Raymond Cusick created not only the Daleks, but a British institution
When the news of his death appeared earlier this month, I imagine that very few ordinary people would have heard of Raymond Cusick. I can guarantee though that they would have heard of his work, for Raymond Cusick is the man responsible for one of the most iconic designs of modern times; the Dalek. While Terry Nation created the Daleks in his script for the second Doctor Who serial in 1963, it was Cusick who gave that creation a physical form and in so doing gave the British public and the world a design that continues to terrify children today just as it did fifty years ago.
The Daleks combine absolute evil and total malevolence (inspired in no small part by the Nazis) with a physical form totally devoid of humanity. The simplicity of their mission, the annihilation or subjugation of every other life form, struck at the heart of everything that was good and right. While the majority of science-fiction monsters consist of actors with rubber suits, pointy ears or Cornish Pasties on their foreheads, the Daleks are totally different. They lack any recogniseable humanoid features, and appear in fact to be robots, but somehow, deep down, we know that they are not. Their screeching voices reach in and touch something very deep and primeval within us. It is a voice that knows only hatred. It is a voice that knows no empathy or compassion.
Their design is the very essence of simplicity, and while an over-sized pepper pot armed with a sink plunger and an egg whisk doesn’t sound particularly scary when you describe it, when you actually see a Dalek for the first time as a child the effect is undeniably one of sheer terror. Indeed, one of my earliest memories is of being terrified by the Daleks. When I lived in Dublin I bought a radio-controlled Dalek, and I remember explaining what it was to a Chinese friend who had never seen Doctor Who. She looked at it driving around the kitchen floor, barking its threats to exterminate all of humanity, and said “that is actually kind of creepy.”
So iconic is the Dalek that even people who have never seen Doctor Who before know what it is and know its battle-cry of EXTERMINATE!” The terror they generate was tempered only by the knowledge that they could be defeated by a flight of stairs, at least until one was seen climbing the stairs in 1988’s ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. They have permeated every aspect of British culture,
from politics to comedy. A Tory Conference delegate in 1966 once famously referred to Labour’s then-Defence Secretary Denis Healey as “the Dalek of defence”. They have made cameos in shows as diverse as Top Gear and South Park and even found their way into political cartoons. Indeed, if the speed at which they came to dominate the British psyche is any indication, they could well become the supreme power of the universe.
The Dalek is a piece of design genius unmatched in science-fiction, and its brilliance is down to Raymond Cusick’s interpretation of Terry Nation’s writing. Both men now have passed away, however the enduring popularity of Doctor Who will ensure that through their creation they will live on in the British consciousness for decades to come.
Born in Yeovil, Bob Foster moved to the West Midlands, and following a brief spell in Dublin after university now lives in the North West. When pushed he describes himself as socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-military and anti-Government. His passions are American history, military history and defence policy, and when he doesn’t have his nose in a book on air power or a political memoir he can be found building model aircraft and warships. He works in the defence industry, but speaks for himself. He tweets as @Bobski1984