The Build Diaries - Imperial Dalek

Project: Imperial Dalek

Date commenced: October 2004

Screen appearance: The Imperial Dalek first appeared in Remembrance of the Daleks, starring Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor (1989).

Date completed: July 2005

Build Notes: Building Minty, my Imperial Dalek was quite a challenge. There were many parts to the project, which all required different skills, tools and materials. To make things as logial as possible I decided to build the different sections seperately, starting with the neck, moving to the head dome and then down from the neck, ending up with the fender which provides a kind of platform for the body to sit on. Painting Minty required some careful thought as I needed a solution that was hard wearing.

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Head dome

The head dome showing holes for the dome lightsThe head dome shown in the photo, is composed from several distinct parts, the head dome, the eye stalk and the dome lights (not shown in this photo – to see the lights, please seee below).
The dome is made from fibre glass. Whilst it's possible to make your own dome it's fairly involved. You need to begin by making arc shaped former, then use it to shape a huge blob of plaster. Once it has thoroughly dried and has been sanded it needs covering with release gel before creating a negative fibreglass mould. This mould is then used to create the required dome. I knew from information I’d read and conversations had with others, it wasn't always as easy as it sounds. Due to the work involved and the fact I had no fibre glass skills and you could buy a good one quite cheaply I decided it wasn’t worth creating a mould for it only to be used once given the amount of work involved.

The design of the wood fitted to the inside of the domeAfter I'd read the plans I'd downloaded relating to dome movement, I drew a circle on a piece of wood small enough to fit inside the head dome in the required position. Into the circle I marked out four holes and the position of the eye stalk support. Once cut out it looked like the image. Before fixing it into your dome, it’s vital to ensure it is level and positioned correctly. This wooden circle is what the head dome will rotate on, if it wasn't level it would be as obvious as a badly fitted car tyre. I bolted it to the head dome circle with 4 x 40mm fixing angles bent to match the angle of the dome.

The mount for the eye stalk pivot was also fitted to this piece of wood prior to it being bolted to the dome, along with the mechanism to allow the eye stalk to tilt. This was comprised of two sections of tube to create a pulley as one piece of tube slid inside the other maintaining a vertical line and therefore a smooth rise and fall of the eye stalk. There was a lot of hidden complexity inside the head dome that nobody but the dalek operator will ever see.
Cutting the eye stalk slot in the dalek dome was not easy and was quite nerve racking, as I could only guess the minimum space required to be able to raise and lower the eye stalk. The eye stalk is surprisingly heavy and so the controls for raising and lowering it needed to be carefully adjusted and tested each time a change was made to ensure it was smooth and easy to use. The final step was to drill a hole in the centre of the wood, to allow it to be attached to the neck bin while spinning freely but maintaining a perfect circle with each rotation. Much later in the build, after the dalek had been painted the bolt holes were drilled into the dome to allow the lights to be attached.

The Eye stalk

The dalek eye stalkThe eye stalk is made up of several specific parts. The eyeball, the focusing rings, the pivot which connects to the head dome and the shaft linking all the parts together.
The eyeball itself is made from a modified stainless-steel sugar bowl, with two discs of MDF carefully cut to size and fitted to the end, one on top of the other to create the different levels. Drilling the hole in the end of the bowl to it to the eye stalk was really difficult tricky as stainless steel is quite tough to drill through. The bottom was then rounded using car body filler which I sanded and refilled until I was happy with the circular shape.
The four focusing rings were made from four discs of MDF, each disc being padded on both sides with a smaller thinner disc of MDF the edges of which I painstakingly filled and sanded to create a smooth chamfered outline. Although it is quite prominent on the Dalek, it was a lot of work for what is essentially something that is largely overlooked. The added complexity is that each ring is a slightly different size and the second ring (counting away from the head dome) is the largest, while the fourth ring is the smallest. Whereas at first glance you may have expected the rings to be in descending size beginning with the first.

The eye stalk focusing ringsThe pivot was created from two offcuts of wood glued together, cut to size and sanded. Drilling the hole in the side of the pivot, into which the shaft would be embedded was delicate work. The diameter and position of the whole had to be pin point accurate to avoid breaking through the surface. A second hole was then drilled all the way through the centre of the first to allow a length of hollow threaded rod to pass through the pivot and provide the method to secure all parts of the head dome tightly together; a wobbly eye stalk was not an option I was prepared to entertain.
The cream coloured shaft shown in the photo was created from several lengths of plastic tube cut to size. It was then a matter of sanding the tube where required to ensure a tight fit as I threaded all the pieces of the eye stalk onto the threaded rod before bolting them together through the front of the eyeball. The use of hollow threaded rod was essential to allow wires to pass through the shaft of the eye stalk to illuminate the eyeball.

Dome Lights

The components used to make the dome lightThe lights were made from a piece of tube, a dished dome and a polished perspex ring. To create the dome lights, I began by carefully cutting two 20mm slices of tube with a hand saw and then lightly sanding any rough edges. An MDF ring with two holes and a larger opening in the centre to allow the wiring for the bulbs to be easily added was then fixed inside each ring. Two bolts were then threaded through the holes so I could anchor the finished light to the head dome. Cutting and polishing two 6mm Perspex rings ones one of the hardest, no, fiddliest jobs of the entire build. But I knew it was important they looked perfect as they’d be in most people’s eye line and imperfections would be obvious as they caught the light. Each perspex ring looked like a giant clear polo mint, these were then fixed to the MDF ring. To complete the light, they were topped with a dished dome bought from EMA model supplies.

