What it’s really like to be a Doctor Who Dalek

Barnaby Edwards reveals what it’s like operating Doctor Who’s most infamous enemy, the Daleks

Barnaby Edwards
Credit: Steve

Dalek Operator Barnaby Edwards talks us through his unique acting job…

So what does the role of Dalek Operator involve?

It’s first and foremost an acting job, and certainly the most unusual that I do. I sit inside the Daleks and make the head move, the Daleks move, the exterminators work and the lights flash. I don’t do the voice, though; that’s Nicholas Briggs. It’s entirely hollow inside and open at the base, so in the manner of the Finstones you move it along with your feet; you sit on the plank and move the eyestalk, the gun, and the sucker with your hands. You need very, very good grip trainers and strong legs; those are the principal qualities of a Dalek operator. You also need a lack of claustrophobia and the ability to sit for long periods of time in a tin can.

What is a typical day of shooting like?

On a full Dalek day you’re in there the whole day; you’re allowed out every now and then for water and a comfort break, but I’ll be inside for eight hours; something like that. Nick Briggs will be on the side of the set voicing the Dalek, and there’s a radio feed from his microphone into the Dalek with speakers positioned around the set so the actors can hear the lines. Effectively, if you go onto the set of Doctor Who, the Daleks are there; they’re real, they’re live.

Why is it important to have use an actor instead of making them radio-operated?

The Daleks are in reality a collection of fibre glass metal and bits of wood, and in order to get a performance out of that I don’t think you could do it from remote control; you have to have an actor who can react to the lines inside. It’s a performance without words. Trying to wrench a performance out of an inanimate object is quite difficult, and I think does require an actor to be inside.

Do you have a favorite Dalek to play?

I’m very fond of the first one they did in ‘Dalek’, the bronze version, purely from a narcissistic point of view, because it was built to my measurements. All the heights and windows are bespoke, so I’m very fond of that one. It’s like a beautifully tailored Dalek for me, and that one has cropped up time and time again being painted different colours, and I’m always fond to see my original Dalek.

What was it like operating the old models in ‘Asylum Of The Daleks’?

They were pretty small, but much lighter, because in the old days of television you would shoot a whole Dalek episode sometimes just in an afternoon, so the operators never had to be in there very long and they didn’t have to do big battle scenes. So the old William Hartnell ones were nippy and light on their feet, and then you get back into a big modern Dalek and notice just how heavy they are!