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Dalek Movies: Bernard Cribbins Interview

With the two ’60s Dalek movies starring Peter Cushing as “Dr Who” (sic) just released in special edition Blu-ray and DVD format (see our reviews here ) SFX has a chat with the man who played Tom Campbell in the second film – Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD . A man who would return to Doctor Who over 40 years later to great acclaim as Wilf. So at least he settled the argument about whether he’d ever been in canonical Who. Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand please for Bernard Cribbins.

Did you realise that the release of these two Dalek films nearly coincided with the 100th anniversary of Peter Cushing’s birth?

BC: “Yes, indeed! Well, I read it in the paper, actually. Peter would have been 100 years old on the 26 May. I didn’t know that. I was astonished to read it and it gave me many fond memories of him. I remember a lot of fun, a lot of laughter. He was such a nice guy.

“I had worked with him previously on a film called She about three years before, down in Israel and we’d got on extremely well. He was a bird watcher, and so was I, so we had competitions each day in the desert; the Negev desert. There were a surprising number of birds there. Extraordinary hawks and various other raptors, and little sort of wheatears, you know – amazing. So we had a competition every day. We had a little score card each: ‘I’ve got 17, how many have you got?’ ‘Oh damn, I’ve only got 16.’ That sort of stuff. So we got on very well. I taught him to snorkel – he’d never done that before. Of course, we were on the Red Sea and of course the water is so clear so there are lots of fish to look at. We got on very well indeed.”

Did you think of your role in the Dalek film as your big break? A chance to move from light comedy into a leading action figure? Or was it just another role?

“It was just another role, if I’m honest. It was ’66, I’d done, as you say, lots of films prior to that. No, it was just a nice opportunity to work with Peter again and to get into a film, and, you know, actors like to work and it was a good job and I enjoyed it. It was also very local. It was at Shepperton and I lived about five miles away so that was nice.”

We’re told that Britain was in the grip of Dalekmania at the time. Do you remember it being Dalekmania?

“No, no, I don’t know. I wasn’t conscious of Dalekmania. We did get into trouble, Peter and I, with a Dalek. We were shooting at Shepperton, in the studio. It was a scene where Peter and I had just been captured and we’re being marched up the ramp when a Dalek is coming down the ramp and we had a scene to play with this Dalek. And inside the machine was a guy called Bob Jewel who was Australian, and he had to say the Dalek lines so we could play the scene together, even though they would add another voice later. And at one point says, ‘If you do not comply, you will be exterminated,’ in this broad Australian accent. And we got the giggles. This was the last rehearsal or whatever before we shot it and the director – Gordon Flemyng – got very cross with us because we were like two schoolgirls giggling away at this Australian Dalek. [Australian Accent] ‘You’ll be exterminated!’ it was like being on Neighbours .” [laughs]

Although they can look terrifying on screen, when you see them for real they can be a bit silly.

“Well, they are silly. They are sort of sinister dustbins, rushing about. But you have to hand it to Terry Nation’s inventions. I mean, there aren’t many villains or nasties that stand the test of time as they have done. Nearly 50, years isn’t it? Almost 50 years!”

Which means Doctor Who is half the age of Peter Cushing.

“Yes, indeed. There’s a thought.”

Do you think they’d improved by the time you came back to the series?

“Oh, I think technically they have improved and they’re slightly more sinister. They move a bit more easily. They look like they’re on castors rather than on little clunky wheels. I think they’re terrific villains and they’ve progressed all the way along and they still work. They still have a menace about them even though people know how they work, and how they’re operated, etc. But you still look at them as a villain.”

It’s really easy to suspend your disbelief with them.

“Yes it is, yes. I think if you’re looking at them as an adult you’re remembering how you viewed them as a child, perhaps. You know, from behind the sofa.”

The films are clearly a product of the ’60s, did it feel like you were working on a big budget sci-fi at the time or was it all a bit British and home-spun?

“I just remember it as being a very efficient piece of work, at the time. You do some films and you feel the penny-pinching going on. I wasn’t aware of any of that. We just got on with it and it was very fluid and Gordon Flemyng did a wonderful job. We got in, in the morning, we shot the day’s schedule and that was it. It was a good thing to work on. The result was good and it’s still good.”

Were you ever asked about a sequel?

“No, I don’t think there was any talk at all, as far as I can remember. It would have been nice, I would have loved to have done another one but anyway, didn’t happen!”

NEXT PAGE: James Bond, bringing back Wilf… and bringing back Peter Cushing’s Doctor

Can you see yourself as an action hero?

“Yes, well, after being one in real life – during the war – it’s a piece of cake isn’t it?”

Would you like to have been James Bond?

“No, I’m not tall enough to be James Bond! No, no. James Bond, no. I wouldn’t have been right for James Bond. I would have been a good sidekick.”

For James Bond?

“Yes, for James Bond, certainly. He needs a sidekick every now and again.”

He has a lot of female, erm, sidekicks…

“Yes, I know, but I’m not going to dress up and put a wig on.” [Laughs]

What about Doctor Who, would that have been a role you liked?

“That would have been nice, wouldn’t it? To have been the Doctor amongst all the other Doctors. How many have there been now? 10? 8 or 9 or something?

Eleven official ones. 12 if you include Peter Cushing.

“Of course one should include Peter Cushing.”

It would be nice if his face turned up in the 50th anniversary special.

“Yes! Even just on a page in a book or something. ‘Who’s that?’ ‘Oh, I dunno.’ And then you’d look at the picture and it would animate so Peter winks at the camera. Oh, there you go, I should be a director. That would have been a good one, wouldn’t it?”

How do you think you might have played the Doctor?

“There would have been a bit of action, I would have hoped. I liked the action bits, certainly. He might have been amusing, as well, because quite often they’re not, are they? Some try to be, and aren’t. I think we’d have had some good laughs, or maybe some practical joking. You see, you’ve got me going now. The advantage of that would be he would seem frivolous and light-hearted but could switch immediately into the man of action, the man of steel or whatever it would be.”

Were you gratified by how readily the audience took Wilf to their hearts when you returned to Doctor Who for the revived series?

“I was indeed. Russell had written a beautiful character and I must say I enjoyed playing it and I think I played it, without being boastful, in a way that came out very well indeed. And there was a nice relationship with the daughter and the grand-daughter; with Catherine. And especially the relationship with the Doctor, the way he was a sort of father figure for the Doctor.”

What was Wilf’s best moment?

“He had several best moments really, I liked him when he was in the module firing off the space gun, boom boom boom. That was great fun. I remember the director saying, ‘I just put him in there and said, ‘Action’ and he went on for two minutes and nobody said a word!’ And the scenes with David of course, especially the emotional scene. Generally it was very well written and great fun to do.”

Would you like to come back one day?

“I would love to come back one day. If you’ve got any influence at all, could you have a word with somebody?”

All we can do is write it down that you said it...

“No, no, no, don’t say I said it. They’ll think I’m crawling... [laughs] But if you say, ‘Would it not be a good idea if...?’”

We’ll sneak it in somewhere. A few somewheres, in fact. Thank you, Bernard Cribbins, you legend!

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Dave Golder
Dave Golder

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.