Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Genesis 1963: Peter Cushing

Peter Cushing as Dr Who

He was Dr Who, the man with a blue box, an inventor...

Doctor Who has been fortunate enough to entice a variety of actors, and not just for the lead role. But where else have we seen these people? Together we shall attempt to explore that question...

In the words of The Peter Cushing Association: "Peter Cushing was one of the most beloved and important actors for the genres of horror and fantasy films". Agreed. And the majority of his fans will, indeed, remember him for roles such as Baron Victor Frankenstein and Van Helsing in the very successful Hammer Films. But it is his contribution in two very special Dalek feature films that will always be cherished by Doctor Who fans: Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966). Movies that are seen, by most, as non-canon. Nevertheless, they remain firm favourites.

In the first instalment Dr Who is an eccentric old man, living with his granddaughters (yes, plural) Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara (Jennie Linden). Susan is no more than a child (although she does possess a mind almost equal to that of her grandfather's); Barbara is dating a young gentleman named Ian (played by all round entertainer Roy Castle). It is Ian's introduction that causes events to unfold.

Dr Who has built a time machine called Tardis, and he is keen to show off his achievement. The film plays on the same aspect of the Tardis being bigger on the inside, a discovery that flabbergasts Ian. However, after accidentally knocking the instrumentation, the young man is responsible for them all being whisked off through time and space...

...where they land on a world called Skaro! The plotline follows that of its television counterpart.

The sequel, Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., was certainly greater in scale, though quite clearly less successful than the first. Original stars Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey returned for this outing; actress Jill Curzon became the third member of the Tardis crew, as Dr Who's niece Louise. Joining them was actor Bernard Cribbins, portraying the part of British bobby Tom Campbell. Sadly DIE: 2150 A.D. underperformed at the box office and a possible third Dalek instalment (based on 1965 television story The Chase) was never produced.

It is easy to see why Peter Cushing was chosen out of so many actors. He was such a versatile performer, a man who had the ability to play dark roles in the Hammer series but still managing to maintain a softness that was quite needed for Dr Who. In life he was a gentle soul, a gentleman. Children could identify with him as being grandfatherly.

For horror fans, he was a legend; a creator of beasts, a vampire hunter, a man of many faces. His association, and friendship, with fellow actor Christopher Lee was legendary. They made the perfect team.

He had gone from theatre to Hollywood, returning to England where his career would be strengthened. From television work to film, he was an actor in demand. He appeared as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), now one of his most famous and recognisable of parts.

Born on 26th May 1913, Peter Cushing died in August 1994.