I always iron in front of the TV. This is because ironing is a therapeutic but monotonous task and I need some sort of stimulus. We don’t watch much of the tube (I really should stop calling it that; it seems hideously out of date, even though we still own a CRT TV) in our household, at least not in terms of collapsing in front of it of an evening; we’re more likely to play a game or chat over a takeaway. Exceptions are made for 24, The X-Files (or any other boxed serial we happen to be watching) and Doctor Who – and, for a few horrifying years, The X-Factor.
One evening last spring I was working my way through the extras for ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. The DVD bonus features for the 2 Entertain sets are generally great – whimsical, nostalgic and insightful, lacking the self-congratulatory air of the more recent stuff and pulling relatively few punches about the sort of problems the team would routinely encounter when producing episodes, whether it was Hinchcliffe coming under fire from Mary Whitehouse or Baker upstaging Louise Jameson. They’re fun and snappy and clever. (I recommend, in particular, the in-character interview with Sutekh the Destroyer in ‘Pyramids of Mars’, which someone has thoughtfully uploaded to YouTube.)
One of the extras in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ is a potted history of the eponymous monstrosities, from design to execution to evolution, along with occasional dialogue masterclasses led by Roy Skelton. Skelton became synonymous with the Nation’s finest (you see what I did there?) in the 1970s and 80s, but anyone who watched children’s TV during this time will also recognise his name from the credit crawl for Rainbow, a show which catalogued the adventures of three anthropomorphic animals (a hippo, a bear, and a…whatever) who seemed to have taken on the role of foster children with obviously troubled backgrounds, now living with a patient father substitute with ridiculous dress sense. Throughout Rainbow‘s long and memorable run, Skelton managed to voice both George and Zippy, often more or less at the same time, in a staggering feat of almost schizophrenic voicing, by turns making himself sound wet and effeminate, and then immediately brash and boastful depending on who he was doing at the time.
The funny thing about the ‘Genesis’ interviews is that when Skelton is doing his Dalek voice, minus the filters and the sound effects and the omnipresent hum that seems to pervade the ships and lunar bases that housed them in the TV series, he really does sound exactly like Zippy. Specifically Zippy when he’s playing a character in some fanciful game he may have invented – like the memorable episode where he dressed up as Zipman (with George playing Bobbin, the Boy Blunder), fighting against the evil Joker Geoffrey. (Watch it after you’ve watched this one, though, otherwise it’ll spoil one of the punch lines.) The Dalek voice is tinged with monotone, lacking some of Zippy’s rising and falling cadences – nonetheless, the raspy extrovert is there for all to hear and it’s quite apparent that he modelled the Zippy voice on the Dalek voice, or perhaps the other way around; we may never know.
So this set me thinking: what would the Daleks sound like if we took out their voices and dubbed them over with Zippy’s dialogue? Fortunately I had a lot of it. I will make no apology for the fact that the purchase of every single one of our numerous Rainbow DVDs pre-dates the birth of all three of my children. I got very nostalgic for old TV just after the millennium turned and all the shows that I watched in the afternoons after school or on lunch breaks during the holidays started coming out on DVD. Sometimes when you delve into these things again you find they’re not as good as they are in your head (as I recently experienced when I picked up a copy of The Family Ness in our local 99p shop, and found it a bit of a disappointment), but Rainbow – trust me on this – was every bit as good as I remembered it, with a formulaic approach that left plenty of breathing space for occasional variation.
There was only one obvious candidate for the Zippy re-dub, and that was ‘Destiny of the Daleks’. As Dalek stories go, it’s distinctly sub-par. Lalla Ward is as watchable as she ever was, particularly as it was her first story in the Romana role, and Tim Barlow lends decent support as Tyssan, but the Movellan robots are laughably camp, the story is inconsequential and the revived Davros is a huge let-down. The bad taste in the mouth was perhaps almost inevitable when you consider that the last time we saw Daleks was ‘Genesis’, which is arguably the finest Doctor Who story of them all, and certainly the best Dalek one – but really, Terry had five years to come up with something new, and you’d really think he could have done better than this (even if Douglas Adams, script editor at the time, rewrote most of it and may arguably have been more responsible for the mess we saw on screen). For all that, there are a couple of memorable moments – Romana’s interrogation at the hands of the Daleks in the second episode is chilling (despite the fact that all they actually say when they capture her is “DO NOT MOVE”, repeated for about a minute and a half) and despite all its flaws, the serial is arguably worth watching in its entirety purely for the scene in which the Doctor hoists himself up into a vent and mocks the approaching Dalek with the words “If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”.
The longest job I had was going through every single Rainbow episode to lift appropriate soundbites. Zippy is forever spouting obnoxious boasts and singing ridiculous songs and there was an abundance of suitable material, but chopping out the .wav files took ages (although I did manage to rip out the Rod, Jane and Freddy songs at the same time for an iPod playlist). After that, I dumped them all in over some appropriate moments in ‘Destiny’, added a little ambient noise where it was needed, re-edited the thing (there’s no narrative progression, it was just a question of sequencing for pace and variety) and threw together a patchy reproduction of the Rainbow credit sequence to finish it off. I basically threw the whole thing together in an evening, although it was rather a late one. I uploaded in May 2011, and that was that.
Then Roy Skelton died.
I wouldn’t say it went viral. ‘Going viral’ is one of those terms that gets bounded about far too often and in the wrong contexts, much like iconic (which I’ve whined about before). But the hit counter went from a couple of hundred to over five thousand more or less overnight, and I got all manner of positive comments and a brief mention in the August WhoTube listings in Doctor Who Magazine. And then things settled down again, although it remains one of my most viewed concoctions, and perhaps rightly so – I really am quite proud of it. Someone even added a ring mod filter to make Zippy sound more Dalek-like (something I’d experimented with, but without much success), and it’s quite clever, but I suppose I’m always going to prefer the original – it’s the juxtaposition of Zippy and the Daleks that makes it work, I think, and I do think they sound even more frightening now. I’d never intended this to be a tribute to Skelton but that’s basically what it’s become, and perhaps it’s better that way – the man was a genius and we really ought to recognise that. I don’t expect for a moment that he saw this before his death, but I hope he would have approved.