Cover of the Century: The making of the "Vote Dalek!" Radio Times cover

As Radio Times wins PPA's Cover of the Century award, we look back at how the iconic Doctor Who design was created...

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Cover of the Century: The making of the "Vote Dalek!" Radio Times cover
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Radio Times staff

In 2008, the Radio Times "Vote Dalek!" cover was voted the most iconic British cover of all time. Now, in 2013, as Doctor Who celebrates its 50th annievrsary, the public have named it the Professional Publishers Association Cover of the Century!

Created in 2005, the cover was a perfect storm of nostalgia, design and topicality. It heralded the return of the Daleks to TV after an absence of 17 years, as well as marking the week of the General Election. So Radio Times decided to bring the two events together by paying homage to the famous scene from 1964 adventure The Dalek Invasion of Earth in which Daleks cross Westminster Bridge in front of the Houses of Parliament.

Making a painstaking job even more difficult was the fact that the new Dalek design was still under wraps.

Here's how Radio Times created the Cover of the Century... 


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This image from the 1964 Doctor Who story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, was the inspiration for our 2005 cover. It would be shot from a lower, more dramatic point of view, to let the Daleks loom menacingly, and photographed at dusk so that the Houses of Parliament were floodlit, with a dark moody sky behind.


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A recce for the shoot revealed that Westminster Bridge was undergoing renovation work – the pavement was cordoned off with barriers and portable buildings. The Radio Times team wasn't going to give up that easily and, with Westminster Council's help, the barriers were moved back and sufficient room was cleared for the shoot to go ahead. In fact, the barriers actually helped to shield the shoot from pedestrians and passing traffic at a notorious tourist hot spot, in the middle of the evening rush hour.


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The next problem to overcome was that the Daleks' new look – chunkier, armoured and metallic bronze – was a closely guarded secret, so there was no way they could be photographed on location. An old-style Dalek stood in to work out the composition, with exact positions and perspectives that could be re-created later when shooting the new-look Daleks in a studio. To prevent onlookers in passing buses or on the nearby London Eye from seeing what was going on, the Dalek was hidden under a blanket, except for a brief moment when Polariod tests were made for composition.


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A fine afternoon soon became overcast and it started to rain. Mains electricity was available to light the foreground, but there was a risk of electrocution, so photographer Ian McKinnell's car headlights were used instead, and worked perfectly. The photo couldn't be taken until Parliament's floodlights were on and had warmed up sufficiently. With failing light, there was only a limited time window to get the shot. With a very long exposure, the rain didn't register, and the sky rendered as a deep blue rather than a dull grey.


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The new-look Daleks were photographed a week later at the Doctor Who studios in Wales – at exactly the correct distance and perspective, as if they'd been on the bridge. The image was then assembled in Photoshop. The Daleks were scaled to the correct perspective. Extensive retouching then followed to darken the foreground, add shadows and a more dramatic sky. The final cover with the cheeky coverline "Vote Dalek!" went on to be voted the Greatest British Cover of All Time in 2008 and has now won the PPA award for Cover of the Century.


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