Even by sixties standards, Doctor Who is a wild looking show. We of course didn’t have special effects back then like we do today, but old school sci-fi like Doctor Who did a lot with low budget ingenuity, and the show’s visuals are still strikingly original to this day.
As the site Giant Freakin Robot reminds us, there were at least two things on Doctor Who that were totally iconic, namely the Tardis, and the Daleks.
Sadly, Ray Cusick, who originally designed the Daleks, passed away this month at the age of 84. In his passing, Doctor Who Magazine tweeted, “It’s with great sadness that we report the death of Ray Cusick – the designer of the Daleks. Half a century on, his iconic design lives on.”
Some have compared the Daleks to “pepper pots,” and as it turned out, the basis for the Dalek was indeed a pepper pot. Another FX expert, Bill Roberts, showed Cusick a pepper mill and pushed it around, trying to demonstrate how the Daleks should float around. As Roberts told the Mirror, “I picked up what could have been a salt pot and moved it around the table. I said, ‘It moves like that, without any arms or legs.’”
And as Cusick said on Doctor Who Confidential, “When I’m asked what I was inspired by, I suppose it was really a system of logic because I realized that you’ve got to have an operator to operate them. If you had anything mechanical, ten to one it would go wrong, so you’ve got a human being in there would be totally reliable…I then thought, ‘Well, the operator’s got to sit down,’ [so I] drew a seat, got the operator down, and then drew around him.”
An interesting tidbit that Entertainment Weekly recently uncovered is that when Ridley Scott was working for the BBC he was supposed to design the Daleks, but Cusick got the job instead. Considering the incredible look of Alien and Blade Runner, it would be fascinating to think what Ridley Scott’s vision of the Daleks would have looked like.
When you look at Cusick’s filmography on imdb, Doctor Who was one of the few genre shows he worked on for the BBC. The rest of his career, Cusick did British dramas and classic literary adaptations like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and Madame Bovary. Yet with Doctor Who, he created one of the show’s most iconic villains, and again, long before we had all the FX technology at our disposal, Doctor Who did a lot with limited resources.
So thanks are definitely in order to Ray Cusick for creating such a memorable villain for Dr. Who that along with the Tardis will always be part of the good doctor’s iconography.