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Book Review

Book Cover

The Raymond P Cusick Signature Collection


Author: Raymond P Cusick
Telos Publishing
RRP: £19.99
ISBN: 978 1 84583 090 8
Available 31 October 2013

Raymond P Cusick is rightly remembered as the man who created the unique and iconic look of the Daleks. Yet his main task on Doctor Who in the 1960s was to design the sets – something that may have attracted less attention but at which Cusick was supremely talented. He excelled at conjuring up strange alien worlds, with exotic shapes and unusual vistas – from the Daleks’ home world of Skaro to the curved architecture of the Sense-Sphere and the soaring city of Mechanus. This book presents an extensive selection from Raymond’s personal collection of photographs of his designs for Doctor Who – many of them published for the very first time – with insight into his ideas, influences and accomplishments in his own words...

About a year ago, Telos produced The Barry Newbery Signature Collection, a 230 x 160mm landscape-format visual record of the work of the early Doctor Who production designer Barry Newbery. In my review of that book, I said that I would welcome a similar volume on Newbery’s fellow designer, Raymond P Cusick... and here it is!

Cusick is an obvious choice for such coverage. He took plenty of photographs of his designs, which now form the basis of this volume, and without his innovative realisation of the Daleks it is quite possible that Doctor Who would not have lasted beyond its first year, never mind still be running today. Unlike the freelance writer Terry Nation, Cusick was a BBC employee, and so received no great financial reward from the runaway success of the Daleks, a fact that rankled to his dying day (he passed away in February 2013, during the preparation of this book).

I first became aware of Cusick’s invaluable contribution to the show through Jeremy Bentham’s book Doctor Who: The Early Years (1986), which features some of the same photographs and design sketches included here. This was three years before I had actually seen any of the episodes Cusick designed – the first story I had a chance to watch was The Daleks, when it was released on VHS in 1989. Bentham’s book made me aware of the challenges facing the production team, particularly in those formative years, and I have been impressed by Cusick’s creative genius ever since.

In this richly illustrated volume, you will see the Gaudí-inspired curves that he used to create the alien architecture of the Daleks, the Sensorites and the Mechanoids, the great variety of settings on the planet Marinus, and the enlarged garden path and laboratory sets of Planet of Giants. What is perhaps not sufficiently spelled out in the accompanying text (which comprises excerpts from previously published interviews with Cusick and a new introduction by Stephen James Walker) is that at this point in the programme’s history, set designers were also responsible for devising practical special effects, such as the model of the Dalek city shown on page 9, the pulsating brains of Morphoton on pages 32–3, and the miniature spaceships on the Kembel landing pad on pages 82–3.

During Doctor Who’s first couple of seasons, Cusick usually ended up with the alien planet stories (with the notable exception of The Romans), while Barry Newbery tackled the historical ones. However, I was surprised to read that Cusick never saw himself as being primarily a science-fiction designer.

Whereas the Newbery collection is structured in terms of Earth history, this book follows the production order, from The Daleks to The Daleks’ Master Plan. Images from the latter serial (and its prequel episode, Mission to the Unknown) are especially welcome, since many of its episodes no longer exist as moving images. Here you can see the sets for Marc Cory’s space rocket in the jungle of Kembel, the Dalek control room, and the Dalek ship on the planet Mira (which provided some of the backgrounds for Loose Cannon’s reconstructions of these episodes). Several of the images in this book have never been printed before, and a few of them allow us full-colour views of sets and costumes that are seen only in black and white in the transmitted episodes. There are no photographs from The Edge of Destruction, because Cusick did not retain any, but his input on that story was minimal anyway, since most of the action takes place in the TARDIS interior, designed by Peter Brachacki.

As with the Barry Newbery book, the subject would have benefited from a larger format. However, perhaps in response to feedback on that earlier volume, the paperback edition of this one is a little cheaper, at £19.99 rather than £24.99. There’s also a limited edition hardback priced at £39.99, which comes with a limitation sticker signed by Cusick himself in late 2012.

Doctor Who: The Early Years provides some additional details to what is here, such as the design of the inflatable swamp creature that can be glimpsed on page 15 of this book, and so is well worth tracking down. Nevertheless, The Raymond P Cusick Signature Collection is an excellent volume in its own right and a fitting tribute to a very talented man.


Richard McGinlay

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