Ray Cusick 1928 – 2013

News Andrew Blair 24 Feb 2013 - 12:18

Production designer Ray Cusick, who numbered the design of Doctor Who's Daleks amongst his career achievements, has died at the age of 84...

After trying his hand at teaching, serving in the armed forces, and Civil Engineering, Ray Cusick responded to an advert placed by Granada for a designer on cabaret show Chelsea at Nine. He then became a staff designer for the BBC, working from the early Sixties through to the late Eighties on a variety of genres, many of which were literary adaptations (Bronte, Somerset Maugham, Cold Comfort Farm, Agatha Christie). 

His most famous work, however, came out of a three year association with the then new children's science fiction show (that adults enjoy), Doctor Who. His first story introduced the creatures that would help ensure the show's survival. Working from Terry Nation's script, Cusick sat down with Bill Roberts (who would build the props) and developed a design that would remain largely unaltered for the next fifty years. Legendary voice actor David Graham, who provided Dalek voices, stated that the combination of design and sound was what made such an impression. Cusick and voice artist Peter Hawkins took Nation's script and turned it into something indelible. 

You can't really say for certain how significant an impact this had on the future of Doctor Who. Without the success of the Daleks, it might not have survived beyond its first series, so the contribution of everyone who worked on The Dead Planet and the following six episodes is massive. It is often commented upon that Cusick's contract as a staff designer prevented him from cashing in on his design. While he did receive another payment from the BBC at a later date, he himself never asked for extra money. 

Beyond those episodes, Cusick was responsible for much of the design work on episodes of a futuristic or sci-fi adventure bent, with Barry Newberry taking on more historical settings. On a budget that would make many weep, they designed and helped make sets for the show's expansive and ambitious settings. Cusick's work ranged from the varied backdrops to the quest for The Keys of Marinus, to the scale-based challenges of Planet of the Giants. His first historical work took in The Romans' heady mix of dark comedy, galley-slaves, sexually aggressive Emperors, and large amounts of fire. 

The Chase again gave Cusick a chance to tinker with his initial Dalek design, and from here on the creatures have barely changed until 2010's Victory of the Daleks reincarnation. It also allowed the production team to build a variety of worlds, culminating in the showdown on the jungle world of Mechanus. This was followed by another chance to build a variety of worlds, culminating in a showdown on a jungle world (Terry Nation really got mileage out of his tropes) in the thirteen-part epic The Dalek Masterplan

If you go onto his IMDb page, you will notice that the length of stories and the production schedule meant that Cusick would be working on up to twelve episodes in a row, comparative to working on one of the contemporary half-series runs that the show is embarking upon. Turnaround in the Sixties was brisk, and essentially the production process was uninterrupted. This makes the contributions of that era all the more impressive. Sadly some of Cusick's episodes don't exist anymore (including the majority of Masterplan), but those that do show a range and ability that leant suitable scale to the First Doctor's lengthy and location-hopping adventures. 

He is survived by his two daughters, and seven grandchildren. 

And, of course, twenty five years of television design work. 

Thank you very much, Mr Cusick.

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