When presented with the script for last Saturday’s epic Asylum of the Daleks Doctor Who Producer Marcus Wilson didn’t so much punch the air in excitement, more like slammed his head on the desk:
It’s only when I read Steven Moffat’s script in its entirety that I thought: ‘Oh God, what are we going to do now?’ We needed help…
It’s one thing to bring the Daleks back to our screens but uniting every single type of Dalek in the shows history; well that required men made of much sterner stuff.
Speaking to Wired, Wilson has recounted the moments leading up to two of the episodes most challenging scenes; the Asylum and the more grandiose Parliament set.
Wrangling Daleks, the crew put out a carrion call to the BBC, exhibitors, renovated a few battle damaged troops and, most importantly, the fans – whose dedication to build exact replicas meant they could stand up to the scrutiny of a HD close up:
Even Russell T. Davies has a Dalek in his hallway, so we went up to Manchester to pick it up from him. We must have had over 30 different Daleks on set and we only had around five of our own.
Filling out the other hundreds and thousands of loyal drones was the powerful Solid Angle rendering software, Arnold, a batch renderer that allows you to render multiples and multiples of Daleks that Wilson comments would not have been achievable years ago on a television schedule.
However, to render all those pixelated pepper pots, there had to be Daleks present on set:
[its] quite an odd process because you rehearse the scenes with the operators standing in for them but then when it comes to shooting, the poor guys are in there for about four or five hours at a time. You can just see the glow of iPhones through the head grills as they play games or read e-books. You also never know if there’s someone inside or not.
One of those ‘poor guys’ is Barnaby Edwards, who along with Nicholas Pegg, has been the principle operators since the show returned in 2005; faced the unique challenge of mimicking the little tricks previous operators to get an authentic Dalek performance:
In the old days you had to put up a Who set on one day and then have to take it down and put it up again the following week, so everything was made far lighter so it was easier to put up and take down again. That went for the Daleks as well.
Nowadays, though, they need to build a Dalek that will last, that can tour the country, appear in museums and then, in episodes, handle being fired at, kicked and generally blown up. They have to be more durable now so they have to be made out of heavier materials.
Who would have thought managing an army of Daleks could be so tough? Well, other than Davros?