Revolution of the Daleks
In the summer of 2019 and having completed scripting duties on Series Twelve, Chris Chibnall turned his attention to the 2021 New Year Special. He conceived an ambitious story that would not only pickup from the cliff-hanger ending of Series Twelve but also mix in the return of Captain Jack and Jack Robertson (from Series Eleven’s Arachnids in the UK), the departure of Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole and, of course, the return of the Daleks. It borrowed a number of elements that had been seen in previous Dalek tales, including Dalek purity, first raised in 1988s Remembrance of the Daleks.
The previous 2019 New Year Special, Resolution of the Daleks, had seen a single ‘Reconnaissance Dalek’ left destroyed in Cheltenham’s GCHQ and with most Doctor Who tales neglecting to cover the events in the wake of the Doctor’s departure, Chibnall cleverly set up his new script to pick up immediately where that story had left off and therefore become a ‘part two.’
The plot revolved around the villain Jack Robertson obtaining the destroyed ‘Recon Dalek’ via nefarious means and employing a brilliant young scientist to study it with view to creating a security drone that could be used by the British Government to keep order. Although Robertson was in it for the money he was unaware just how far his employee would go and ultimately a new breed of Daleks was unleashed…
Designing The Drone
With the plot of the story having a human design the Security Drone based on the remains of the Recon Dalek (SSD)1, there was no need for the team (led by director Lee Haven Jones) to hark back to the classic Dalek design. However, they did feel they had made some mistakes with the design of the Recon Dalek and so this was a chance to improve some of the areas that had been seen to take the most derision from fans.
Executive Producer Matt Strevens told the Radio Times: “The Recon Dalek, the story was that it made itself, it’s self-constructed from a memory of a blueprint of what its armour should be, and it did it in that scrapyard with whatever it could find. Now this one is a slightly more proportioned Dalek. We wanted a slight redesign of the found shape, if you like, the more Heath Robinson shape of the last iteration. The gun carousel, the central section there, has been fleshed out a bit more. The gun carriage was much tighter, even the skirt of the Dalek was slimmer in 2019. All in all we’ve broadened it out — we wanted to make it look more muscular.
“You want to contemporise them, and make them hold up to scrutiny under modern filming techniques, and to look as high-end as you possibly can. You can’t stray too far from the classic design – but then what can you do within that? How can you make them feel different, and relevant, and sexy, and lethal as well?”
The Recon Dalek had included extra red lighting within its neck section and this idea was expanded with the design of the Security Drone. Areas of the skirt section were also able to light up and the colours could also change depending on its current state. Each section of the prop was given an overhaul and included more intricate detailing which gave it an overall more expensive look.
The In-House team, led by Lee Rashford, handled the building of the Security Drone. Also working on the props was freelance propmaker, Tim Hobbis. He had been responsible for a number of props and scenic elements in previous series’ of the show including Twice Upon A Time, The Eaters of Light and In The Forest Of The Night. He has also done major work for Pink Floyd and Debenhams.
Rashford and his team produced two hero Security Drones to near identical specification. As is normal with prop building, and something that has occurred since the time of Shawcraft’s builds in 1963, there are small differences between the two finished props that enable them to be told apart. These include the position of the screw covers at the top of the front panel of the skirt, the positioning of the shoulder slats and some minor differences in the finished painting.
As with the Recon Dalek, both were made to be remotely controlled rather than using a human operator. Long time animatronic guru, Colin Newman, was on hand again to offer his expertise.
Extra skirt sections were also made for the 3D printing production line and a number of ‘exploded’ parts were also required for the aftermath of the drones demise.
The plot also required the use of the older bronze Dalek props for the ‘Death Squad Daleks’. Since the show returned in 2005 a large pool of these props had been used. Three had been made for Series One, a further two for Series Two and Series Four before six new props were completed for Series Seven. In addition, several other props had been brought in from exhibition use and fan builds.
Their numbers had been reduced over the years due to them being purposely damaged for special effect sequences, converted to be specific Daleks with a particular feature (see Rusty – Into the Dalek) or given away in a competition (see previous pages for a full list) – and whilst some of them remained in storage, two of them had made their way to BBC studios around the country in recent years – the original MT1 was in Birmingham while NSD5 was at the Salford studios. Interestingly, neither of them were recalled for use and instead the team decided to use the set of four made by This Planet Earth for the 2015 Symphonic Spectacular show. These had not been used on TV before.
Whilst at first glance these props were identical to the previously used props, there are some small build differences that reveal a different hand made them. Chiefly, and the easiest to spot, is that the fenders had a drape of extra cloth running around the underside. This would have hidden the operators feet from the spectators who were watching the live stage show.
Secondly, and much harder to see, is they also do not show a quirk in the skirt geometry that has affected all the bronze Daleks made by The Model Unit, Specialist Models and the BBC since 2005. This is due to a small error in the original skirt that these were all moulded from. All the ‘This Planet Earth’ Daleks have a lineage back to an original Shawcraft Models made AARU movie Dalek and therefore do not show the quirk.
The four ‘TPE’ Daleks were joined by three of the older props. These being NSDA3, NSDA4 and NSDA5. All three were made for Asylum of the Daleks by the team in Cardiff. NSDA4 and NSDA5 were last seen on TV in 2017 with Peter Capaldi in The Pilot whilst NSDA3 had last been seen in the BBC Live Lessons of the same year. All three props had also been seen on display at various times at The Doctor Who Experience up until its closure.
Rashford’s team gave all seven bronze Daleks some light refurbishment and and fitted new style claws to each of them. These were based on the claw design seen on the manipulator arm of the Recon Dalek and the new Security Drones and was designed by Dafydd Shurmer.
