Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Never Mind the Daleks Here's Davros!

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coverage of series 4, 2008

  1. The stars are coming out | Be my guest | The definitive episode guide | A Noble calling | Little monsters? | The Godmother (5 April)
  2. Roman Holiday (12 April)
  3. Ood, glorious Ood! (19 April)
  4. The Sontarans are coming! (26 April)
  5. Friend or foe? (3 May)
  6. Child of time (10 May)
  7. Who-dunnit? (17 May)
  8. Spine-chiller (31 May)
  9. Dark man (7 June)
  10. Stay sharp! (14 June)
  11. The Doctor's women (21 June)
  12. Red Alert (28 June)
  13. Never Mind the Daleks Here's Davros! (5 July)
  14. Doctor Doctor (20 December)

coverage of other series
S1 | S2 | S3 | S4 | Specials | S5 | S6 | S7 | S8 | S9 | S10

  • Publication: Radio Times
  • Date: 2008-17-05
  • Author: Benjamin Cook, Nick Griffiths
  • Page: 10
  • Language: English

Even the Doctor froze with tear when Davros, lord and creator of the Daleks, made his chilling comeback last week. Now RT goes behind the scenes on the Doctor Who season finale to meet the man behind the mask ...

It's a Friday lunchtime in March 2008 and Davros is waving cheerily at us from across the car park. In one hand, he has a plate of chips. In the other, an orange. He's wearing tracksuit bottoms. (He has legs!) This isn't how it's supposed to be. From the top deck of the lunch bus, Rose Tyler, defender of the Earth, waves back at him.

"He looks wrecked," says Laurence Fox, Billie Piper's husband, who's visiting her on set today.

"Davros has been wrecked for years," laughs Piper. "Look at him!"

The return of Davros was, let's face it, one of the worst-kept secrets in TV history (his penchant for chips and tacky bottoms less so) - but back in March, at Cardiff's Upper Boat Studios, Davros is still being talked about in whispers. The crew refers to him as "Dave" (Dave Ross - geddit?). The sign on Davros actor Julian Bleach's trailer door just says "The Enemy".

"Hello, all," says a silicone-encrusted Bleach, as he takes a seat on the bus. "I'm not as hacked off as I look," he teases, pointing to his mask, which he can't take off until it's time to go home.

"No-one's as hacked off as you look," says Piper.

But can he eat with his mask on? "A bit." He pops a slice of orange into his blackened mouth. "I like to keep in the game."

"This is a classic Davros design, faithful to the past," says Who supremo Russell T Davies. "That's not to be retro or nostalgic; it's genuinely an excellent design, which still works today. Why reinvent the wheel? We did the same with the Daleks. It's what the art department calls Mini Coopering - keeping something familiar while using modern techniques to bring it more in line with today. No kidding, when I get a day's rushes and see new Dalek footage, I'm as excited as a kid!"

On set in the Dalek Crucible spaceship, Daleks are gliding and sliding all over the place. "Am I going too fast?" asks Dalek operator Barnaby Edwards. "I don't want to go smacking into Davros.

"I've been in this Dalek all week. Every so often, they allow us out for a couple of minutes. The rest of the time, they forget that Daleks have actors inside. We overhear all sorts of gossip. People stand right next to us and say the most outrageous things!"

Before each take, director Graeme Harper says, "Loads of energy!" - even though this ensemble cast has more energy than the National Grid.

"Celebrate good times, come on!" hollers John Barrowman (Captain Jack) as Freema Agyeman (Martha) and the Daleks sing along. Everyone is in a playful mood. Each day of this shoot is like the last day of school. Hugs, kisses and hurried hellos are exchanged as former and current series regulars pass each other in the studio corridors, like ships in the night, on their way to record different scenes, on a myriad of sets. It's hard to keep track.

The next day, David Tennant and Catherine Tate arrive for a photo shoot. "Look at that," marvels Tennant, popping onto one particular set and finding his co-stars hard at work, having the time of their lives. "I'm having palpitations! So many people I've enjoyed working with over the past three years - good friends, great actors, all in Cardiff at the same time, more or less. It's like This Is Your Life! With Daleks!"

By the following week, Bleach is letting people sit in his Davros chair. "It's like the lottery machine." says Noel Clarke (Mickey), his fingers suspended over the switches

"That's Davros's ultimate ambition," nods Bleach. "After wiping out all life in the universe, he wants to host The National Lottery!"

