We don our flippers and take a swim with the curious monsters of the early 1960s that, though intended to be the new Daleks never to return to the television, but whose enigmatic appearance proved fertile ground for writers and creators in other media…
11 April 1964 and the fifth serial of Doctor Who screened on the BBC. Fans that the show had scooped up since its arrival the previous November had no idea that the 21st episode of the series, The Sea of Death, would originate an element that would become a recurring component of the show: the quest-based story arc, famously employed for a whole season with The Key to Time in the late 1970s and the Fifth Doctor’s tussle with the Black Guardian a half decade after that. It would also form form a simple, exciting framework for stories as diverse as The Chase, The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965) and The Infinite Quest (2007). Ideal for the show when it was in a tight spot. A simple story was enhanced by diverse mini-adventures, but the weight of those smaller stories was also bolstered by a light if compelling backbone. While the the concept would remain with the show, pioneered by the writer of The Sea of Death, the monsters of the piece wouldn’t be so lucky.
The Voord, the Milk Tray Men of Doctor Who, would never reappear on screen to attempt a chocolate delivery again.
Flipping stand ins
When rewrites of Malcolm Hulke’s Dr Who and the Hidden Planet pushed it out of the production schedule, script editor David Whitaker turned to Terry Nation, the writer who’d propelled the show into popular consciousness with its second serial, The Daleks, and was already lined up for its eighth. Confronted with a narrow window to write it, Nation was drawn to the idea of a quest and he and Whitaker settled on a light arc that would take the TARDIS crew to a number of varied settings. From the interior of the first two episodes the travellers would encounter a vast city, a courtroom, a jungle and arctic terrain. Linked to the overarching acr and waiting for them on the sea world of Marinus were the villainous Voord. Few were happy with how these monsters turned out. Carole Ann Ford, who thought the script took Susan’s character back to school, director John Gorrie who had eyes on boosting his career which allowed him to overlook issues with the speedily produced script, the audience and critics who gave it a mixed result – none were too impressed. But few could have been more disappointed than the Voord themselves.
As was customary, Terry Nation added very little description for the creatures to his script, so designer Daphne Dare used vulcanised rubber from prop builders Jack and John Lovell to sculpt heads of the monsters that sat atop a customised rubber wetsuit. Three costumes came in at under £70 which must have pleased the production. And while impractical and rather silly, their enigmatic and strangely effective appearance would provide ample opportunities to expand on the creations. Although, the reception of The Keys of Marinus put pay to them appearing on screen again.
Dalekmania had caught many off guard, while ensuring Doctor Who’s survival. The Pepperpots that had famously contravened show creator Sydney Newman’s “no bug-eyed monsters” rule had surfaced from nowhere and joined Beatlemania in setting a tone for early 60s Britain and ensuring a quick return. Hopes were high for a successor, but of the long line of pretenders who never reached that, the Voord were the first to fail. They got the merchandising deals and exposure, made it into the comic strips and even made their way to Amicus, who snapped up the rights to The Keys of Marinus along with the early Dalek serials. Neither the Keys nor the Voord made it to the big screen or back to the small. Though it’s important to note that Peter Stenson would later contribute his experiences of portraying a Voord in 1964 for a leather fetish magazine.
The Voord found a new, if not huge life in the show’s expanded universe, beyond the pages of fetish magazines. Let’s take a shifty through four of the interpretations of the Voord from four big names: Terry Nation, Grant Morrison, Andrew Smith and Paul Cornell.
Terry Nation – The Keys of Marinus (1964), BBC
The One Where: They’re the new Daleks
“Choice? What choice?”
The Sea of Death is an ominous episode title and setting. The locale of the island of glass that the episode pores over at the start could come right from of the final act of Rogue One, the prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy that would bring its black suited, black-hearted antagonist back to science fiction almost 50 years later.
Flipper first, the dark and menacing Voord appear on this silent island, emerging from their craft backed by the flute flourish of Norman Kay’s score. A tidal pool, acid water – it’s a beautiful, idyllic locale with a dangerous undercurrent – a Nation set-up familiar from his Dalek story lines. The Voord’s mysterious arrival adds to the unease. Even as they stumble across crafts and structures that should be quite evident, they carry mystery with them. Chiefly, it’s an inexplicable assault. Continue reading “Chairmen of the Voord – Four Writers, One of Doctor Who’s Oldest Monsters”