Thursday 30 April 2020


On this date, 15 years ago, the BBC broadcast the episode "Dalek" of the revived Dr.Who.

I'm a massive Dr.Who fan; my first exposure to the program was a rerun of "Remembrance of the Daleks", the last of the 'classic' series to feature the pepper pots.  Not long after, we went to an exhibition of Dr.Who props and costumes at the old Brum Science Museum, and I came away the happy owner of a Dapol Dalek figure.  Thus starting a bit of an obsession...

I bloody love the show (yes, even now with the OMG Its A LadyGirlWoman Doctor; I don't have a problem at all with that, which I know seems to be an unfashionable opinion amongst a lot of the fandom).  And of course I love the Daleks, and the episode "Dalek" in 2005 was amazing; it holds up even after all this time.. after years of being a joke ("ooh they can't climb stairs!  They have bog-plungers for hands! hahaha!") one Dalek on a rampage, decent writing which addressed the perceived shortcomings and jokey aspects of the design, and great special effects, utterly enthralled me.  I was already a fan of the revived series by this episode, but this episode cemented my love of the revival.

Enough gushing; this is going to be a very long blog post because I really, really needed something to distract after three weeks of making a G-scale locomotive for a magazine build, with no access to model shops, whilst also home-working, home-schooling and dealing with other aspects of the lockdown.  This shoot with the Daleks was done last year on the redundant Engine Shed set before it was dismantled, and given the anniversary of what is still my favourite Dalek-themed episode, it seemed appropriate to put it up today.

And yeah, doing a really long comic was a way of de-stressing too :)


Cast your minds back to the heady days of about five years ago... to celebrate the return of the Daleks for a Peter Capaldi episode, the Beeb ran a short-film competition on the theme of Daleks and I spent a few summer nights on the beach in the dark messing around with various toy Daleks, real fire effects, and miniature tanks doing a stop-motion animation which utterly failed to set the world alight (whilst setting a lot of props, and my shoe at one point, alight), but which did convince me my future didn't lie in animation.

The main Dalek had started life as a moneybox; I wanted to customise it a bit for the animation so made an imaginary Time War-era upgrade of the "Special Weapons Dalek" (basically a Dalek with a very big radiation gun, from the "Remembrance" serial in the 80's).  It needed working lighting effects, so most of it was built around an LED torch, with other random bits from the scrap box.  

Pen lids, speakers, bits of model kits; all a bit obvious by daylight, but nice and mechanical in the night shoot.  Repainting into bronze, then lots of weathering followed.

When I decided to shoot a new Dalek pic in 2019, I found I needed to dig those old Daleks out of storage; the popularity of Dr.Who had faded, and the days when you could nip to a toy shop and get a Dalek figure for £7 had long vanished.  Looking round showed there were either battered ones on eBay or hideously expensive collectors items.  Years stored in a box in the loft hadn't done my old ones any favours though... the metal parts of the torch had corroded beyond repair, and it was definitely having trouble keeping it up, ahem.

Back to the scraps box it was then.

I probably went a bit over the top with the new heavy weapon, which uses components from hosepipes amongst other bits.  But then Daleks were never known for being subtle in the show, and I was limited with what torches I could acquire from the shops.  The new eye light is also a torch, and again, a little on the large side (with a rubber washer/grommet fitted) but it does look a bit like some of the 60's movie Daleks.

The colour scheme... I was a bit bored of the bronze look of the Time War era, but still wanted something shiny and mechanical (and which would reflect the lighting/fire effects in the shoot), so decided to revisit the silver and blue livery of the 60's.  Out with the rattlecans.

Shielding from Dapol wagon and girder bridge parts; I subscribe to the Gerry Anderson maxim that it isn't a proper scratchbuild unless it contains parts from these kits.

Painting all those hemispheres blue was a pain in the backside, and very time consuming.

