Alexandra Tynan (then Sandra Reid) was the costume designer on The Tenth Planet. She was responsible for designing a new race of monsters called the Cybermen. This interview was conducted by Gary Leigh in 1991 for the fanzine DWB.
Were any guidelines automatically imposed on you from the start as to what you could and couldn’t do with the Cybermen?
I did have guidelines on the first show because I was introduced to Kit Pedler who had created the Cybermen. We chatted about it and he told me about Cybernetics and tried to explain what it was all about. Cybernetics at that stage was something so new – a pacemaker was the only thing that you could put in someone’s body that wasn’t human flesh and muscle – and I guess if I had to do it now I wold have approached it from a slightly different direction. I talked to Derek Martinus the director as well, he was terrific to work for and was most anxious too that I should speak to Kit.
In one sense the Cyber-costume was very simple, but what interests me now is that it was apparently very frightening to a lot of children. I think I’ve got a tremendous amount of guilt on my shoulders for damaging the minds of the youngsters of the sixties! But I always operated on the basis that less is more, that simplified things can often be much more scary than something which is very involved and very high-tech in its design. Also it was something new then. Young kids today are very aware of Ninja Turtles, semi-humanoid things and androids, they’re very attuned to all that and they’ve got a very high tolerance when it comes to being frightened. Back in the sixties it was very different because here was a creature actually on a Saturday night at half past five in your living room and kids were diving behind the couch and peering over the top being scared. Also black and white was avery powerful medium.
How much discussion would you have with the writers over the look of the costumes?
You could only discuss up to a certain point and then you’re on your own. You then had to put something down on paper and take it back and tentatively say ‘Is that OK?’ Again my approach now would be different, but whatever I did they liked and there were no changes that I could remember. We were on a very tight schedule and low budget so it was more or less ‘Quick, let’s get something together now and see how it goes’. Nobody had any idea how it would go.
I had to read the scripts through two or three times and then I had very definite visual images. If I didn’t get the image straight away then I would have to take it away and think about it a lot. You have to please a variety of people like the producer and the director and also the artist who’s wearing it, and I have to please myself. If I can make those four people happy and then make the viewer accept it then I reckon that I have succeeded to a certain point. A costume is usually an extension of the character’s personality and I would often talk to the actor – if the actor had been cast, which quite often was not the case – and find out what their feelings were. I’d have to leave enough flexibility for the design to perhaps be just slightly altered, or I might do something to suit a particular casting.
Who would give you final approval?
The director. The producer just wants to make sure you’re keeping within the budget because he’s got the pound signs in his eyes all the time. You have to learn to do that too which is very difficult for creative people because money and creativity just don’t go hand in hand. It’s very difficult to keep everybody happy and nowadays the designer is having to be more and more of a financial expert which is very sad. A lot of people get their jobs on the strength of being able to come within budget and not necessarily on their skill.
Once it got to the stage where it had been agreed by the director, I would do a working drawing of how I felt it should be put together, and here I was at an advantage over a lot of designers because I had worked as a cutter and also with textiles so I could understand a lot of the problems that arose at the cutting stage. I had to take into consideration how the costume would sit on the body, how it would hang, how comfortable or uncomfortable it would be, and it was up to me to make sure it was as comfortable as possible. I would choose the fabrics and decide whether something was going to be made, hired or bought. Now obviously, with Cybermen, you can’t buy them off the peg in which case they had to be made. I have often said that I felt the first set of Cybermen were very Micky Mouse but that too relates back to what was available at the time, in the time. The head pieces for those were made by Visual Effects at the BBC while Jack Lovell was in on The Moonbase, by which time we had that much more knowledge and expertise about how things worked, so they were redesigned from a different standpoint.
Did you find that your designs were generally well received and did they live up to your own expectations?
Yes. One always has an image of how you’d like it to be in the best of all possible worlds, but you can’t because you’re ruled by time and money and availability and all sorts of other things. I’d attend at least one rehearsal, which was usually to pick up with people I might have spoken to on the phone but not actually met. Naturally the Cybermen had to be fitted for their costumes because of their size and height but I was lucky, very lucky, in that the people who played those parts were very co-operative and totally professional – they weren’t going to whinge about something not being comfortable or whatever went wrong. We used a lot of sticky tape for the first Cybermen and we learnt a lot. There’s a photograph of me with Derek Martinus and Edwina Craze pulling a Mark 1 Cyberman up off the ground, because once they fell down they couldn’t get up.
Was a point made of introducing you to the cast?
Yes, I was introduced to William Hartnell first of all and I knew that he’d probably test me out as he did most people – he did, the first day I was there. I was terribly nervous because I wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to go. I was summoned to his dressing room. He said ‘I can’t find my hat, my hat’s not here!’ He was really stroppy and I was trembling in my boots and I said, ‘Oh well, we’ll just have to find it won’t we’, or something. I was a bit patronising in my terror and we looked around and I said, ‘Oh look, there it is!’ He’d kicked up a real fuss while, all along, it was sitting on his chair under something else, so I said, ‘You’ve got it after all, haven’t you?’ I think he realised I’d been tested and I hadn’t flapped or got mad with him. It was fine after that, and i always greeted him in a friendly way and called him ‘Mr. Hartnell’.
Was there an air of optimism that the series was about to enter a new era?
Going in as a stranger at the end of it I think that people were, in one sense, relieved that Bill was going, although no-one would voice that, naturally, and in another sense sad because he really had made that show. He had a reputation of being a very good actor and he had talent. The sad part about it was that his health and his memory were going and he had all these techniques that he used when he forgot his lines. There was a certain amount of wariness because the new boy was coming in to take over; much younger and much more vital and it must have been awful for Bill. I felt sorry for him in one sense because he had to accept the fact that he had to go, although he probably realised that.
Patrick treated him very sensitively on the day of the change-over. I mean, he made little jokes – like he’d walked into the studio when we had both of them in there and he said ‘Who’s Who?’ and that sort of thing – little funnies which poor old Bill didn’t react to very positively. But Patrick, knowing, would have been very sensitive to how Bill must have been feeling and he played it very carefully and close to his chest.