GORDON FLEMING INTERVIEW
The vast majority of interviews I conducted were written up for publication, but this one was conducted for THE SIXTIES book and so the quotes were used throughout the articles on the Dalek Films in that book. Here is the unedited text of the interview I conducted on 1st December 1991.
DJH: What had you been doing, how did you get into film directing?
GF: I'd already made films and I'd been directing live television for many years prior to 1965.
DJH: How did your involvement with the films start.
GF: I had made a rock picture for Milton Subotsky before called Trad Dad which was about traditional jazz, and he made that with Dick Lester, and the following year he made a film taking on board the new rock thing and we had all sorts of people in it, and it also involved the idea of kids getting the vote at eighteen, I think it was called Vote for Me. We did that in black and white, it was photographed by Nick Roeg. Nick was the cameraman on it. The following year I made the first of the Dalek films. So I'd worked with Milton once before. He phoned me up and said we're doing a Dalek film, here's the script and would you be interested? I knew all about the Daleks from the BBC, my kids had watched the series, they were frightened of it and watched behind the sofa, so everyone knew who Doctor Who was and the Daleks were the most famous of the things that were brought up. The first one was successful so it was logical to do another one. The second was slightly more expensive and was a bigger number, it had more location work and things in it, and I think was rather better, though not everyone agrees.
DJH: So when you'd read the script, there were presumably meetings with Milton?
GF: There was another guy involved called Bill Vegoda, he controlled the money I think. And Terry Nation was around a little bit but not a great deal. Milton had worked on the script, as Milton always did. So that was it, we knew it was going to be shot at Shepperton, and we started work on the sets, and that was it, we were off. It was a very modestly priced picture and it was made fairly quickly.
DJH: Who handled the casting? Where did Peter Cushing come from?
GF: He was to be in it from the beginning, the rest of the casting fell to me. Roy Castle was a slight hangover from Milton's involvement with the pop industry. He felt very secure in that and he always had a tendency to lean back to that kind of thing. In the next one there's was Bernard Cribbins, so the light entertainment/comic interest was always brought in through the guy. Jenny Linden at that time was working in live television, did quite good stuff and was quite well known in her own field. She wasn't unusual or extraordinary casting, she was a young ... Roberta Tovey was definitely mine, her father was quite a well known cockney actor, he was George Tovey, he played cab drivers and things, and Roberta was very young, she was very natural. You're always looking for what's in the script, and the girl was always meant to be a very young child, again that's the light entertainment thing of the kid who understood what the Doctor did although the adults didn't understand but it's perfectly simple to the child.
DJH: The plot had come from the TV version, so did you ever go back and watch that?
GF: No I never did any of that, and wouldn't to this day if I were doing remake of anything I wouldn't have done it. (So it's all from scratch, from the script, from you Gordon Fleming)
DJH: Do you remember anything about the sets?
GF: The guy who built the sets was Bill Waldron, he was Australian, and I think he worked on the early designs of the Sydney Opera House, but he'd been around a great deal, he looked like Custer or Wild Bill Hickok with sort of droopy moustaches and a beard and things; he was a very talented guy and he worked for many years for Subotsky.
DJH: The TARDIS set didn't look anything like the TV version. Do you know why that was?
GF: I think there was an effort made, because it was wide screen, and I think there was a genuine effort made to give it what we presumably thought was a bigger and better, that when you went into it, it was huge. It was very crude actually by today's standards. It was supposed to be cobbled together in the back garden. The wires were all different colours so it all seemed much bolder than on TV. (It was meant to look like he'd been raiding the backs of old TVs and radios) Well we did that anyway.
DJH: Were all the sets up together or did you strike some to make way for others?
