Terry Molloy, March 2011
A decade after landing the part of Mike Tucker, Terry was asked to play Davros in Doctor Who. The character had been introduced in a story called Genesis of The Daleks, which was broadcast in the spring of 1975. Michael Wisher was the actor who created the part, portraying the crazy scientist from behind a mask and seated in a mobile chair looking very much like the bottom half of a Darlek. Three years later the character was revived in a new story called Destiny of the Daleks. Tom Baker was still playing the Doctor, but this time David Gooderson was the actor in the mask. Davros was fast becoming one of the most popular Doctor Who villains. His relationship with the Doctor was akin to that of Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, or Ernst Stavro Blofeld and James Bond.
After Peter Davison took over as the Doctor, a new instalment of the Davros saga was written. It was called Resurrection of the Daleks and its director, soap opera specialist Matthew Robinson, contacted Terry to see if he’d be willing to replace David Gooderson.
“The reason I got into Doctor Who was because I did a TV series in 1982 called Radio Phoenix for TVS, which was directed by Matthew Robinson. He’d been asked to do Doctor Who so he rang me up out of the blue and asked me what I knew about the series. I used to watch it in the Hartnell and Troughton days so I knew about the Daleks, but I hadn’t a clue about Davros because I’d stopped watching when I went to University.
“Matthew asked me to take a look at the tapes of Genesis of the Daleks, saying that they were bringing Davros back but wanted to recapture the dark quality of the Michael Wisher episodes. They thought that the story line of Destiny of The Daleks with Dave Gooderson hadn’t worked very well because it came across as a bit of a send up.
“I thought it would be an interesting technical and artistic exercise to work within a mask, because the character came very much through the voice.”
Dave Gooderson had been unfortunate enough to have been given Michael Wisher’s old mask, which didn’t fit him particularly well and must surely have come unstuck during Davros’ rants. For Terry, the production team had a new mask made, however it then sparked endless arguments amongst fans about which was the right Davros!
To create Terry’s mask, the special effects team started by taking a mould of his head. This they did by rubbing petroleum jelly over his eyebrows and eyelashes, then covering his face and head with alginate and plaster of Paris.
“I had to wait a good hour while it all set,” Terry recalls. “It was horrid because it compressing my skull into my neck and I had to have straws up my nose to breathe until they finally crack it open and make the positive mould. Then they built on it from there. But it resulted in a mask that fitted me and we tried very hard to make as much of it move as possible.”
Acting From Within
Doctor Who viewers will recall that Davros’ eyes no longer work, so he has a large prosthetic eye inserted into his forehead. Obviously the eyes of the actor inside line up with the two that are closed making it rather hard to see out, although Terry’s mask did at least have little slits between the eyelids so that he could see something.
“I had no peripheral vision and was only able to see straight ahead because my head was bolted into the chair and couldn’t move. The controls on the chair were on long stalks so that I could find them with my fingers. Even that was hard because the hand that they had given me had elongated fingers.
“It was claustrophobic and it was hot but because the mask fitted so well I didn’t really notice how hot it was until I took it off. Obviously it also removed my ability to hear properly so I was very much in a world of my own.”
The Davros chair presented Terry with a few challenges of its own. Far from being an electric vehicle he could drive around, it was actually a bespoke prop which Terry had to manoeuvre by pulling on the studio floor with his toes.
“It was built on a base which was a little like a supermarket trolley in that it always veered in one direction when I was trying to get it to go the opposite way. And I was in something that was made out of four-by-two inch timber and had to share that space with the two 12-Volt car batteries that were powering the lights on the chair.”
To make matters worse, Terry was also required to deliver many of his lines as he struggled to move about. The Daleks added to the difficulties because they too had actors inside who could see very little of what was going on around them. To avoid filming delays, the performers rehearsed their moves at the rehearsal studios in North Acton prior to going into studio. Certain lines or words of dialogue were identified as cues for Davros and the Daleks, to start and stop moving.
“The plotting of movement had to be done very carefully so we didn’t crash into each other,” adds Terry. “It was all very carefully choreographed, but we tried to restrict the amount of movement as much as possible.
“The voice was done by me but was then changed slightly processed by the audio engineer, but not to the same extent as the Dalek ones were. There was a mic in front of my mouth, supported on a piece of wire, and that was fed to the sound control room. But on the studio floor they could only hear my un-processed voice.
“Obviously when I was speaking I knew that it was going to be slightly altered but I also knew that they weren’t changing it radically, so a lot of it had to come from me. But some of the way Davros speaks is informed by the restrictions of the mask. Having watched Michael Wisher’s episodes, I realized how he got to that voice. There was a certain authority and paranoia that went into the delivery, but you also had to move your mouth in a very particular way in order to make the mask move. In those days we didn’t have the super prosthetics that they have nowadays where everything is totally mobile. Then we were working within latex foam rubber masks which were thick, heavy and had little or no movement to them at all.
“I found that I had to adopt a very pedantic way of speaking which affected the phrasing of my sentences. Then I started to bring my voice down in tone and pitch and put a bit of harshness and paranoia into it, and before you know where you are, Davros had appeared and the Doctor must be exterminated! They just put whatever effect they needed to on top of that.”
“The Daleks were impersonally scary, but Davros is a person and yet he has this quality of a Dalek about him, which was very disturbing. My brief was to recreate what Michael had done as much as possible, so it’s my version of that same character. There was still the element of the intergalactic Hitler about it but we tried to get away from that a bit as we moved further into the series and instil some dark humour into the character.”