Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Father of the Cybermen

This first appeared in Fortean Times FT 209 way back in May 2006. I'm putting it online for the first time in the run-up to the Doctor Who 50th anniversary (23 November).

Pedler's photo of part of a gecko's retina - from of his early 1960s electron microscope work in the field of eye cells

CHRISTOPHER Magnus Howard Pedler was born in 1927 into a fourth generation medical family and trained in medicine at London’s King’s College Hospital. In his own words, “as a doctor and biological scientist I have lived in various experimental laboratories since the age of eighteen.” [1] Earning a second doctorate in Experimental Pathology, he lectured at the University of London and set up the Anatomy department and electron microscopy unit at the University’s Institute of Ophthalmology, where he undertook 12 years of research on eye diseases and the functions of the retina, publishing 38 original medical papers. Dr Pedler’s entry in the Medical Directory of 1969, his last year in practice, listed the highlights of his distinguished career, modestly summing up his other achievements with the word “etc.”

But that “etc” masked several self-reinventions by this extraordinary polymath who was Dr Kit Pedler, or just plain Kit: his hobbies included building racing cars and, like his mother, he was an artist and sculptor. And, forty years ago this October, Kit Pedler’s coldly rational silver spare part cyborgs the Cybermen made their first TV appearance in Doctor Who, terrifying a generation of children hiding behind the sofa. The Cybermen returned to Doctor Who in 2006.

As well as giving chillingly plausible monsters to Doctor Who, Kit brought us Doomwatch, a British X-Files with a terrifying environmental catastrophe each episode – from plastic-eating bacteria to missing nukes and transplanted pig hearts affecting their recipients in terrible ways. Kit then went beyond science fiction, and renounced “the harmful side effects of technological medicine” and the “technogenic” disorders of industrial society in The Quest for Gaia – a “deep-green” rant that was decades ahead of its time. Kit’s final reinvention was as a popular prime time TV Fortean investigator, in the series Mind Over Matter. He brought a charming bedside manner and a scientific rigour to popular science investigation of the paranormal, which the medium of television has not seen in the quarter century since its transmission.

Kit’s “voyage of discovery” into the paranormal moved the former Doctor Who scriptwriter to comment, “the science of physics has moved sharply towards a view of the universe. … which shows the real fabric of things to be so strange, mysterious and fascinating that any well brought-up science fiction writer would give up in sheer despair.” [2]

Dr Pedler’s medical achievements included The Fine Structure of the Corneal Epithelium – cutting edge work on eye cells including “cytoplasmic organelles of basal cells tissue from anaesthetized kittens.” His paper The Fine Structure of the Radial Fibres in Reptiles’ Retina was among the first to examine the “profuse” fibre in the eye cells of lizards and geckos. To 21st century readers, his nonchalant description of how “after decapitation, the eye was removed” from his subjects, sounds as disturbing as any of his Doctor Who scripts. Kit later denounced the excessive vivisection of the medical establishment – “There is conditioned brutality among scientists, especially in the universities of Britain.” [3]

Kit’s long immersion in the world of pure medical research provided him with material for creepy medical horror stories, in which he explored feasible yet frightening forms of immortality. In The Long Term Residents, a biochemist is lured from a world of “biomedical conferences, grant applications and experimental data” to a strange seaside hotel, whose owner turns out to be a scientist from his past who continues working after death through injecting compounds into an implanted “lumber unit.” The narrator is sentenced to immortality confined to a chair in a room filled with ancient scientists discussing pure science problems for all eternity. White Caucasian Male concerns a microbiology lecturer, whose routine of “monotone and pedestrian lectures” and “effect of A on B research” changes when he accidentally re-arranges human brain cells grown in a culture into a miniature mind, which drives him to self-destruction with its hallucinatory telepathic death-screams. [4]

Kit suffered a near fatal illness – he wouldn’t go into details – an experience which he felt gave him a different outlook on life. He gradually drifted away from the medical establishment; “It was years after I had qualified as a medical doctor before I realised I had been subject to a six-year long conditioning process. I had been turned out of school as an efficient medical and surgical technician, but woefully bereft as a healer.” Over time, these criticisms could turn into fully-fledged rants. He was particularly scathing of the infant science of heart transplants; “£18,000 and 25 graduates to give patients a life expectancy of an extra seven months.” [5]

But while he still felt at home in the world of the retina, Kit’s expertise led to a new outlet for his many talents – television. He had already appeared on the BBC science programme Tomorrow’s World when, in the spring of 1966, Gerry Davis from the science series Horizon came to Kit’s lab for a programme on heart transplants. They were impressed enough to engage him “for help and advice” on the Doctor Who serial that became The War Machines. “Mr CMH Pedler … agreed a payment of £25 for each episode”. [6] The War Machines featured the brand new futuristic Post Office Tower – now the Telecom Tower – visible from Kit’s lab window and at the time London’s tallest building. The story foreshadowed the Internet by having as its villain the supercomputer WOTAN, controlling all the world’s computer networks via telephone lines. It wasn’t so much Kit’s science ideas that gave The War Machines its realism, as his feel for “science and society” issues – a key scene takes place at a press conference for the launch of WOTAN.

Kit’s relaxed bedside manner was already endearing him to many. Veteran broadcaster Joan Bakewell called him “my favourite scientist.” A co-worker said, “He was an easy man to work with, a regular guy, good fun, and although a double doctor, approachable. … A thoroughly nice guy …. You didn’t feel you were dealing with a man with 27 million qualifications,” or as the TV Times put it - “with almost twice as many letters after his name than in it.” [footnote 7]

The Post Office Tower featured again in the genesis of Kit’s next Doctor Who creation, the Cybermen. In the spring of 1963, he looked out of his laboratory window and daydreamed silvery space beings landing at the foot of the tower. There followed a discussion that evening with his wife – also a doctor – on what would happen if someone had so many mechanical spare parts they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between their human self and a machine anymore.

Kit imagined the Cybermen as having plastic and metal prosthesis – their more robot-like all metal design evolved later in the Doctor Who series. The first Cybermen – in the series The Tenth Planet – still had a recognisable facial bone structure and identifiable human hands sheathed in clear plastic. Spare part surgery at the time was a world of frighteningly huge “electro-magnetic” mechanical heart-lung machines, while prototype Soviet prosthetic hands made it possible to operate faster than with a natural hand. Spare part surgeons were predicting that microsurgery, grafts and transplants would take over from prosthesis by the 1990s. Yet the medical ethics of spare part surgery was in its infancy. Experts were seriously suggesting wiring amputees’ nerve-endings directly to machines, sending “intention signals” directly from the brain to work them faster, [8] With such attitudes, Kit was right to express anxieties on spare part surgery. [See Cyberman sidebar]

Kit had little formal experience as a writer for television, and worked closely with script editor Gerry Davis – a veteran of Softly, Softly. At the end of Kit’s stint at Doctor Who, Kit admitted he still hadn’t learned to write sci-fi properly. His Cybermen scripts had to be extensively reworked by Davis and others. But he was an excellent ideas man, and the BBC was happy to leave the narrative structure to others.

