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THE ROBOTS OF DEATH

It has been pointed out to me, that Robots of Death  is the only one of my Dr Who productions that does not have me doing the voice over commentary. 

There is an interview on the DVD, but I was not invited to do the commentary, which saddened me greatly, as a lot of what is said, over the playing of the show, is somewhat inaccurate.

~A real shame as it was the last Dr Who I directed and the making of it was the culmination of my Dr Who career.  

 was the last 'Who'' I directed.

 It was intended as a cheapie - no location filming - no complicated  special effects - only one basic set - the interior of a sand mining machine running about the surface of some far off planet.

We had half a days filming allocated on the stage at Ealing to do the establishing shot of the miner and an Iguana for later use in a CSO sequence and 1 'exterior' shot against BP. Basically just 3 shots.  I had not anticipated that the mining machine would wobble so much making it very iffy to do the inlay shot in the studio which I so badly wanted.

The iguana could not take direction. Not a member of Equity, he had little or no interest in my promises to make him a star and tried to bite me. No gratitude at all for how good I made him look in the end.

 

The designer was a brilliant man called Ken Sharp who normally worked on classics and other prestigious productions. We first met to discuss the design of the sand miner and we both decided that we should go to the China Clay quarries and look at mining machines to try to get some ideas beyond big JCBs. As we sat together on the way down to Cornwall I asked him what he thought of the script? He turned the question and asked me what I thought of it - 'Full good looking  heroic space men running around in uniforms - tin robots like Cybermen or the Wizard of Oz - and a cod Agatha Christie 'who dun it story' I replied. 'Chris Boucher who wrote it  is a friend of mine but even he thinks this may not be the height of his literary career.

'And'? he said.

'We can have some real fun with this' I answered. 'Just imagine a future where people are sent out for maybe years to live and work in a mining machine. Well, in big merchant ships today they have all the facilities they want and some of the interior designs are quiet attractive. We all change the wall paper and paint in our houses. Why shouldn't every crew member have the right to have his cabin and rest areas decorated in any style he wanted - Roman, Greek, Arab, Louis 14th what ever.  Then people in the future will all wear whatever costumes they like - no uniforms, no space corps but maybe roman togas or Zulu tribal costumes, mini skirts or whatever they want.' 

When the publishers Classic TV Press asked me to write these memoirs I was very flattered but somewhat unsure.

The title sums up the question I have been asking myself for years.

 The book is available from

here

More about it

here

Ken started to be interested. 'I will cast it multi-racially' I went on 'We always end up with a load of white British/American type he men and women. I'll cast black people, Indian people, Arab people and instead of a butch captain type I'll try to find some sort of interesting character actor to play the commander.  I mean just look at the people who are our bosses?... And the robots - why do they have to be stainless steel and ugly.  If I had robots around to do things for me I would like them to be attractive, friendly, charming.

When we got to the mining site we were driven round and shown the monitors - powerful jets of water washing down the clay and lots of heavy lorries and JCBs. Looked like a waste of time. the sand-miner was going to be some sort of giant JCB. We then were taken into the sheds where the clay is brought into to be washed and sieved. I stood looking at a huge long cork screw type machine that dragged the clay into the shed.  'What's that?' I wondered

'Archimedes Screw' Ken replied.

'That's it' we both said. 

The space miner was based on a giant Archimedes screw that dragged the structure around the planet by pulling itself forward on the screw and at the same time pulling in lots of dirt to be refined and the waste pushed out the back. What a wonderful recce. We had a mining machine with a logic and an excitingly different idea for the design of the production and casting .

The next day Ken called and we met up and he got out a book of architecture and design - 'Art Deco' he explained. I would like to do the interior in art deco style. Great I said  - we will have art deco robots as well dressed in art deco costumes. Wonderful.

The other innovation was that I asked everyone who designed anything to clear it with Ken first - I wanted the entire design concept of the production to have one look and that Ken should be in charge of that look - costume, makeup and visual effect designers all willingly agreed and I think the overall 'look' of the production benefited enormously from this. 

I also wanted the Robots to have their own individual character. I mean you wouldn't want your cleaning robot to speak to you like the robot of Mrs Blog next door would you? This meant each robot actor speaking for himself. Most monsters/robots in Who were 'voiced' off stage by someone else watching a monitor.  The sound supervisor was rather unhappy about this as all the voices would be muffled coming from the masks. 'Lets put  microphones inside the masks and use radio transmitters' seemed a fairly reasonable reply. - The complexity of this and the limitation of frequencies was a great worry to sound department but they worked very hard at the problems and it really paid off.  Although there had to be some 'enhancement' of the voices at the dubbing stage to loose echo and muffle, it worked really well in performance terms.

To-day we are used to having people from all races on our screens in drama productions but back then it was less usual so it was a wonderful opportunity to work with actors with different racial backgrounds being sand miner crew which enriched the production. The only fly in the ointment was when Phillip Hinchcliff the producer found I had offered the part of the Commander of the sand-mine ship to Russell Hunter. He was very concerned that Russell had sufficient stature and authority for the role - 'Of course he has' I lied. 'He is much taller than he appeared in Callen and is very, very authoritative - he was a trades union organizer in the Glasgow ship yards before he started acting'. 

Phillip, who is no fool, looked at me doubtfully - nodded, as if to say on your head be it. 

Russell was of course a wonderful character actor and turned Commander Uvanov into a very believable  sand miner captain. I was slightly concerned during the producers run showing Phillip the scene where Russell jumps up into the Doctors arms but by that time he had cottoned on to what we were doing with the production and just laughed.

The entire story had a good feel about it and although the design and casting had not possibly been what Chris Boucher had in mind when he wrote it, we changed not a word of his script.  I think it just shows what can be done, when everyone is playing the same tune, but with different instruments.

That was the last Doctor Who I directed.

Graham Williams very kindly offered me one to direct but I was busy on other productions and I felt I had served my time.

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