I had two smaller Daleks to use as background items, which also needed repainting.  I only had enough parts to make a full set of appendages for one Dalek though... I chose to make one mid-destruction.  The cellophane was designed to be lit from inside the Dalek by a small LED torch.  With the Daleks built, it was time to set-up the Engine Shed for one last shoot before dismantling...


The set looked suitably industrial and didn't really need much modification, and in fact I could use most of the original lighting effects and the USB-powered humidifiers for the atmospherics.

A few months stored in a damp cellar hadn't done the set any favours, and it was decidedly wobbly even when extra bracing had been added...

The effect of the main gun firing proved a little tricky as well, and in the end I settle for rigging a long LED red tube light on some fishing line, which ran from the back of the gun barrel to a shelf bracket behind the camera.  During a long exposure shot, I dragged the light past the lens, whilst a string of red Xmas lights tied to a stick were thrust the other way, to look like passing laser gun fire.  Other lighting were by flickering candle/tealights, and red bike lamps.

Getting the effect of the exploding Dalek needed some experimentation with the strength of light being used...

Sitting it on top of the hole cut for the turntable in the engine shed floor meant a push-light could be fitted underneath the Dalek.

The gun firing could be tricky indeed, with it sagging on the wire quite often.

I also experimented a little with lens-flares and other effects in post-production.

It took a while, but I finally managed a couple of shots I was happy with, which conveyed the effect I was after.

Ok well that was a long and rambling comic in the end, wasn't it?  To be honest I struggled with the ending; originally I'd planned and scripted it a few weeks ago, where the punchline would have been the Dalek ordering us to go back indoors... and then someone managed to rig up a real Dalek to drive up a street and shout that very order at houses, and the clip went viral, hence the rewrite.  And I do really love the old Dr.Who's, but by God are they slow and needlessly drawn-out...

Comic aside, was I happy with the shoot?  Generally yes; as an experiment with lighting and effects it was a learning experience, and it was a fun send-off for the Engine Shed set.

But wait, there's more!  How about, in finest Dr.Who DVD fashion, some gratuitous behind-the-scenes production information?

The decision to do Woof as K9 came fairly late, but I really, really needed a break from making model locomotives, and just wanted a quick, cobble-together project one evening.  So out came some scraps of wood which were carved down rather roughly, and a load of spares and odds and sods from the railway project.

I used a toy K9 belonging to The Childs as reference, but mine didn't need to be an exact copy, I just wanted the rough shape.

If the eyes make the build look a bit like an Aardman character, there is a very good reason for that; they came from an ancient plasticine kit to make Grommit.

Painting was very simple; silver rattlecan from the Dalek build, and some ancient (but still perfect) Citadel paint which is at least 25 years old.

She's a bit rough and ready, but I enjoyed throwing the figure together in an hour or so.  I don't think I'll be doing any other 3D figures though in the near future, but you never know.

The Tardis set was really improvised; I'd planned to do printed backdrops, but in the Lockdown I didn't have any new ink cartridges.  What we did have was some paint palettes which had been picked up en-masse, surplus, for Scouts.  the console is a gin bottle, the cap off a container for screwdrivers, some playmobile bits and some MDF, and was literally built in about 10 minutes with the aid of a razor saw and a hot-glue-gun.

The Tardis is a moneybox, and the photographs were shot outside, thus earning me some very odd looks off the neighbours when the electronic sound effects started playing very loudly.

The quarry was another tricky one; happily we have slate instead of grass in the back garden, so angling the camera at least made a passable slate-waste tip.

I also couldn't face cutting out in Photoshop, so tried out cheapy rear-projection...

Yet another Tardis, this one a smaller scale; told you I was a bit of an obsessive.  The time vortex is an abstract shot from the "Inflate-Deflate" shoot too, of a load of backlit beach toys.

Next time; not sure... I'm awaiting publication deadlines on a fair few recent projects, but may have something to put up in a couple of weeks or so...