Kit’s association with the Cybermen attracted controversy, and he was forced to defend them against enraged parents after a Tomb of the Cybermen scene showed fluid spurting from a dying Cyberman’s innards. Then there was the incident in which “Pedlar took one of Doctor Who’s Cybermen into a busy shopping area of St Pancras, he almost blocked the street and ‘got into trouble with the police’”. Recalling the occasion, he doesn’t sound very penitent…‘I wanted to know how people would react to something quite unusual … but I also wanted to be a nuisance.’” [9]

The last Kit Pedler Cyberman story, The Invasion, ended with the Cybermen repulsed – just three weeks after Kit appeared on Horizon talking about the retina. By then Kit had departed the “genial hokum” of Doctor Who and announced his next collaboration with Gerry Davis. Having scared the nation’s kids, Pedler and Davis found a way to keep adults awake with scientifically plausible anxious eco-nightmares.

Doomwatch’s first episode aired on 9th February 1970, breaking all records for a new series, with 13 million viewers. Doomwatch was born out of scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings on environmental hazards which were “slowly cutting our throats” according to Davis – such as a death from noise pollution at Fylingdales radar station. Davis had realised through a process of “picking Pedler’s brains with Doctor Who” that he and Kit were fellow doom merchants. Davis insisted, “Doomwatch is not science fiction.” [10]

The programmes’s title is the codename for the Department of Measurement of Scientific Work, a trio of government scientists who dealt with the worst excesses of science, and fought constant battles against central government and M16.

Brilliant Nobel Laureate Dr Spencer Quist headed the fictional Department, whose ever-changing staff included argumentative M16-trained burglar Dr John Ridge and baby-faced heartthrob Tobias Wren.

The opening episode – The Plastic Eaters – centred on Aminostyrene, a genetically engineered bug for breaking down biodegradable bottles, that acquires a taste for aircraft electrical wiring insulation. Kit rewrote it as Mutant 59 The Plastic Eaters – a Doomwatch novel with Gerry Davis. The gleefully Luddite novelisation is more funny and exciting, with scenes of Gremlins-type chaos as a prototype lunar survey robot on display in a department store runs amok and demolishes Santa’s grotto: the “smell of rotting plastic” fills the air, gas meters burst, and radios and TVs disintegrate. Other Doomwatch subjects tackled super resistant GM rats or mass male impotence caused by hormone-laced manure from a battery chicken farm leeching into the soil. Kit correctly predicted that, while the moral dilemmas of the 1950s and 1960s were around physics, biology would be the new ethical minefield. Doomwatch even got its own Oxford English Dictionary entry: ‘the surveillance of the environment to prevent harm to it from human agencies.’ Labour MP Ray Fletcher proposed creating a real-life parliamentary Doomwatch committee – with Kit sitting on it.

Producer Terrence Dudley moved Doomwatch away from science and turned it into a thriller for its second series, with the Pedler-Davis team now having little input into the programme and even criticising its direction. They wrote two more novels, the long-winded The Dynostar Menace – a race to shut down a brand new orbital fusion reactor before it starts transmitting power to earth and destroying the ozone layer – and Brainrack – a mass dumbing-down of the population through petrol additives.

Kit’s firm grounding in environmental sciences through Doomwatch led to environmental consultancy work for industry on waste reduction and energy saving, decades before European Union regulations forced these issues into the corporate mainstream. A 1975 Man Alive documentary had him as its nuclear waste expert. Kit’s next project left sci-fi behind and took him in a deep-green philosophical direction, with The Quest for Gaia – A Book of Changes.

Gaia was a damning but futuristic indictment of “technologist toymakers” and of ‘cybernarchy’ – the “parasitic industrial society” of packaging, supermarkets and hamburgers. Another target of Kit’s wrath was baths and how much energy they used – both in hot water and in the casting and enamelling of the tub: “I regret the passing of my bath immeasurably…marvellously relaxing. But there it is, in a Gaian society, baths are out.” The mainstream did not ignore The Quest for Gaia: New Scientist called it “searching and deadly.” [footnote 11]

Gaia led to more environmental consultancy work for Kit, which in turn led to an appearance on the Thames TV consumer programme Money Go Round, interviewed in a scrapyard near Shepperton, to show how the infant science of recycling could work. In the “local boozer afterwards” the conversation turned to “UFOs and ghosts and all the rest of it.” Kit asked, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone did a proper science programme” on these phenomena?

The result was “a very brave decision,” seven half-hour episodes of Mind Over Matter, which went out at 7pm on Tuesdays on ITV in the summer of 1981. Kit was the main presenter and wrote the tie-in book Mind Over Matter: a scientist's view of the paranormal. His co-presenter was the man who had interviewed him at the scrapyard –Tony Bastable, presenter of the 1970s children’s programme Magpie.

The focus was on precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokenesis. The book included do-it-yourself experiments in Ganzfeld, psychokenesis, telepathy, Remote Viewing (RV) and metal bending – the latter a nod to the Uri Geller phenomenon.

Kit’s presentation had a Fortean’s healthy distrust of orthodoxy. “I have always distrusted ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’ who try to exclude ‘laymen’. There was never anything difficult about science: it was only made so by some scientists.”

But Mind Over Matter had hard science credentials, with “more Nobel Laureates interviewed than you could shake a stick at.” Kit insisted, “Although it sounds outlandish, it’s really a very down to earth series. We’re dealing with proof, not speculation.” The first two episodes looked in detail at ground rules for evidence, and Kit demanded the same double blind experimental protocols he had learnt on the hospital wards. [12]

Kit concluded that there was plenty of room in quantum physics for paranormal phenomena - “Einstein, Bohr, Schr√∂dinger and Dirac …… imagined such unfamiliar immensities as to make what I have referred to as the ‘paranormal’ almost pedestrian by comparison”, in a quantum universe where the act of measurement may change the object being measured, where cause may not always precede effect, and where it may eventually turn out that “future events cast a shadow back into the present.” In the quarter century since then, quantum physics has, of course, got a lot weirder.

Mind Over Matter featured what is believed to be the first filmed real-time RV experiment at Indian Rock in Berkeley, California. Sceptical photographer Hella Hammid, who’d become “rather good at RV”, drew the features of Indian Rock, the location randomly picked from an envelope, as Kit wandered up and down the rock. Except that Hammid’s sketch showed another location from the experimenter’s list. This was “the displacement effect” well known in RV. Kit confessed that it was his fault. Before the experiment, he wrote on a bit of paper “During the experiment, a part of the equipment will inexplicably fail” and sealed it in an envelope. The experiment’s random number generator also crashed.

This “displacement effect” reared its head again when Kit donned the cut-in-half golf balls for a filmed Ganzfeld (whole field) experiment. While Carl Sargent and others tried to mentally send Kit an impression of a randomly chosen photograph, he described one of the other pictures that had stayed in its envelope. While the Ganzfeld environment was supposed to relax Kit, it has the opposite effect, and he confessed to being “anxious and tense at different parts of my mind working against each other … What rubbish you‘ve got yourself into, Kit.” … “My God, what if I succeed, I don’t want to be a psychic!”

Kit interviewed Stephen North, who could apparently bend metal in pyschokenesis experiments conducted by Birkbeck College’s Professor Hasted. North said of his wild talent – “Certainly I don’t know how I can do it, but there are ways I can stop it from happening. For instance, when I started to do it, everything in my house began to bend. All the cutlery bent and gradually I found I could stop that when I wanted to, and I can stop it from damaging my watch or my own keys.”