GF: It was done on H Stage at Shepperton. The town that you could see from the point of view from the forest was a model, so that was scaled down, so in other words H Stage was full of forest. At one end of it was a scaled down version of the cliff which you saw them climb up and down to get to the level of the city. We skirted over it a bit, on the precipice when the Thals appeared we did more shots of them climbing up, it was supposed to be much higher. What happens if you ever do it, the lenses were anamorphic, which is the wide lens. Now all the points of view of the TARDIS etc, we didn't shoot anamorphic, we shot them on normal thirty five mil. Now the reason it was strange and weird and the forest looked wrong was that all points of view were not shot wide screen but they were projected wide screen, in other words it was distorted. And all the mood scenes(?), if there was a person in it, then it was shot normal, if there wasn't a person in it, or if there was a Thal in it, it was shot without the anamorphic lens being put in, we put in a normal lens and when it was projected through the [?indistinct?], developed through the anamorphic, it was all pulled and distorted and that's how the thing looks like here. That was my idea. It happened actually because on Wednesdays I had gone into see normal rushes and the person who had been in before me had been seeing stuff anamorphic, and they hadn't taken the anamorphic lens out of the projector, and when I saw this I thought, we can use that.
The forest was a fair size, there was this funny lake with this thing in it, it was a big stage but it wasn't a huge set, but it was quite a decent set for a modest.., I mean it was simply plaster trees, the breakaway branches were on a metal pin, there were lots the same, so if one broke before it was supposed to you just put in another one, they were replaceable. I would think the whole thing took no more than six weeks to shoot. It certainly wasn't longer than that, and it might have been less. The interior of the Dalek city and the big control centre was being built on another stage, then we went back onto H Stage for the saucer. Except that was the other film, but that would have been the same pattern. If you didn't put the next set on another stage you would have to stop shooting, it would be impossible to do that.
DJ: Moving on to the Dalek city, you were presumably aware of the limitations of the Daleks?
GF: Yes, they couldn't go up stairs and they couldn't travel on anything that wasn't smooth. The designer, having taken on board that information about the Daleks, the sets were built that facilitated them as opposed to humans. Like the doors opened from the centre wide at the bottom, narrow at the top. That idea came from the designer, because that's the right shape for a Dalek as opposed to a person. It was designed by Daleks for Daleks. When we got all the Daleks together and they were all grey and blue, it was difficult to identify them, and we had a mass of them, the BBC only had about four, and we made all these other coloured ones; and the other thing was I don't think they had any flashing, we had to lights vaguely synchronised to the speech. We helped it by having higher ranking ones like golds and blues and reds, and the boss ones came in and were treated like it, you shot it as though someone important had come in. The thing about it was that you had to do it because they were all operated by people inside them, what you needed was fairly small but quite strong people. (You ended up using the same ones as were used by the BBC) A lot of the ones we used were dancers because they were small and strong, because it was actually quite tiring to move those bloody things around.
DJH: One of the main differences with your Daleks was the smoke effect for the exterminators.
GF: It was a fire extinguisher. We added that gas thing because we couldn't afford the ray. It wouldn't have been good enough to just have people fall down, so we wanted something that could be seen.
DJH: Was the Control Room set difficult, with the wall that slid round to show screens and displays etc?
GF: Yes, it was a bit of a problem. That was one stage, it wasn't a very big stage, but that took up a whole stage, and it all had to be rigged because we had to blow it. That was the big ending, that we blew the control room apart, when we put it together we had to think about taking it apart. You construct something that's going to look very good and solid but you know that tomorrow you're coming back to blow this thing up, we needed to cut it apart and put explosives in.
DJH: There's been some comment about the Thals' make-up and costumes being a bit OTT.
GF: There's a very over the top speech at the end by a Thal which is a straight lift from Olivier, it's from Richard III, and it was meant to be Garrick, but you must remember that these things were made for kids. It was only later that people realised that there were adults who were into this whole thing, it was never intended to be that. It wasn't that we were talking down in any way, we were working within that kind of genre and it was a young person's film. For example there was a huge problem over whether we were going to take the Dalek out in sight. No one had ever shown what a Dalek looks like, no one knew what it was, so we then decided that what it was basically was a brain, we decided that why it was inside this thing was because it had lost any form of traction and it was just an intelligence but it had no recognisable features, it had no recognisable voice box, because it sounds electronic, it was an electronically produced sound from inside this machine, so it was a brain; that was what we talked about. I remember going upstairs to talk to the censors about what I was going to show when I took the lid off this thing and how I was going to get round not showing it, because what they were saying was, you are not to show it. If you show something and it's a problem to us, we're going to cut it out, because this is a young person's film; we were going for a U certificate. If it hadn't had a U certificate it wouldn't have succeeded because most children went to see those films without adults, because they could shout and scream and cheer and do what they liked. In the end it was a kind of arm thing, we decided it was a brain with one arm, because it had to be something that worked different things, like firing guns and steering itself.
