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