Raymond Cusick was Doctor Who’s designer during a crucial early period of the show’s history. He’s best-remembered as the man who designed the Daleks, but his Doctor Who legacy is much broader than that single piece of magic…
Together with Jeremy Davies, Raymond Cusick designed the first alien world visited in the show – Skaro. The planet proved a masterpiece of imagination. Futuristic and brutal; intriguing and sinister, the world was a daring mass of contradictions that made perfect sense. Cusick clearly understood that if Doctor Who was to be about visiting alien planets, the designer should make them truly alien. The planet Skaro set the bar high as to how other worlds should appear and in The Keys of Marinus he created more memorably extra-terrestrial locations.
His work on The Romans resulted in some of the most effective sets seen in the historical stories and he was also behind the realisation of the Sensorites, an eye-catching race that found a visual echo in the Ood during the era of the Tenth Doctor.
But inevitably, Cusick is most lauded as the man who created the iconic look of the Daleks. Writer Terry Nation may have given brief, sketchy details for how the metal monsters should appear, but the real work in terms of their appearance was down to the designer. During a lunch with model-maker Bill Roberts, Cusick pushed a pepper pot across a table. ‘It's going to move like that!’ he recalled saying. ‘No visible means.’ That aspect of their design, however, was just one element of many that came together to create a thing of strange beauty.
The starting point for the design of the Daleks came from Nation’s directions in his script for the aliens’ debut story. He wrote: ‘Standing in a half circle in front of them are four hideous machine like creatures. They are legless, moving on a round base. They have no human features. A lens on a flexible shaft acts as an eye. Arms with mechanical grips for hands.’
Cusick recalled building up from that description: ‘Having decided the Dalek Operator should be seated, I began by doing a sketch of a man in a chair. I then drew an outline around the sketch – and that’s where the basic Dalek shape came from.’ Of course, Cusick proceeded to get many more design details spot on as the Doctor’s ultimate nemesis was created… Even today, there remains something transfixing about their realisation: the juxtaposition of circles and straight lines – and the way the single eye and two ‘limbs’ somehow suggest anthropomorphic qualities – combine to create an inhuman form that nevertheless, looks very much alive.
Cusick’s journey to Skaro was an unusual one. Born in London in 1928, he studied science and maths at Borough Polytechnic but took evening classes in his true passion - art. After a period of National Service he became a schoolteacher and in the late 1950s he worked in set design at the Wimbledon Theatre. He moved to the BBC in 1960 and looked back on those days with fondness. ‘The actual people that made the programmes were entrepreneurial; developers…’ he recalled. ‘They were full of ideas.’
Cusick remained at the BBC following his time on Doctor Who, working on visually arresting series including The Duchess of Duke Street and When The Boat Comes In. He retired from the BBC in 1988 but delighted Doctor Who fans with his reminiscences about the Time Lord’s early days at many Doctor Who themed events.
His hugely significant work on Doctor Who will never be forgotten. Discussing Cusick’s first story, which introduced the Daleks, the show’s current lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat enthused, ‘What a cracking piece of design work! What cracking form those guys were on when they took us to our very first alien planet!’
Raymond Cusick (1928 - 2013)