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Evil Swine and Cold Fish

Peter Miles, who died in February, was one of Doctor Who’s most sinister, charismatic and well-loved villains. But acting was just one of his talents…
Peter Miles at The WHO Store in Blackpool on 7 August 2010. Photo © John Aldred.

Nyder, of course, rhymes with ‘spider’. One of Peter Miles’ unrealised ambitions as an actor was to play Richard III. Shakespeare’s “bottled spider” may have eluded him, but in Security Commander Nyder – righthand man to the insane Davros in the 1975 classic Genesis of the Daleks – Miles gave his admirers a taste of what his crookback king might have been like.

Nyder has little of Richard’s extravagant, grandstanding approach to villainy. But he has another of the character’s defining features in spades – a chill breath of the seasoned sociopath, a cold and calculating indifference to others’ suffering that’s best expressed when the Fourth Doctor and Harry Sullivan fetch up in the Kaled bunker. In the midst of a strictly stratified civil war, these interlopers pose a problem. Are they Mutos or Thals or – what? In one of the nastiest lines ever included in a script by Dalek creator Terry Nation, Nyder observes dispassionately that “We’ll find out what’s different about them: by autopsy.”

In fact, Nyder was a kind of culmination for Peter Miles, given that he’d already played a couple of decidedly misguided scientists in two adventures featuring the Third Doctor. Doctor Who and the Silurians reached TV screens early in 1970, and Invasion of the Dinosaurs followed exactly four years later. In these, Dr Lawrence and Professor Whitaker were characters described by Miles in later years as “cold fish”. He applied the same epithet to Nyder. Indeed, despite the warmth and wit of the man himself, the three characters Miles created for Doctor Who remain among the most memorably clammy cold fish in the series’ history.

He was born in Barkingside – then part of Essex – on 29 August 1928. His father Edward was a successful businessman and his mother, Jacqueline, was French; they divorced when their son was still a boy. After a spell living in Ladbroke Grove, Miles was educated in Ealing, an area in which he’d remain for the rest of his life. In a reversal of the usual ‘you’ll become an actor over my dead body’ routine, his father recommended that he study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art – to perfect his diction, apparently. It’s likely that, for Edward, this was just a means of realising his true ambition: that his son should go into law, where good diction can come in handy. In another reversal, young Peter adamantly refused.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: • Former Doctor Who showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, and writers Jenny T Colgan and Paul Cornell, talk exclusively about their new Target Books • Production Notes from Russell T Davies • A tribute to the late Peter Miles, who played Davros’ assistant Nyder in 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks • The never-before-told story behind the creation of Doctor Who's 2010-17 logo • The history of Doctor Who releases from BBC Records and Tapes • Behind the making-of Infinity, a new Doctor Who video game starring Michelle Gomez as Missy and Ingrid Oliver as Osgood • DWM goes to the Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles • Out of the TARDIS with impressionist Jon Culshaw • Christel Dee’s guide to cosplaying the Doctor’s distinctive orange spacesuit • Part One of The Clockwise War, a new comic strip adventure featuring the Doctor and Bill • The Fact of Fiction reveals the hidden depths to the 2015 Twelfth Doctor story Sleep No More • An interview with DJ and drummer Klaus Joynson, who has paid homage to Doctor Who in his album New Adventures in Time & Space • Previews, book and audio reviews, news, The Blogs of Doom, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!