– SHORT STORY (PART 2) –
Here it is – the second part of my interview conducted many years ago with Dave A. Dalek, a Dalek actor from the classic series of Doctor Who.
Last time, Dave told us about his ‘birth’ and being at the forefront of the Dalek craze sweeping the nation. In 1966 William Hartnell’s ill health forced him to give up his role as the Doctor. Waiting in the wings was Patrick Troughton, a much younger actor, ready to take over the part. This would be the first time the Doctor had been regenerated, so how better to secure the future of the show than by bringing back the series’ most feared foes to tangle with the new Doctor. How did Dave find working with the show’s new star?
“I used to have a bit of a laugh at him really. I mean that hat and those daft baggy trousers they got him to wear was ridiculous. He was giving a good performance though but I think that costume really worked against him at first. I would have liked a hat like that though…” Did Dave enjoy working Troughton’s debut serial, “Power of the Daleks”? “ I did. I have happy memories of “Power” because we got to be very cunning in that one. I was so excited when I got the script and read the about the Dalek production line seen in that one. I was so excited I dropped the script! My neighbor was out so I couldn’t read the rest till she came home and picked it up off the floor for me!”
By this time the production team were keen to phase out the Daleks and introduce new monsters to the series. The first of these were the Cybermen. Dave doesn’t reckon much on Cybermen. “They were so camp!”. At the same time scriptwriter Terry Nation was pushing for the Daleks to appear in their own show in America. “That was very exciting. I’d had a taste of the movies by then when I trained the porky Daleks on the Peter Cushing films.” Dave assisted Dalek maestro Robert Jewell on the movies. “I called them the porky Daleks because they weren’t like the Daleks made by the BBC. They were all fat and wide. I used to have a bit of a laugh at their expense haha! So when the second Dalek film was made they went the other way and made them all skinny. They were very quiet those Daleks. They didn’t talk to me off set or out of rehearsals at all. There was a real snobbery there, like they were movie Daleks, bigger, better and more expensive. I thought this isn’t Hollywood, guys. This is bleedin’ Shepperton! Anyway I’d trained them on set and got used to working in a movie environment so going from those huge studious back to those tiny attic rooms the BBC used to have us use was a bit of shock.”
“When I heard Terry was trying to interest the States with the whole Dalek thing I got very excited. I thought yes, Hollywood would be very me. I kept thinking about the LA party scene and things, and the money of course.” Sadly Nation was unable to come tole agreab terms with the US television markets over use of his creations, eventually the idea came to nothing. The Doctor Who team sensing change in the wind were keen to write out the Daleks in their next serial, The Evil of the Daleks.
“It was the end. I mean it really was the end of Dalekmania and that swinging sixties lifestyle for us, it was very sad. It wasn’t just Terry trying to attract the Americans that precipitated the end though. We’d all got a bit too big for our boots, metaphorically speaking! We were demanding too much, more money, more facilities, bigger dressing rooms etc. I wasn’t the only one selling bits of myself for souvenirs. All the monsters were at it, but if I’m honest this was the worst. Poor old Ray was getting a bit fed up having to keep fixing us up and things. It was getting too much really. So they pulled the plug.”
What did Dave make of “Evil of the Daleks”? “A very imaginative script. Was it David Whitaker who wrote that one? He had a very good handle on the Daleks. Always gave us some really good, quite quotable dialogue. Dave simulates the traditional Dalek grate through his ring modulator, “We are your ser-vants” that was his wasn’t it? Chilling. I always thought David wrote the Daleks better than Terry did really.” And what of playing Dalek trains with Pat Troughton? “well, they’d done everything that could be done with the Daleks by then. Making them innocent and childlike was all that was left. “Dizzy Daleks” that was mine, you know. I suggested that and they put it in!” The final sequence showed the Daleks back on their home world in the midst of a civil war. “That was a fascinating idea really, they could have ran with that. Dalek versus Dalek. Really good, but they wasted it. There were a lot of wasted opportunities on that one.” Often hailed as a classic amongst fans, and perhaps one of the finest Doctor Who stories of all time I’m intrigued by what Dave means. “Well they got those bloody toys to do the final battle. Those stupid little dinky Daleks that didn’t even look like f—— Daleks! I mean they were fat squat things. They looked like Weeble Daleks! Who did they think they were kidding? I mean really, even the kids could tell they were toys. We could’ve choreographed a really good fight if they’d left it to me and the others. By that point I knew how to plan a fight to the director’s specifications but no. They stuck us up in some tiny little attic space in Limegrove or wherever and pointed these cameras that looked like tanks at us. If we’d been at Ealing or somewhere like that, if only they’d spent a bit of money we could have made that really spectacular. A real fitting end to the Daleks.”
There were lots of promotions, tours and personal experiences for Daleks around this time, did Dave ever take part. “No I was out drinking and shagging, I wasn’t at all interested in opening fetes for fifty pence or whatever it was. The other Daleks went and I think had a good time meeting the fans and the children. I got a bit put off by that Barnardos experience if I’m honest. I wonder if those other Daleks are still there?”
