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Terry Nation and The Creation of the Daleks

In which we explore the creation, influences and design origins of the maniacal pepper-pots of doom.
Created by Terry Nation and designed by Raymond Cusick, the Daleks were introduced in December 1963 in the second Doctor Who serial. The adventure is referred to by a variety of names, the working titles of The Survivors and Beyond the Sun are occasionally quoted, Nation himself gave the story the title of The Mutants which was used in most BBC paperwork until the Radio Times 10th anniversary Doctor Who special listed all the stories from the first decade by the title of their opening episodes, and so referred to the serial as The Dead Planet. It wasn't until 1980 when the adventure bacame colloquially known as, simply, The Daleks.

Whatever title you may call the first Dalek adventure, it's hard to argue against the immediate and vital connection the story had with viewers. The Daleks themselves have, of course, featured in many subsequent Doctor Who serials, plus two non-canon 1960s films, and have become as synonymous with Doctor Who as the Doctor himself, with their behaviour and catchphrases part of British popular culture. But where did the idea for the Daleks come from? What was Terry Nation's inspiration for creating them in the first place? And who else was involved in the concept? We explore the origins of the Daleks below.
During a 1987 interview with the then-titled Doctor Who Monthly (DWM), Terry Nation discussed his early pre-Who career.
“I went to London, where I auditioned as a stand-up comic, and I failed time and time again. Somebody told me ‘the jokes are very good, it’s you who’s not funny’, and that was hurtful, but then I figured I had to make a living. I was hustling around, and somebody gave me an introduction to Spike Milligan. Milligan wrote me a cheque for five pounds, which was a lot of money then, and he said ‘Why don’t you write a ‘Goon Show’, and if we like it, we’ll represent you. Anyway, I wrote a ‘Goon Show’ that night, delivered it the next morning, and he liked it."
Now known primarily as a joke-writer, Nation was keen to flex his creative muscles and not be pigeon-holed.
"I went on to other comedy shows... and ultimately having worked through a lot of comedy, decided that I wanted to do drama. ABC were doing a series called ‘Out of This World’, and I was asked to adapt a story by Philip K. Dick called ‘Imposter’. This was maybe the first science fiction being done in Britain. That was successful, and I did some more episodes. I now had a leg in each camp; I was a drama writer, and I was also a comedy playwright."
In July 1963, Nation received an invitation from BBC script editor David Whitaker to pitch a story for a new BBC science fiction serial he was currently taking submissions for. Nation declined as he was committed to Tony Hancock's nationwide stage tour, after being drafted-in as a writer on the comedian's ATV series 'Hancock' earlier that year.

Although one of Britain's most loved comedians, Hancock's career had faltered recently as the transmission of his new series clashed in the early months of 1963 with the second series of BBC's Steptoe and Son, which was written by former 'Hancock's Half Hour' writers Galton and Simpson. Critical comparisons did not favour Hancock's ATV series and so the comedian was keen to keep the talented Nation on-board. With this in mind, during the tour the pair worked on several series proposals as Hancock looked for potential new projects.

