Dalek designer Raymond Cusick’s impact upon Doctor Who and popular culture cannot be understated.
Coming from a place of logic and elegant economy; his story is the story of Doctor Who – of talented self-depreciating in house producers asked to craft far away worlds of limitless potential with the most meagre and humble of resources; week in, week out.
It’s a story that needs to be told.
And now, on the eve of his passing fans and media outlets have gathered to offer their condolences and thank one of the key figures in Doctor Who’s history – it’s just a shame that as the whole nation will be looking back and celebrating, he won’t be able to tell his humble tale once again.
John Freeman, former editor of Doctor Who Magazine, used his excellent Downthetubes.net – which also hosted a tribute by comic artist Nick Abadzis – to offer his thoughts on the plight of the creative working within the BBC during those early days:
While writer Terry Nation and the BBC jointly shared in the revenues generated from the sale of Dalek merchandise, as a BBC employee working in the visual effects department (alongside Ridley Scott, among others), Cusick received little more than a small bonus, £100 if memory serves, for designing Doctor Who’s most popular adversary.
This cursory acknowledgment of his work by his employers at the time is one I am sure many comic creators down the years can identify with.
Godspeed, sir. You will be remembered.
The Guardian has a lengthy, lovely tribute from Moths Ate my Doctor Who Scarf scribe Toby Hadoke. The admiration and love of early day minutia is typified in this passage concerning Cusick’s place in the legacy of the Daleks after those initial appearances:
He recalled appearing on the TV discussion show Late Night Line-Up with Nation and asking him afterwards about potential involvement with the forthcoming Dalek feature films (made in colour by Aaru productions and starring Peter Cushing in 1965 and 1966). Nation was enthusiastic and reassuring about the projects but, Cusick said: “Then I never heard from him again.” From these films and many other commercial exploitations of the Daleks, Nation, a freelancer with a canny agent, became a rich man. Cusick, on the other hand, was a BBC staff member, and only after a lengthy and hard-fought battle by his head of department, got a special merit payment that amounted to no more than a few hundred pounds. He was, however, the proud recipient of a gold Blue Peter badge for his work.
Brendon Connelly of Bleeding Cool rightly singles out Cusick’s iconic design as one of the reasons why we are still talking about the show today:
The most famous and enduring of Cusick’s creations are the Daleks, which rank amongst the best bits of design in the history of television. They showcase both imagination and great craft, and I honestly believe that the look of the Dalek race has played a major part in the Doctor Who‘s ongoing popularity, definitely its pop icon status.
The site also has embedded videos of his appearance on Doctor Who Confidential where he offered his recollections of designing the Daleks with then production designer Edward Thomas and designer Peter Mckinstry.
Needless to say, they’re well worth watching if only to watch him jokingly shake his head when Thomas can’t name one of the components on the RTD era Daleks.
BBC News has quotes from the man himself discussing his practical approach to creating a pop icon:
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. 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.
The obituary also contains an embedded interview with the original voice of the Dalek’s David Graham from Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show where he praises ‘one of the most iconic designs of television sci-fi’:
They captured the imagination of so many people. It was a wonderful thing.
Raymond Cusick passed away on Thursday 21st February of heart failure aged 84. He leaves behind two daughters and seven grandchildren.