Archive for the ‘OBITUARIES’ Category

Raymond Cusick

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Sunday’s reported passing of classic series designer Ray Cusick offers yet another grim reminder that the success of the early series and its revival in the Twenty-first century owes much to the dedication and inspiration of a dwindling number of hard working men and women from as far as fifty years ago. Through to today while the story of Doctor Who’s own genesis is being committed to film, the likes of Ray Cusick have been a line connecting the early production plans for a fledgling children’s TV serial of little-known promise to today’s near-juggernaut of popular culture. Palpably, if one can attribute the success of Who in its first year to its most recognisable, imitable and recollectable invented image – the Dalek, and thereby attribute the successful return of the series in 2005 to the labours and loyalty of mature fans of the ‘classic’ series, then we can correctly say that the name Ray Cusick deserves to be held alongside those of Verity Lambert, Donald Wilson, Terry Nation and Sydney Newman as those Without Whom we would not be here as bloggers, viewers, creators and fans alike.

But beyond that impressive and enduring dalek silhouette lies an equally impressive body of work. Cusick was not only the designer of the Daleks, but the visionary of their city and world, the petrified forest and steel-lined corridors that dominate the early serial. Beyond Skaro Cusick’s imprint is also on the Sense Sphere and Mechanus, each featuring vaulted, Gaudiesque architecture that give organic lines to an otherwise stainless and hard-edged futurism. For better or worse Cusick’s work is also throughout the six episode travelogue that is The Keys of Marinus – anyone who owns the DVD to that story will know how vocally disappointed the designer was with his efforts there, but I can only admire the resourcefulness of a man who, faced with six location changes over the same number of episodes, a very tight budget and the usual turnaround expectations actually delivers. Moreover, there are clear examples in the series where it is Cusick’s eye for detail and design that save an otherwise unremarkable story – the enormous props for Planet of the Giants, for one. And before we connect Cusick with alien worlds fully, it bears noting that the early extra rooms in the TARDIS (The Edge of Destruction) were also the result of Cusick’s designs.

It’s a great shame that in their own fiftieth anniversary in December the designer of the Daleks will not be present to share the accolades and celebration. Much has and wil be made on how or whether Cusick was short-shrifted by Terry Nation over due recognition and reward for the blueprint of a million childhood toys spanning half a century; but within fandom there can be no doubt. Raymond Cusick’s work on Who alone ensured the series’ popular appeal and created a striking visual stamp that is as much of its own era and country as the Mini Cooper, the Beatles mop-top and the Op Art of Bridget Riley, and which continues to be admired and cherished today. An enduring design speaks for itself, and that of the Daleks will forever speak of their undisputed visionary engineer.


Mary Tamm

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

The recent death of Mary Tamm after a long battle with cancer marks a solemn conclusion to a brief but memorable tenure with Doctor Who. Tamm’s Romana, as much as Hartnell’s First Doctor is the definitive incarnation of her Time Lord, the blueprint devised by Graham Williams and Robert Holmes without which we would not have had the re-interpretation (some might say continuation) by Lalla Ward, and mimeses portrayed by the likes of Michelle Ryan and Alex Kingston.

Sometimes dubbed the “ice maiden”- partially from her debut on the snowbound planet Ribos, Tamm’s Romana was refinement and composure at a critical time for Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor. It has become trendy of late to dismiss much of the Williams era for offering too long a leash to its star, of indulging the more ridiculous and self-conscious side of the Fourth Doctor. Tamm’s circumspect high-achieving student was an excellent foil to this Doctor, as much a counterpart as her would-be opposite Leela. While the character would inevitably be ‘softened’, an aspect Tamm was reportedly less than keen on, her attitude to a universe she has yet to experience first hand changes through the Doctor’s influence. We should acknowledge that the transformation is as much in Tamm’s hands as its result – a regeneration and the tightest unit in Who history. All in six stories.

This isn’t to ignore the importance of Tamm’s and Baker’s working relationship, which by all accounts was as mutually easy as that of the star and Lis Sladen. The two shared a similar sense of humour, a common intelligence and regard, and the playful element of their infamous BBC inside ‘Christmas Who’ tape speaks for itself. The Fourth Doctor and First Romana were recently reunited by Big Finish for the second season of Fourth Doctor audio adventures which, alongside roles in Gallifrey and two Companion Chronicles, mark the only Who outings for Tamm in character; having made the transition from the series after a short tenure, her career continued without the curse of the Who Girl stereotype. As with the recent passing of Caroline John, it’s bittersweet consolation that we have not yet heard the last of a much loved and admired companion.

