RadioTimes has interviewed writer Phil Ford and principal Dalek operator Barnaby Edwards on this week’s outstanding episode, Into the Dalek. Here are some hi-lights from the interview with Phil Ford.
On the idea behind Into the Dalek:
It was the usual thing: they asked me if I had any ideas, so I had a couple of ideas we kicked around. Then I got this message back saying that Steven had got this idea that he’d like me to do. And I knew that Steven had been kicking this concept around of going inside a Dalek for a while. I’d heard it mentioned. But obviously for whatever reason it had never been done. So basically we then met up, and it was a case of fleshing out a story. The way I pitched it to Steven was that it was ‘Die Hard in a Dalek!’
On envisioning the inside of a Dalek:
Crazy. That was crazy. What on earth does it look like in a Dalek? You kind of know in the middle of it is the actual organic Dalek, the Kaled. So then you kind of think: ‘what kind of functions, or the cybernetic systems would need to be in there to enable to do what he does?’ So he’s got a head, he’s got some kind of feeding system, and there’s a power source to make it all drive… So you kind of just plot all that together. But it was, really, erm, it’s a bit of a mind bender to think what must be inside a Dalek, and then how you travel through the Dalek as well!
On the concept of a ‘good’ Dalek and the philosophical apsect:
The thing is, the idea in essence was that the Doctor goes inside a Dalek. From what I can remember, I think that was purely the idea. Then you have to have a reason why does the Doctor go inside the Dalek. Effectively the Doctor goes inside the Dalek to save it. Why would the Doctor save it? Why in all the world, in all the universe, would the Doctor go inside the most darkest, most evil place in the universe? Why on earth would he do that apart from curiosity, which isnt a great motivation? So, the possibility that a Dalek could be good and the possibility that this may be some sort of evolutionary tipping point, that something’s happening to this Dalek… it kind of becomes a plot point effectively.
Also there is that question: what is evil? And what is good? And the interesting thing for me in terms of the Daleks anyway is because, you know, they came about as a result of the war. In the first instance, they were all about winning the war. They just got power-crazy. But they were designed simply as soldiers to win a war way back in the day. So effectively in the first place, there’s an argument that they weren’t evil,, that they were just there to do a job. Obviously that gets out of hand… But the best villains of course never believe that they’re evil. Which is always an interesting thing – so what’s actually going on inside a Dalek’s head is an interesting question, I don’t think it’s something an actual Dalek would ever really examine in the same way before. Equally, it’s an interesting question to ask, “what could make a Dalek see its own evil?” And see its place in the universe, and make it realise it’s destroying every form of life in the universe. It’s interesting stuff. And it all ties in with the Doctor’s question: “Am I a good man?”
On the meaning behind “You are a good Dalek”:
I have to admit that is a Steven line! So you’d have to ask him about that, but the point of it is that the Dalek is prepared to go to any lengths to do what he has to do, in the Doctor’s case this is to defeat the Daleks and save humanity, save the people who are aboard the ship. Whereas a Dalek is made to simply destroy, so I think this is kind of what he means. Also the Dalek has seen inside the Doctor’s head by this point and there is this sense that there’s a darkness inside the Doctor – and I think it’s this darkness that’s driving him. In the Dalek’s case, it’s a darkness that moves it forward. But in the Doctor’s case, it’s the Doctor’s determination to defeat darkness within him, if indeed there is darkness there. So that powers the Doctor to do good.
On what the Doctor would have seen as a ‘good Dalek’:
It’s that question of evolution. Because the Dalek was basically saying, “I can take out the other Daleks” – maybe it’s kind of like a magic bullet, if you want to get it down to genetics. That one Dalek in some way – whether that’s in terms of destroying all the other Daleks, or influencing the other Daleks… I think it’s kind of an experiment for the Doctor. This is the first time he’s come across a Dalek that in some way is different from the horde. This Dalek is, for the first time, saying, “I want to be a good Dalek.” I think the Doctor sees that as an opportunity, in evolution, I think the Doctor is encouraging that change.
