Doctor Who Visual Effects Wizard Dies Aged 95: his work will be featured in forthcoming exhibition.
Peter Day, one of the very first people to join the BBC visual effects department after its formation in the 1950s, has died at the age of 95.
His work on Doctor Who included a number of classic series – his first credits were on a pair of consecutive classics, The Evil of the Daleks and The Tomb of the Cybermen (both 1967) which he worked on alongside colleague Michaeljohn Harris. For the former they orchestrated some huge explosions and plenty of mush (to spew from Dalek innards) as the memorable Dalek civil war caused this story to come to a thunderous climax. It was an ambitious sequence mixing model work with live action, the impressive Emperor Dalek and plenty of pyrotechnics. The Tomb of the Cybermen involved the judicious use of foam to seep from a stricken Cyberman’s chest and of course the classic scene in which they merged from their Tombs:
“It was this huge set up with the Cybermen up in their little cubby holes and we used cling film by the yard so they could break out and come through. [The model of the Tomb] was all frozen up to start with so we sprayed the whole thing with what looked like ice,” he recalled later.
Nothing, however, compared to the excess of froth created by the seaweed creature in Fury from the Deep, his next story. For this he donned the thrashing fronts of the menace himself, swishing its tendrils violently whilst submerged in foam for yet another extensive filming session which was required to pull off the story’s terrifying and complex final episode.
The actor John Abineri recalled when I spoke to him about Fury from the Deep some years ago : “Fury was a classic. I will never forget my death scene, I was drawn into a chimney of foam arranged by the visual effects guy, Peter Day, who was absolutely wonderful.”
Peter then worked with Ian Scoones on The Ambassadors of Death which had some gorgeous model work, whilst The Daemons and The Sea Devils are two of the Pertwee era’s most memorable stories, their imagery and monsters forever embedded in the minds of the children who watched them upon broadcast. Genesis of the Daleks is one of the show’s undisputed high points, and Peter was involved in realising the now iconic character of Davros, creator of the Daleks, a mutated half-man/half-Dalek construction and now a key part of the show’s mythology. The Deadly Assassin (like Fury from the Deep, a co-credit with Len Hutton) is a visual triumph and quite a demanding story for effects, especially for the memorable sequences in which the Doctor fights for his life amongst the surreal goings-on in the Time Lords’ Matrix. Peter also worked on The Monster of Peladon and The Sunmakers – bringing his total to 10 stories across three Doctors.
He had always been creative – he studied theatre design at Wimbledon Art School and then spent some time working for model firms and in screen advertising, filming animation models for Pearl and Dean. He then spent a couple of years at the Arts Theatre, London under its director Alec Clunes, working as a scenic artist during the day and on shows during their evening performances.
He joined the BBC Visual Effects Department in 1958 as one of the very first assistants to what had up to that point been a two man band : pioneers and department founders Jack Kine and Bernard Wilkie. Peter was quickly embroiled in science-fiction, helping Kine design and build the Martians for the seminal 1958/59 series Quatermass and the Pit, in which he also cameoed as the hand of drill operator Sladden for the memorable gravel moving sequence that closed Episode Four (one of TV science-fiction’s most enduring visuals which famously stopped the nation in its tracks), and in the next episode in a film sequence as a TV Cameraman’s assistant.
Over the years as visual effects designer – a job that required mastery of art, pyrotechnics, design, sculpting, electronics .. all sorts – he worked on so many classics : Dad’s Army, Adam Adamant Lives, Doomwatch, Survivors, Out of the Unknown, The Goodies, Some Mothers Do ‘ave ’em, The Stone Tape, and Shackleton.
This month some examples of Peter’s work are being exhibited as part of “Time” at the Business Design Centre in London (6th – 15 April) curated by his granddaughter Phoebe for the Brain Tumour Charity for which she is a fundraiser. Peter’s family will remember him as “the life and soul of any party, the king of fancy dress and a talented artist – but most importantly a very much adored husband, father and grandfather who gave this planet 95 years of his wonderful life”.
On a personal note, Peter was always a very helpful and willing correspondent and he and his wife Elizabeth were extremely hospitable when Charles Norton and I went to their home to record the commentary track with him for the 2019 Blu-ray release of Quatermass and the Pit which he contributed to gamely despite some health issues. He was so helpful and we were thrilled that he was featured on the disc. Elizabeth survives him as do his sons Justin and Rupert, daughters-in-law Sue and Kate and grandchildren Phoebe, Rufus, Henry, Lola and Daisy.
Peter Day, visual effects designer, born 9th July 1927 – died 13th March 2023.
With thanks to Phoebe Day and the Day family.