In Hancock's 2011 biography, Alwyn W Turner explored the working relationship between Hancock and Nation, including the late-night brainstorming sessions the pair shared whilst on tour. The duo worked on several series proposals, one of which was called From Plip to Plop, a comedic history of the world that would have ended with a nuclear apocalypse, the mutated survivors being reduced to living in dustbin-like robot casings and eating radiation to stay alive. No additional work was developed on the series proposal as Hancock and Nation had a falling-out, as he explained to DWM,
"[One] particular night, Tony Hancock and I had a big dispute. I wanted him to try some new material, and I’m not sure if I was fired or if I walked out, but the result was that I was on a train back to London, thinking ‘Hey, wait a minute! I’m out of work!’. I went and talked to David Whitaker, the script editor of ‘Doctor Who’, and I came up with a story idea. They liked it, they bought it, and that takes us up to where the Daleks started."
Nation quickly composed a submission for the series which he entitled “The Survivors”. Having grown up during World War II and lived through the Blitz, Nation was inspired by the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Initially pitching the 'monsters' of his story to be faceless, authoritarian figures dedicated to conquest, racial purity and complete conformity (the allusion is perhaps most obvious in later adventures like The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Genesis of the Daleks). With the threat of atomic war being a timely concern in the era, and with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis having been a recent focal point for tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, Whitaker commissioned Nation to write a (at then) six-part adventure under the title "The Mutants" on July 31st 1963.
The design for the Daleks came from Ray Cusick, an in-house BBC designer who found himself tasked with the job when the original BBC designer assigned to Doctor Who, Ridley Scott (yes that Ridley Scott, director of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and The Martian to name but four films), had a schedule clash and was replaced before the series began. Cusick's contribution can not be underestimated, and although he saw none of the financial rewards even Nation acknowledged the importance of his design.
“Raymond Cusick made a tremendous contribution. The salt cellar part is the legend: that gave Raymond Cusick the idea for the shape. He was restricted by budget, obviously – it wasn’t a big budget show we were doing. But yes, he made a tremendous contribution. Whatever the Daleks are or were, his contribution was vast. I think [the BBC] may have given him a hundred pound bonus, but he was a salaried employee, and I think he knew the nature of his work, and it was what he did every week. You start with something that’s a writer’s dream, that he’s put down in words, and amended, and added to in conversations. Something starts there."
And Nation had written notes on what the Daleks should look like within his story treatment, or rather what he didn't want them to look like. Nation claims he found inspiration for this in the abundance of cheaply produced B-movies of the day.
"I’d been a cinema-goer all my life, and loved going to what were rated in those days as horror movies. Whatever the creature was, somewhere in your heart of hearts, you know it was a man dressed up, so my first requirement was to take the legs off. Take away the humanoid form, and we were off and running."
Nazis, radiation poisoning and horror movies, it's a bit of a curve-ball then that further inspiration came to Nation after a trip to the ballet.
"The Russian dance troupe [Georgian State Ballet] was performing in London at the time. There was a dance that the women did, where they wore floor-brushing skirts, and evidently took tiny steps, so they appeared to glide across the stage. There was no suggestion of what form of locomotion they were using. That’s what I wanted for the Daleks."
When it came to realising the Dalek's look, success wasn't instantaneous. Cusick's concept art at first suggested a conical, one-armed creature. Followed by a shorter, two-armed design featuring a diamond-patterned skirt section and a large camera lens on the dome. These designs also included clamp-shaped hands, as suggested by Nation's script. Cusick introduced the sucker arm and gun arm in his third concept but originally positioned them at different heights, with the sucker arm below the gun arm.
Cusick also posited that the Dalek operator might be able to move about on a tricycle, but none could be found that would be small enough to fit inside the casing. When the final 'pepper-pot' design was settled on Cusick hoped that the finished model would have arms that could rotate around the body and the bumps on the skirt section would light up to show the Dalek's emotional state, but these ideas proved to be beyond Doctor Who's limited budget.

Eventually, when the BBC's Visual Effects department were unable to commit to production schedule, Cusick outsourced the production of four Daleks props to Shawcraft Models in Uxbridge. The total cost of all four coming in at £250! As none of them were ready when the first episode went in front of the cameras on October 28th 1963, floor manager Michael Ferguson held a swiftly assembled sucker arm prop and waved it towards Barbara. A legendary cliffhanger was born.
One more important element in their creation is the name itself. In Serbo-Croatian the word "dalek" means "far" or "distant", something Nation was entirely unaware of. In 1964 the writer told a Daily Mirror reporter that "Dalek" came from an encyclopaedia volume, the spine of which read "Dal – Lek", but he later admitted that this book and the associated origin of the Dalek name were completely fictitious, and that anyone bothering to check out his story would have found him out. Nation would later claim that the name "Dalek" simply rolled off his typewriter.

Although he would go on to create incredibly popular shows like Blake's 7 and Survivors, thanks to Dalek Mania gripping the British children of the 1960s if you mention Terry Nation's name to most people then their go to thought will likely be the Daleks. Doctor who fans especially have a lot to thank him for, the success of that first adventure he penned essentially sealed a renewal/extension order for the fledgling series after only 13 episodes had been originally commissioned.

However, not everyone was celebrating the success of the Daleks. Primarily Nation's ex-employer. In an earlier 1999 biography titled When the Wind Changed: The Life and Death of Tony Hancock, biographer Cliff Goodwin claims that when Tony saw the Daleks on TV for the first time he allegedly shouted at the screen,
"That bloody Nation—he's stolen my robots!"

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