Being out of the limelight Dave soon found his star starting to fade. “I I did a few plays, a bit of stage work, serious drama and a couple of pantomimes. I was the lead in “An Inspector Calls” at the Old Vic. I was also Baloo in a stage version of “Jungle Book” and also Tinkerbell in Peter Pan but they all got absolutely terrible reviews.” So did you find yourself typecast? “Well yes, Joe Public see you as a Dalek on the telly and think that’s all you can do but I can sing, I can dance and I die really well. Remember that bit in “Invasion” where I die with my lens to the camera? My agent kept saying there’s money to made doing publicity tours and the like but I just wasn’t interested. I did something for St John’s Ambulance, some kind of function but this fat bloke kept hitting my dome and tried to push me down some stairs. Oh yes I thought, the old stairs and Dalek joke. How unimaginative are you! I got quite cross and they never asked me back which was just fine with me.”
Dave still had his messy nights on the town however. “ I found it very hard to come to terms with, not being famous I mean. I bumped into Ian Hendry in a bar one day. I asked him how he coped with not being famous anymore. He said “dear boy the public still adore me”. I just thought okay, whatever. Seems denial is a good way of handling it then. I handled it by getting blotto every night! I drank all my money away. I didn’t invest any of it or buy property or anything. I was renting a nice ground floor flat in Holland Park at the time. Then I had the accident of course.”
Dave shows me a large gash on his skirt section. “I had a ramp put in, covering the steps, bolted down of course so I could get in and out of the flat but I came back one day, I was a bit out of it I admit but some bastard had nicked my ramp. It was good solid metal you see, suppose it was worth a bit. So I trundled forwards without it there. I bumped down the steps. All bloody twelve of them! Then I hit something at the bottom, got thrown up into the air and crashed headlong through the living room window. My girlfriend patched me up, I stayed with her and she took care of me whilst I was laid up. I was off my castors for a few weeks. When I went back to the flat I found the landlord had evicted me. All my stuff was on the street.” Did this help Dave realise the life he was leading was self-destructive? “Well no. If anything I got worse because I was very depressed. My career was going nowhere, my flat was gone and I suspected my girlfriend was cheating on me.”
The memories are clearly painful for Dave but we press on, despite the fact I can see some moisture in his lens. I offer to wipe his eye stalk for him but he declines.
“I suppose I’d been AWOL for a few days, I’d got into a fight and spent a night in the police cells so I went back to my girlfriend’s flat early in the morning after they released me. I walked in and found her in bed with a Cyberman.” Dave sniffs a metallic sniff. “I went mad. I threatened to exterminate this Cyberman, Steve I think his name was. He got his silver boots back on and had it away on his Cybertoes pretty quick I can tell you! My girlfriend and I reconciled but I was still spending all night drinking in various pubs. I’d crawl home and find her in bed with whatever Who monster was the flavour of the month. Yetis, Ice Warriors. She even went to bed with a Quark once. I gather he didn’t live up to the hype though!”
Dave and his girlfriend parted company but soon after Dave got a phone call out of the blue…
“It was my agent, who I hadn’t heard from for ages. I said don’t ring me, you know I don’t have any hands or ears, you’ll have to come round to the house.” Dave’s agent had good news. “Barry Letts, the new producer of Doctor Who had been on to him, he wanted the Daleks to come back to launch a new season. I couldn’t have been happier. It had been about five years since I’d last been part of Doctor Who. I still watched it of course, usually in some kind of bitter drunken stupor, so I knew Jon Pertwee was the Doctor. Even now when I hear him put on one of his radio voices it takes me right back to lonely nights in that garage in Shepherds Bush. Anyway, I went to a meeting with Barry. He took one look at me and said “you’ll need a re-paint”. He was very softly spoken was Barry. I used to try to modulate my voice to a lower volume when I was talking to him. I had tremendous respect for the producers but Barry wanted me to be yellow. I thought – yellow, really? He meant gold I know but he said yellow. I said to him, I’m supposed to be the one that’s colour blind, Barry! So, I duly reported to the BBC one morning and had to get a real good going over with a paint brush and some oxy-acetylene equipment. They gave me new balls, new slats, new lights, a new skirt, refitted my worn out castors. I felt better than I had in years!
Dave was back on board and the Doctor Who team prepared themselves for the next wave of Dalekmania but how would Dave handle his stardom this time?
Next time Dave talks us through the Dalek stories of the 1970’s, his best “dying scene” ever, and his famous photo shoot with Katy Manning (both naked). Dave also talks candidly about the events that led up to his time in prison. Plus we take a look at the tragic accident on the set of “Resurrection of the Daleks” that led to the untimely demise of the most Dalek-y Dalek of all….
(I think we’ll leave it there for a bit but if you have a burning desire to hear how Dave’s story ends please get in touch)
Copyright Martin Gregory
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