DOCTOR WHO Dalek week - Michael Wisher, the original DAVROS

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Tom Pheby pays tribute to the man who originally portrayed Davros, the creator of the Daleks, Michael Wisher.


It's not widely known outside of the kingdom of 'Whodum' that Michael Wisher had been involved in Doctor Who for many years before he ever portrayed the monstrous Davros in 'Genesis of the Daleks'. He was an actor that was hardly ever out of work because of his ability and versatility, and he quickly managed to establish himself on the small screen inclassic Sixties shows such as Z Cars and Dixon of Dock Green, and later in shows such as Colditz, Moonbase 3 and Blakes 7. He also continued to cram in theatre performances as often as his busy schedule would allow, whether it was in recognised professional productions or smaller amateur ventures that caught his interest.

His association with Doctor Who stretches back to 1968 where he provided a voice on "The Seeds of Death", over the years he would continue to provide voices for other stories in the series adding to his increasing reputation as an actor. He was later asked if he could provide the voice of a Dalek by a producer and said "I'll do anything for £25." He pointed out that they only had three tones , High, Medium and Low and performed all three to make his point.

Michael Wisher as John Wakefield in 'The Ambassadors Of Death' (1970)
In 1973 He made his Dalek debut in 'The Frontier In Space', but he was no stranger to appearing in front of Camera either, turning up as a reporter in "The Ambassadors of Death" (70) as Rex Farrell in 'Terror of the Autons'' (71) and Commissioner Kalik in "Carnival of Monster" (73). Although Wisher was serious about his craft, he came across as witty, warm and totally unpretentious, and when he wasn't acting he loved to talk about his work.

It's reasonable to describe him as a "method actor" because of the extraordinary lengths he went to at rehearsals after winning the role of Davros. He sat in a wheelchair, with one arm unused during script run throughs and even resorted to wearing a paper bag so that he could get used to the restrictions of the latex mask when it arrived. Tom Baker revealed that Wisher enjoyed many cigarettes during rehearsals and would smoke with the bag still on. The exhaled smoke would then exit out of the top from a small vent that Wisher himself had made. This may be true or just another of Tom's entertaining yarns but its an amusing thought, especially if Wisher insisted on remaining in character. Lord knows how he would manage this today with Health and Safety restrictions, you can't so much as fart in a spacesuit without being warned about inhaling toxins and having a large luminous yellow sticker attached to your forehead!


Insiders also revealed the quirky Wisher was dressed in a kilt from the waist down and wore wads of padding on his legs. (McDavros of The Dalek clan!) this was said to be more comfortable when he was trying to navigate around the sets in his Dalek style chair. More examples of Michael's wit was when he was asked 'What is the first impression you give?' he said: 'Negative.' When asked what he liked to do with his time, he replied : 'Waste it.' He also said his greatest ambition in life was 'to be retired'.

In a way Wisher, seemingly by choice, made himself virtually anonymous by being disinterested in the trappings of stardom , He seemed to favour the quality of the work he undertook, although he liked the financial rewards.(£25 in 1973 is worth £250 today). He had the ability to support the main actors without overshadowing them, provide interesting voices and still managed to perform from behind a mass of latex rubber. One suspects he liked the anonymity of make up, that it allowed him greater freedom as an actor, this is something Doctor Who provided him with time and time again.


His chilling portrayal of Davros made sure he would be a firm favourite with the fans. It wasn't just a triumph of the writer and make up artist, although they certainly did play their part, it was Wisher's dramatic delivery and timing - a perfect performance, even if he did do it in a Kilt! 

It's a pity that other commitments prevented him from resuming the role in 'Destiny of The Daleks', although this may have been a fortunate escape because the script was a glorious muddle. Douglas Adams (usually a safe pair of hands) couldn't seem to make his mind up about what sort of episode it was and so it ended up being neither comedy nor drama, and as a result it failed to reach the heights of other episodes. It was David Gooderson (1979) that portrayed the Doctor's nemesis that time around, followed by Terry Malloy (1984-1988) and most recently, Julien Bleach (2008). 

Michael Wisher during make-up for Shakedown: Return Of The Sontarans (1994)
Michael Wisher did return to the world of Doctor Who, he reprised his most famous role in the stage production 'The Trial Of Davros' (93), and contributed to some of the BBV productions, including The Airzone Solution (93) and Shakedown: Return Of The Sontarans (94). His final appearance was in the documentary 'Dalekmania' (95) which was recorded just before his untimely death from a sudden heart attack.
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