Wednesday, 16 January 2013
1970's The Ambassadors of Death saw the first credited appearance in Doctor Who of the actor Michael Wisher. He plays the TV broadcaster John Wakefield, commenting on the action at the UK Space Centre in the opening section of the story, and is on hand to host General Carrington's misguided unmasking of the aliens in the final episode. Wakefield helpfully provides a great deal of exposition that would normally have been handled quite clumsily in dialogue between characters. Fellow TV man Alastair Fergus fulfils a similar role at the beginning of The Daemons.
Wisher was born in London in 1935 and first appeared on British television in the early 1960's. His first brush with Doctor Who was actually some uncredited voice work on The Seeds of Death in 1969 - also directed by The Ambassadors' Michael Ferguson.
Wisher returned to the series in the following year, appearing as the weak-willed Rex Farrel, who is manipulated by the Master in The Terror of the Autons. Whilst at times a hapless victim, he does show a cruel streak of his own with his cold cancelling of the newly deceased McDermott's salary. By part four, he is rebelling against the Master, but dies when he is hypnotised into attacking UNIT troops whilst wearing a mask of the Master's features - a mere diversion to allow the evil Time Lord to escape.
Terror of the Autons had been directed by the series producer Barry Letts, and it was he who brought Wisher back to the programme in Season 10. In The Carnival of Monsters, he plays the scheming Kalik, xenophobic brother of the Inter Minoran President, who thinks he can do a better job. He initially forms a third of a comedic trio - with Orum and Pletrac - but his treatment of the Functionaries shows his cold heartedness. He is hoist by his own petard when the Drashigs, which he has released from the Miniscope to cause chaos and to undermine his brother's policy of allowing aliens onto the planet, promptly eat him.
Wisher stayed on for the next two stories (The Frontier in Space and The Planet of the Daleks) - providing the voices for the Daleks alongside Roy Skelton. He is particularly noticeable as the gold Dalek Supreme who turns up on Spiridon. The production team had earlier been very disappointed with the voices in The Day of the Daleks.
Wisher was brought back in Season 11 to provide Dalek voices again in Death to the Daleks.
It was his Dalek voices, coupled with his acting skills, that led to his most famous performance in the programme - that of Davros in The Genesis of the Daleks. Three other actors have essayed the role since, but none compare to Wisher. He famously attended rehearsals with a paper bag over his head in order to get used to the fact that his voice would have to do all the work. He also used a wheelchair - and wore a kilt for comfort. Sadly, he was unavailable to reprise the role when Davros was brought back.
Wisher was back in the following story - The Revenge of the Cybermen - playing Magrik, the consumptive right hand man to Vorus, leader of the Vogan Guardians.
His final appearance, without any prosthetics this time, was as the Morestran bridge officer Morelli in The Planet of Evil. He can also be heard, with an Indian accent, as another unseen character on the radio in this story.
In some ways I am glad he wasn't free to play Davros in The Destiny of the Daleks, as it was an inferior story and may have undermined that stunning original performance.
Whilst Wisher never appeared in the programme again, he did not sever his links with the programme. He did play the Dalek creator one more time - in a fan-produced stage play called "The Trial of Davros" - and he appeared in a number of the unofficial BBV video stories. These included "Summoned by Shadows" with Colin Baker, and - as the ghost of Benton's father - in "Wartime".
Michael Wisher died of a heart attack in 1995.