DJH: Were you happy with the final result?
GF: There were always things on those sorts of pictures which you couldn't do because of shortage of money. I don't think anyone thought that the pictures would have any life, no-one would have thought that twenty seven years later even two people in the world would be having a conversation about them, and certainly I didn't. They were low budget, quick films made at a price and you did what you could within those limitations. Some of those limitations helped us to achieve quite interesting things.
DJH: Do you remember how long after the first film was finished, the second film came along?
GF: It was quite soon. I think people very quickly realised they'd got a money maker and the second one was really made in a hurry to cash in on it before it stopped, again because they thought this is a nine day wonder, it won't last, so quick, make the next picture. There was no idea when the first was being made that there was going to be a second. I remember there was a spate of films with long titles, and I remember Joe Vegoda saying what we need is a long title, because at that time one of the successful pictures around was probably 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I think that was why we had the title, Daleks Invasion Earth: 2100 AD, because long titles and dates in the future were suddenly in vogue. These things were being made very much by people who didn't take this work seriously in any way, they were making things as fast as they could to make a buck. I think I came in earlier on the second film, because I think I had more input into the script. Peter Cushing was rehired to be the Doctor, Bernard Cribbins as the man, and Jill Curzon as the girl. She now runs a film festival in Marbella.
DJH: So the main difference was that it was set on Earth rather than an alien planet. How much was sets and how much location
GF: There was stuff shot on the Thames, where the Dalek came up out of the Thames. I would put it in while the tide was out, wait for the tide to come in and cover it, then pull it out, it was done on a line. It was as simple as that. It went in on camera tracks laid down on the bed of the river, and the Dalek was pushed down to the end of it, weighed down, and lines put on it that you could pull on which you couldn't see, and then wait for the river to cover it. It never had anyone in it. We moved the head with lines too. All the mine, that was the back lot at Shepperton. I don't think we went any further on location than that! The streets that we used when the cars were crashing through were revamps of old streets again on the back lot. You couldn't go very far because if you went anywhere you had unbelievable problems with a Dalek, you couldn't make them work, because they couldn't run. If you'd tried to use a real tube station for them to come out of, you would have had trouble getting hold of a station anyway, but you'd have been much worse off because the Daleks couldn't have moved. On the back lot we could put down camera tracking that they could run on. If you see a Dalek moving through rubble, the rubble is either in the foreground or the background, what they are actually moving on has to be absolutely smooth. Hopefully the audience don't realise this, they don't think to themselves, that bit of the street must have been really smooth, it doesn't enter your head.
DJH: Did you have many stuntmen?
GF: Yes, the second one was full of stuntmen. All the robomen were stunt guys, when the fights were going on and people were throwing them off the top. You also have to be careful with fire and children again because of censors. You can include a lot of things but with fire and knives you get into trouble with the censors, because those are very easily imitated.
DJH: The Dalek spaceship is an effect which still stands up.
GF: The ship was built by Special Effects at Shepperton Studios. The bit where you went up underneath was the set, which was Bill Constable, and Bill would have worked on the model with the model maker at Shepperton, some of it was glass, and some of it was matted in. It was very tricky because it was shot on wide screen but it was actually Kodak process, it was Technoscope, so you only had half the negative, which for opticals makes it difficult, because that's how you got that cheap widescreen by only using half the neg; half a frame went through every fifteen seconds, every second you put through thirty frames, not fifteen, so you had to work with much less, it's almost like working on opticals on fifteen mil instead of thirty five. That was the first time I'd done anything like that, I hadn't shot model work before because I'd worked mainly in heavy drama in ITV, and it was really quite a start for most people. We flew it on wires and things, and it worked.
DJH: Was the finale quite difficult to do, because it involved intercutting with model work and fire, and so forth?
