying to do with the part. We were in the height of the 007 period, and everybody was trying Bond movies; I think that’s how Jon saw the role, a little more dashing, a little more daring, and a little more physical. He didn’t like the Daleks, but I always believed that he didn’t like them in the same sense that actors do’t like playing with children or dogs: because they are scene-stealers.

“The Daleks, when they have to make any kind of speech, are immensely boring characters. You can’t have a Dalek doing four or five sentences in a row, so I wanted someone to speak for the Daleks. This thing that was half-man and half-Dalek was a perfect example of this, and I made sure that he was not killed in that one, because we had killed off the Daleks once. He became a very good plot piece, and anyway, any crazy old mad professor is wonderful to have around.

“The Android Invasion was a nice idea. It was an intriguing mystery, and I quite liked the idea of setting up a bizarre situation… I don’t know if you remember the till in the pub, filled with coins of the same year; stuff like that. I don’t think the story fulfilled my vision, but overall, I think it was an interesting story.

“It was a fairly boring thing to have this regeneration of Romana in ‘Destiny of the Daleks’, and I thought it would be funny if we could say ‘No, I don’t like that body; I’d like a different nose’, so it was done for a moment of comedy and light relief. Nobody at that point believed that years later, the show would be examined with such microscopic intent. While it may be an issue for some of the fans, I can tell you that it was just saying ‘That’s a funny bit – let’s do it’.

“They always ask me if I’d like to do the next Dalek story, and when I say no then they say, may we have permission to do it? I felt in Sylvester McCoy’s early episodes, he was desperately seeking a character, but by the end of it, he was tremendously capable, and looked very promising. That age thing doesn’t seem to matter with him, because he’s an interesting face anyway. I really hope it works for him, and if this honest comic figure can snap everyone to attentino once in a while, then we know that there’s a core of iron inside him, and that would be good.”

Ray Cusick (1992)

September 4, 2009

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!”

Terry Nation (1992)

September 4, 2009

Terry Nation, creator not just of the Daleks but also ‘Blake’s 7’ and ‘Survivors’, talks about the inspiration behind one of the most famous sci-fi monsters of all time:

“I’d grown up watching movies and was always vaguely disappointed because I knew the monsters were people, they were dressed-up people. So my first requirement was to make my monster non-humanoid. I didn’t want it to look like somebody dressed up in a funny costume, so I had to eliminate the legs. And I’d been to a concert of the Georgian State Dancers, and these ladies had these long skirts that went right down to the floor and they appeared to glide, you couldn’t see their feet at all.

“And I thought that was the sort of movement I wanted to achieve. And then the voice, it had to be a non-humanoid voice, coming out of a computer. I made a few mistakes. It would have been easier had I given them more manipulable hands. When they wanted to pass things to one another, it caused terrible problems. So basically with those requirements, that’s how the Daleks evolved.

“You land their ship, the TARDIS, on a planet, and from that moment on everything on that planet is your creation. If the rocks talk, fine, that’s my planet. If the creatures have twelve eyes, that’s what happens on my planet. So you have this wonderful freedom to do almost anything you want.

Verity Lambert & Dennis Spooner (1964)

August 9, 2009

This is a fairly light 1964 piece promoting the return of the Daleks in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’, episode one of which had just been broadcast. Nevertheless, there are relatively few interviews with Verity Lambert and Dennis Spooner, so even a small piece holds some interest. Scans coming soon(ish).

From the Daily Mail:

Shorty after 5.40 this evening a week of almost unbearable tension will come to an end.

At that time, the BBC adventure serial ‘Doctor Who’ comes on the air. And as some ten million viewers can tell you, the dreaded Daleks are back and about to reveal their future plans.

At the end of last week’s episode, a single specimen of this radioactive race of what appear to be malevolent pepper-pots rose from the Thames and waved its antenna at the terror-stricken audience. Then the credit titles rolled.

At once a howl of anguish went up all over Britain and the BBC switchboard was jammed with 400 calls. Angry viewers protested that the Dalek’s appearance was far too brief: that children who had waited months for another sign of the monsters were weeping and refusing to go to bed.

And not only children, for ‘Doctor Who’s massive audience includes millions of adults.

The operation of the Daleks – they were killed off earlier this year but brought back by public demand – is conducted by a remarkably attractive young woman called Verity Lambert who, at 28, is not only the youngest but the only female drama producer in BBC TV.

She arrived at the Corporation via Roedean, the Sorbonne University and a spell in New York as personal assistant to David Susskind, the producer and commentator who is one of the top figures in American TV.

‘Doctor Who’ was her first producing assignment a year ago, and with this background she has insisted on a high standard of professionalism for the serial.

“I have strong views on the level of intelligence we should be aiming at,” she told me briskly. “‘Doctor Who’ goes out at a time when there is a large child audience but it is intended more as a story for the whole family.

“And anyway children today are very sophisticated and I don’t allow scripts which seem to talk down to them.”

Nine well-established script-writers have contributed to ‘Doctor Who’ in the past twelve months and they are closely briefed on the requirements of the Doctor and his invaluable machine.

Story editor Dennis Spooner, who has written many episodes himself, told me “writers have to be divided into those who can cope with trips back into the past and those who can write adventures set in the future. Very few can do both.

“The futuristic stories ought to be easier because the scope is endless but we have to set some limits to remain mildly plausible and we have found that many writers are completely lost with science fiction.”

While the programme is running – and it has had only one six-week spell off the air – the cast start rehearsing each week’s episode every Monday morning in an outside rehearsal room and remain hard at it until the following Friday.

On Friday mornings they move into the studios at the Television Centre or the BBC’s riverside studios at Hammersmith and from 10.30am rehearse with cameras and the full, impressive range of props that appear in ‘Doctor Who’.

From 8.30 in the evening the programme is recorded and the cast are permitted the weekend off before starting all over again on the following Monday morning.

Pre-recording has allowed the regulars in the series a five-week holiday which is just ending.

When they return on Monday – with the exception of Carole Ann Ford, whose place in the team is being taken by a newcomer called Maureen O’Brien – they will start working non-stop for 26 weeks on programmes that will be shown in the New Year.

These ugly anti-social fugitives from an overgrown cruet may well have met their match in Miss Lambert.

Tall, dark and shapely, she became positively forbidding when I suggested that the Daleks might one day take over ‘Doctor Who’.

“I feel in no way obligated to bring them back for a third time even if this present story is a tremendous success,” she said with a noticeable chill.