The quirks of Quarks: Another of Doctor Who’s ‘also ran’ Monsters
Toyetic – an entertainment property with a built in propensity for being turned into a toy. Publicly originating with, and popularized, by the 90’s animated comic Freakazoid, but apparently orginally attributed to Kenner Toy executive Bernard Loomis, in a conversation with Steven Spielberg about Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Of course, the concept goes way back. The Daleks were an original Toyetic property. No sooner did the Daleks broadcast than two companies were clamouring for the rights to manufacture their own Dalek toys and props. 1960’s England produced a disturbing variety of them, ranging from small inflateables, to soap on a rope, and a variety of toy lines.
One of those Toy Lines – The Louis Marx models, actually made it back into the series itself. Louis Marx toy Daleks were used for crowd scenes in Patrick Troughton’s Evil of the Daleks, and later for Jon Pertwee’s Planet of the Daleks. Louis Marx toy Daleks even made it into some of the effects scenes for Peter Cushing’s Dalek Invasion Earth, 2150.
From our vantage point in time, it’s hard to conceive of the runaway popularity of the Daleks. They weren’t just big – They were HUGE. Between 1963 and 1967, they appeared in 7 different Doctor Who Serials. The Daleks took top billing in the two movies, in 1965 and 1966, even pushing the Doctor entirely off the marquee in the second one. There was a Dalek stage play (without the Doctor). There were novelty radio singles ‘Christmas With a Dalek’ by the Go Go’s (not the same group). Roberta Tovey, who had starred in the Cushing movies, released a single. The Daleks made appearances on other television series. Terry Nation was trying to launch them as their own series. They had their own comic strip without the Doctor in TV Century 21. There were toys, salt and pepper shakers, you name it. They were everywhere, and they were huge.
And of course, when something is that big, I guarantee you two things are going to happen.
1) It’s going to fade, everything fades, and Dalekmania was no exception – it never quite went away, the toys kept on selling. But after 1967, they wouldn’t reappear in the tviseries until 1972. The Daleks, even when they weren’t onscreen, represented the iconic Doctor Who monster.
2) People are going to look at doing it again, catching lightning in the bottle. The BBC was, through the 1960’s and even into the 1970’s, looking for the next Dalek. The thing is, it’s easier said than done.
I heard an old publisher’s joke once. A young Assistant Editor burst into his boss’s office with a brainstorm. “I realized,” the young assistant says, “that 90% of our revenue comes from the 10% of our books that are Bestsellers.” Dramatic pause. “Let’s only publish the bestsellers!”
If only…. The truth is that what makes success or failure is often an intangible thing. Publisher’s can’t tell in advance that something will or won’t be a bestseller, and film makers can’t tell in advance that their movie will or won’t be a blockbuster. They just try their best. Almost everyone sets out to make a blockbuster. No one sets out to make a flop. And yet, blockbusters are few and far, and flops are wide and many. Figuring out what will catch on is more art than science.
Still, the BBC had struck gold with the Daleks, and a lot of their other monster – the Cybermen, the Yet, the Ice Warriors, the Sontarans, etc. etc., on some level, were efforts to recapture that magic, that lightning. Of the bunch, for one reason or another, the only ones that came close were the Cybermen. We might explore that.
But for now, what I really want to do is explore one of the failures. A one hit wonder that the BBC had high hopes for. The Quarks. These little fellows:
Emphasis on the word little. Heres’ a picture of them next to regular sized humans.
Now, aren’t they just completely Toyetic!
So what’s the story?
Okay, in season four and five of Doctor Who, just to set the stage, the Daleks had appeared in three serials. The Cybermen had appeared in four. The Yeti and Great Intelligence in two, and the Ice Warriors in one. That’s eleven out of sixteen serials! The Daleks were worn out and had been retired for five years. The Cybermen would make one more appearance in season six and then go into retirement for seven years until Tom Baker’s Revenge of the Cybermen (they largely bypassed Pertwee completely), and although popular, they hadn’t gone over crazy big. The Ice Warriors and the Yeti were fine, but they hadn’t caught fire like the Daleks had, even with two full turns at bat (technically, the Ice Warriors got their second shot in the 6th Season, they struck out).