GF: I remember that it was complex and difficult. Some of the stuff that went down chimneys in the mine were models, and others were, stuntmen went over the top and then we'd drop a real Dalek down a hole. Yes it was difficult because again we had a limited amount of facilities. We couldn't reshoot a model four or five times. There were a number of model shots inside that, we could afford to do them a couple of times to get them right and after that we had to fake it. If we'd dropped a Dalek and broke it, we didn't have a lot of money to replace it, we were always strapped for money. It did have a relatively bigger budget but that was all eaten up by the great number of effects and location work, and as the first film had been a success there was the question of money for people like Peter Cushing, and so on. Stuntmen are expensive, action sequences are expensive, and that's how it is.
DJH: Were the Daleks reused from the first film?
GF: Yes, I think a few more were made, and the odd one had slightly better tracking systems for exterior work, because there was more exterior work.
DJH: I read somewhere that the second film didn't do as well as the first, do you recall that at all?
GF: If you mention the films, to be honest, people say, oh Doctor Who and the Daleks, I loved that, they don't say Daleks Invasion Earth particularly, although they don't separate the two, sometimes they talk about them and mix the two together. There were certainly no plans to make a third one, so I assume they thought we've run this as far as we can, there's no more to be made out of it, let's make something else. I don't remember a third film ever being discussed. When we did the first film, there was knowledge of an option to do a second film but no plans about when. When it did well, we went ahead with the second very quickly, but there was no discussion at any time, that I recall, of there being a possibility of a third. They were a very commercially minded operation. There were no delusions about it being art or anything, it was meant to make money. I was really astonished at the longevity of the films. I never thought for a minute when we were doing them that they would last so long. I may have thought that they'd bring them out for the next couple of years around Christmas, but if you look up what's on in London every year you'd be able to find them on somewhere. Now they're on video. I always thought the second one was a better film, what it might have been was that the second one was closer to an action film and was maybe further away from the simplicity of the kids thing that made the first one such a success. Maybe that's why it didn't work so well. I think it was more of a step towards the action film with a woman in it, the man with the van in it, the kid in it, there was a lot more banging about in it, which was going more towards the kind of action films that were going to come later, and much less of the restrictions of a kind of a television studio, it was more of a movie than a blown-up telly. That was what I felt about it, and that was more what I wanted to do.
DJH: So what have you done since those two Dalek films?
GF: I went back to do television, which was what I'd come from. It was odd that I should be doing those in a way because what I was noted for was performance direction rather than that kind of action thing.
DJH: Why do you think they picked you then?
GF: I think my agent probably talked Milton into it, and we got on okay and that was it. In those days it was more relaxed, if you did a picture with Milton, you did two pictures with Milton, there wasn't a kind of cut-throat competition, there was competition but it wasn't as vicious as it is now. The next film I did was a picture called Great Catherine which starred Peter O'Toole and Jack Hawkins and Jeanne Moreau, and in the advertising for it everyone said don't mention that he did those Dalek films, we don't want that associated with our product. And now the fact is that everyone's heard of the Dalek films but no one's heard of Great Catherine. Here we are, we're taking about the Dalek films, no one ever talks about these other pictures, very few people have ever seen the bloody thing. Then after that I went to America, and I worked there and made television, and made a film about the robbing of the Los Angeles Coliseum with Gene Hackman and Jim Brown called The Split, a gangster movie, which was very successful. I was there at the time that Martin Luther King was killed, and thought I don't want to stay here any more and came back from America, and looking back on it I think I probably should have stayed. I came back and made a couple of pictures here, one was a war picture just at the time of the anti war thing, and should really have stayed in the States because that's where it all is now. When I came back there was still a British film industry, shortly after I came back there was none. I make films every year of my life, but they're now made for television, and that's all there is to it.
DJH: What have you done more recently?
GF: I've just come back from Scotland where I was making Taggart, but I've made all kinds of films, some I like and some I don't like. I've been nominated for Baftas, and it's lovely, but the fact is that it's not a film industry. It's television made on film. It's certainly not a film, and unfortunately a lot of films made here now are basically just televisions. They're not made by filmmakers who are used to telling a story through film, they're made by people who are used to telling stories on television, they approach it in the same way but it's not the same thing. I love film. I make my living in television and I make films for television, and the way I make them I don't see them as being any different from film. The fact is that I make a film and the people who project it run the film onto television. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to project it on a screen, you could, because I make it to that format, I'm a filmmaker. When I use videotape, which I do sometimes, I still use it like film, I only use one camera and I only shoot it like film.