Over thirty years ago now in 1985 I was lucky enough to go on a set visit at Television Centre to see `Revelation of the Daleks` being filmed in what turned out to be the last two days of production before the infamous eighteen month hiatus. This account was originally published in the fanzine Zygon...
It’s 1985 on a warm and windy Thursday and we are about to enter a building that is familiar yet also unknown. That is to say its exterior is something everyone in the country knows but it’s interior is altogether more shrouded in secrecy. On Blue Peter when it looks like they’re going to show you what TV Centre is like it turns out that the big studio doors open onto the outside. In fact it is even more circular than it looks from the outside to the extent that if you start off anywhere and keep walking you will eventually return to your demarcation point after passing hundreds and hundreds of rooms. There are so many rooms that you wonder whether every single employee of the BBC is entitled to one!
There are two ways of seeing television production. One is to linger in the Gallery, a sparse unfurnished viewing room set way above the studio amidst the forest of lights. The other is to be invited onto the actual studio floor itself to mingle with Mandrels or stand near Silurians. Today rumours are looming that the Gallery is to be shut on account of the previous evening when producer John Nathan Turner wasn’t overly happy with what might constitute a percentage of the expected viewing figures crammed inside to watch such delights as the Glass Dalek exploding. Our rendezvous was to meet up with Cy Town, Dalek Operator at 6pm sharp on a little island of pavement outside the main entrance so we could be whisked inside looking like we were important. Cy led us downstairs to the functional dressing rooms where his fellow Dalek operators were playing a board game. We dumped our stuff there and set off for the inner sanctum itself.
The studio is huge, you could fit a football pitch with seats inside it. In fact the only space I’ve been in which was larger is Liverpool Cathedral. Instead of stained glass windows though there are lights, hundreds of them, like sleeping bats hanging from the ceiling. The floor's a mess as it's the penultimate day of filming. We pass the remains of the Glass Dalek (for glass read perspex), but there's no sign of cult hero Arthur Stengos! The first set, near the door, nestles behind an imposing pink curtain; this is Kara's Office which looks rather like a hairdresser's shop actually. The main set that day was Davros's 'lair', which was to the first time viewer (and even on screen) an odd assortment of unfinished statues and flashy Top of the Pops style neon tubes. Lying abandoned at the top of the small flight of stairs was Davros's chariot (as it was lovingly called).
Grey and gold Daleks are randomly scattered about the set and, yes, I got to clamber into one nearly splitting my jeans in the process! Inside is an uncomfortable seat and wooden sticks controlling the eyestalk, gun and sucker rods. The only electronic device is a small button at the end of the eyestalk control which flashes the lights on the dome. The gun is simply a plunger affair which pushes the pinky-orange plastic bit (sorry, am I getting too technical here?) in and out. They are of course pedal driven, but we thought better as they did need the sets intact for later. In short it was just like sitting in a wooden box albeit an iconic wooden box, strangely simple for such a powerful race! The following day Cy spent three hours in one; I was feeling confined and uncomfortable after a minute! Cy led us around the tunnels and weird pieces of pseudo-gothic sculpture, and the prevailing flavour of the sets was all very spooky and realistic despite the nature of our visit.
We adjourned for a while to the canteen and had the pleasure of meeting John Scott- Martin, to whom I made an idiot of myself by asking about `The Sea Devils` about the only story he didn't do! We met Jenny Tommasin in her garish make-up and even caught a glimpse of Patrick Troughton seemingly dressed as a Rabbi, shuffling out with a plate of something or other. Then it was back downstairs. Turns out this was his Box of Delights outfit.
For a first time visitor, just stepping on set is exciting enough, but even that fades when faced with the thing in full working order. Two huge camera 'vehicles' dominate the foreground whilst a couple more smaller affairs trundle about like errant Daleks. There is (no doubt due to demarcation) some- one employed to do everything. I noticed a couple of people who I'd assumed by their inactivity were visitors like ourselves, suddenly leap into action to rig up some pyros. Our presence probably went undetected because everyone assumed that we had a purpose in being there. All we had to do was hide in the shadows and keep quiet during takes.
