Ray Cusick, Doctor Who Dalek Designer, Passes Away At 84

By David Wharton | Updated

Ray Cusick

If you had to pick the two most iconic elements of Doctor Who’s long history, the blue phone box that is the TARDIS would obviously be number one. But the Doctor’s mortal enemies, the Daleks, would easily settle in at number two. Sadly, the man who created the look of the flying, shouting cosmic pepper pots has passed away. BBC designer Ray Cusick died during his sleep of heart failure on February 21, 2013 at the age of 84.

Doctor Who writer Terry Nation created the race of would-be universe conquerors during the show’s first season.

Ray Cusick, however, designed the iconic baddies’ actual look and form. Cusick addressed the frequent “pepper pot” comparisons during a 2008 episode of Doctor Who Confidential.

That element of the Daleks’ look can be traced back to a lunch Cusick had with special effects man Bill Roberts, who would collaborate on bringing the creatures to life.

During their discussion, Ray Cusick picked up the pepper mill off the table and scooted it around the table to demonstrate how the Daleks would “move like that — no visible means.”

Ray Cusick

Cusick continued, talking about how practical design considerations played as big a role as aesthetics. He said, “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…”

Ray Cusick went on, “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.”

Nicholas Briggs, who voiced the modern incarnations of the Daleks, praised Ray Cusick’s indelible impact on the landscape of Doctor Who. “If you say Doctor Who to someone in the street about the second thing they’re going to say is ‘Exterminate.’”

Cusick’s passing drew comments from several notables on Twitte, including both the official Doctor Who magazine and Who writer Mark Gatiss. They were quick to praise the designer and remind folks about the major contribution he made to the franchise.

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.

— Doctor Who Magazine (@DWMtweets) February 23, 2013

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

Ray Cusick, who hailed from Horsham, West Sussex, is survived by two daughters and seven grandchildren.