Image Credit: James AshworthImage Description: Martin Cort
James Ashworth finds out about the Nation’s favourite villains
One of the delights of Fantom conventions is to meet less prominent members from the Doctor Who cast from across the years, and when it was announced that David Graham was no longer able to attend, I was initially disappointed. However, when it was announced that Martin Cort would be attending, I was more than excited. In no small part due to Time and Relative Dimensions in Shitposting (see last issue), I was a big fan of The Keys of Marinus, and so the chance to meet one of the cast, a Voord no less, was something that I was very much looking forward to.
The Keys of Marinus, as you’ll be aware, is a story which utilises a number of different settings, an idea that its author Terry Nation would later reuse in The Chase. As such, Martin played a number of roles throughout the story. Beginning as a Voord, he also played the warrior statue in the screaming jungle, as well as the villainous Aydan in Millenius. As may be expected for an alien whose costume design is a wetsuit, flippers and a large helmet, the outfit was not the most comfortable. Indeed, just to fit in the suits in the first place required stripping nude and covering oneself in talcum powder in an effort to slip in. Once the suit was on, the problems kept coming. The helmet, while probably the most alien element of the design, didn’t account for vision, and so left the actors unable to see anything but their flippers. Indeed, Martin recalls that the first take with the Voord was ruined when, unable to see, he entered from the wrong side of the cameras. From then on, the Voord were given a shove in the right direction to help them on their path to world domination. The suits, understandably, were also incredibly hot under the studio lights, requiring multiple filming breaks in order for the actors to recover. Perhaps, instead of dissolving in the acid seas as Barbara suggests, the unfortunate Voord simply drained away? While we shall never know that, we do know that the early tea breaks took on much more of an abstract meaning, with the webbed gloves making them unable to pick up a mug. While it may have been something of a baptism of fire for him, Martin’s agent seemed particularly enamoured with this performance, sending out pictures of him as a Voord to a range of potential clients.
Once he had extricated himself from the outfit, it was on to the screaming jungle for Martin. And just like the quick turnaround in costumes, the sets themselves had a short shelf life. He recalls walking back onto one set after filming, only to find that due to Lime Grove’s size, it had already been pulled down and replaced! Again, he was to spend most of his time in an uncomfortable outfit, though it was weight, rather than heat, which was now the problem. Having chanced across the costume in The Who Shop more recently, I can confirm that the rings sewn into it would certainly have weighed him down. Coupled with the fact that he was left waiting with his axe for some time, for what is one of the most minor roles in the serial, I can imagine this role does not rank highly in his memory.
Martin was able to put his face onto videotape not just as Aydan in Keys, but later as Locke in The Seeds of Death. While this had all sorts of benefits in terms of comfort, it did bring with it a fierce critic, specifically his mother. Martin enjoyed being able to play the villain, but not, apparently, to the standards that she would have liked. Martin himself was critical of William Hartnell’s manner, especially after working with Patrick Troughton, but has subsequently changed his opinion after finding out about his health issues at the time.
One takeaway that Martin has from Doctor Who, and still uses to this day, is something that Carole Ann Ford taught him to pass time during rehearsals. After drawing a series of abstract symbols, the sixth is used to apparently reveal something about your personality. While this is something he still uses, he saw Ford recently and found that she’d forgotten it completely!
Outside of Doctor Who, Martin has had an eclectic career, including stints with the Royal Ballet company. One particularly unusual moment was when, as an unemployed actor, he found work with the Moscow State Circus during a visit to London, and was tasked with looking after the ‘Wonderhorse’. His job was to keep it in the ring, and despite assurances from its trainer, the horse proceeded to ignore him throughout its run, shoving him out of the way when it pleased. His interest in poetry, meanwhile, has even led to a performance for the Maltese governor-general; something that was threatened when the plane he was on had to make an emergency Parisian landing!
Though his time on Doctor Who may have been brief, and the Voord did not go on to enjoy the same prestige as the Daleks, Martin Cort had many an interesting tale to tell, and the ability to do it well. When Chris Chibnall announces the Voord’s triumphant return for Series Twelve, I’m sure Martin will be on call once more to provide some aquatic expertise.
This article was first published in The Tides of Time Special Edition Summer 2019