The completed dalek dome lightThe last photo shown in this section is of a completed dome light, showing the bolts that are used to fix the light assembly to the head dome. The wiring for the lights was first attached to the head dome prior to the lights being fitted, the bulbs were pushed through the opening in the bottom of the dome light as it was lowered into position. If you’re reading this diary with a project of your own in mind, take care to ensure that is you use LED's of the correct voltage to suit your power supply or you risk blowing up your LEDs. Illuminating the lights was tricky. The light needed to be bright enough to be able to be seen. Originally Minty had a 12v/21w bulb in each light but these were switched to super bright white LEDs after my first event as I one of my domes melted due to the heat output of the lamps in a confined space.


Inside the cyber headI was very lucky to be able to purchase a well made Cyber head, which needed a little more detail adding to it to make it into the style of head featured in Attack of the Cybermen.
After inspecting the head and comparing it to many different photos, I began to add modifications and finishing touches. First, I cut holes in the sides of the head and added the fine mesh behind the handles or Cyber ears. Inside the cyber head I also added some detail to the top of the head and lastly gave it a respray as it had been knocked about a bit.
After wearing it for the first time in warmer weather, it was modified to add a little air circulation system. Inside the head I fitted three small 40mm 12v fans. They provided just enough air circulation, running from a 9v. In the photo you can see two of the three fans, situated on the chin and the sides. As a precaution all the wiring is sealed so there’s no possibility of short circuit or a minor shock due to dribble contacting the wiring. The wires connect to a switch behind the chest unit, so I can operate the fans without having to remove the head each time.

The roof

It seemed logical to build the roof and light together as they needed to be part of the same section of the TARDIS build. Click here to skip down to the information about the TARDIS light.

The logical next step was the roof. This was the only part that I had a problem with. I incorrectly recorded one of my measurements and so calculated the wrong length of wood to cut. This was not too disastrous as I over allowed as opposed to under calculated my length.

The TARDIS roofThe roof was fun but tricky to make. I needed to make a two square frames and then sit one on top of the other. That would make the box on a box shape that is so much a part of the TARDIS roof. I then had to allow a slight slope up to the roof light platform. I wanted it to be one piece but to be as light as possible since I was going to have to lift it into position, possibly on my own.

The build went really well, it was great fun assembling it all, like a giant model kit but having to machine all the parts in order to advance the build. I would say it was the most satisfying part to build since it was most tricky out of all the parts I had built up to that point. I then needed to sit the roof on something, in order to be able to locate it on top of the TARDIS.I designed a collar to fit on the top of the side panels that the roof could sit inside of. It also needed to blend into the TARDIS so you did not know how it was assembled from the outside. I removed the end caps from the top of the posts and used the mountings that they located onto as my fixing points. I decided to use the top part of the posts as markers to locate the roof inside and also stop it slipping out of position. This seemed to work well, however after two or three times of needing to disassemble the roof sections in the course of production it became obvious this was not a cunning plan and I screwed then both together. This was an excellent move as it greatly strengthened both parts and produced a roof section that was very strong and stable when being lifted into position.


The raw, unfinished head before wok began In many ways the head being made of moulded fibreglass might have seemed like an incredibly easy section of the prop to be completed. Far from it, due to the amount of white putty that was embedded into the fiberglass shell of the head led me to suspect quite a lot of damage had been sustained to the mould. All the white putty seen in the image below needed to be painstakingly removed before the sanding and repairs could be undertaken; it was a lengthy process which I wouldn't want to repeat anytime soon.

Sanding the unfinshed head to remove the imperfections Once the holes had been filled sanded, and in some cases refilled and sanded; work to create the head could begin. The head needed a lot of sanding, especially around the edges of the upper parts where there's a lip to add more definition. The nose took a lot of finessing to get it looking like the TV prop as it'd sustained the most damage. The hole for the nose gun was the first removed as I knew it'd need careful filling and sanding to achieve the overall effect I was looking for.

The head front on, showing all the parts needing to be addedHaving consulted old clips of the show, photographs and line drawings of the prop taken from a 1980s BBC publication I knew this would be one of the most complicated parts to complete. I needed to consider things like what to make the nose gun from, how to mount the ears, where to source the probe from, not to mention the small matter of how to mount the head onto the body. Written here it sounds easy but it took several weeks to track down all the parts I needed and to design a way to construct the neck mounting so the head was removable. I knew it was important to be able to remove the head because I didn't want it to be damaged during transit.

Inside K9s head, showing the fixing to the neck, the lights and the probeTo allow the head to be removed and refitted, it was necessary to create a removeable panel on the bottom of the head. Any solution for fitting the bottom panel needed to be light weight and allow enough access to the inner parts of the head.
Having cut a piece of wood the correct size and drilled a hole in the centre for the neck mount I attached some brackets using fiberglass resin and then screwed it into position. The reason I couldn't mount it directly to the head was maintaining access to the probe and nose gun which would have been obscured by the neck mount.

The completed headThe horizontal red strips on the top of the head were the thing I found most difficult to source until I saw an advert for an ultra-thin cutting board. The advert showed numerous colours including red. Heading for a store I discovered it met all of my requirements as I was keen to find something which was thin, durable but consistently coloured all the way through; rather than something which was only coloured on the surface. Two cheap bike lights provided the illumination the head required mounted behind a small polycarbonate panel; while the probe is an arrow taken from a kids bow and arrow set. Both the nose gun and probe were created using short length of aluminium tube of varying diameters set inside each other. The centre of the nose gun was then filled and painted black.