Mike Tucker was a Visual Effects Assistant on Silver Nemesis, the last Cybermen story from the classic series. Mike wrote about his experiences in his book ‘Ace! The Inside Story of the End of an Era’, co-written with Sophie Aldred. Mike has kindly shared the original full length text relating to Silver Nemesis, rather than the heavily edited version which was published.
We are delighted to present the article along with Mike’s original design drawings and behind-the-scenes photographs.
MIKE TUCKER ON SILVER NEMESIS
Silver Nemesis has very particular memories for me. It was only five years earlier that I had attended the 20th anniversary convention at Longleat House in Wiltshire, pestering the effects crew and asking how to get into the department. I remember wandering around the prop and model displays wishing that I would have a chance to be involved and here I was, building props and models for the 25th anniversary show.
Kevin Clarke’s three-part story was the all-location show for the year, with filming in Greenwich and Arundel, both doubling for Windsor as permission had been denied to film around the royal residence.
The design team assembled for this special story were nearly all veterans of JNT’s era of the programme. Costume Designer Richard Croft had handled the two three-part stories the previous year, as had Set Designer John Asbridge. Make-up designer Dorka Nieradzick had been working on the show regularly since The Leisure Hive. For Visual Effects Designer Perry Brahan, it was his first Doctor Who as a designer, despite having worked on the series extensively as an assistant. His team comprised myself, Alan (Rocky) Marshall, Paul McGuinness and Russell Pritchet, Russell and myself already having worked on the series earlier that season.
Like all of the shows that Andrew Cartmel script-edited, ideas were thrown around quite early on to test their feasibility. As had happened with Remembrance of the Daleks, ideas were also dropped at this stage.
As with the Daleks earlier in the season, the Cybermen were to be subtly updated. Richard Croft turned to Richard Gregory’s Unit 22, who had dealt with the Cybermen costumes since their reintroduction in Earthshock, back in 1981 (broadcast in 1982). Although there were minor modifications to the head and chest units, the main difference was that all the fibreglass parts were given a highly reflective silver finish. Although very impressive, this did cause quite a few problems during the filming. The lacquer used to seal the finish tended to ‘yellow’ in daylight and the Cybermen turned slowly gold – not a good thing for a Cyberman! We ended up spraying the helmets and chest units with a highly reflective silver paint as the show went on. Similarly, whenever we did the pyrotechnic work on the Cybermen, the finish tended to blacken, also needing cosmetic work with a spray can.
Designer John Asbridge again found himself having to deal with an all-location story, with the added complication that some of it was set in the present day, some in the past, and some in South America. Once again, the ever-present Dave Chapman was on hand to add his expertise to the proceedings, adding palm trees and cloud-shrouded mountains to some shots, whilst removing anachronistic architectural details from others.
One particularly time-consuming sequence dealt with by Dave and John was the time travel sequence where Lady Peinforte and Richard travel to the Twentieth Century. Once all the scenes in the house in its period form had been recorded, a camera was set up, locked off, and a shot of the entire room was taken. John and his team then completely redressed the room, to resemble a modern day tearoom, and the second half of the scene was recorded. The two sequences were eventually combined by Dave in post-production. A flawless effect relied on the camera being in exactly the same place for both parts of the scene and there were a few points where people got rather closer to the camera than either John or Dave would have liked.
For Perry and the effects crew there were plenty of, the now obligatory, explosions, as well as several featured props. The Cybermen themselves needed new weaponry, several new spacecraft and a communications console. The Nemesis asteroid itself was needed in several different variants, and Ace was now the owner of a futuristic ghetto blaster, built for her by the Doctor to replace the one destroyed in Remembrance of the Daleks.
Perry opted for a pyrotechnic device in the guns, rather than a light that had been the traditional way of indicating which gun was being fired. The guns contained a circuit that was capable of firing up to a dozen individual charges, either singly or in rapid succession. The guns themselves were my responsibility. I made up a wooden original that was passed on to an independent company for moulding. The final props were a combination of fibreglass and aluminium, plated in a similar way to the Cybermen themselves. A magazine, containing all the charges, could be screwed to the front of the gun, making reshoots very quick, though many evenings were spent recharging them for the following day’s shooting.
