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Stephen Moore (1937-2019)

“Life. Don’t talk to me about life.”

No disrespect to the late Alan Rickman, but if you’re talking about Marvin the Paranoid Android, you always picture Stephen Moore. It is one of those things that simply happens, that instant association, the synapses in the brain joining mental dots faster than a probability drive can turn an incoming missile into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. It’s hard to imagine the lumbering Prozac advert – a vending machine on legs – without his distinctive voice, and it’s hard to imagine that voice without instantly recalling Moore’s doleful monotone, telling us he’s really very depressed. And that’s before we get to the car park. Has he told you about the time he spent standing in a car park?

Marvin is one of those characters that everyone this side of a TV or radio adores, largely because they never have to be in the same room as him. It’s easy to see, watching any version of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, precisely why audiences loved him and the crew of the Heart of Gold plainly didn’t. Marvin made you believe, with utter certainty, that machines could feel, and that most of the time what they were feeling wasn’t something to be envied or desired. He’s an everyman with a twist, the very worst of moods delivered in the very best of packages; an intergalactic Eeyore wrapped in chrome.

If you were to use the words ‘tailor-made’ you’d probably get accused of rampant cruelty, but to Stephen Moore – born in Brixton, 1937 – it’s all in good fun. Already a well-seasoned actor long before he made a name for himelf complaining about a terrible pain in his diodes, Moor inhabited the role of Marvin for decades simply because he was very, very good at it, as he was in just about every role he took on. Perhaps misery came naturally (“Tim Curry used to call me Eeyore long before Hitchhiker’s“); perhaps the stars were simply aligned. When every 13-year-old in the playground is doing impersonations of you, you probably don’t stop to find out why.

It was a chance call from his agent that led him to the as-yet unfinished Hitchhiker’s (Adams, true to form, was still writing the script), but Moore was no stranger to the world of stage or screen, having cut his acting teeth at Bristol in the ’50s, developing as a TV performer over the next two decades with the likes of Woodstock and Three Men In A Boat. Still, it was as Marvin that he would gain legendary status among science fiction fans – even if the paranoid android wasn’t the only voice he provided (Moore also voiced a number of other characters, including Frankie the Mouse and the Ruler of the Universe), and even if he had to record Marvin’s lines in a cupboard.

Sometimes, his stopovers were longer than expected, as Hitchhiker producer Dirk Maggs recalled in his tribute to Moore, telling of the time the actor was locked in a cupboard in Paris while everyone else forgot he was there and went out to lunch. Moore (described as affable, professional, and loving seemingly by anyone who knew him) took the whole thing in his stride. Long after the initial flurry, he would continue to bring the character to life in audiobooks, copious radio dramatisations, and on TV – and even in the charts in 1981, although the Kraftwerk-tinged slice of Europop simply titled Marvin unfortunately failed to crack the top 50.

Moore’s most famous role may have been a voiceover, but his post-Hitchhiker acting career was prolific and varied, including supporting roles in Clockwise, Merseybeat, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, and The Queen’s Nose, as well as an extensive theatrical career that encompassed everything from Ibsen to Pinter to My Fair Lady. He also carved up memorable cameos in the likes of Holby City, The Thin Blue Line, and Foyle’s War, as well as playing the harassed father of Harry Enfield’s obnoxious Kevin the Teenager in 1997, the second of three actors over the character’s decade-odd run – although it was Moore who famously got one up on Kevin the morning he pretended to be ill, in one of the series high points.

It wasn’t until 2009 that he first showed up in Doctor Who, in Big Finish’s The Eight Truths – as well as its follow-up, Worldwide Web. Both stories are part of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor Adventures series, and see the Doctor fall foul of the Metebilis Spiders (although that’s a word they really don’t like) while investigating a missing space probe. Moore plays Clark Goodman, the founder of a sinister cult with lofty ambitions and the delusion that the ideology he espouses was entirely of his own creation. The realisation that he is in over his head comes swifter than it generally does to this type of character, and Goodman’s fall from grace is harsh and brutal and expertly rendered by Moore – who, it must be said, does a nice line in humbled lama.

A year later, he would exchange the recording studio for the TV screen when he was cast opposite Matt Smith in Cold Blood, the second act of Series 5’s two-part Silurian story. Encounters with homo reptilia frequently involve a bit of in-fighting amongst the lizards: Eldane’s is the voice of reason, suggesting that there may be a way for them to work together with humanity, a pact that seems almost feasible right up until the moment the humans dump a corpse on the negotiating table. Barely recognisable behind layers of scales, Moore inhabits Eldane with the gravitas of a disappointed parent at a particularly upsetting family reunion – right up to the moment he retreats back into stasis, wringing every possible ounce of contemplative pathos from a rather pedestrian script.

Roles are these are the piping on the cake of a rich and varied career, but it’s for Hitchhiker that he will always be remembered, and perhaps that’s no great shame. Remembered by his peers as an officer and a gentleman, the public at large are destined to file him under ‘Talking robot’, but in the most iconic and affectionate way such a classification will countenance. There are worse ways to go. No one will ever know for sure, but it would be nice to think his final words were “I think I feel good about it.”

Our thoughts to his family and friends.

James Baldock

Stephen Moore (1937-2019)

by James Baldock time to read: 4 min
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