- Peter Cushing
In The Five-ish Doctors Reboot (23 Nov 2013), a BBC i-Player 50th anniversary short film in which writer-director Peter Davison conspires, along with [End Page 219] Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann (other work commitments permitting), to sneak into ‘The Day of the Doctor’, the actual anniversary episode, a radio presenter can be heard in the background asking his audience, ‘Who was your favourite Doctor? Mine was probably Peter Cushing, a controversial decision but …’ I was born when Patrick Troughton was the Doctor and I just about remember Jon Pertwee in the role, but I grew up with Tom Baker as the Doctor, and in terms of the affective bonds one develops with particular characters/actors, he is undoubtedly ‘my’ Doctor; at least, he would be were it not for Peter Cushing.
Cushing’s early career included a brief stint in Hollywood in the late 1930s and early 1940s and touring Australia with Laurence Olivier’s Old Vic company in 1948, the same year in which he appeared in Olivier’s Hamlet film (Christopher Lee also has a small role). His first celebrity, however, came with BBC television, winning the best actor BAFTA in 1956. Among the many roles he played in the 1950s – a comedian once quipped that television was ‘Peter Cushing with knobs’ – were Mr Darcy in the BBC’s now lost Pride and Prejudice (2 Feb–8 Mar 1952) and Winston Smith in the Nigel Kneale/Rudolph Cartier Nineteen Eighty-four (12 Dec 1954). He returned to television work intermittently, including playing Elijah Baley in Terry Nation’s adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel (5 Jun 1964) for Story Parade (UK 1964–5) and the lead in the final 16 episodes of Sherlock Holmes (UK 1964–8). However, his lasting fame stems from the two decades he spent making horror movies with Hammer and other British companies, beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein (Fisher UK 1957), The Abominable Snowman (Guest UK 1957), Dracula (Fisher UK 1958) and The Mummy (Fisher UK 1959).
However, because of when I was born, the Peter Cushing I grew up with was the charming, polite one who gamely helped comedians Morecambe and Wise to stretch out – for more than a decade – a joke about not paying him for appearing in a sketch. He was the kindly, bereft old man who appeared on a 1976 Jim’ll Fix It (UK 1975– 94) to ask for a new rose to be named after his late wife, Helen. Consequently, his rather more sinister appearances in episodes of Space: 1999 (UK 1975–7) and The New Avengers (UK 1976–7), as well as in Star Wars (Lucas US 1977), seemed somehow against type for the genial Doctor Who I knew from the movies – which were regularly screened at Saturday morning cinema clubs, seemed to be on television every school holiday and in 1982 became the first Doctor Who available on VHS (and Betamax), albeit panned-and-scanned.
Interest in making a Doctor Who movie started in 1964, when Disney tentatively enquired about adapting ‘Marco Polo’, and the British production [End Page 220] company Aaru struck a deal to adapt ‘The Daleks’ as Dr Who and the Daleks (Flemyng UK 1965). Co-written by Doctor Who script editor David Whittaker, who also novelised Terry Nation’s story as Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (1964) and scripted TV Century 21’s Dalek comic strip (1965–6), the film worked some significant changes on its source. Released on 23 August 1965, in the seven-week hiatus between seasons two and three of the television series and towards the end of the school summer holidays, it was specifically targeted at a U-certificate audience (children could attend unaccompanied by adults) rather than the family audience for which the BBC aimed. William Hartnell’s crotchety Doctor, who may or may not be human, was reinvented as Cushing’s Doctor Who, a dufferish – and unequivocally human – backyard boffin and devoted reader of The Eagle comic’s ‘Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future’ strip.2 The film’s key identification figure, however, is his 11-year-old...