I resolved at the start of (English) lockdown 2.0 to finally finish the Dalek. This was a project begun during the first lockdown, a means of keeping my brother and I occupied during quarantine. This required careful negotiation, for his partner wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea of having a Mark III Travel Machine lurking in the basement.
Fellow Whovians will appreciate that reference. To bring the uninitiated up to speed, the famous pepper-pot design is merely the protective casing – a travel machine – for the 'Kelad' within, an irradiated octopus-like creature devoid of pity or empathy. My brother and I were not aiming for such authenticity; we were content to recreate our favourite livery (black, gold and silver) from one of the 1960's Dr Who
movies starring Peter Cushing.
Initially, my brother was keen to build one from scratch, for which lengthy instructions exist online and in print. Intimidated by the amount of fibreglass involved, I persuaded him to let me buy injection-moulded parts from a kitchen manufacturer in Glasgow and work from there. The next few months were full of MDF cutting, spray-painting and sourcing materials online to make the Dalek's three protuberances: a claw arm, a gun-blaster and an eyestalk.
We were almost there when I left my temporary lockdown 1.0 abode and moved south of the river. The Dalek needed to be moved separately, and I struggled to find an adequate description when the removal people asked what exactly it was they were picking up. It ended up, in parts, in my attic bedroom, and there it's remained for the past two months. Refurbishing my new flat naturally had priority.
Although I already had a set of shoulder straps for the middle section, these were rather flimsy plastic strips I'd spray-painted silver. The perfectionist in me wasn't happy with these, for the real deal ought to have been fashioned from aluminium. Luckily, earlier this year I made contact with a chap called Tom who has a sideline in making parts for Dalek builders like me. I told him what I was after, coughed up some cash, and last week four gleaming metal shoulder straps arrived in the mail.
Once I'd finished off some final flat stuff, I set about completing different sections. On Saturday, I tackled the base and 'skirt', both of which I'd been putting off for weeks. My brother had done a fine job fashioning a curve-fronted base from MDF, to which he'd affixed three large castor wheels so the whole Dalek would be able to move (with someone inside operating it, naturally). To this, I had to attach a black rubber sheet with Tiger Seal and metal pins.
Then there were the gold hemispheres, which had to be attached from the inside of the skirt. Initially, I struggled to get these to adhere using the same Tiger Seal (a sort of thick black glue), but a quick message to Tom sorted it out: all I had to do was roughly sand the hemisphere 'flanges' to make them grip more securely. This worked wonders, and a messy hour or so later that section was pretty much complete. It felt immensely satisfying.
On Sunday, I set my sights on the Dalek's dome. The eyestalk – beautifully constructed by my brother using Perspex discs and various tubes – had to be fixed on an internal pivot using MDF, nuts and bolts. After a couple of false starts, I cracked it – again, immensely satisfying – and then finished it off by supergluing the bottom sections of plastic Wickes pipes, on to which two red beaker-style lamps could be screwed. Eventually, these will be augmented with flashing lights.
Alas, there was a limitation to what I could achieve. The middle section of the Dalek requires some drilling with specialised bits. Those arrived in the post last week, but the necessary drill has been held up. Still, I was able loosely to assemble what I had completed and before me stood an almost-finished movie Dalek roughly the same height as me. This felt both thrilling and a little strange. Friends keep asking me what I'm going to call it.
A Facebook associate (with whom I'd shared pictures like an excited schoolboy) pointed out that my labours, appropriately enough, had coincided with the 57th anniversary of Doctor Who
, a date I usually remember because the first broadcast took place just a day before the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963.
The following morning, I received a text message from the NHS telling me I'd been identified as a contact of someone who had recently tested positive for COVID-19. There were no more details beyond a polite instruction to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of that contact. According to NHS Test and Trace, that would take me up to (and including) 3 December, a day after lockdown 2.0 is due to end.
In 1964, a long-forgotten British band called The Go-Go's released a single entitled I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With a Dalek
. Well, maybe not Christmas for me, but certainly the next two weeks.
David Torrance is
an author and contemporary historian