"What's so lovely about Davros," says Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), who's filming on a set next door, "is that my character remembers him as he was when Michael Wisher played him [in 1975]. But Julian's portrayal is eerily similar, wonderfully, so this is the same guy as far as she's concerned. Sarah and Davros even recognise each other!"

"Is my neck coming off?" Bleach asks Agyeman, after an energetic take.

"It's just popping out a bit," she says, tucking it back in. "That mask is ewww! I can't look him in the eye. If Davros had eyes! It gives me the creeps. And his skin is so saggy."

As the director calls, "Cut!" Bleach, in his creepiest Davros voice, utters the immortal words "Am I bovvered?!"The set breaks into applause.

"After Julian said that," reveals Tate later, "he came up to me, really apologetic. He said, 'I'm so, so sorry' 'Honestly, it's fine,' I said. 'It was very funny.' Poor Julian was really worried."

Although Russell T Davies's favourite elements of a Doctor Who series finale are "the size and the scale, and the fun of it all, really," he says, "this series belongs to the Doctor and Donna. For all the spectacle, it's about character, in the end. It's an honour to write dialogue for David and Catherine - whether I'll ever get that chance again depends on what happens in this final episode."

"It's heartbreaking," adds Tate. "Russell's scripts are so clever, but really affecting. The repercussions of what Davros has done, and [what that means] for the Doctor's companions, are huge and far-reaching. It's a brave way to end the series." Benjamin Cook


Davros is a fantastic character," says Julian Bleach, the actor beneath the silicone mask. "A cross between Hitler and Stephen Hawking. A powerful intellect. It's what he wants that makes him extraordinary - the fact that he has such nihilistic desires. Such a need for power."

Though Julian Bleach has joined the Doctor Who world before, playing the looming, sinister Ghostmaker in an episode of this year's Torchwood, you definitely won't recognise him playing the demented megalomaniac geneticist - first seen creating the Daleks in the classic 1975 Who tale Genesis of the Daleks, starring Tom Baker.

The 45-year-old actor remembers watching Genesis of the Daleks as a child - the same story that prosthetics designer Neill Gorton returned to for inspiration. Gorton recalls, "In the initial meetings, we all agreed everyone's favourite was the original Davros, [played by] Michael Wisher, and the look of that version. There was something creepier and more sinister about him."

The Dalek base remains as life-support system and transport for the decrepit scientist; the third eye still glows; his single usable hand, destroyed in Revelation of the Daleks (1985), is now robotic and shoots energy bolts. And it's the same desiccated head of 1975.

"The first day [playing Davros] was extraordinary," says Bleach. "It felt so familiar because I knew this character, this Dalek world and everything from my childhood - that's so deep in my memory. But so strange as well, to be suddenly plunged into the middle of it." Nick Griffiths



As we discovered last week, Davros has been rescued from the Time War by Dalek Caan (above). Now the mad geneticist has created a new breed of Daleks and is determined to exact revenge on the Doctor, his friends and the universe ...

"This is a classic Davros design, faithful to the past. Why reinvent the wheel?"

Russell T Davies

Davros, his life-support base and control panel (above) honour the classic 1975 design (below left)

The original Davros (above), played by Michael Wisher in 1975. This camera rehearsal shot was taken before final make-up had been applied to Wisher's own mouth

He's created the stuff of nightmares for the past four series of Doctor Who. Now Neill Gorton, the boss of Millennium FX, reveals the inspiration for his ghoulish collection. How many creatures and artefacts can you identify?

Putting names to the faces ...


Twenty creepy creations from the past four series

These are just some of the things that happened to be in the workshop," says Neill Gorton, as he shows off his handiwork for RT. 'A fraction of the stuff we've built. It feels like a lifetime's work crammed into four years." Although head of Millennium FX, he never watches the episodes before transmission. "I enjoy the whole process of sitting down on a Saturday night waiting for that music to start. It's a thrill. You have your tea, sit down and watch Doctor Who - it takes me back to being a kid. It's a buzz."

1. Davros 11. Davros's hand

I put a lot of pressure on myself because I always loved Davros when I was a kid and now I'm getting to do something I've wanted to do for over 20 years. Everyone had the same basic idea — to honour the original look, go back to the first Davros, actor Michael Wisher's, back in the 70s, rather than the 80s version. As soon as you see him, you go, "It's Davros!" You don't need any more pointers. It's got to be that iconic image, just updated really. Davros had his hand shot off in the 80s, so now he's using a robotic-looking one. It was a bit of continuity — to make sure we were following on from old Who and keeping to the story.

