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 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 last Thursday, at the age of 84.
The race of would-be universe conquerors were created by Doctor Who writer Terry Nation during the very first season of the show. Cusick, however, designed the actual look and form of the iconic baddies. 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, 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.”
Cusick continued, talking about how practical design considerations played as big a role as aesthetics:
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.
Nicholas Briggs, who voices the modern incarnations of the Daleks, praised 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 has drawn comments from several notables on twitter, including both the official Doctor Who magazine and Who writer Mark Gatiss.
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
Cusick, who hailed from Horsham, West Sussex, is survived by two daughters and seven grandchildren.