Doctor Who: Exclusive guide to the new Dalek design

Series bosses Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens walk us through the new changes made to the Doctor’s greatest enemy ahead of their return in the festive special.

Doctor Who

On New Year’s Day the Daleks will blast back onto Doctor Who with a new look, the Doctor’s greatest foes showing off a sleek upgrade as they take on the human race on present-day Earth.

Advertisement

But what inspired this new design, and how is it different from Daleks of the past? To find out we caught up with series showrunner Chris Chibnall and executive producer Matt Strevens, who exclusively lifted the lid – or rather, the Dalekanium armour – of the revamped Daleks and how they compare to older models.

“It’s difficult to talk about without giving too many spoilers away, but I think what we wanted is something sleek and shiny and powerful, and slightly different to any Dalek you’ve seen before,” Chibnall told Radio Times.

“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,” added Strevens.

“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?”

Well, let’s find out how they managed it, starting at the top – the ever-menacing Dalek dome, aka their heads.

Getting a-head

Doctor Who
Picture Shows: Dalek – (C) BBC Studios – Photographer: Ben Blackall

Apart from slightly altered proportions (which we’ll get to later) and some aesthetic changes that Chibnall describes as “different layers around the dome,” the most notable change to the upper part of the new Dalek design is just how much light it gives off.

Initially glowing blue in the episode, in later scenes the lights change colour as the Daleks turn on humanity, with Chibnall hinting that this could be caused by the environment as much as any murderous intent.

“They light up at night with red lights, and look very interesting,” he told us.

A similar lighting affect was notable on the battered self-made Dalek debuted in 2019 New Year’s special Resolution (of which, more later), though the light appeared less regularly and was always red.

Their body is ready

Doctor Who
A Dalek in Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (BBC)

Speaking of the Resolution Dalek, one of the main criticisms levelled at that particular design was that it looked too “skinny”, with the central portion of the Dalek drawn in so far as to look like a corset.

The Doctor Who team appear to have taken the feedback on board, with Strevens noting that the design seen in Revolution of the Daleks is a little more bulked out.

“The gun carousel, the central section there, has been fleshed out a bit more,” he told us.

Revolution of the Daleks
The November 2020 Doctor Who preview issue of Radio Times

“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.”

Notably, the famous Dalek sink plunger (in reality known as the “manipulator arm”) is also absent from this section. While the whisk-like gun is present and correct the plunger has been replaced by a spikier all-purpose tool that we’re sure will be used to deadly effect in the festive special…

The Dalek “skirt”

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 05/12/2020 - Programme Name: Doctor Who Special 2020 - Revolution Of The Daleks - TX: 01/01/2021 - Episode: Doctor Who Special 2020 - Revolution Of The Daleks - Generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Dalek - (C) BBC - Photographer: James Pardon
Picture Shows: Dalek – (C) BBC – Photographer: James Pardon
BBC

Some of the more notable changes to the Dalek can be seen on the lower body or “skirt” of the Dalek, which boasts some flat panels and lines (all of which glow with the same blue or red lighting) as well as a different arrangement of the iconic spheres (or bumps) dotted around the area.

“There are just small, different details, like the number and shape of whatever you call those things on the side of the Daleks… which I suppose in a festive special you’d call baubles!” Chibnall told Radio Times.

“And changes to the little things adorning the Daleks — new slats and so on.”

Fans may note in this section in particular that unlike the bronze Daleks seen in recent years these new Daleks are rather slim, which led to a major production change.

Revolution of the Daleks
A Dalek and police officers in Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (BBC)

Yes, after decades of Daleks with human operators inside, these Daleks (like the Dalek from Resolution) are remote-controlled with nary an actor hidden within them.

“Unlike older models, this particular Dalek is remote-controlled,” Strevens confirmed.

“Although it’s slightly filled out, it still would have been difficult to get a human operator inside this particular model.”

And of course, that’s far from the only way this Dalek is different from the versions we’ve gotten used to.

The end of the Bronze Age

Peter Capaldi with a Dalek in Doctor Who (BBC)
Peter Capaldi with a Dalek in Doctor Who (BBC)

Yes, after reigning strong since 2005 (including a failed revamp in 2010 that was quickly shelved), the popular bronze Daleks will no longer be the default – at least in the upcoming festive special, anyway.

“It’s not going back to maybe one of the classic bronze Daleks that we’ve been seeing in recent years,” Strevens told Radio Times.

“I think it’s slightly taller… an inch or two, maybe higher than the bronze, but not as wide. The bronze ones look like they’ve been really working out in the gym. They’re much stockier. Ours, or rather this version, is a bit sleeker.”

“It’s deliberately different from all those Daleks we’ve had on screen before,” Chibnall added.

“You’re never replacing what’s gone before, you’re just adding a new variant. It’s just this story is about these black and red Daleks.”

In other words, we may not have seen the last of those dastardly bronze Daleks. Watch this space.

New Year’s Resolution

Doctor Who New Year's Day (BBC)
Doctor Who New Year’s Day (BBC)

As noted a few times in this article, the new Dalek design is closely connected to the Dalek that appeared in 2019 special Resolution, which was cobbled together by a rogue Reconnaissance Dalek out of spare parts during the episode.

“It harks back to the Reconnaissance Dalek in Resolution,” Chibnall confirmed. “It’s almost like that might be a plot point…”

“We wanted the audience to see the origins in the Reconnaissance Dalek,” added Strevens.

“Because in a sense, that Dalek gives birth to this next iteration that we see in Revolution of the Daleks.”

17076309-low_res-doctor-who

However, both men were also keen to stress that this new design was still a very different beast to the version created for the earlier special – not least because that one was so, well, shoddily put together by the Dalek itself.

“In Resolution, that story was very much about a Dalek trying to reconstruct itself from a scrapyard, parts and bits,” Chibnall told us. “And then this takes that story on in a different way.”

“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,” said Strevens.

“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.”

“Really, there are reasons for all these design decisions,” Chibnall said.

Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)
Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)

“There’s always a pressure when you redesign or refresh any Doctor Who monster. But equally that’s part of the job and that’s part of what keeps it new and interesting.

“Even though at times there are jokes about Daleks they’re a really enduring design classic. And that’s an incredible achievement by Ray Cusick, who designed them.

“They’re like the Mini of Doctor Who,” he concluded. “You can just keep updating them, and there’s a lot of flavours to play with.”

Come 1st January, we can only imagine a lot of fans will be enjoying those flavours – assuming, of course, we don’t just get into a big fight about which Dalek design truly reigns supreme.

(Which would be the Special Weapons Dalek, of course).

Advertisement

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks comes to BBC One at 6:45pm on New Year’s Day. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.