Mind Over Matter revisited the mid-1970s case of ‘Philip’ – a fictional ghost “living at the time of Cromwell in 1600,” who was deliberately made up by a “group of eight meeting for two hours a week for almost a year…. to see whether ordinary people could generate some sort of spirit.” The group was of a “sceptical turn of mind,” but they eventually found their “table itself began to move” – an event filmed for Canadian TV – then the “table [was] flying around the room.” Kit interviewed one witness, Dr Lawrence Lesham, who had a “fair amount of experience with conjuring” and “was convinced no-one present was rapping the table.” Kit dryly concluded that psychokenesis was “the least implausible explanation.” [13]

Kit’s medical experience informed Mind Over Matter’s look at faith healing – “I am afraid we have to face the real probability of professional bias” – and the placebo effect, for which he drew on his time on the wards: “I worked for a doctor who cured people simply by looking magnificent … he would intone with exquisitely measured mellificence ‘You are much better.’ And they got better.”

On May 26th 1981, Dr Kit Pedler was found dead outside his house in Sittingbourne, Kent, by his girlfriend Cherry Gilliam. The doctor who had been so disparaging of heart surgery had dropped dead from a heart attack, aged 54. Mind Over Matter’s Episode 5, which went out the next week, was – appropriately – about out of body experiences.

Why have there been no programmes like Mind Over Matter in the 25 years since 1981? Bastable points to endless UFO programmes on Sky TV, but none with Kit’s scientific rigour. Kit’s tone throughout Mind Over Matter suggested that a breakthrough in the science of the paranormal was around the corner, but he admitted the situation was not helped by “a very large number of completely gullible people in the field who accept absolutely everything they hear about the paranormal, from sharpening razor blades under pyramids to UFOs from Atlantis.” ITV’s own publicity for the series trivialised Mind Over Matter by introducing it through a piece in which pop star Alvin Stardust, actor Donald Sinden and other celebrities gave their own “spooky” – and uninteresting – accounts of paranormal hauntings. [14]

The final Mind Over Matter episode was meant to take the form of Kit in a panel discussion with experts. Co-presenter Tony Bastable was in the chair, filling dead man’s shoes, and recalls putting it to Supernature author Lyall Watson that “Anybody who goes into this field automatically suffers derision.” The TV Times listing for the panel discussion, transmitted 23rd June 1981, asked “If we accept such things as telepathy, do we have to change our view of the world around us? Is there a future for the subject, or will it simply fade away?”


Is it just me, or do those "stub your cigarettes out here" bins attach to posts not look like the advanced guard of some sort of cyberman invasion, especially given their resemblance to the faces of the cybermen in their latest design? Photo: Matt Salusbury

Kit Pedler admitted he was influenced by Dan Dare from Eagle comic, and the evil green Treens in particular. He originally envisaged the Cybemen as Jedi-like ‘space monks’, but Gerry Davis urged him to follow his anxieties about spare part surgery.

Kit’s first Cyberman adventure, The Tenth Planet, (1966) introduced the Cybermen back-story: they exhausted their planet’s natural resources and were driven underground as their planet’s atmosphere began stripping itself away. In desperation they started to convert themselves into immortals with superhuman strength, but without any emotion. Cybermen come from Earth's evil twin planet Mondas, which split from earth billions of years ago, just as the Moon did. Some of the 160 “exoplanets” (planets outside our solar system) that been discovered in the last decade have “bizarre orbits,” and a ‘rogue’ planet like Mondas, which breaks up at the end of the The Tenth Planet as it nears the Earth’s atmosphere, is beginning to seem more plausible.

The original Cybermen came to superficially resemble humans through parallel evolution, while Cybermen from subsequent stories are just people like us taken prisoner and ‘converted.’ Part of their terror lies in the seductive possibility that we might actually want to be ‘converted.’ In Tomb of the Cybermen, the almost deaf-mute character Toberman is found by his colleagues to be partly-converted, with a metal and plastic arm, while Tobias Vaughn – one of Doctor Who’s most convincing villains – is converted from the neck down, but finally dies helping the Doctor thwart a Cyberman invasion.

The original Cybermen were plastic and metal, with identifiable human hands and facial bone structure. Cyberman design has evolved in a more metal, robot-like direction over the years – their costumes have featured plastic hoses, golf balls, silver-sprayed wetsuits, and Wellington boots. 1970s Cybermen had flares, while 1980s Cyberman had a baggy silver jumpsuit and a recognizable human throat that moved when they spoke. The 2006 Cyberman redesign has a completely metal exo-skeleton.

Cybermen have superhuman strength, and can punch through walls and throw people around – in some not very convincing scenes where you can see the wires. The Doctor found several obscure ways of killing off the near-indestructible Cybermen – fuel rods from a nuclear reactor, giant X-ray lasers; nail varnish remover-type solvents that affect the “respiratory units” in their chests, and gold – either as dust or in bullets. Gold ‘s density would give it good armour-piercing properties.

Kit himself found test tube people a much more terrifying than Cybermen.

If they were built with 21st century technology, Cybermen would probably have a ceramic skeleton with Teflon and carbon-fibre ligaments. Modern Cyberpeople include: the artist Stelarc, with electrodes implanted in his muscles to allow his limbs to be operated over the internet, and scientist Kevin Warwick, who has a transponder in his arm which allows him to open the door of his lab. Barcelona Baja Beach Club members have their pass and bar tab on chips implanted in their arm (FT 206, p34).

Cybermen voices also evolved over time. The original Cyberman voices from their debut in The Tenth Planet were staccato and with that weird discordant intonation like those automated telephone response services you get when you ring banks and cinemas. As they got more robot-like, Cybermen had buzzing ring-modular voices, and the actors had to open and close a little slit for their mouths when they spoke. Later Cybermen had a booming, more human-like voice.

Kit and Gerry Davis also conceived the Cybermats – cat-sized reconnaissance cyborgs (cyber organisms) modelled on silverfish and delivering a toxic bite. Such animal cyborgs are already with us – in the form of “RoboRat” – a rat with implanted electrodes whose every action could be controlled by a computer, and flying 1mm square ‘microbots’ that use the antenna of a real male silk moth to follow a pheromone trail (FT 186).

The glory days of the Cybermen were in the era of the Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. The Tenth Planet was quickly followed by The Moonbase (1967) – credited only to Kit Pedler only as Gerry Davis was also working on the series as its script editor. In The Moonbase, The Second Doctor turns the Gravitron - an anti-gravity device that manages the earth’s weather – on the Cyberman invasion fleet.

Then came Tomb of the Cybermen (1967) – the one in which the Cybermen burst out of their frozen tombs and throw humans around, and the Cybermats make their debut. Next was The Wheel in Space (1968) – written by former Who script editor David Whitaker – based on a Kit Pedler’s tense but convoluted story about a space station hypnotically attacked by space-walking Cybermen and Cybermats

Scriptwriter Derrick Sherwin made only “casual” use of Pedler's concepts for The Invasion (1969) – the one where the Cybermen come up through the sewers around St Paul’s Cathedral. The Invasion correctly predicted that all the world’s computer operating systems would be in the hands of one corporation – although its name was International Electromatics, and it was a Cyberman front company.

Gerry Davis went on to write Revenge of the Cybermen (1985) alone – the one where the Cyberman have guns in their head units and nearly rip off Tom Bakers head after he calls them “a bunch of pathetic tin soldiers.”

