When this site began, the original television series had been dead and buried for thirteen years. Save for a little high-pitched chanting in the opening moments of the Paul McGann TV movie, the canonical world of the Dalek props had ended. Their only other notable appearance since 1988 had been in the 1999 Comic Relief special which used a variety of Remembrance-style props battling a Doctor played by Rowan Atkinson. But, aside from this worryingly on-the-nose spoof TV adventure, Dalek prop history was a story that had begun in ‘63 and ended in ‘88 – hence the name of the website.
Then, in 2005, the unthinkable happened. Doctor Who returned to television screens on BBC One in a Saturday night prime-time slot. The new production team, lead by acclaimed writer Russell T Davies was keen to retain certain key elements of the original series. There were two iconic designs that had proved successful in the past and they became pillars on which a new vision for the show could be rebuilt: The TARDIS was still a Police Box, and the Daleks’ kept their distinctive shape.
To the casual observer, there was little difference to the Dalek props from the 60s. In a deliberate attempt to stay faithful to the established design, the silhouette of the prop was virtually identical to Ray Cusick’s and Shawcraft’s original. Detailing was added to the neck and shoulder slats, as well as the front of the gunboxes, and the only notable addition was a cowl over the eye-pivot. The new props cost around £4,000 each and utilized technological advances so that an independent operator could take care of the head and eye movement, whilst the man inside did the rest. Perhaps the most significant change was to give the new props a metallic bronze finish, with gold hemispheres, collar and slats.
More technology came into play when realising certain characteristics of the Daleks which couldn't be achieved using the real prop. A CGI model was inlaid into certain scenes to allow the entire mid-section to rotate so that the Dalek could quickly despatch enemies approaching from the rear. When stairs stood in the way, digital effects were used to show the Dalek hovering, affording us a view of the underside which harked back to the TV21 comics. During the climax of the first season a vast army was seen flying through space and floating around their Emperor – an impressive practical model which echoed back to Evil of the Daleks.
Just as the Dalek props began to evolve through the production of the original series, so too the new props soon became refurbished and repainted. Sometimes changes were called upon by the script, and sometimes the props were altered for aesthetic reasons. The paint work for example changed slightly during the first season, and come the second series finale, one prop was painted entirely Black to act as the leader – just as had happened way back in 1964.
Series four brought the first new Dalek variant since 1989’s Remembrance of the Daleks, as The Stolen Earth revealed a new red and gold Dalek Supreme leader whose casing was adorned with extra features. It was also in this season that the props were starting to show the most wear. Just as their forebears had been the victims of erroneous changes, the bronze Daleks’ defects included upside-down shoulder slats and misaligned neck mesh.
When a new production team took over to create the 2010 season, a watershed moment occurred in Dalek history: The props were completely redesigned. This time it wasn't just a new styling to the established outline, it was a new approach entirely. Whereas changes to the silhouette in the past had been brought about by ignorance and circumstance (such as the 1984 props and later Remembrance design) Peter McKinstry created a radically new shape for series five. With the imposing movie Daleks as a starting point, the new props were larger and less streamlined, with simpler shoulder section, and redesigned neck and skirt. Painted in a rainbow of colours, these new props received a mixed reception from fandom and many voiced their opinion that a design classic going back four decades need not have been changed. In the wake of these comments, Steven Moffat clarified that the new props would supplement rather than replace the old Dalek design.
In 2012 classic style Daleks returned to the show with promotion claiming that "every Dalek ever" would appear in an episode called Asylum of the Daleks. It was a chance for Dalek fans, old and new, to see the classic Daleks on-screen again. As it turned out, very few older style Daleks actually appeared which were made up by a combination of fan built props and a commercially available Dalek. Only one complete prop from the original series appeared, that being the Special Weapons Dalek, although an original dome and gun were included on Mark Barton Hall's Resurrection style repro of Dalek One-7. It was a huge dissapointment for Dalek fans who were looking forward to hoards of classic Daleks.
As the new series of Doctor Who continues to grow and change, so too will the Dalek props. At the time of writing, what most people called the “new” props are already over six years old. Due to the moulded nature of the new series props and their fairly consistent use and colour schemes, the history of these Daleks is both harder to track and less interesting. Their exploits are being documented on a day-to-day basis in more detail than the original series ever did, and with the Confidential video crew keeping viewers up-to-date regarding the making of the series, the role of the prop historian is essentially redundant in the modern era of Doctor Who.
And so despite the Dalek universe continuing to develop, we chose to end our story in 1988, at the end of precisely 25 years of recycling and refurbishments. Our mission has always been to tell the tale of the original props built by Shawcraft and how they were joined by a handful of pretenders down the years. The new series is a different story altogether so we leave that to others to tell in greater detail. The research will continue. The site will update. We welcome all new theories and we’re desperate for new photos of Daleks in unusual locations.
We thank you for taking the time to read any of this site, and if you feel a little bit guilty for finding it quite interesting, you can take comfort from the fact that you weren't the losers who wrote it.