Caroline John

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

 The Pertwee UNIT roster grows ever thinner, a fact that saddens more with each passing. Few if any fans would have known the extent of Caroline John’s recent illness, her death and funeral being kept strictly between family and friends. As fans we might pretend ownership of Doctor Who and all who appear in it, but times like these serve to remind us that, indeed, beyond the screen and the stage there are real lives, private and sensitive, with families and loved ones to whom our idols and familiar faces mean something altogether different, and much, much more.

As Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, John’s time in the series was admittedly brief, but notable for being an era of change – the first full-colour Doctor, grounded literally and figuratively by his Time Lord masters, and saddled with a semi-military institution with whom he would occasionally spar and pit his will in frustration. A brief tenure for sure, but Season Seven remains a classic, its strength exemplified by the fact that two of its stories (Spearhead from Space and Inferno) have been and will be ‘revisited’ respectively, while Ambassadors of Death waits in the wings, the colour being patiently put back into its cheeks. Liz may be gone, but we’ll see her again very soon, and a new generation of fans will meet her fresh and as close to how she was meant to be seen as modern technology will allow. Inferno is a revelation in itself, offering John a rare dual role, and to this writer at least, seems an appropriate release to have a dedicated extra to its outgoing co-star.

‘Outgoing’ is not a term you might otherwise describe Liz Shaw. Cambridge-based, and as much conscripted into UNIT’s service as the Doctor, her partnership with the Time Lord is characteristically professional; not yet is there the fatherly warmth shared between Pertwee’s Doctor and Jo Grant, but then Liz was not cut from the same cloth. A professional, she required a professional respect from the Doctor, and looked to him less for protection. Feminism, that modern equivalent more often attributed to Sarah Jane Smith is as equally a character trait of Liz Shaw – we just weren’t around enough to see it come to the fore; or perhaps amidst the sound and drama of Season Seven it’s in there, another element in a fascinating and changing shift in the series format. For herself Caroline John was far from outgoing as far as her character was concerned. John eschewed the fan convention circuit until the early 90s, mistakedly assuming that fans either wouldn’t know her or be interested in Liz. The opposite proved true, happily, and John’s return to Who‘s fold was heralded as interesting and welcome as those of Tom Baker and Paul McGann. For her change of heart Liz Shaw was embraced by fan creators, given her own spin-off series in the PRoBe fan videos (recently re-released on DVD), and the character appeared in both the New Adventures and Missing Adventures. Of these it’s Gary Russell’s The Scales of Injustice that gives Liz her first ‘departure’ story, trusting a more fitting exit than the between-seasons disappearance the TV series offered. Alternatively, Jim Mortimore’s Eternity Weeps closes Liz’s story even more, daring to write her out in a story with Silurians, science, and the Moon, where the TV series also last left her in a too-brief mention in the Sarah Jane Adventures.

John’s audio work needs mention, too, as it’s not yet complete. Later this year Big Finish’s last Liz Shaw Companion Chronicle, the fittingly-titled The Last Post will be released, and we have three other CCs to accompany it, effectively doubling Liz’s tenure. The actor’s reading of Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography should also be noted; an effective and affecting reading that neatly ties the Pertwee Era together with a story shared by two companions from either end of the Third Doctor’s time on Earth. In this way we can hope that Doctor Liz Shaw will continue to live on in Who, not as a brief-lived companion, but as an essential catalyst to a changing Time Lord life, and another very strong, intelligent and independent woman in the Doctor’s life who fought her corner when she could, and chose not to be left behind, but to find her own destiny outside the Doctor’s shadow.

Caroline John’s portrayal of Liz is crucial to our understanding of the character – a clear break from the space orphans of the past, her Liz is an Earthly Woman, the essential human alongside an increasingly alien Doctor. We’ve not had a companion like her since, and Doctor Who is a sadder world without Caroline John in it.

The Doctor’s Best Friends

Monday, April 25th, 2011


On the new series’ return Zeus Blog takes time out to mark the passing of two of the most beloved and irreplaceable Earthbound heroes of Doctor Who.

Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart was many things to Seventies Who. To the Third Doctor he was anchor, millstone, combatant, ally and friend. The friendship carried on into the next regeneration, as it had itself carried over from the Third Doctor’s predecessor. Courtney’s Brigadier character would go on to appear alongside all of the ‘classic’ series Doctors, plus for Big Finish sharing an audio adventure with the Eighth Doctor. For many fans and even a few casual watchers of Who in yesteryear, the Brigadier was quite simply as much a staple of the programme as the TARDIS, the Daleks, and the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. Courtney’s association with the series predates his most famous role of course, and it’s a matter of no surprise that during the series’ Wilderness Years the actor was a frequent presence at conventions, TV appearances (notably in 1993′s Thirty Years in the TARDIS documentary), while the Brigadier returned in licensed books and the fan-made spinoff Downtime. Following the death of Jon Pertwee Courtney was made honourary president of the DWAS, a role he held with great respect.

I think it’s significant that the treatment of Courtney as an elder statesman – a stand-in Doctor almost, was as far as I’m aware, reciprocated with fan respect. The Brig’s cameos in the Nineties are no less silly than the regular appearances in later Pertwee episodes, and there seems to be a genuine fondness associated with them – Downtime gives him a family and a grandson to fight for; Paul Cornell (no Pertwee fan at the time) brought him into his New Adventure Happy Endings with a gentle elbow nudging – the Brigadier as naff Dad tapping his feet to a camp Silurian musical duo. There’s a nod to the slightly embarrassing but harmless paternal side to the character, never seen in the TV series of course, but while playing against the Man of Action type, Cornell’s ageing and softening of the Brigadier acknowledged the same in the actor, forgiving and acknowledging the passing of years rather than condemning them or sweping them under the carpet as we are wont to do with the various Doctors. The Brigadier represented in that figure a very human hero. Cornell later gives the Brig his years back, as it were, the UNIT soldier restored by alien tech; would that real life could have offered the same reprieve. The Brig – and Nicholas Courtney, was fandom’s friend too. Grateful for the role that defined his career, his other appearances in the series marked the same return favour by his writers – in Big Finish’s adventures he cameoed as Wolsey the TARDIS cat, and later still as a personification of the TARDIS itself, both loyal to the end. Of course it’s a great shame that Courtney never got to share the screen with the recent Doctors, but what we still have is an impressive series in itself, an evolving character who mellows with the affection shared between himself, the Doctors, and their fans.

In Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith the Doctor had a new type of companion, a reinvention of a woman with a professional career, enlightened enough to challenge her place in a modern society, but with the warmth and sympathy that would attract the Time Lord’s’s friendship. Sarah is the median line of companions, a Barbara Wright with the Doctor as her Chesterton. Strong enough in personality and appeal to warrant two attempts at a series of her own, not because her character was endowed with special powers or insight (although the later spin-off generously afforded her an arsenal of technologies to almost equal her with the Doctor), but because she was nothing special, and for that we could recognise her and perhaps ourselves in her.

What’s remarkable is that Sladen’s character though her easy appeal and the influence of her original UK fans around today’s BBC genuinely spans two generations, realising yet again Tom Baker’s oft-related image of the whole family sitting down to enjoy Doctor Who together. It’s a great pity, and it seems so unjust that this potential has been cut off so quickly and suddenly. All the more distressing for her fans, her friends and colleagues – Big Finish had reportedly begun negotiations on returning Sarah Jane to their audio fold, accompanying the Fourth Doctor for the first time since 1976. With Sladen gone the question might well be asked who among those remaining companions of the Classic Series now best suits the mantle of ‘everywoman’ to the alien Doctor, the next-in-line as it were. It’s a question that’s too soon for the asking, if it ever should be.  Sarah Jane hasn’t gone away, she’s just not here anymore. But we have her adventures with no fewer than seven Doctors (eight if you count her guest role in the DWM Seventh Doctor comic strip End of the Line), the one-off K9 special and three complete series of her own Adventures to share and enjoy. It’s fitting though, perhaps, that of all her successors there hasn’t really been another Who girl quite like Sarah Jane – variously alien, younger, less English, less or more metropolitan… indeed, they broke the mould soon after her arrival in The Time Warrior. But what a mould. And what large footprints to leave to this day.

Splendid chaps, both of them.


Barry Letts

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Barry Letts was, to many of us in recent years, the steady paternal voice which balanced Terrance Dicks’s excited ‘weak R’-ing and Katy Manning’s extroverted babble on Pertwee DVD releases.

These genial observations and recollections marked the fifth decade of Lett’s association with Doctor Who – previously directing in the 60′s, producing in the 70′s, Executive Producing in the 80′s and writing in the 90′s.

It was absolutely right that he and his trusty wingman Terrance were invited to the 2005 premier of Rose, and was reportedly recognised and complimented there by some big names in television today.