Post-Pedler and Davis Cyber-stories were often nostalgic retreads of old ideas. These include Earthshock (1982) – in which the Doctor’s companion Adric is killed and the Doctor crumples his gold star badge into the Cyber leader’s control unit, and Attack of the Cybermen (1985) – in which partly converted prisoners attempting to escape knock the head off a Cyberman. These stories were almost as confused as the 1988 Silver Nemesis, the one when the Cybermen fight Nazis and a living, screaming 17th century silver statue. A squad of Cybermen also has a very bad day when they stray into the Time Lord’s gladiatorial zone in The Five Doctors (1983). UPDATE - the revived Doctor Who had an alternative origin for the Cybermen on a parallel Earth. The latest outing from the Cybermen, Nightmare in Silver, scripted by Neill Gaiman, featured nano-technology Cybermites.

The now ubiquitous Cyber-prefix comes, via a very convoluted route, from Cybernetus, helmsman of the Styx ferry that carried the dead to the Greek underworld. Cybernetus’ steering to adjust for the strong River Styx current was a primitive ‘self-regulating control system.’ Mathematician Norbert Weiner’s 1948 book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine coined a new term, associated with the control of complex systems, both in the natural world and in machine networks. Weiner, like Kit, recognized the ethical implications of his work, and after World War Two refused to take on any US government contracts.

1960 saw cybernetics evolve the term ‘cyborg’ (cyber organism) with Manfred C. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline’s physiological research at Rockland State Hospital, New York. Clynes and Kline were looking at the interface between humans or animals operating machines in the harsh environment of space – possibly, though not necessarily, augmented by surgery, implants or drugs.

‘Cyborg’ was still a relatively novel term when Kit invented the Cybermen in 1966. But the increasing interaction between humans and machine systems – computers and the internet in particular, spawned a whole host of Cyber-terminology, helped along by sci-fi writer William Gibson, whose term ‘cyberpunk’ was joined by ‘cybersex,’ ‘cybercrime’, ’cyberconferencing,’ and so on – none of which involves creepy silver-suited spare part immortals with superhuman strength.


Fortean Times article, May 2006

1. Mind Over Matter – a scientist'sview of the paranormal , Kit Pedler, Eyre Methuen London 1981

2. Mind Over Matter – a scientist"s view of the paranormal, Kit Pedler, Eyre Methuen London 1981

3. Experimental Eye Research , volume 2 no 3, 3 July 1963, Academic Press, London and New York. Dr Pedler quoted on the International Vegetarian Union website, no date or source given.

4. The Long Term Residents in The Seventh Ghost Book, Barrie and Jenkins, London 1971, White Caucasian Male in The Ninth Ghost Book, ed. Rosemary Timperley, Barrie and Jenkins, London 1973. Kit's editor Rosemary Timperley was heavily into pure physics as an explanation for ghosts, suggesting that ghosts could be made of neutrinos.

5. The Quest for Gaia - A Book of Changes. Kit Pedler, Souvenir/Granada 1979

6. Memo from Gerry Davis, BBC Drama, referring to an earlier copyright brief of 18th May 1966, BBC Written Archives

7. Telephone interview with Tony Bastable, December 9th 2005. Margarette Driscoll on Mind Over Matter, TV Times May 16th 1981

8 Spare Part Surgery – The Science of the Future, Donald Longmore Aldus, London 1968

9. The Day a Cyberman went shopping in St. Pancras, Radio Times 23 November 1968 p. 39

10. "The honeymoon of science is over – and married life is not so rosy", Elizabeth Cowley, Radio Times Feb 5 1970 p 5. Doomwatch – Past Perfect, SFX magazine, September 2004, Future Publishing, Bristol. Mutant 59 The Plastic Eaters , Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Vector, London 1972, The Dynostar Menace, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Souvenir, London 1975, Brainrack, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Souvenir, London 1974.
A real-life African execution in the Sex and Violence episode of Doomwatch resulted in the BBC finally pulling the plug on it long after Kit had left the series. Its final episode in 1972 was about killer dolphins. Dr Quist and his team appeared as walk-ons in the 1972 Doomwatch feature film, and Trevor Eve played him in a one-off 1995 Channel 5 Doomwatch episode.
During filming of Mind Over Matter in 1981, Kit complained that he was still getting a considerable postbag of complaints about him killing off the dishy Tobias Wren character, played by Robert Powell, at the end of the third series, despite the fact that he had stopped writing for Doomwatch some years earlier. There was even a &rdquo:structural reader” abridged and edited for foreign students learning English who needed a bit of hard science in their studies - Doomwatch – The World in Danger, Longman 1975. This featured The Plastic Eaters, Red Sky (the sound from experimental rocket engines resonates a lighthouse like a giant clarinet reed and drives its occupants suicidal) and A Bomb is Missing (defusing a washed up nuke on a seaside pier.) There are "comprehension and structure" English exercises at the back.

11. The Quest for Gaia – A Book of Changes. Kit Pedler, Souvenir/Granada, London 1979. Kit promised in The Quest For Gaia that he would produce a follow-up volume with "practical blueprints" for a Gaian society, but this new appeared. In 1969 he was working on a science fiction book that was to be a look back at human history from the viewpoint of the year 2016, but this remained unfinished. Although Kit was an ex-Catholic atheist, The Quest For Gaia still features in theological debate on the role of environmentalism in Christian ethics.

12. Mind Over Matter: a scientist's view of the paranormal, Eyre Methuen, London 1981. Author's telephone interview with Tony Bastable, December 9th 2005. Bastable admits that Kit and Mind Over Matter director Richard Mervyn (a veteran of The Tomorrow People) did most of the work. Margarette Driscoll on Mind Over Matter, TV Times May 16th 1981

13. Conjuring Up Philip, Owen and M. Sparrow, Harper and Row, New York, 1976, quoted in Mind Over Matter

14. Bastable felt that Mind Over Matter being mostly shot the then low-grade VHS videotape format (instead of film) hindered its chances of reaching a bigger audience, as it was not of sufficient quality to be sold to English-speaking TV networks abroad. The videos, stills and scripts for Mind Over Matter are now with Freemantle Media Archive Sales in London. Mind Over Matter feature including interviews with Alvin Stardust, Donald Sinden and Eurovision Song Contest winner Lindsay De Paul in TV Times, June 16th 1981.

UPDATE: Bastable died in 2007, making my interview with him one of the last ever. This article and my interview notes were quoted (with permission) in The Quest for Pedler by Michael Seely.

Front cover images for the purposes of a critique or review (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988)

words copyright © Matt Salusbury 2006

Thursday, 22 August 2013

On Schedule 7 - demand to be arrested

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has been in the news a lot of late, what with the detention and interrogation of David Miranda, partner of the journalist Glenn Greenwald, at Heathrow under Schedule 7. Police and "officials" were interested in Greenwald's stories on NSA surveillance of absolutely everybody.(Nothing to do with "terrorism" of course, other than state terrorism on a huge scale.) Malcolm Rifkind was wheeled out to defend the use of Schedule 7 on a BBC Radio 4 Today programme, and appeared to dig himself a hole of Spycatcher proportions.

I came across Schedule 7 Terrorism Act before. it was the subject of a talk at a FITWATCH conference I attended back in 2011. Speakers told how people who were active in local community centres seemed to be singled out for intimidation under Schedule 7 based purely on their ethnicity (and the fact that British residents with family connections elsewhere tend to go abroad more.) What follows is an extract from my notes on that conference.