So, for the beginning of season six, Patrick Troughton’s final year, the BBC desperately wanted a new ‘Dalek’ – a monster that would be as popular as the Dalek, both to zap a little electricity and life into the show, and create some merchandising opportunities.
So in the spirit of “Let’s only publish bestsellers,” Peter Bryant, the show’s producer, approached Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln in late 1967 about creating a new monster for the show specifically with the intention of making it as popular and marketable as the Daleks.
It was that naked. Not about a cool story, not about a situation or an idea, not even a philosophical rumination like the Cybermen. Nope, it was – “The Daleks were big! Lets do that again!”
Now, to be fair, Bryant had gone to the right people. Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln were hotter than hell. They had done literally two back to back serials in the fifth season – the Abominable Snowmen and Web of Fear, featuring the Yeti and the Great Intelligence. They’d created the character of the Brigadier (although no one realized how popular he would be). They definitely knew their stuff, they worked well, they worked fast.
So Lincoln and Haisman sat down and took a look at the Daleks. As the story goes, they decided that the secret to the Daleks success was they looked alien – not like a man in a suit.
“We wanted the Quarks to be as unlike the human shape as possible, reasoning that was one of the contributory reasons why the Daleks had been so successful,” Haisman said.
Using that as their touchstone, they created the Quarks.
Look, if you ask me …. Round head, blocky torso, two arms, two legs… I’m feeling very ‘man-in-suit-ish, if you get my drift. [Technically, there are four arms, on three chest slots – the upper two slots are for ‘fold out’ arms, the third slot is for two more ‘extender’ arms, the upper or lower arms could all be operated, one or two at a time, by the two arms of the suit wearer inside.]
Now, maybe this wasn’t entirely Lincoln and Haisman’s fault, maybe they had something different in mind, and production just went a different way. That does happen. Maybe, if so, their ideas were unworkable, you never know. Lincoln and Haisman also had the idea that different attachments could be added to or removed from the Quark’s arms, making them more appealling toys – I guess they were early Lego. I imagine the boxlike qualities, fed into that.
Whatever their intent, there’s often a compromise or two between what ends up in a drawing or on a written description, and what actually can be done physically. Sometimes a terrific idea just produces a shitty monster (Myrka, from Warriors of the Deep, I’m looking at you).
But there it is. The Quarks look pretty classic ‘person in a robot suit’ if you ask me. If there’s anything distinctive about the Quark’s it’s the childlike crudity of the concept. Honest to god, it looks like a twelve year old decided to make a robot costume out of his mother’s collander, some party horns, shoeboxes and a big grocery box.
That might well have been deliberate. Think about how many kids had run around holding their arms out warbling ‘Exterminate’ as they played Dalek. The designers might well have consciously or unconsciously had in mind the sort of robot a 13 year old might build himself as a halloween costume. Toyetic, right?
In fact the Quarks were deliberately child sized – the Dominators and the civilians towered over them. They moved in endearingly clumsy ways – what you had to do to get around in those awkward costumes. And they had synthesized child voices, they literally sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks with a bit of electronic verve. Go to Youtube, take a listen.
In point of fact – not only were they childlike. They actually were worn by children. The Quark costumes were operated by thirteen year old boys, among them, John Hicks.
“In England at the time, Doctor Who was the in thing,” recalled Hicks, “the ultimate in science fiction. My two school friends, Gary Smith and Freddie Wilson, also played Quarks. During the lunch-breaks we used to play with the television cameras until one day a voice came from nowhere — the control room, I guess — telling us not to move them.’
Hicks’ memory of the costume was a square, black fibreglass box, with a frosted fibreglass globe on his head, which he could hardly see through. That sounds to me like the classic problems – poor visibility, awkward costume, both of which make movement a tricky thing.
In a feature from the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club, Hicks recalled in one scene having to lie down on the ground, with a smoke bomb inside his costume, and mime the death throes of a Quark. Which makes me think…. What the hell? They stuck a small pyro-explosive inside a 13 year old boy’s robot costume? Didn’t England have child protection laws back then or what?
I suppose they made sure it was safe. I hope so. But still, what were they thinking? This was a robot suit designed to be worn in the in the production by children? What kind of future did they expect it to have?