2. Sontaran

That mask [on the shelf on page 14] is our initial paint test when we were figuring out how they should look [in this year's The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky]. Russell very much wanted the look of the original 70s Sontarans, so when they took the helmet off, you went, "It's a Sontaran!"

3. Pyrovile

I think she was the high priestess [in this year's The Fires of Pompeii]. It was fun because it was one of those really simple things to make — a big foam latex mask


and she had a denture and bits and bobs — but it was so effective on screen. It really looked very spooky. It needed to evoke the feel of those plastercasts of the "bodies" found at Pompeii.

4. Time beetle

This is the fibreglass giant beetle that sits n Donna's back in Turn Left [two weeks ago]. It's all radio-controlled so it can writhe and snap its mandibles, but it also had to be reasonably lightweight so that it could be attached to a harness. People are afraid of insects — put a giant one on someone's back and it's going to cause a shiver.

5. Scarecrow

Sometimes it's the simplest stuff that's the most effective. They had to look like hessian sacks, because [in last year's Human Nature/The Family of Blood] they were meant to be real scarecrows from 1917. If overdone, the design would lose authenticity, but we shaped them a bit to look scary. [Millennium FX colleague] Rob Mayor designed it.

6. Ood

This is an Ood with its brain hanging down [from this year's Planet of the Ood]. We tweaked the animatronic one used in The Impossible Planet [2006] because we knew it was going to get a lot of screen time and "talk-time" as it were. We added extra animatronics to give it more movement in the face and brows to give it a bigger range of expression.

7. Auton

One of the very first things we made [for the 2005 debut episode, Rose]. With that first series, we had no idea if anybody would watch the show or if it would sink without trace after one season. Also it was a real learning curve. No-one knew anyone; we were all getting to know one another. Looking back now, everyone's like family. It's an amazing journey we've been on.

8. Stone arm

This is the arm Phil Davis wore in The Fires of Pompeii and it snaps off [at the wrist]. He had his own arm strapped behind his back and this strapped on. It's made of fibreglass and had to break and be reset each time, so it's held together where it breaks. There's a very visible join there, with magnets. If you pull on the arm, it comes away easily.

9. Sycorax

They featured in the first special [The Christmas Invasion, 2005]. After all the chaos and trauma of the first series, in terms of everyone finding their feet, we all felt a bit more confident and I think that started to show in our work — everything really upped a step. The Sycorax were a nice start because they were a proper, brand-new alien.

10. Empress of the Racnoss

bn the shelf is a model the final version [in The Runaway Bride, 2006] was a touch bigger! A fantastic piece. You don't quite get it when you see it on TV, but to stand in front of this thing rearing up 15 feet on set was a jaw-dropper. Everyone was blown away. And Sarah Parish was so game, strapped into it. We tortured her!

12. Cybermen

We used a powdered aluminium, mixed with a resin and brushed on as a surface coat. Because it's metal particles all glued together — a process called cold-cast metal — when polished, it looks and acts like metal. Up close, they don't feel like some sprayed plastic thing. They look like steel and feel cold to the touch. And it shows on screen. [First seen in Rise of the Cybermen, 2006.]

13. Toclafane

it's a little funny head in a ball! It was a bit of a challenge because it's a tiny head, but our animatronics guy Gustav put so much movement in the eye area that it really brought it to life. It was just for that one shock moment [in Last of the Time Lords, 2007] where Martha opens up the Toclafane sphere and you see the face inside.

14. Clockwork Droids

The finish on them s gorgeous — up close it looks like porcelain.

They're a very simple mask but they really creep people out. You take something mundane, a carnival mask, and turn it into something that sends kids scurrying behind the sofa terrified. [Seen in The Girl in the Fireplace, 2006.]

15. Malmooth

Although insectoid, Chantho [from Utopia, 007] had to be very sympathetic, likeable. I think we ended up looking at grasshoppers and trying to get a feel of that look. It had animatronic mandibles so when Chantho was more agitated they'd twitch more, and when she was relaxed they'd move more slowly. Actress Chipo Chung really brought the character to life.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Griffiths, Benjamin Cook, Nick (2008-17-05). Never Mind the Daleks Here's Davros!. Radio Times p. 10.
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Never Mind the Daleks Here's Davros! | url=! | work=Radio Times | pages=10 | date=2008-17-05 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 March 2024 }}</ref>
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