Zin Derfoufi of the Federation of Islamic Student Societies drew our attention to the little-known but frequently used Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. "They" can stop you without reasonable suspicion at ports and airports and the Eurostar international stations entering or leaving the UK, but it’s also been used on people stopped in the waiting areas who aren’t actually going abroad.

M15 have been approaching Somali people active with the Kentish Town Community Centre and who are going abroad, they’ve been doing this for a while. The people who stop them on their way out of the country tell them to be informers on others in the community, They are told that if they don’t inform for them, they will tell “other countries that they’re terrorists.”

The Kentish Town Community Centre people went public a few years ago, it was all over the Independent, and that made M15 (or whoever it really was) back off for a while, but some intimidation using Schedule 7 still continues.

Zin says that under Schedule 7 they can hold you for up to nine hours and take DNA samples, and you have no right to silence, you have to respond to your Schedule 7 interrogators. And they can question you while your lawyer is still on the way, they don’t have to wait from them to arrive. They can share the results of their interrogation with any agency, including law enforcement agencies abroad.

A (then) relatively recent FOIA request revealed that up till then, there had been over 10,000 Schedule 7 stops, resulting in only 43 convictions. Most people convicted after a Schedule 7 stop get three convictions on separate, technical offences, so that probably means they’ve convicted around 15 people based on such stops.

More confident and experienced activists, when told they had to respond to Schedule 7 interrogation and had no right to silence and very few other rights, challenged their captors to arrest them, which would then automatically confer Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1986) rights to silence and to a lawyer. This was usually enough to get them released immediately. (You are “detained” under Schedule 7, not yet arrested.) Zin has had so many stops at the hands of police for so many different things that he’s now an expert at dealing with it. When anti-terror police stop him these days, such stops result in the anti-terror police dropping him off where he wants to go, whereupon they say, “Please don’t sue me.”

The conference also heard from Deniz Arbet of the Kurdish Federation. According to Deniz, since 2010 M15 has been targeting the management committee members of the community centre where he’s active. Members have been stopped at airports under Schedule 7 and held for longer and longer, first for an hour, now up to seven hours at a time. (Extract from my 2011 notes ends.)

* A citizen journalist returning to the UK from covering an international anarchist conference in Switzerland was also among those detained under Schedule 7 this August. The event in Switzerland had been "educational and festive" in nature, and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism officers (SO15, the unit which has subsumed the "domestic extremism" units) were involved in the questioning, which was reportedly along the lines of, "What would you do if someone raped your mother?"

* The National Union of Journalists recently appealed for information from any journalists who had been stopped under Schedule 7 while going to do work abroad or returning from work abroad. The Freelance's appeal (linked above) repeated advice to demand "they" arrest you under a named charge.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Curse of the Daleks - "lost" Daleks matinee play

The Daleks’ “lost” stage play from 1965 – but don’t get too excited, it wasn’t very good. This first appeared in sci-fi fanzine This Way Up issue 18, way back in 2006. Bits of This Way Up are online here. I'm putting it back online to coincide with some of my more up-to-the-minute 50th Doctor Who anniversary Dalek tie-in articles whose publication is imminent. Wyndham's Theatre programme front cover image, copyright Wyndham's Theatres 1965 - reproduced under "fair dealing", Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, for the purposes of a critique or review

“Saturday teatime is sacred to the one-eyed monster” (Harold Jackson, Guardian, 22 December 1965)

In January 1966, the forgotten Dalek drama Curse of the Daleks ended its brief and only matinee run on the stage of London’s Wyndham Theatre after just one month. It was the first example of the anoraky obsessive Doctor Who continuity thing, linking the first The Daleks story with Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the first outing for the Daleks without the Doctor, as the Daleks' creator Terry Nation owned the copyright for the Daleks but not for Doctor Who.The Doctor is not even mentioned in Curse.

Curse is also notable for its absolutely mentalist programme notes by scriptwriter David Whitaker - about how Dalek creator Terry Nation rang him up in a tizzy and asked him to come over and look at a small opaque glass cube about the size of a sugar lump which he’d found in his garden. When he carefully drilled a hole in it, little slivers of metal fell out which turned out to contain microfilm, “these were Dalek history - the history of Skaro from the future. Had the peace-loving Thals sent them as a warning - or had a Dalek history library exploded, jettisoning debris through the universe?”

Whitaker would have the audience believe that Curse of the Daleks was based on such a capsule found in Kensington Gardens - ‘so keep your eyes and ears open when you’re out in the park’, children. The programme notes also stated that “In accordance with modern theatre practice, the National Anthem will only be played in the presence of Royalty’ - in the unlikely event of Her Majesty the Queen dropping in for the matinee performance of Curse of the Daleks.

Curse was an attempt to cash in on the Dalekmania phenomenon. The Telegraph’s critic commented of Curse that “as Mr Nation discovered a few thousand pounds ago, “The-Daleks-are-invincible!” The very proactive Walter Tucknell, in charge of Dalek licensing at the BBC in 1964, came up with wizard wheezes like adding the Anti-Dalek fluid neutraliser to a toy company’s range - it was really just a re-branded Dan Dare water pistol.

There were only a handful of Dalek toys in the shops for Christmas 1964 – TV21 comics, birthday cards and badges. By mid-1965, an 18-page advertorial in Games and Toys was running, showing the 80 Dalek items in production. Terry Nation told the Radio Times in 1973 that there were 132 Dalek products in all, from jelly babies to wallpaper to bedroom slippers, bringing him money ‘beyond the dreams of avarice. The programme for Curse includes the ‘Dalekode’ cut-out cryptography code wheel from the Dalek Pocket Book and Space Traveller’s Guide (Panther/Souvenir) and a shameless plug for the Dalek Painting Book. Daleks were the hottest property by Christmas 1965. But by the time of Curse, just after Christmas 1966, interest had already started to wane. The craze was over by 1967.

While the script bears the credit ‘Curse of the Daleks stage play by Terry Nation and David Whitaker,’ the agent for the Nation estate told me that Terry Nation’s widow Kate had never heard of the play and had no record of its existence, and asked me to send a copy if I come across one. It seems that the script was almost entirely written by Who’s original story editor David Whitaker, with elements ripped off from his scripts for TV21 comic’s Daleks strip. Whitters was an actor before he turned to scriptwriting and was comfortable writing for the stage.

A "Complaints Manager Dalek" spotted in the window of a Hornsey Road hi-fi shop in North London. Photo by the author, Daleks copyright BBC/estate of Terry Nation

Under the Stage Licensing Act of 1737, all plays had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for censorship. When censorship of plays ended in 1968, the plays came to the Manuscript Collection of the British Library in London. The script for Curse of the Daleks is in the Library’s card index system in the Manuscript Collection as Play no 1965/50, Lord Chamberlain’s Licence no. 356, dated November 1965.

The sniffy Illustrated London News theatre critic compared Curse of the Daleks unfavourably with the robots from Karel Capek’s R.U.R., which is a bit like comparing Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space unfavourably with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sniffy Illustrated London News guy imagines that it must be some kind of panto because it’s for the kids at Xmas. Certainly all the Daleks silently trundling in and out of secret doors when the humans have their backs turned is reminiscent of the ‘Behind you!’ element of panto.

