DESIGNING WHO: Streamlining And The Avant Garde (3)

Cusick's Daleks
In contrast to Brachacki’s TARDIS interior, Ray Cusick’s Dalek design, as revealed in the second episode of The Daleks, was influenced by an altogether very different design aesthetic and tradition. It is clear that Cusick had a much larger impact on the series, as a designer, than Brachacki. He was responsible for not only the iconic Dalek design but also their city and the petrified forests of Skaro for this particular serial and later, hundreds of space ship designs, set and monster designs that implied a specific look and feel to the futuristic stories of the early years of Doctor Who. Looking at the design of the Daleks is not to simply acknowledge received wisdom that includes their movement based on the Georgian State Dancers and their shape being akin to the humble pepper pot but it is also to highlight their roots in industrial, consumer and automobile design for the late 1940s. When the Daleks were associated with the American Art Deco period of the 1930s and 1940s in the recent series by dint of their present refinements, it was no arbitrary link to the setting of that particular story. The Daleks had more in common with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building than we assumed.

Firstly, what can we see of American Art Deco in the Dalek design? American Art Deco was unlike its European counterpart. “Architects in the United States had "exotic" indigenous cultures for inspiration. Arts such as Navajo chiefs' blankets, Hopi pottery, and Sioux beadwork, characterized by geometric ornament, were easily assimilated into the art deco style”8. The 1925 Paris 'Exposition Internationale des Arts D√©coratifs et Industriels Modernes' had a great influence on design and visual arts in America. “The American contribution to Art Deco is known as Streamlining and is characterised by clean lines and strong curves. It was applied to the design of cars, architecture and furniture. It was also applied to new mass-produced goods such as refrigerators and radios. In their attempt to reach new consumers from around 1930, manufacturers took iconic elements of the Art Deco styles and simplified them for mass production. Married to modern machine age materials such as Bakelite and chrome, this style heralded an era of 'modern' design for mass consumption of affordable consumer goods”. 9
Speed and change
Streamline design stood for mobility, speed, efficiency and luxury, all concepts that were identified with modernity and a positive vision of the future. This new generation of designers, born in the United States at the end of the twenties, included Raymond Loewy, Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Harold van Doren, and Walter Dorwin Teague. The new breed of industrial designers in the 1930s were more open to the suggestions of science and practical technologies, but were less restricted by aesthetic traditions. Concepts such as speed and change, exploration of new materials, together with new modes of transport and appliances were common to their aesthetic that in turn influenced many science fiction writers, illustrators and filmmakers. It is not therefore too great a leap to see the link from the streamlined designs of Bel Geddes, Loewy et al directly influencing Saturday morning serials such as Flash Gordon and, later, comic strips such as Dan Dare and Cusick’s design thinking for Doctor Who.

The tank-like swivelling head of Skaro’s finest is pure Streamline Style. Its streamlined curves are based on industrial design of the 1940s. The eye stalk with its odd looking beehive section that sits just before the eye section itself is reminiscent of a Flash Gordon fantasy, faithful to the streamlining of the era with a series of circular winglets that would probably get top marks in a wind tunnel test and act as a cooling mechanism. Take a look at the photographer’s studio lamp and the compressor illustrated here and their similarity to the eyestalk and head design is profound.

The grilled section under the tank-like Dalek head resembles the chrome 1938 HMV heater, designed by Christian Barman. This fantastic example of machine age design “is considered as one of the few recognised icons of the 1930s. It’s an example of how the fashion for aerodynamics crossed over the Atlantic at the beginning of the 1930s where, in the motor shows of 1933 and 1934, many streamlined cars appeared.
The windshields were more reclined, the front grilles and the wings more rounded, the rear tails longer”. 10

Below the Dalek’s head and shoulder section is the now highly recognisable skirt section with its raised bumps. This extends the machine age motif and incorporates a range of aesthetic influences from design of the 1950s, particularly design influenced by the early Atomic Age. An anthropomorphic quality is evoked in the skirt, with its organic looking bumps, and the accompanying gun stick and plunger arms. This mirrors the Catherine Winkler and Richard Whipple Predicta television set from 1959, where the set is poised on what looks like two feet and topped with a screen resembling an enormous eye. The series of bumps that stud the skirt are also perhaps an homage to the way plastic was then being used for packaging, particularly the pharmaceutical industry and its introduction of blister packs for medication and also to Earl Tupper, who found a way to mould polyethylene plastic into bowls, dishes, and cocktail shakers, creating Tupperware. The design “makes use of organic forms popular in the decades after World War II -- especially the human figure and its components, but also boomerang, plant, teardrop, kidney, amoeboid, cellular and mushroom-cloud shapes, along with those of molecular structures -- in mediums from highbrow painting to popular consumer products”. 11

Cusick’s legendary design is therefore an amalgamation of influences. From the machine age streamlining of American design in the 1930s and 1940s, evoking the distinctive progress in domestic, consumer and industrial product design as well as recognising its influence on the science fiction of the era up until the late 1950s to then incorporating the futurism of the new Atomic Age, both aesthetically and philosophically. Only Cusick should be credited in making a mobile bomb shelter-cum-tank both an object of curvilinear beauty and of stark, elemental terror. It is ironic again that post war industrial design produced by exiled Europeans in America would go on to provide the inspiration for the design of a creature that represented the very fascism they had escaped from.

Both Brachacki and Cusick projected modernity into the series, their designs adding a further avant-garde, experimental, futurist edge to a series already determined to juxtapose the traditional, ordinary and mundane world of 1963 with an alternative and odder world of post-colonial exploration through time and space. The avant-garde continued to affect the series throughout its early years and, to an extent, beyond and its purest form can be seen in the first title sequence, Delia Derbyshire’s cut-up sound collage theme tune and the accompanying Brian Hodgson sound effects and sound-scapes. But symbolically the journey begins with a junkyard, a Bauhaus inspired spaceship and mobile retro-armoured suits.
8. - American Art Deco & Regionalism (Carla Breeze 2003) - pages accessed 16/2/08 and 17/2/08.
9. - Victoria & Albert Museum Art Deco Study Guide - pages accessed 16/2/08 and 17/2/08
10. Introduction to Streamline Design - pages accessed 16/2/08 and 17/2/08.
11. New York Times: Art Review – Form Followed Fission Through The Atomic Age (Grace Glueck 26/10/01)

Inspirations and Visual Sources:
• - pages accessed 16/2/08 and 17/2/08
• - George Eastman House Photographers Collection On Line / Moholy- Nagy - pages accessed 16/2/08 and 17/2/08
• / Images of Photographer’s Lamp, Compressor and Heater
• Contemporary - Architecture And Interiors Of The 1950s (Lesley Jackson – Phaidon 1994)
• Reading Between Designs – Visual Imagery And The Generation Of Meaning In ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Prisoner’ And ‘Doctor Who’ (Piers Britton And Simon Barker – University Of Texas Press 2003)
• Vision: Fifty Years Of British Creativity (Thames & Hudson 1999)

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