It really is the cruellest of ironies. This year Doctor Who celebrates 50 years as an ongoing, seemingly unstoppable, worldwide success. It is loved, from one side of the globe to the other. So much of Doctor Who’s iconography is instantly identifiable. The Tardis. Tom Baker’s ridiculously lengthy scarf. That noise the Tardis makes. Most of all though, there’s The Daleks. That silhouette has been tinkered with repeatedly. Sometimes they’re built like a battleship. Sometimes they’re built like a toy advert. Sometimes they’re gleaming silver, sometimes gold, sometimes black, sometimes red. Always it comes back to the fundamental design that seemingly everyone recognises. The eye-stalk, the gun-arm, the sucker-stick, the bumps around the base. The man who created that instantly recognisable design won’t be around to celebrate Doctor Who’s remarkable success this November. Raymond Cusick, designer of the Daleks, passed away in his sleep on Thursday night.
The story has been told time and time again. Following initially unsuccessful advances by Doctor Who’s first producer, Terry Nation angrily dismisses the idea of writing for a fledgling television series and flounces off to write for Tony Hancock. One night Tub and Terry have a major falling out and Terry’s left with nothing in the pot. He goes back to Verity Lambert and eats a fair amount of humble pie – then comes up with the second ever serial. He gets the initial idea for the way the Daleks move from watching the Georgian State Dancers, then the concept is passed on to the BBC design department. It lands on Raymond Cusick’s desk. Terry Nation had the original idea, and we can never – and shouldn’t ever – take that away from him. Cusick took it, made it into reality and the result has haunted the imagination of millions ever since.
As a BBC staffer Cusick wasn’t paid more than his standard working wage for that particular job. He’s reputed to have approached Terry Nation to see if some sort of royalty could be worked out – as he wistfully recalled – “Terry said, don’t worry – I’ll see you right. I never saw him again”.
This particular injustice has exercised the indignation of Doctor Who fans for decades. There’s been mention in the past of some sort of ex-gratia payment, but I always hoped that he’d get some sort of longer lasting reward in the end. Now it’s too late.
Designers Peter Brachacki, Barry Newbery and many others created little miracles on a tiny BBC budget. Dreams provided for you while you wait. Raymond Cusick was part of that team in those early, flickering, black and white days. If you could imagine it, they’d make sure it got on screen. Cusick’s wonderful design work can be seen in several Doctor Who serials, including The Keys of Marinus, The Sensorites, Planet of Giants, The Romans, and god help him, The Chase and The Dalek Masterplan, after which he moved on to other shows – presumably burned out following some of the most gruelling and punishing production turnarounds television has ever seen.
He kept going though. The Duchess of Duke Street. When The Boat Comes In. The Pallisers. Play For Today, Play of The Week, Playhouse. A lifetime in dedicated service to the simple art of making good television even better. He worked right up until the late eighties, seeing out his career with a variety of Agatha Christie adaptations. His last listed credit on the Internet Movie Database is for one of the Joan Hickson Miss Marple productions – 4.50 From Paddington. Although I’ve yet to see it, I’m sure the design work was impeccable. It always was, with Cusick.
The obituaries will – of course – focus on that pioneering work for Doctor Who. How could they do otherwise? It casts an enormous shadow and somewhere within that shadow was one small, modest man, asking for nothing more than a little recognition. If love and good wishes could be translated directly into money, Ray would have died a billionaire. He really deserved so much, because he sparked the imaginations of so many people. There are an awful lot of people out there who grew up with his work fizzing about in their heads, and many of them went on to create more stories. More wonderful, imaginative, swashbuckling stories, the currency of dreams. With stories, with dreams, with imagination, the human race is immeasurably enriched. From a few simple design drawings back in 1963, Raymond Cusick played a major part in creating an enduring universe that spins uncontrollably onwards. Sometimes wonderful, sometimes aggravating, sometimes captivating, sometimes enchanting. Without Raymond Cusick, it’s doubtful Doctor Who would have got much past the first few weeks.
From me, one little person who can’t imagine his life without Doctor Who in it, to you, Raymond Cusick – one of the ones who started it all – thank you. It’s precious little, but it is all I have. We’ll raise a glass to you in November. The magic lives on. Thank you, Raymond.