On the Doctor’s hope of the slight possibility that the Dalek’s could evolve or change:
The Daleks may well be evil, but that has, throughout history, throughout Who history, meant that other species have banded together, when they wouldn’t have otherwise, in order to try and defeat the Daleks. I think there’s an unwritten element of that story in Into the Dalek. The people aboard the ship are the last survivors of the galaxy. This is their last stand to defeat the Daleks. We don’t know what kind of wars may have been going on in that galaxy before the Daleks shown up, they may have united. There’s an argument perhaps that if the Daleks had been destroyed way back in Tom Baker’s era that so much good would have been lost. So that’s the process going on in the Doctor’s mind. It’s kind of like wasps, isn’t it? People going ‘what good are wasps?’ But perhaps if you didn’t have wasps, you wouldn’t have people making wasp swatters as jobs!
On the scene with Ross the soldier:
It’s about establishing the Doctor as very pragmatic, even when that pragmatism is kind of cruel. He realises there’s no way of saving that guy, but there is a way of saving them all in order to complete the mission. It’s the lovely thing about this Doctor. Nothing is comfortable, if you know what I mean. We don’t know which way this Doctor might step. So that is quite pivotal, really.
…There’s no question about that it’s dark. But it’s really kind of important. This Doctor knows there are some battles you can’t win. In those circumstances, you have to do what you have to do in order to win the fight. He doesn’t enjoy that that guy dies, but to this Doctor that’s kind of the battle of the universe; life and death is a part of the universe and he recognises that, I think.
Hi-lights from the interview with Barnaby Edwards:
On operating a Dalek:
Without sounding too pretentious it’s just like any other performance. It’s a role that you have to play and make work. That’s why they still have people inside them and they’re not automated, because it isn’t easy to make this 20 stone hunk of fibre glass, metal and wood appear to be a living, breathing creature… Pretty much all of the Dalek operators come from a sort of dance background. It does require incredibly strong legs — we’ve all got fantastic calf muscles.
It’s all about the tiny movements. Approaching, moving back.. But there’s a lot of stillness and menace involved. We sort of found over the years that the bigger your movements are the less threatening you are, so we’ll go through our scripts and I’ll mark up when we’re going to do the head turns and things. And it’s all about the delays on those and which lines you turn to pay attention to. As Rusty in [Into The Dalek], I was very specific on when I was going to look at Jenna Coleman and when I was going to look at Peter. So, yeah, it’s like the weirdest puppet job ever.
On Peter Capaldi’s first encounter with a Dalek:
He did that sort of hopping from one foot to the other with excitement dance, especially when he first saw the Dalek. He was very good, and he knew who I was, he knew who [voice of the Daleks] Nicholas Briggs was before we’d even introduced ourselves.He knows the tone of Doctor Who. He was very, very aware that it was his Doctor’s first episode with a Dalek. Not just Peter Capaldi with a Dalek, it was his Doctor’s encounter with his first Dalek in this regeneration. And he wanted to get it exactly right tonally for his Doctor.
On the three-person team that makes up a Dalek:
It is quite confusing for other actors because they’ve got to work with three people, basically, all playing the same character.It’s a slightly unusual set-up and because we don’t rehearse within the Dalek, it’s me standing there with Nick Briggs either behind me or to the side of me doing the voice… And it’s slightly weird for other actors to do that, as I do these dead robotic stares…”
But I have to do that, because if we have the anamatronic head, I don’t control the anamatronic head, so I have to do what the head should be, so that’s why they hire me as an actor – to interpret the script and do the moves that I would naturally do as a performer. And that’s why they’re not just getting a radio control guy to do it. So I have to do what the Dalek will actually do, so turn when he wants to turn, and move the eye-stalk and things like that. So I have to do the full performance outside, which makes me a bit like Robocop when I get into Dalek mode.
Did seeing how the Dalek worked ruin the magic for Peter Capaldi?
No! He said he thought he might laugh but then he could see how it all worked, and he really loved it which was very nice. We first started doing that with David Tennant, we did it for a bit with Christopher Eccleston, but we did it properly with Tennant and then for the whole of Matt Smith, we got right into the Dalek right at the last minute just before they shot. Matt absolutely loved working with the human side of the Dalek rather than the actual prop.