We didn’t know exactly what to expect when heading into the Doctor Who Society of Canada’s Dalek Building Panel at FanExpo Canada. But it’s safe to say, it pretty much EXTERMINATED our expectations. Naturally.
The fun started at the packed to the gills panel before the participants even took the stage. First, a golden Dalek ambled up the aisle. Then, a giant green war machine, blasting the Dalek theme song slowly emerged, building to a crescendo where it shot jets of smoke at the audience to cheers. Let us just say this: only at a comic convention will you see a Dalek attack a crowd of excited fans, right next to Snow White.
Then, the moderator - Mark Townsend - took the stage, introducing Dalek builder Rob Green. Green made both Dalek Auroch - a recreation of the Gold Dalek Commander, from (I think) the current series; and the green war machine Dalek, which is a design from a scuttled movie set in another universe that was supposed to star Tom Baker.
Green took a moment to acknowledge the crowd, thanking them for coming. He was a bit thrown - and it's a testament to the immense fan-base of Doctor Who, and how its exploded - because they've only previously done a talk to thirty people or less, even last year at FanExpo. This year? Easily three or four hundred people in the standing room only crowd.
Getting back to the “Dalek Dreadnaught,” Townsend said it gets insanely hot in the Dalek, so he uses a CO2 cannons to cool things down... Which immediately makes them too cold. He also noted that they have an attachment including 50psi water cannons. Why not include that at FanExpo? “It’s frowned upon when I shoot people,” said Townsend to laughs from the crowd.
Then it was over to Green, who gave a little bit of the history of building Daleks. The main resource? http://projectdalek.co.uk, which Townsend said has builds for every single Dalek absolutely free, as well as a friendly fan-base that will help navigate problems in building Daleks.
On to the actual process, Green had an advantage: he based his design on an actual prop Dalek from Doctor Who he purchased. The Dreadnaught Dalek on the other hand was built with wood blocks... And a gigantic Emperor Dalek on display at the Society’s booth was mostly made with Papier-mâché, covered in resin. All Daleks, however, need to start with the dome, and then work down from there. “Paint covers all kind of sins,” joked Green.
On that note, Green noted that a large problem with creating Dalek designs was that the BBC never had money to repair their Daleks for the show... And in fact, would mostly just repaint old models, which would get more wear and tear with subsequent episodes. So to base a design on a Dalek from fifty years ago is nearly impossible, because they basically don’t exist. The last of the Black and White Dalek episode literally had, “guys carrying Daleks off camera on their backs.”
Green then mentioned a resource for looking more into the history of the Daleks: http://dalek6388.co.uk, which Green called a “bonkers” compilation of everything tin can.
Then it was on to the outside of the machines, which, no matter what, need fifty-six globes. Green said that shop-owners would immediately say, after being asked for fifty-six hemispheres, “Oh, are you building a Dalek?” The best globes, apparently, are Christmas ornaments! Green then noted that to build a Dalek, you don’t need skill, but you do need, “A lot of time on your hands.”
Beyond that, there’s the frame, the collar, and the shoulders of the Dalek, as well as The Neck. The Neck is important, because it either allows your Dalek’s head to turn... Or not. Oh, and the eye, of course: "I’ve seen people do a build that’s gorgeous, but the eye is so big, it looks like the Dalek is on crack," said Green to laughs from the audience. "We’re humans, we look into the eyes of everything we see... And a big, starey eyed Dalek looks wrong.”
He also chatted about the difficulty of finding treadmills for the feet, particularly because people who own the right treads charge a ton for them, since there aren't many. On the other hand, if you want to get an authentic looking plunger hand for a Dalek? "I used a plunger," said Green.
The duo then talked a little more about the final bits. Green said he added a webcam to one model, which just caused problems in building, and he’s never used. On the other hand, Townsend noted that his, once he’s in it, weighs about three hundred pounds, and moves eight miles an hour. “I love sneaking up behind people, then they turn around, and the eye stalk is right in their face,” he joked. “We’ve won every lawsuit we’ve been in,” Green quipped back.
On the joy of being a Dalek? "For a couple of days, you can be a total d**k to everybody... It never happens in real life," joked Green. "And I've had girls drape themselves over me, kiss me... And I know they love me for my car, not me." Then they both thanked the audience, and that was it! Make no mistake: this was the nerdiest panel we've ever been to... I've left out a lot of the specific model-making techniques, because I don't quite understand them - you can look them up on the above websites. But at the same time, panels like this are part of the joy of a big convention like FanExpo: finding those weird little niches like Dalek Building, and being there for the one hour when they get to be superstars.
You can find out more about Dalek Building - and the Doctor Who Society - here.