Dalek autopsy

The Arm

The plunger is the first thing that most people think of when a Dalek's arm is mentioned. There have been several different styles of plunger over the years and also several other appendages at the end of that telescopic arm...

In the 1960s...

The plunger is the most common appendage seen at the end of a Dalek arm. Although there were several different sizes and styles, they are almost always black and made of rubber. The only non-black, non-rubber, plunger-like appendage seen during the 1960s, appears briefly in the second Dalek movie (a strange silver item).

The actual plunger style used during the 1960s is obsolete today and finding a good, black, hemispherical plunger can be difficult. Many modern plungers are bell-shaped and while these are OK, builders will try and seek out a genuine plunger from the 1960s. If you have one of these under your sink, please get in touch.

The plunger wasn't the only appendage to appear in the first Dalek story. There was also a Dalek fitted with a cutting device. This is featured during the scene where the Daleks are attempting to cut through a jammed door in order to gain access to the escaped prisoners.

This appendage comprised of a long thin tube surrounded by two silver spheres and a shallow curved disc positioned a little way up the shaft, out of reach of the sparks and flames.

The door-cutting appendage mentioned above was also written into the same scene in the first Dalek movie. In this case, a real oxyacetylene torch appears to have been used. It is mounted on a strange-looking Dalek 'arm' that protrudes from the arm box.

This has to be the ugliest Dalek modification of all time. The arm appears to be flexible in order to allow the operator to move the cutting torch into position against the jammed door. It fits onto the Dalek using bits of steel tube, and what appears to be silvered cloth and duct tape!

The two Dalek movies also saw some of the Daleks appear with an appendage other than a plunger. In this case, it was a flat metal claw.

The addition of the claw allowed the Daleks to interact with the 'live' actors. For example, one of the Daleks in the first movie is able to remove the essential from the Doctor's pocket by grabbing it with the claw. In the second movie, a Dalek is able to work various switches.

Some of the claws in both movies appear to be static props with no means of being operated. Others have a clever spring mechanism which allows them to re-open, once closed.

The claw on the right appears briefly in the second movie. Blink and you'll miss it. It also appears in a number of publicity shots. Why this unique claw was fitted is a mystery. It is possible that the script required a working claw, for a scene that was never used. This Dalek with its unusual claw also sports a TV-style Dalek gun, with octagons. The only one of this kind ever to appear in a Dalek film.

The next odd appendage is seen in The Chase. It is a seismic detector that the Daleks use to try and locate the TARDIS when it is buried under desert sands.

This is an unusual item with a dial face and gimbles, which allow a swinging motion that suggests that the device is actually working. Of all the oddball appendages from this era, the seismic detector is the most convincing. Dalek builders have even gone to the trouble of working out the dimensions of this device so that good replicas can be constructed.

Also from The Chase is the Dalek electrode unit. This dish-like attachment is used to open electronic locks... in some unspecified way. Of all the attachments fitted over the years, this is by far the biggest, having more in common with the antenna dishes that were fitted to the rear of the Daleks in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, than a plunger.

At this stage, all the appendages which make use of the telescopic arm, make use of all three sections. Some Daleks were to lose the third (innermost) stage of the arm later, during the 1970s and 1980s.

In The Daleks' Master Plan, we see the gun replaced by a pyro-flame burner on three Dalek props. These burners are required for the plot, where the Daleks burn their way through a tangled jungle environment. The burners are of a simple design, being a plain steel tube mounted at the end of the arm.

The pyro-flame attachments actually did work. They can be seen igniting during one of the surviving scenes. What health-and-safety issues these attachments caused for the Dalek operators (sharing the cramped space inside the Dalek with a flammable gas cylinder) is not known.

In the first Patrick Troughton story Power Of The Daleks, we see an assembly line where Dalek casings are being manufactured and filled with organic 'Dalek' content. The script required that a Dalek should be able to scoop up the exposed embryonic Dalek creatures and add them to the casings.

This was done using a sieve attachment that was a direct replacement for the plunger at the end of the three-stage telescopic arm.

In the 1970s...