Curse was aimed more squarely at the kids than was the ‘family drama’ Doctor Who, and has the most basic of whodunit plots. It brought harsh words from the critics: “a false start depending too much on weak jokes” (The Times), “[while] little boys are fascinated by the ‘space dialogue’, little girls like it but can’t grasp the detail, male grown ups find it difficult to keep pace. Female grown-ups smile tolerably.” The first half seems to have been particularly pants, with rubbish dialogue for the human actors. As well as having no Doctor Who, the first half suffered from not much by way of Daleks either, nor were the Daleks on stage for very long in the second half. Everyone agreed that things improved when the Daleks showed up: “Until the Daleks massed appearance, the action seems somewhat tame. Then, with the first sign of a Dalek shuddering to life, the plot starts to grip…. an ultimately satisfying adventure.” (The Times) “Daleks possess a magnetism lacking in the flesh and blood characters….no less compelling on stage than on the TV screen.” (Illustrated London News “after tots have discussed the outlook learnedly over ice cream. things liven a lot as the Daleks act in close formation.” (Telegraph)

The play opens with a rhyme to the tune of "Remember, remember, the fifth of November": “When fears are abating/ Don’t try to forget them/The Daleks are waiting/Quietly planning and /Scheming and hating/Remember!”

Then we are in the bare, "curved ribbed storehold’ of the spaceship Starfinder. We see two prisoners. Harry Sline is under arrest for slave trading between Mars and Venus, and he’s looking at a 30-year prison sentence in The Deeps underwater prison in the Atlantic. Disgraced Commander John Ladiver’s many crimes include illegal sales of uranium to ‘the wrong people’, an act that almost led to war in space. He’s suspected of having ‘cached away about 30 million.’ Ladiver is facing execution. Both have just done eight days in a holding cell on Satellite Prison, and Sline is trying to file through the handcuffs chaining the pair together.

Food is brought by radio-pic (primitive ‘radio-picture’ communications device) operator and engineer Bob Slater, who’s armed with a “short stubbly” detonator handgun. Captain Steven Redway looks in on the prisoners. The crew’s “immaculate silver and grey uniform of the period” was off the peg from Nathans theatrical outfitters.

The Starfinder, travelling at light speed, runs into trouble as it hits a meteor storm, resulting in ‘programme circuits shorting.’ The ‘small and wiry’ Co-pilot Rocket Smith (‘Rock’ to his friends) enters to inform the Captain that there’s smoke coming out of the radio-pic set. Somebody sabotaged it by chucking iron filings in it.

Forced to land to make repairs, the crew choose the relatively quiet nearby planet of Skaro, even though the Unispace Police have declared Skaro ‘out of bounds.’ The human crew are dimly aware that the hot planet Skaro is the home of the now deactivated Daleks and the beautiful blonde “wandering” race of Thals.

The aloof ‘Little Miss Iceberg’ Marion Clements - dark, attractive, businesslike in her smart white lab technician’s costume, enters with her boss, the handsome and dignified fiftysomething Professor Vanderlyn. The prisoners are disembarked, still manacled together, along with Vanderlyn’s equipment, including refrigerated crates of biological specimens from around the universe, wheeled in on a trolley to keep them out of the oven-like heat on board the Starfinder.

Now we’re in a courtyard in the dead City of the Daleks on Skaro, all archways and ramps and secret doors. There’s a dormant Dalek standing in the courtyard, overgrown with vines and with its eyestalk and its suction pad arm pointing at the ground. Vanderlyn relates how the humans managed to switch off the Daleks power at the end of the Dalek war, and embraces the Skaro landing as an “opportunity to make notes, aha!” Rocket hangs his jacket over the Dalek’s eyestalk. Vanderlyn and Marion pull the creepers off the Dalek to examine it. Captain Redway’s pants attempt at flirty jokes and Rocket Smith’s awful-sub-comic argumentative banter with Marion Clements go down like a lead balloon.

When Vanderlyn starts to unload his specimen cases from the trolley there’s one he doesn’t recognise - a large case with VENDERLYN on it, containing a dozen thick black discs - smooth bright metal base, metal without joins, in two sections with “some kind of barely visible pin sticking out of a hole in the base.” Before long, Rocket notices one of discs is missing. Seconds later it inevitably turns up stuck to the side of the overgrown Dalek, whose eyestalk twitches into life! “Slowly, its sucker stick starts to straighten up.”
It moves around and exits through the ramp.

The mystery black boxes turn out to be “flooding power into the Dalek like a blood transfusion,” and whispering recorded orders to the Daleks.

It is suggested “We could simply whistle up the space boys and that would be that” - presumably the Unispace security forces or the SSS (Space Security Service - they feature in The Dalek Master Planand in Nation’s treatment for a proposed Daleks TV series). Captain Redway takes command, while Vanderlyn goes into another tedious science lecture, this one on electricity. Sline files through his manacles and is felled by an anaesthetic bullet as he makes a break for it.

Three Daleks appear trundling down the ramp with a trolley on which is Vanderlyn’s crate, now containing the slumped body of Bob Slater. The black boxes are gone.

Now we’re in a rare scene with Daleks in it, in the Scanner room inside the City. “Black claw-equipped Daleks” are powering themselves up and plugging in a huge wide-screen telly on which they have the humans under surveillance. We hear a disembodied voice, called TANNOY DALEK in the script, who commands: “All-Daleks-not-on-patrol-duties-to-return -to-their-panels!” The Daleks have much better lines than the humans.

Redway goes missing with the only detonator gun, leaving Rocket Smith in charge. It turns out that Slater was not killed by Daleks, but poisoned by a hypodermic. The humans send up a flare to bring in the Thals, who reply by flashing a piece of polished metal.

An explosion heralds the appearance of the dignified, white haired Thal leader Dexion and his daughter Ijayna as they seal passages behind them. “Close the arches!” barks Ijayna. “It’s no good being afraid of them.” Thals are still a quite low-tech, wandering race like in the original The Daleks, but they are no longer the namby-pamby girly pacifist race of that story. They’re already established as the guerrilla race we won’t meet again until the Pertwee-era Planet of the Daleks. “You are badly prepared!” comments Ijayna, to which Dexion replies; “You must make allowances. These people have not lived in the shadow of the Daleks as we have, “ and so on.

Thal clothes are “simple and designed to suit Skaroan climate which is constantly hot…Every effort must be made by the designer to help us avoid making the Thals look like pantomime creatures. They are not. The Thals are graceful, attractive, people, the simpler their clothes the better.” So no silver-sprayed wellies as in the Doctor Who and the Daleks movie, then. One theatre critic (or newspaper sub-editor) confused ‘Thal’ with ‘Thai’

The “fair, tall and beautiful” female Thal “Ijayna wears a skirt…. a thin silver band around her forehead which enclosed the top of her hair, sleeved top fixed at the wrists with silver cuffs. Top’s neckline and backline square-cut. Neck and backline edged with silver.” She has a surprisingly accurate 21st century bare midriff. This obsessive attention to Ijyana’s appearance is known in the Christmas season plays for children trade as “something for the dads.”

These Thals and Commander Ladiver have met before. Ladiver led the regular five-yearly patrol of local stars three years before, and investigated Ijayna’s claim that someone had landed secretly on Skaro just before Ladiver’s last visit - possibly to test the black boxes, they now believe. Ladiver’s reports were ignored, and his subsequent uranium-smuggling career was a cover for routine flights across “the Skaro universe.”

