The visionary that was Raymond P. Cusick has died, aged 84. The man to whom the BBC paid a nominal sum for his design of Terry Nation’s malevolent Daleks back in 1963 was died of heart failure in his sleep on Thursday, announced his daughter Claire Heawood. Shared with the word last night on Twitter by Doctor Who Magazine, the news has quickly reverberated around the web.
The BBC's obituary to Ray Cusick, the designer of the Daleks, and of many Doctor Who serials, can be read here: http://t.co/eF5t1nZouN
— Doctor Who Magazine (@DWMtweets) February 23, 2013
Mark Gatiss – who has surely paid tribute to Cusick’s creations in An Adventure in Space and Time – said:
Farewell to the great Ray Cusick. His passing is especially sad in this anniversary year but his creation remains immortal. Daleks forever!
— Mark Gatiss (@Markgatiss) February 23, 2013
Cusick was famously ignored for years as a crucial element to the success of the Daleks; it was of course the creator of their character, Terry Nation, and the BBC, who reaped the success – a success that could not have been possible without what was in fact a sophisticated design. As Cusick remarked in a 2008 episode of Doctor Who Confidential:
People do say I was inspired by a pepper pot – but I always think ‘If that’s all it takes to become a designer then it’s a doddle’. 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.
Which makes perfect sense, and Cusick also recalled that while at lunch with special effects man Bill Roberts (whose team would build the original Daleks) he demonstrated how the Daleks would move, by grabbing a pepper pot – “It’s going to move like that – no visible means.”
Ever since then people say I was inspired by a pepper pot – but it could have been the salt pot I picked up.
Cusick’s contribution to Doctor Who is clearly as important as Terry Nation’s in cementing the series’ immediate success. Tributes have come from many areas – David Graham created the Daleks’ original synthesized voice, and told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show that they were “one of the most iconic designs of television sci-fi”. (We would suggest sci-fi as a whole, and suspect you might agree with us.) Meanwhile, Nicholas Briggs observes that the Daleks are crucial to Doctor Who in many ways.
Lots of my friends who are not Doctor Who fans think that the programme is ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’ – that surely the Daleks are in it all the time – which isn’t true but that is the impression. That’s the brilliance of the creation of the Daleks. They’ve made an indelible stamp on the series really.
Terry Nation himself remarked that when he saw Cusick’s designs, the creature on the paper “seemed very familiar.”¹
He made a tremendous contribution. He took rough notes for my ideas for the Dalek’s behaviour, the electronic eye, mechanical hands and so on… I didn’t have a clear visual image in my mind.Despite Terry Nation failing to sort out any recompense for his erstwhile design colleague, Cusick continued working on Doctor Who until 1966.
While Nation went on to make millions from his creations, Cusick received only his salary and an additional “ex-gratia payment of £100, which after tax came to £80 10s 6d” (as per his contract – probably around £900 in modern terms.)
It was widely believed, however, that Cusick purely wanted to be recognised as the Daleks’ designer. His departure from Doctor Who was seemingly due to a lack of faith in the industry. “Quite honestly I got fed up with it. Nobody, apart from my bosses, was actually saying thanks to me.”¹
Cusick’s designs for the show can be seen throughout the First Doctor’s era. He was responsible for the Mechanoids in The Chase, The Keys of Marinus and The Daleks’ Master Plan (all Terry Nation serials) as well as Planet of Giants, and went on to work as production designer on shows as diverse as The Pallisers (1974), The Duchess of Duke Street (1976) and Rentaghost (1978), although his TV career largely came to an end in the 1980s.
We’re sure you’ll join us in expressing our sympathies for Cusick’s surviving family of two daughters and seven grandchildren.
¹Alwyn W. Turner (2011). Terry Nation: The Man Who Invented The Daleks. London: Aurum Press. 86, 103.