In Planet Of The Daleks, we see a Dalek fitted with an alternative to the traditional black plunger. Once again, a Dalek was required to cut through a steel door. In this instance, the cutting device appears to have been made out of the tip of a large soldering iron or similar appliance. The door that is being cut through is made of polystyrene, so the heat from the tip of the cutter does an excellent job of melting it away.

More door cutting and digging goes on in Destiny Of The Daleks, though there is no evidence that the tools were attached directly to the Daleks!

In the 1980s...

The final Dalek story from the 1980s, Remembrance Of The Daleks, sees the traditional plunger design being updated for the Imperial Daleks. While the Renegade Daleks retained the familiar black rubber design (of the kind widely available in the 80s), we see a new plastic construction made for the Imperials and painted gold/bronze.

This new plunger had a conical outer shape, with a more standard, rounded inner. The thick lip around the edge had a slot cut into it. This was used in one scene to operate a piece of equipment on the Dalek shuttlecraft.

2005 to present...

The trend for 'plungers that aren't plungers' continued with the redesign of the Dalek for the 2005 season. Like the Imperial plunger, this new version was also made from several plastic parts. This time the pieces were off-the-shelf model components, sourced from EMA Model Supplies.

The traditional black colour was retained. The whole assembly was also re-created in CGI for scenes where the plunger was required to flex and cover a victim's face. Later duplicates of this plunger were manufactured using a special 3D-printing process.

In The Parting Of The Ways, the last episode from the opening 2005 season, we see the introduction of yet another cutting device. This time, the cutting flame has been surrounded by a claw-like assembly.

The photo (left) shows the claw without the cutting piece fitted. The hole where the cutter is fitted, in the front-centre of the main ball, is just visible. The purpose of the claws is unclear and the whole assembly is only shown on screen for a very brief moment. This attachment as been successfully duplicated by enthusiastic New Series Dalek builders. Check out this example.

Also seen in The Parting Of The Ways is this completely unexplained Dalek appendage. It is one of two variants that appear instead of the plunger on the Daleks seen guarding the Emperor. The first looks like some form of additional weaponry. The second (move your mouse pointer over the photo to reveal) looks like some kind of three-finned cutting device or claw.

The Emperor's guard Daleks are entirely computer-generated, so these appendages have never actually been physically constructed. However, enthusiastic Dalek builders have recently had a go at making these parts in the 'real world'.

As seen in Daleks in Manhattan, this addition to the Daleks' portfolio of appendages is some kind of syringe. The script requires Dalek Jast to inject something into Dalek Sec's casing during the human/Dalek experiment.

This simple prop is fitted to the end of the standard three-stage arm and appears to be made of various metal and plastic parts. It also includes a glass or clear plastic section, filled with green liquid. The 'needle' part looks very much like the nozzle from a tube of glue!

Season Four of the new series saw the addition of yet another new appendage. This was attached to the Vault Daleks, seen guarding Davros

This claw had eight separate pincers, each with a profile which is reminiscent of the classic Movie Dalek claw. The shape suggests that the pincers should move in and out, in order to grip objects etc. The actual prop is most likely a fixed object as it is never seen in operation during the two episodes in which it appears.

2010 to present...

The re-designed Daleks have a sucker attachment which is much more traditional than that seen on the earlier, 'New Series Daleks'. The shape and size are similar to that of an original 60s plungers, with some added rib details to make them more visually interesting. These plungers are also made from rubber.

This was a practical consideration as it was found that the earlier plastic plungers were very fragile and often snapped off the arm.

The arm itself was reduced to a simplified two-piece assembly. Additional groove detailing was added to the second stage, behind the plunger.

2019 to 2022...

In the 2019 story Resolution, the Dalek casing was rebuilt by the Dalek creature from parts sourced on Earth. The plunger was replaced by a five fingered claw which is shown to partially open during the episode. The claw appears to be a slightly modified ball grabber arm from a HuiNa 592/593/571 model excavator. The arms were available to buy as a separate, spare parts and were already motorised, making them a quick, simple and effective solution.

The same style of claw was seen again in the New Year's Day specials in 2021 and 2022, (Revolution Of The Daleks and Eve Of The Daleks). In one scene from 'Revoluition', featuring a Security Dalek, the five fingered claw sprays gas from the tip. 

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