Well, blow me! It turns out Ijayana and Ladiver are engaged to be married. The Thals set Ladiver free. Dexion refers to “my people waiting in the dead [vitrified] forest” which featured in The Daleks, set fifty years before, and close to the city of the Daleks then. So it’s presumably the same enclosed City of the Daleks now, with courtyards added.

A badly-wounded Redway stumbles in, and the Tannoy Dalek orders the humans to “Obey-the-Da-leks!” and hand over their radio. It seems whoever is controlling the Daleks plans to “rule the universe from Skaro.” Night is falling when a torch-equipped Dalek appears through a secret door. They exterminate Sline when he runs for it.

There’s a distinctly undalek-like interest shown in rounding up the ladies, which is a clue to the plans of whoever the human traitor is: “The two females are to be given food and drink and also water in containers and pieces of fibre cloth. I shall order it! …Our master has ordered that we begin to prepare for the invasion of the planet earth!” By then, it looks as if whoever’s running the Daleks is probably male. Suspicion falls on Vanderlyn or Rocket Smith.

Now we’re in the Control room, which is the “redressed” courtyard set made to look like it’s underground. “Panels with switches and dials either side, glowing bulbs, recorded tape spools spin.” There’s a whole array of tripods and rostrums, bars and looped cables and big chunky Dalek six-pin electrical sockets with ‘holes in it, the size of a telephone dial.’ The male prisoners are drugged and propped up on a bench; the ladies are “secured to floor by magnets.”

It was Bob Slater all along! (Which I guessed.) He wasn’t really dead. He’d just injected something to freeze his heart. He put the detonator guns out of action. And he went off to see the Thals and smash their radio. And he’s NUTS! “I’ll show you how mad I am! Daleks, we will connect the power!”

It turns out the whole elaborate plan to take over the universe arose because he couldn’t get laid. Rather than put an ad in the “men seeking women” section of the local paper, he resolves to use the Daleks to take over earth. “The Daleks obey me!” Bob has already got his eye on the two girls, and goes on and on about how they’re going to be his playthings when he rules “all the universes” and how he will finally be able to pick up chicks.

Ladiver thwarts the Dalek powering-up by clinging to the underside of a trolley full of power cells pushed by a trolley Dalek.

When Daleks get full power, their black boxes fall off and they’re free of Bob Slater’s hair-brained scheme. They immediately turn on Slater (“You-are-no-longer-our-mas-ter!!) and exterminate him. In these pre-‘exterminate’ days, they just say “Die!” It isn’t related how the exterminate effect is done on stage. (Apparently, the catch-phrase "Exterminate!" didn't talk hold until the later TV Doctor Who story The Dalek Masterplan.)

But Ladiver has been busy pulling stronger-than-the-sun power cells out of their sockets all this time, and generally putting the boot into Dalek electrical engineering. No sooner are the Daleks all independently powered up, than the Black Dalek is begging the humans to “Turn on our power… again” As he shuts down, Black Dalek warns, “Tell your people on earth……that the Daleks are waiting … One day… we will… rise again… one day…”

“Tell them the Daleks are finished.” Says Ladiver.
“Are they?” replies Rocket, “Marvellous!”

The curtain falls on an interracial human-Thal snog between Ladiver and Ijanya. Hurrah!

The author with an Ecclestone/Tennant-era gold Dalek at the Doctor Who Experience, London, in 2011. Daleks copyright BBC/estate of Terry Nation.

“Too much space jargon” was the complaint of the Telegraph’s critic, while The Times said, “though the period is the 21st century, the dialogue is initially strangely reminiscent of British war films with the upper lip being kept resolutely stiff.” The cast had to “cope with lines that come straight from a Victorian novel, according to the Guardian. It is the dreadfulness of the dialogue that makes Curse really stand out:

“Nor me skipper.”
“I’ve had to deploy my men on various essential duties.”
“Apparently, they don’t teach you manners at flight school, captain.”
“The fool! The blind, stupid fool!”
“I’m forcing myself to put aside personal considerations.”
“Think what you’re doing man!”
“Our own power repels your controls, earthman!”

As Vanderlyn reminds us, “A Dalek, you must remember, needs no rest. He is a brilliant scientist, soldier and electronics engineer. He works 24 hours a day everyday, to see his race conquer and succeed in everything… Death has no terror for them. As you destroy a Dalek, so another takes its place….simply because Daleks only understand success or destruction.”

Sad Dalek-spotting nerds with no friends will be excited to hear that - alongside all the flame-thrower Daleks, oxyacetylene cutter-equipped Daleks, heavy weapons Daleks, sieve-armed embryo-handling hatchery Daleks, machine-gun equipped Exxilon expedition Daleks, left-handed Daleks, the more recent Tennant-era German-speaking Daleks(!) and other specialist Daleks that cropped up in various series, Curse has a unique Dalek variant all of its own. It’s a torch-equipped Dalek that has the normal exterminator but a suction arm replaced by a torch. The torch is used to activate concealed light-sensitive sensors that open secret doors out of the City of the Daleks courtyard, and it’s also handy for intimidating humans by shining it in their eyes. Curse is also the only occasion we see trolley dolly Daleks pushing trolleys. There’s even a trolley fight as humans shove trolleys up against Daleks.

Neither the Dalek operators nor the ‘Tannoy Dalek’ voice are credited, but the programme credits AARU - suppliers of the movie Daleks with the claws, for providing the Daleks. “Black claw-equipped Daleks” feature in the script turning on the big telly, plugging in power and starting up the generator at the end, but the technical rehearsal photo and publicity shots show the Shawcraft Daleks from the TV show. It looks like both were used. The Daleks in these photos don’t yet have the receptor dish on the back out of Dalek Invasion of Earth, or the solar panel slats around their mid-section, which did not become standard until The Chase in 1966.

The presence in Curse of Daleks without receptor dishes - apparently 29 years after Roy Castle turned off the power in Doctor Who and the Daleks proves beyond reasonable doubt that, when the First Doctor in The Dalek Invasion of Earth met receptor-dish equipped Daleks and said they must have been from an earlier period of Dalek history, he was talking out of his arse.

How the Daleks could have demolished London and Paris - as alluded to in the rhyme at the beginning - if they were unable to get off the floor of their spaceships from which they got their power is hard to imagine. There are outdoor scenes with a Dalek on the firing range in Genesis of the Daleks and they go on an exterminating trip into the Thal city, so we can assume that early Daleks did have a very limited range capacity to go out and about on reserve power for a short while, a bit like the old Sinclair C5 Galaxy electric cars.

Noooooo! Don’t get me started on Dalek chronology! It’s complicated by the Fourth Doctor’s statement that he “only held up Dalek development by 800 years or so.” Then there’s The Day of the Daleks, which turns out never to have happened because the Doctor prevented it. The tendency of the recent Ecclestone era’s surviving Daleks to “fall through time” after the Great Time War confuses things even more. A quantum physics doctorate awaits anyone who can unscramble Dalek chronology.

Curse doesn’t simplify things very much either. Curse makes no mention of the Doctor at all, as Nation had no licence to use him, and the shutting down the power on Skaro incident at the end of The Daleks is attributed to a human army at the end of the (brief) Dalek war 50 years earlier, or the Daleks must be assumed to have already been revived all over again after Roy Castle turned the power off, only to then be shut down all over again by the Earth forces. “Nobody’s seen a dalek for years,” as one character comments in Curse.

