Daily Archives: September 14, 2013

The Builder of Nightmares

The Daleks have 3 Fathers.

Writer Terry Nation.

Davros, their on-screen Creator.

And Raymond Cusick, the Designer.

Raymond Patrick Cusick (May 1928 – 21 February 2013).

Born in the Lambeth district of London  (my Hotel in 2011 was in Lambeth just south of the Thames), Cusick became interested in engineering while still at art school, and began attending evening classes. However, his father wanted him to follow a more regular career, so Cusick took a course in mathematics and science at Borough Polytechnic, intending to become a civil engineer. Not finding this to his liking, he enlisted instead in the British Army and found himself stationed in Palestine, but did not enjoy that experience either. On his return to England he completed a teacher training course, but then obtained a nine-month position in repertory theatre at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff.

In the late 1950s Cusick briefly took a position teaching art but applied and was accepted for a post at the Wimbledon Theatre where he remained for three years. Cusick joined the BBC in 1960 as a staff designer and was responsible for the set design of many Doctor Who stories, creating not just futuristic settings but also historical sets and dioramas. Another BBC in-house designer, future filmmaker Ridley Scott, had been assigned to design the Daleks in 1963, but scheduling conflicts saw the job handed to Cusick. Cusick worked on other BBC television programmes including The Pallisers, The Duchess of Duke Street, On Giant’s Shoulders, When the Boat Comes In, Rentaghost and Miss Marple.

Yes, folks, the Daleks were almost designed by Ridley Scott.

Instead, they were given form by Ray Cusick.

As well as The Daleks, he would continue to work on the show during its first couple of years, designing more of the TARDIS in The Edge of Destruction, the futuristic/rugged worlds seen in The Keys of Marinus, The Sensorites, The Rescue and The Chase, the ‘giant’ items experienced during Planet of Giants, and even delving into history with The Romans; Cusick’s last assignment was sharing the design load alongside Barry Newbery for the epic twelve-parter, The Daleks’ Master Plan.

But like Delia Derbyshire,  Cusick was a salaried BBC employee at the time he designed the Daleks, he was not paid royalties. Given the large revenue generated by merchandise featuring Cusick’s Dalek design, he felt that he should have been paid a royalty (as was script writer Terry Nation, who created the concept of the Daleks but not their design or appearance). When Cusick left Doctor Who in 1966, unhappy with the lack of recognition he had received for his work on the series, the show’s producer and head designer did arrange for the BBC to recognise his contribution with an ex-gratia payment of around GBP ₤100 and a gold Blue Peter badge.

Mind you, he was given a budget of just £250 to bring the idea to life.

Wow that was generous of them. Since Terry Nation (and his estate) & The BBC  made millions off the malevolent pepperpots.

“Ever since then people say I was inspired by a pepper pot – but it could have been the salt pot I picked up,” he joked. The Dalek’s appearance was actually a matter of ergonomics.

Doctor Who Dalek original design

“When I’m asked what I was inspired by I suppose it was really a system of logic because I realised that you’ve got to have an operator to operate them,” Cusick explained. “If you had anything mechanical, 10 to one on the take it would go wrong, so you’ve got a human being in there who would be absolutely totally reliable… I then thought ‘Well, the operator’s got to sit down’, [so I] drew a seat, ergonomic height, 18in, got the operator down, and then drew round him. That’s how the basic shape appeared.”

Not all his concepts were feasible. The Dalek spheres were intended to light up randomly. They would have been powered by four car batteries under the operator seat but it was deemed too expensive. I can’t think of a better tribute than making this reality, if you’re listening BBC.

Ultimately, the inhuman design and voice created a villain that children would not soon forget.

Cusick recalled, “Before rehearsals started the cast and other members brought their children along and they were shown the Daleks and talked to the Dalek Operators, but then when rehearsals started the Operators got into the Daleks and started moving, and at that point all the children screamed and ran out of the studio!”

The sheer genius of the design should have been given more recognition. And that’s why I have written this blog because it is an injustice to the life of this man that he didn’t get the recognition he deserved.