In any case, Haisman and Lincoln and Bryant had overshot the mark. They’d overlooked one critical thing about the Daleks: The Daleks were scary.
Maybe not today. Standards have changed. But back then, the Daleks were scary, in both concept and execution. They were relentless homicidal bastards, they were just out for murder. They were basically space Nazi’s each with their own tiny panzer tank to live in. They weren’t neutral, they had a point of view, they had definite opinions, and all of their opinions boiled down to ‘Exterminate!’ Their voices had a hysterical quality, a maniac on the edge of losing it. Their shells, ludicrous and impractical as they might seem, were simply high tech personal tanks, and people from WWII were familiar with tanks.
The other thing was they were kinetic. I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth covering again. Most monsters were costumes, and costumes typically were heavy, hot, hard to move in, allowed for very restricted motion and were hard to see out of. So monsters tended to be slow and fumbly. Not so the Daleks, they scooted around, they moved smoothly and quickly. And while they might not have been much for climbing stairs or picking things up, when they swung their eyestalk around to zero in on you, it was clear that they were looking right at you. They didn’t bother swinging a claw – they had guns and they were inclined to just shoot you. In this sense, they were a breath of fresh air, a sort of agile, fast, precise monster people hadn’t really seen any more, and if you were getting used to the slow ploddy guys, these were a shock.
Well, the Quarks weren’t scary. There wasn’t anything about the Quarks that were scary or arresting. They were too Toyetic. Too explicitly child friendly, too child like. Their size, their voices, their awkward bobbing motions… none of it was intimidating. They were the sort of critters a committee of concerned mothers would create, after they’d thrown out the Daleks for being too scary.
I think Haisman and Lincoln understood this – their Quarks weren’t scary. So rather than the Quarks actually being the active forces, they were henchmen for the Dominators. The big guys who were supposed to be really scary.
You can look at the costumes, or the episodes themselves – you can see everything about the Dominators is supposed to be scary. The names themselves – Calling yourself a Dominator? That’s not cuddly. They had these big imposing turtle shell costumes, spiky leggings, they even had mean haircuts and eyebrows. They were jerks all the way through. All this, I think, because the Quarks themselves were so painfully inoffensive and unterrifying.
What’s the deal with the jagged pants? That doesn’t look friendly at all.
To be fair, Haisman and Lincoln had done the same sort of thing with the their previous creations – the Great Intelligence and the Yeti. There’s the sort of Cute monster, and their Scary patron. But the thing was, the Yeti could be and were scary all by themselves. They’re big, massive, hairy shapes with glowing eyes – that’s good for a few nightmares.
But the point is, that Haisman and Lincoln weren’t just travelling over worn ground. They needed to do the Dominators because the Quarks were so nerf. And they needed to have quarrelling Dominators because…. Quarks? Who cared. The neuter nature of the Quarks forced certain kinds of story decisions, in terms of the creation of the Dominators and their subplots.
But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, that’s where the story goes badly off the rails. The problem now was… They actually needed a story.
They’d gone at it ass backwards. Normally, you start with a story, an idea, and you flesh it out and create the monsters and characters that populate it.
Here they’d deliberately started by creating the Quarks. Then they’d been forced to create the Dominators, because the Quarks needed them. Now they had to come up with a story to wrap things around.
So what did they produce? Well, they decided to grind a few axes, which always works so well, and beat up on hippies and their pacifism. The Dominators and Quarks would come to a world of hippies (1967 television era version hippies) who were all into pacifism and love, and show them the error of their ways, at least until the Doctor could sort it out.
So hey, a generic story, with the advantage of being preachy and condescending. What’s not to love? A lot, apparently. Even with the producers, Bryant and Sherwin, the love was not there.
The story floundered, so much so that it was cut from six episodes to five, with an uncredited rewrite of the fourth and fifth episodes to bring things to a close – much to Haisman and Lincoln’s ire. I can see their point. If you believe in your craft, then having your baby mutilated – even if it’s a mutant deformed half baked baby – is traumatic. Not everyone takes it well. Haisman and Lincoln were very serious about their craft.