There are monitors dotted about everywhere, some colour, some monochrome, some at eye level, others suspended from lighting trusses. A look upwards reveals a veritable sea of light and even then less than half of them seem to be in use. The floor manager commands attention, tells everyone to stop talking time and again, like a schoolmaster, as he follows his head phone instructions from the director's gallery. Oh yes, if you ever wondered how an actor knows which camera to play to, it's the one with the red light on. I mention this as about ten people kept telling us. Cy had informed us it was panic night tonight. There were going to be lots of cuts - his script bore testament to this being a mass of lines and crosses.
First thing to be shot was Kara’s hiring of Orcini and the handing over of the bomb. Both William Gaunt and Eleanor Bron handled this calmly, quite willing to go through it about a dozen times to allow Graeme Harper to have several different angles or to rectify small oversights. All the tales one hears of the odd behaviour of actors and actresses, it was interesting to see how professional everybody was, just getting on with the job and leaving any egos at the door. Eventually the scene was filmed to satisfaction, and a practical problem arose. Originally the script calIed for a couple of Daleks to burst in through the doors at the back and exterminate Vogel (a nice 'n' slimy Hugh Walters here). Due to the fact that you'd be able to see them in the window and, as I realised later, due to the similarity to the scene where the DJ is killed (which used the same set) we have them enter through an imaginary door. Here we discover the meaning of a 'tight shot' as again and again Graeme Harper angles the shot to full dramatic effect, and as you saw in the finished version it was worth it.
After setting that up, came Vogel's death. Unfortunately, the best take wasn't used, but Hugh WaIters seemed to enjoy screaming and falling over a lot anyway. Eleanor Bron's line was a killer every time but it must be Jacqueline Hill's`Meglos`costume she was wearing, surely? After that it was time to move onto the big set and everyone shifted around while we lurked in some dark corner of yesterday's abandoned set. Terry Molloy walked in with his Davros mask on clashing incongruously with a cigarette and t-shirt, and climbed into his 'washing machine', a peculiar thing which we wondered about until someone told us that this was the clone head. It was also disconcerting to see him continually swirl round and talk to a couple of statues, the screen being added later. We kept wondering why the statues didn't say anything! Even without the special effects and music, the intensity of Molloy's performance was obvious, especially in the scene where he talks to Tasambeker.
Scenes here were done quickly, mainly because Graeme Harper abandoned his seat upstairs and came on set. He really does inspire all around with his leadership, scurrying about with infectious energy, even handling the cameras himself to get them exactly there. Next up was John Scott-Martin's bit where he glides in and get his headpiece shot by Colin Baker, who was by now on set in full eye-bruising costume, as was Nicola Bryant. It took ages to set this up, and a couple of takes, but Colin Baker seems to be well into the hang of 'Who ' by now.
At this point we popped round the back of the sets to meet the two Dalek voices, Roy Skelton and Royce Mills. A real couple of jokers, the two broke the monotony of their isolation by messing about, writing little signs, and then Royce wandered off to the props room to return with a long pole which he spent the next few minutes prodding everyone in sight with. However they were able to regain composure and slip easily into such phrases as, "Cannot see, vision impaired" with very little prompting. Their voices echoed incongruously about the mighty set.
For far too complex reasons to go into here, we had to make a 'phone call (and discover that even Beeb 'phones get vandalised) and leave, but like troopers we were back again next night, though due to it being the last night only on the viewers' gallery. Nevertheless there were several amusing moments like where Colin is suggesting an alternative food source and adds the tailpiece, "Unlike your lines, they grow everywhere!', Graeme Harper leaps onto the set to enquire what the red thing is on the body! It was actually meant to be there. They also did the stuff in the cell, the brutal interrogation was very well done; poor Stephen Flynn looked knackered at the end of it. Also, when Big William Gaunt clubs Colin Baker to the floor be did it just a little too strongly, so that grimacing as Colin rubbed his shoulder was for real. So it was that at 10.27pm precisely it was all finished the last recording for a year or more. Certainly, for me, it had been a revelation and I wondered if it would spoil my appreciation of the finished product, but it didn't - is this the magic of television, then?