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.