The spacecraft evolved from several specific ideas that Perry had. Detailed sketches were made by Paul McGuinness that were used in the eventual construction. The main Cyberfleet was eventually achieved with just one model, about a foot long, made by an independent model-making company.
The Cyber assault shuttle was built by me, and the exploding version by Alan Marshall – the same arrangement that we had on Dragonfire, the previous year. Design was limited in that we had to match the full-size entranceway that was being provided by John Asbridge. Chris Clough, the Director, had specified that he wanted this entranceway to the front of the ship.
The model used for the bulk of the scenes was about two foot long, a timber and plastic construction around a metal frame. The exploding version was about twice the size to help scale the explosion. The ship was composited into the live action scenes in post-production, the model mounted on a gimbal so that it could be rotated as Dave Chapman manipulated the image. This was an improvement on the system that we had used on the Bannermen Troop carrier in Delta and the Bannermen.
Chris Clough had been keen that the ship interacted with its surroundings so a helicopter was hired on location to fly the route supposedly taken by the Cybership. This ensured the foliage was disturbed by its passage and, when it landed, the glass was flattened. Dave merely replaced the helicopter with the model in the final transmitted shots.
The communications console went through several variations before the final version was arrived at. The earliest concept was that it was an extension of Cyber-technology, a creature adapted to the Cybermen’s needs. Rather than being carried by the Cybermen it was capable of independent movement. This evolved into a communications Cyberman, but with the Special Weapons Dalek in the same season, it was decided that the ideas were too similar. The final idea was a console, and Perry had several designs drawn up by both Paul and myself. Knowing that a similar device had been constructed for Earthshock, I went to see the Effects Designer for that story, Steve Bowman.
Steve had kept all of his original design drawings from Earthshock and, whilst not slavishly copying the design, I hoped that the similarities were obvious enough for people to make the connection. JNT certainly did. Upon seeing the console on location he commented “This takes me back.”
The only other bit of Cyber-technology that nearly made it to the story were the Cybermats. Upon seeing the scene where the policemen were overcome by gas, I suggested to Andrew Cartmel that it was a good point to reintroduce them. Andrew said that he had never found them remotely convincing and we stuck with the tubes emerging from the earth. The Cybermat design that I had in mind eventually made its debut five years later, when Kevin Davies had me manufacture the prop for the Thirty Years in the TARDIS documentary.
The tubes emerging from the earth was just one of the many effects that actually had to be rigged and operated entirely on location. A large trench was dug and a boar, pre-cut with slots, placed over the top. On cue, the poor effects assistant in the trench – me in this case – had to push the tubes through. The gas was, in fact, talcum powder, blown out under pressure- as smoke did not have the desired effect. The subsequent shots of the policemen enveloped by gas were achieved more traditionally with a smoke gun.
The Nemesis itself was a combination of visual effects, make-up and costume. Perry had the full-sized asteroid carved out of Jablite by an outside company. The statue inside was made by one of the BBC in-house sculptors and the miniature was made by Alan Marshall. The polystyrene statue is only briefly seen, having been completed before anyone had been cast as Lady Peinforte and so not being a good match – one of the problems of the short lead-time up to filming. The actual statue was a costume designed by Richard Croft.
All elements of the Nemesis statue, including the bow and the arrow, were coated with Front Axial Projection material (FAP), a highly reflective material usually found on road signs, though adapted for use in the film industry. Reflecting nearly 100% of the light shone at it, all that was needed were several lights around the camera lens to make it glow in the most unearthly way. Whereas the bow and the arrow were merely painted with FAP paint, the costume was manufactured from FAP material whilst Dorka had a foam latex prosthetic, coated with the paint, made to fit Fiona Walker.