Location work included the scenes of the Security Drone being tested on a group of rioting protestors. Both hero props were used for this and we will now refer to them as Security Drone One (or SD1) and Security Drone Two (or SD2).
SD2 is the first prop used making its entrance through the smoke of the fire to confront the rioters. SD1 is then swapped in to show the drone spraying the group from its water cannon. The prop had temporarily been fitted with a nozzle in its gun in order to spray the water. SD2 is then swapped back in to show the gas emitting from from the manipulator arm and also finish the sequence with the sonic deterrent. Each shot is brief enough to confuse the viewer into thinking they only saw one Dalek.
Both props were used in the production line sequence alongside the single skirt sections created by the In-House FX team. SD1 is the Dalek that exterminates the two employees at the facility and also the holiday maker at the airport security terminal. It was also used in the final confrontation on the Death Squad Dalek ship.
The destroyed Recon Dalek prop was reused for the early scenes of the hijack where the Dalek was stolen.
The buzz of the news of the Daleks return began later in 2019 when a picture of the SD2 leaked from the location set. Further excitement was generated when on the evening of 22nd October the production team appeared on the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol to film key scenes. Not only were both the new Security Drones present but also the seven bronze Daleks. Despite notices suggesting the bridge was closed for maintenance, the public were able to record footage and take pictures and the images made the local and national news.
The numbers of the Security Drones and Bronze Daleks were boosted by the use of CGI which was created by two independent sources. The Security Drones were handled by the award winning company, DNEG, whilst the Bronze Daleks were created by Ben Pickles who worked from home. He had also created the era’s title sequence as well as numerous other effect shots since 2017.
The episode was the first to be made natively in Ultra High Definition necessitating new Dalek models . Unfortunately, the Bronze Daleks contained a number of errors including to the shoulder detailing which meant the CGI version differed slightly to the actual props. The Security Drone model created by DNEG also had some small detailing differences in the neck and the top of the skirt section.
Production wrapped a few days later and, with transmission not due for well over a year, there was plenty of time for fans to speculate on how the plot was going to play out based on what had been revealed in Bristol.
As the transmission date approached, the usual rounds of promotion began with much of it revolving around the new Dalek. SD1 appeared on the covers of both the Radio Times and SFX magazine. Interestingly, it was actually promoted as a new Dalek rather than a Security Drone – a move that helped to blur the lines as to what the public had been seeing on location and to how these Daleks could have come into existence.
Revolution of the Daleks was received well by the critics and public alike and even the fans, who had been divided by the Chibnall era, had generally appreciated the story as one of the stronger tales.
The Dalek Sinners
Revolution of the Daleks wasn’t the only show in production in October 2019 that needed Dalek props. Former Doctor Who showrunner, Russell T Davies, was working on his latest drama for Channel 4 called It’s A Sin. It was a story of a group of gay men and their friends set during the AIDS crises in the 1980s.
One of the characters, Richie Tozer (played by Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander) gets a part in a fictional episode of Doctor Who in 1988. The filmed scene was based on 1984s Resurrection of the Daleks – specifically the scene of the Daleks storming the prison ship.
As the props had to be based on the older 1980s Dalek props, the team contacted the Hyde Fundraisers – a group of friends that own several replica Daleks which they use for fundraising around the country. They provided two Dalek props, both in the silver and black livery of Death to the Daleks. For the lead Dalek, the team turned to Mark Barton Hill and his recreation of Dalek One-7, MBH1, that had appeared in Asylum of the Daleks. The stunning replica was perfect for the period that the piece was set in. Mark operated the Dalek himself and long term Dalek operators, Barnaby Edwards and Nichols Pegg, operated the two Hyde Fundraiser props.
The series’ debuted in January 2021 to great acclaim.
Following the wrapping of filming for Revolution of the Daleks, the Dalek props were sent back to storage in Cardiff, except for NSDA5 which was sent to Television Centre in London to be displayed in the ‘Dalekatessen.’ It took the place of TPE BBC-B that had been there from its opening.
The worldwide pandemic of 2020 curtailed the production of many TV shows and so preparation for the thirteenth series of Doctor Who was set back. With many countries enduring long lockdowns there was little chance to see original Dalek props outside of DVDs or streaming services.
With the UK seemingly at the end of its second wave of the Covid virus in the first quarter of 2021, and the current lockdown ending, the first public Dalek action for a screen used prop was the auction of HAD-D (HireADalek-Darth) on 13th April at Sworders Auctioneers. This fan made Dalek based on Dalek Sec appeared in Asylum of the Daleks as well as the Series Nine episodes The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar.
This was its second auction since appearing in the show having reached £18,750 at Bonhams in June 2017. At the time of writing, the Sworders website hadn’t marked the prop as sold and its unclear as to the result of the auction. More about this prop can be read on the relevant story pages.
At Bonhams on 5th May a second screen used Dalek was up for sale. MBH2 was Mark Barton Hill’s second replica Dalek that had appeared in the 50th Anniversary trailer with extensive use at The Doctor Who Experience after. As with MBH1, it was another incredible replica that this time copied Dalek Seven-2 in its Planet of the Daleks guise. It was being sold by the then owner, Matthew Doe, of The Movie Reliquary. More about MBH2 can be read on our New Series: The Specials page.
We referred to the ‘Recon Dalek’ as ‘SSD’ (Sheffield Steel Dalek) on our Resolution of the Daleks page. Due to many of the quotes relating to Resolution of the Daleks using ‘Recon Dalek’ we have used that term here.