Doctor Who: the Daleks debuted 50 years ago today

How Radio Times covered the arrival of the Daleks...


In the lead-up to Christmas 1963, Doctor Who had already been running for four weeks on BBC Television, steadily building a loyal audience with its launch episode, An Unearthly Child, and the following three instalments set in palaeolithic times. But the programme’s popularity was about to go stratospheric – with the arrival of the Daleks. 


However, their arrival was an invasion by stealth. Radio Times (below) previewed The Dead Planet, episode one of their seven-part debut serial, transmitted on Saturday 21 December 1963, without once mentioning Daleks… 

The Radio Times billing (left) for The Dead Planet was giving little away, either.

Our first teasing glimpse of a Dalek came in the episode’s cliffhanger (pictured above) when reluctant time traveller Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) found herself trapped deep in an alien city. Backing against a wall, she screamed as a weird sensor – looking like a sink plunger – hovered towards her. What unseen horror was it attached to? The image faded to black…

In reality, during the recording, the sucker arm wasn’t attached to a Dalek but was held alongside the approaching camera by assistant floor manager Michael Ferguson (who later went on to direct many Doctor Whos). 

The programme’s earliest fans endured a week-long wait over Christmas until a full Dalek was first seen and heard. Four Daleks glided onto the screen on Saturday 28 December.

They were an instant sensation, with a simple but effective outline by BBC designer Raymond Cusick and their grating voices modulated by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Again, however, Radio Times was giving little away. This sparse billing for episode two, The Survivors, is probably the first time the word “Dalek” appeared in print. 


Radio Times has also unearthed from our photo archive a set of contact sheets from those early Dalek episodes. The pictures were taken on the set of The Survivors, during camera rehearsals at the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios. The date was Friday 22 November – the day when President Kennedy was assassinated. 

We believe these images were given to us many years ago by Raymond Cusick, who often took his camera on the set of programmes he designed. 

As well as the Daleks, they show William Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford as the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan. Hartnell isn’t wearing his full costume in some shots. 


Read more about the first Dalek story


Catch up on RT’s complete Doctor Who Story Guide