Of Letts himself a tantalising glimpse was given in an early DWM interview of an ex-Royal Navy Buddhist former actor who once had a swordfight in the surf with Roger Delgado.  A man who felt that Doctor Who could be a platform for social concerns and who approached every script with the demand “So, what’s it about?”  Mention of Delgado brings us to perhaps Barry Lett’s greatest legacy to Doctor Who – his casting ability.  Katy Manning, Elizabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, Tom Baker – names which the programme is absolutely inconceivable without.  It’s interesting that having introduced Baker to the world Letts later got the chance to see him off, as executive Producer of season 18.  We can only guess at what his relationship with the then inexperienced Nathan-Turner must have been like, but I feel sure that someone who could handle Pertwee and Manning at the same time wouldn’t have found it a problem. 

In Zeus Plug I once nominated The Daemons as a DVD release I’d most like to see, suggesting that it would be a perfect opportunity to feature a documentary about Letts’ long association with Doctor Who.  Rating high on the recent DWM poll, this DVD seems likely, but now impossible to imagine without that ‘steady paternal voice’ on the commentary. 

But nowits nice to imagine Barry Letts happy in some socially conscious, mildly CSO-fringed nirvana, smiling approvingly at the ever- increasing fortunes of the programme he contributed so much to.


Peter and Verity

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

The sudden deaths of two significant names in Doctor Who fandom last week merit more attention – even local attention, than has perhaps been given. Any fan will be able to tell you that Verity Lambert was the series’ first producer, the BBC’s first female producer and held both titles at a relatively tender age (27) in what was itself a young industry. The series’ popularity and formula, BEMs included, owe an insurmountable debt to her influence and guidance.

Bereft of a genuine female Doctor, Verity Lambert is- was, the programme’s elder stateswoman. In a way she never truly left the series; for like the Doctors who followed Hartnell and reprised their roles in various guises, her connection with Doctor Who was concreted by fandom, fan press and fan conventions and media. But fandom, as we all know, carries its own memory, some of it false and some of it selective. While we can issue forth the Received Knowledge of identities like Verity Lambert solemnly and with a little authority, it doesn’t get us any closer to who she was before and after the series, how it influenced her, and the true legacy she leaves behind. Make the time and read some of those obituaries outside of the DW blogs and websites and rediscover a remarkable woman who not only produced the first ever Doctor Who with no series bible, heritage or fan audience, but also ventured into sitcoms, crime thrillers, whodunnits, soap opera and film. Who also resurrected Quatermass and launched the careers of Lynda la Plante and Sam Neill, and who for her sins, gave the world Eldorado.

The Times and The Guardian give great kudos to Lambert’s contribution to television especially without dwelling on the Who hagiography, but for a change of pace Janet Street Porter’s personal memories of Lambert as printed in The Independent offer something quite diferent and quite worthwhile. Who knew the series’ original guardian angel to be so prickly and obstinate? A testament to her early success, one can imagine – and more than likely, to the Doctor’s also.

The passing of Who biographer Peter Haining may have been felt more keenly several years ago while his works were still very much in circulation. As it is one would be hard-pressed to imagine the likes of The Key to Time or The Time-Traveller’s Guide on bookshop shelves now amid the multiple garish ‘official’ series guides. It’s true that even in the early works Haining’s books appeared alongside those by Jeremy Bentham, Howe Stammers and Walker, and of course John Nathan Turner; but to a good number of fans of a certain age, Haining was the big name, and his books were the gateway into fandom – especially for those not readily able to engage with other fans. My first and only Haining book is 25 Glorious Years which I saw advertised, saved up for and ordered from an Oamaru bookshop, and pored over intently during the series’ silver jubilee year, comparing what little I’d seen of Colin Baker to the photos inside, and wondering what the new Doctor, Sylvester McCoy would be like. As other creative fans have doubtless done I studied the artwork within and attempted to equal Colin Howard’s still masterful pointillistic portraits, and whole fanzines could be filled with the hand copied images of rare or destroyed episodes from an age when there was no Internet, no Wikipedia, no Image Archive to draw from.

Haining’s works became decreasingly influential and necessary as new names entered the arena, but those books were the groundwork for what followed, and beyond Who his cult and telefantasy influence was felt in similar regular guides to the canons of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Dracula, and a reliable run of classic ghost stories. As regular and reliable as the typeface titles on those volumes, Peter Haining was fandom’s collator before fandom took over the job and improved on the format, and his presence in the pages of a plethora of fanzines – New Zealand ones included, is a truth seldom acknowledged.