Curse seems to introduce another Dalek invasion that preceded the one in The Dalek Invasion of Earth but this one is ended when the humans get to Skaro and shut down the central power source, transmitting power through space to the invasion fleets. In which case The Dalek Invasion of Earth would occur sometime after Curse, after yet another dick-for-brains had gone and turned the Dalek’s power back on again.

Curse is supposedly set 50 years after the original Daleks series, which tends to wee all over Dalek chronology (as usual), because the script gives a date of 2179 AD and says it’s Monday(!) If it really is 50 years after Daleks Invade Earth 2150 AD (the movie version of the TV series), then it should be 2200.

Unless this is the same invasion as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and the thwarting of the Dalek invasion by detonating a magnetic bomb and setting off a volcano in Berkshire was just the first battle in a long war against Daleks all powered from a central source, including the satellite dish power receptor Daleks of Invasion. Except that the Daleks in Curse don’t have the power receptor dishes on their backs like they do in Invasion.

There is also universal confusion about “universes”. Curse is set in “the Skaro universe … in the next universe but one.” ” Our enemy plans to rule the Universe from Skaro. All the universes in fact,” and bonkers Bob Slater promises to rule “all the universes.” Maybe scriptwriter Whitters is confusing universes with galaxies. Could the meaning have changed by 2179?

There are some hilarious anachronisms in the 2179 of Curse. “About a year ago, girls were supposed to be gentle creatures - very much the weaker sex and happy to be so.” Sunday Joints for dinner (meat, not cannabis) have survived, and “a ten shilling watch can tell the time as well as Big Ben.” The survival of the quaint custom of engagements could be a Thal cultural thing.

When the Guardian’s critic talked about “a troupe of wooden figures” he was talking about the human actors not the Daleks, although The Times said the “actors play with all possible conviction.” The curse in Curse of the Daleks - apart from their inability to go up the stairs - seems to have been the curse on its actors’ careers. A life of walk-on parts in single episodes of undistinguished TV series awaited most of them as they finished work on Curse. You certainly never hear thesps on Radio 4 with their witty reminiscences about how “ I was third radio operator with Sir Richard Burton in Curse of the Daleks in matinee at the Wyndham back in ’66, don’t you know, luvvie?”

Nicholas Hawtrey, Curse’s Captain Redway, appeared as a guest star in an episode of Danger Man and the highlight of his career was probably the butler in Dangerous Liasons with John Malkovich. He pretty much reprised his Curse role in the 1966 Troughton-era David Whitaker-scripted TV Doctor Who series The Power of the Daleks as Examiner Quinn. Power recycled a lot of Curse ideas like (doh!) turning the Dalek’s power on again. Hawtrey seems to have been a fluent French speaker, appearing in French films or playing Frenchie characters in films with names like French Kiss in a TV series on General De Gaulle and had a regular stint on Victorian below stairs melodrama The Barretts of Wimpole Street. He played Abbe Pierre in a French movie on the founder of the Emmaus movement.

Hilary Tindall, who played Marion Clemens, ‘one of those hardish girls of the 21st century,’ seems to have escaped the curse of the Curse of the Daleks, finding fame with her “dark good looks and seductive glamour [which] made her the ideal other woman …in the still shockable 1970s” when she featured in 50 episodes of The Brothers, as the wife of a haulage business owner who was in and out of bed with a lot of married men. Sad Doctor Who geeks will get excited by a Doctor Who connection - Sixth Doctor Colin Baker also starred in The Brothers. Tindall was a mezzo-soprano singer and appeared in musicals like South Pacific. The Swedes were so taken by The Brothers they brought her over to star in a Scandinavian remake.

Other Tindall appearances were in the TV movie of Max Headroom - 20 minutes into the future, and as Deborah Swaffham, putting married relations in jeopardy in Reginald Perrin’s commune in the third series of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. She even has a topless scene in 1980s ITV series A Kind of Loving.

She also ‘starred’ in the instantly forgettable 1980s Granada kitchen utensil factory office sitcom Nice Work. In the original Randell and Hopkirk series, Hilary Tindall smiles behind her veil in the episode ‘The Smile Behind The Veil’. In the 1960s superhero Tibetan lost civilization nonsense sci-fi secret agent series The Champions, by Terry Nation’s co-writer on The Dalek Master Plan, Dennis Spooner, Hilary featured in one episode as a scientist’s fiancee who discovers he is selling high-speed planes to China. Nation contributed scripts to The Champions, series.

David Ashford, who played engineer, ‘radio-pic’ operator and bonkers megalomaniac Bob Slater, was in BBC2’s murder series Malice Aforethought and one of the Quatermass films. All the other actors disappeared off the theatrical radar screen shortly after appearing in Curse.

So obscure were the cast that set designer Jay Hutchinson Scott was perhaps the most famous one who outshone them all. He had designed for Glyndebourne and the National Theatre of the Netherlands, for TV and films, but is best known for the set design of No Sex Please, We’re British. He was more at home with intimate, realistic drawing room interiors with a sofa in the middle for half naked dolly birds to chase Ronnie Corbett around in his vest and spotted boxer shorts than with scanner rooms on Skaro.

Kenneth Williams in The Platinum Cat played in the evenings on the same stage after the Daleks had gone home, with the same producer as Curse, so it must have been a set that was easy to take down and put up again. Williams’ autobiography does not mention whether he tripped over the set for Skaro during his “Oooh, Matron!” routine.

Maybe the real curse in Curse of the Daleks is the tendency of not very far-sighted people throughout future history to go and bloody well turn the Dalek’s power on again. I blame the public information advertisements, which clearly aren’t scary enough. We’ve got some truly horrific ‘don’t drink and drive’ and teenage roadkill public information ads at cinemas these days, but what we really need is something like ‘Think once, think twice, think don’t go and turn the Dalek’s power back on again.’

© Copyright Matt Salusbury 2006, 2013

UPDATE (August 2013): The article above first appeared in This Way Up fanzine in January 2006, on the 40th anniversary of Curse of the Daleks. This Way Up has since succumbed to a bizarre national shortage of A5 envelopes, but the fanzines Live On Mars and Fringeworld have risen to take its place. (See the link at the top of this page.) My other articles for This Way Up/Fringeworld/Live On Mars/whatever it's called this week include How TV's greatest playwright Dennis Potter almost worked for Doctor Who

Since the article first appeared, the wonderful Theatre Museum’s library in London’s Covent Garden, where I did the initial research, has sadly closed. The revival of Doctor Who has also seen a revival of wall-to-wall Dalek-related merchandising. Dalek-human hybrid voice-changing masks, bubble bath, sticker books, limited edition Woolworth’s special model sets featuring Daleks in Manhattan “panel-damaged Daleks” and Marks and Spencers Dalek keyrings and two pages of Daleks in the Asda catalogue have taken Dalekmania well beyond the range of its previous 1965 zenith.

Altered Vistas - a non-profit one-man labour of love by Stuart Palmer - used to do an animated version of Curse of the Daleks which would be sent out for the price of postage. They stopped for copyright reasons when Big Finish's audio CD production of Curse of the Daleks came along. Yes, Big Finish thought Curse of the Daleks was actually good enough to spend money on!