Exclusive Interview with Michael Kilgarriff
Michael Kilgarriff, the well known British actor, writer, playwright and raconteur now in his 70s, played the Cyber Controller in both 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' (1967) and 'Attack of the Cybermen' (1985). Kilgarriff also played the Ogron in 'Frontier in Space' (1973) and the K1 Robot in 'Robot' (1974). Michael stands six foot five inches tall and is further distinguished by his deep voice which has featured in a lot of voice-over and radio work.
Michael Kilgarriff played the K1 Robot and the Cyber Controller
What do you remember about wearing the domed head of the Cyber Controller in The Tomb of the Cybermen back in 1967?
It was screwed on and therefore could not be swiftly taken off, which could be a bummer when you wanted to scratch your nose or wipe the sweat out of your eyes. There were flashing lights in the skull to simulate a pulsating brain; the batteries kept failing which involved tiresome replacements. The mouth was oblong-shaped with the flap on a string worked by opening one's jaw.
My actual lines were spoken by Peter Hawkins into a hand-held microphone off camera, and the BBC tried to cut my fee on the grounds that I didn't have to speak. I replied that although I didn't have to speak any lines I certainly had to learn them in order to know when to open and shut the flap. The point was conceded and I was paid my usual fee.
What was it like to wear the cyber controller costume?
Again I was not able to get it on or off without assistance; even the hands were attached and could not be removed except by my dresser.
Was there a lot of make up in those days?
No, there was no make up.
What sort of directions were you given about cyber movement, speech etc?
I can't recall specific directions about movement, and as I said I didn't speak. When I played the Cyber Controller years later technology had improved and I was able to speak the lines myself through a mic under the costume. But the 'letterbox' mouth had been forgotten which I thought a great shame. I could also take the head and gloves off myself which made it all much more comfortable.
Do you think your stature and voice were an advantage in this role?
All the cybermen were exceptionally tall to make them more menacing. Peter Hawkins, a pnenomenally clever voice artiste, had his voice electronically treated so his natural timbre didn't matter.
Did you enjoy playing this part and working on Doctor Who?
Oh, yes. The four Dr Who adventures were all very enjoyable indeed (though filming the Robot was physically appallingly difficult) with the exception of Pertwee who was a pain in the bum and made such a nuisance of himself in the studio on recording day that I felt ashamed to be an actor.
What was it like being on the set of Doctor Who?
It was always tricky because the FX people were constantly coming up with new developments which made timing and positioning increasingly more critical.
Do you think the Cyber Controller should have a 'visible brain'?
As I couldn't see it, whether the brain was visible or not made no difference to me.
How do you like the Character Options Cyber Controller toy action figure?
Were you consulted in any way about it?
The cyberman are now an integral part of Doctor Who. What do you think is their appeal?
I much admire the most recent versions of the cybermen (that crunching walk, just slightly quicker than normal marching pace), and I feel deeply for the poor b@**@**ds who are in those suits! I suppose their appeal derives from their sheer nastiness and near invincibility which makes their come-uppance so satisfying.
What are your memories about playing the K1 Robot in 'Robot' (1974)?
As mentioned above very difficult and painful as I kept falling over my large segmented feet and cutting myself on the interior bolts and screws holding it together.
In fact the prop gave me nightmares and the morning after returning home (we filmed for about a week at the BBC's then Engineering Establishment just out Evesham) my legs gave way as I got out of bed and I was unable to stand. My wife wanted to call the doctor but I was okay by lunchtime. We still had the studio recordings to do so the props people made me a light mock-up to wear for the camera and lighting line-ups.
What do you make of the Designworks/Character Options K1 Robot action figure toy?
Also very impressive.
Does it surprise you that people still want a toy figure of a TV character you played 42 years ago?
Yes it does because there was nothing redeeming about the cybermen whatsoever, whereas the poor old Robot, having been given a degree of emotional awareness by his creator, was really quite a bewildered and pathetic creature, which is perhaps why he is remembered with affection.
Have you watched any of the New Series of Doctor Who, and how does it compare with the Classic Series?
The episodes are longer, and of course the special FX are mind-blowing due to technical advances. The plots and characterisations are more sophisticated, which, when all is said and done, is the most important element of any drama.
Have you a favourite Doctor?
Patrick Troughton. He was slightly sinister and didn't try to be lovable and/or eccentric. He also played the lead in a radio play I wrote called 'Act of Love'.
Do you have any thoughts about the enduring popularity of Doctor Who? What does it mean to people?
The enduring popularity is due to superbly imaginative writing plus staggering production values - it looks so good, especially on wide-screen. What does it mean to people? Couldn't really say - it means what each individual wants it to mean I suppose...
Have you a message for your cyber fans around the planet?
Thanks for being fans.
Character Options K1 Robot & Cyber Controller
Read about the Cyber Controller signed by Michael Kilgarriff Comic Relief Cyber Controller
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