On the other hand, I don’t think that the world is reeling from the tragedy of one missing episode of Dominators floundering about with hapless Quarks while hippies rethink their pacifism and start dressing sensibly. I’m not getting a sense of tragedy and deprivation. More like missing a bullet, actually.
You want to know another difference between the Daleks and the Quarks? The Daleks had good stories. The Daleks, Invasion Earth, Genesis, Remembrance, Ressurection, Master Plan…. The Daleks had the fortune to have had a full series of ripping stories, including several classics of the entire series. That’s continued into the new series, where the Daleks have had some great innings. They’ve had some stinkers of course, but they’ve had plenty of great stories. The Daleks had the Dominators… Says it all.
Things got nasty when Derrick Sherwin, Doctor Who’s associate producer, and second in command on the show, signed an agreement licensing the Quarks to TV Comics, without consulting or cutting Haisman and Lincoln into the deal. So they weren’t getting paid for their creation by the comics. Meanwhile, Haisman and Lincoln were trying to do their own deals – I think they got toy Quarks in Wheetabix cereal.
There were meetings over who owned the Dominators. They got steadily more acrimonius. At one point, Lincoln and Haisman were threatening to go to court to block the airing of the Dominators. Finally, at a meeting in 1969, senior BBC executives severely reprimanded Derrek Sherwin.
And that was it – Lincoln and Haisman had been working on a third Great Intelligence & Yeti story – ‘The Laird of McCrimmon.’ But that was over. Neither side wanted anything to do with each other at that point.
The Yeti showed up only twice, in brief cameos in War Games and in the Five Doctors. The Great Intelligence wouldn’t show up until years into the new series. Both showed up in Downtime, of course.
The Quarks had a residual career. They had a small cameo in the War Games, and then retired from television forever.
They did have a run in TV Comics, which had apparently, bought into that whole “They’re the next Daleks!” shtick. The Quarks appeared in:
“Invasion of the Quarks,” TV Comics 872-876, September, 1968, 10 pages
“The Killer Wasps,” TV Comics 877-880, October, 1968, 8 pages
“Jungle of Doom,” TV Comics 885-889, December, 1968, 8 pages
“Martha the Mechanical Housemade,” TV Comics 894-899, February 1969, 10 pages.
“The Duelists,” TV Comics, 899-962, March 1969, 8 pages.
“Death Race,” TV Comics Annual 1970, October, 1969
If there’s any interest, I can track them down for you and put up links. But seriously, if you’re that interested, maybe try google.
Anyway…. notice something? The Dominators had aired between August 10, and September 7, 1968. TV Comics had hit the ground running and was really pushing them. In a span of six months following the airdates, they’d had five appearances. Quark stories were coming either back to back, or punctuated by only a month or so. They featured in 27 out of 36 issues of TV Comics during this period. That’s an amazing run.
I think part of it was that Quarks were just easier to draw than Daleks. All those bumps, all those slats and ridges, shudder. In contrast, Quarks were just boxes and globes. And arguably, they probably resonated well (or so it was hoped) with the childish sensibilities of comic book readers. Maybe they just worked better for comics.
But really, the big thing is that they were supposed to be the next big thing. Bryant and Sherwin sold them and pushed them as the next big thing. Haisman and Lincoln designed them to be the next big thing. Everyone believed they would be the next big thing. TV Comics bought into them as the next big thing.
They weren’t. By the Annual, in October, 1969, it was all over. They vanished for almost a decade and made only a couple of sporadic reappearances. The reign of the Quarks was finished, over before it had really begun.
The Quarks in TV Comics came back in July 1978, in a reprint of “The Duelists” when Tom Baker’s character was drawn in over Patrick Troughton, making it a new adventure, for a new Doctor, or something.
Then in May, 1982, Marvel Comics took the Quarks out for a spin in “The Fire Down Below,” which, oddly enough had nothing to do with STD’s. Finally, they showed up in IDW’s ‘Prisoners of Time” 50th
Anniversary 12 issue spectacular, to annoy the 10th Doctor. They’ve shown up a few times in fiction, and in fan fiction, fan art and even fan videos. But mostly, they’re faded and gone.
A historical curiousity, and a cautionary tale perhaps of the difficulties of catching lightning in a bottle.
But by golly, they were Toyetic!