Doctor Who villains the Daleks are an iconic bit of British workmanship, exterminating their way through pop culture for over half a century and (to the rest of the world) forever linked with the rainy isles where they were first dreamed up by Terry Nation and Raymond Cusick.
But believe it or not, once upon a time the Daleks weren’t yet a design classic, or a legendary TV villain. On September 23rd, 1963 they were just a prop, set to be shown in the second serial of a new children’s TV series called Doctor Who the following week – so when (in a promotional shoot) the Daleks descended on Shepherd’s Bush market, we can only assume all the children were just a little confused by the giant pepperpots gliding around.
But that’s not the only surprise from this photoshoot. As unearthed by Doctor Who audio play and novel writer Jonathan Morris, these archive pictures show what happened the first time the Daleks got a run-out, the first time any member of the public got a glimpse of a pop culture classic – but at the time, as far as anyone can tell, no-one in the UK really noticed, with no newspapers or magazines including pictures of the new monsters.
Instead, the only publication to carry any of these Dalek pictures was one from the Netherlands – Het Parool, on the day of the episode’s first airing on the 28th December– meaning that, for all intents and purposes, it was the Dutch people who got the first real taste of the deadly Daleks.
Radio Times readers did get a little bit of a preview, of course – based on our own records, RT first mentioned the Daleks by name in an issue published 26th December 1963, almost certainly marking the first time they were named in print – but we didn’t include a picture, and didn’t actually feature one until a (partially obscured) Dalek appeared in the image for the serial’s very last episode, ‘The Rescue’, over a month later.
Given their later prominence in British media, their ignominious start seems a little inappropriate – who would have thought the Daleks were once bigger in the Netherlands than the UK? – but then again, maybe it was the ideal beginning for the Doctor’s greatest foes. Striking at the heart of our nation when we least expected them…
With thanks to Patrick Mulkern
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 in early 2020