Dalek autopsy

The Dome Lights

The dome lights are an essential part of the Dalek. On-screen, they help the viewer to see which Dalek is speaking as the bulbs flash on and off. In the first Dalek movie, there are scenes (shot at the start of production) where the dome lights simply flash on and off at a steady pace. It was only later that the production crew realized that the lights play an important role, replacing lip movement. Some of the Dalek dialogue was subsequently dubbed onto the soundtrack to match the flashes of the lights. It is therefore quite stilted, at times.

In the 1960s...

The dome lights on the first TV Daleks resemble table-tennis balls, with small collars around the base. It is difficult to know if this is what they actually are, or if they are some sort of obsolete 12v bulb which simply looks like a ping-pong ball.

Most builders of early TV-style Daleks now opt for table-tennis balls as the raw materials for creating this look. The base surround can be made from plastic tubing, though they are in fact slightly tapered on the original props. A hole is cut in the bottom of each ball to allow it to fit over a small 12v bulb or LED. The bulb holder is hidden inside the base surround.

Dome lights are one of the most variable features of Dalek design. There have been several different variations fitted to Daleks over the years.

The picture shows an example of a later 1960s domelight. These replaced the original versions detailed above. They are a yellow/orange in colour and sometimes have a lighter, wider base plate. Their specific origins of manufacture have been lost, though it is suggested that they might be made from plastic eggcups or similar.

Builders who wish to emulate this style of domelight have to be resourceful. They can be made from scratch using fibreglass and a suitable mould.
Another successful method is to use the tops from roll-on deodorants if tops of the right size and shape can be found.

The dome lights on the movie props were simply plastic drinks tumblers turned upside down and fitted over a circular base that held the bulb in position.

They are coloured amber-red in the first movie, while blue is the colour of choice in the second film. However, the (gold) Dalek saucer commander sports a unique pair of yellow-tinted dome lights.

These tumblers are very hard to find these days. Some Dalek builders who have been lucky enough to find some (in a junk shop or at a car boot sale) or have successfully produced resin cast replicas. These reproduce the outside details almost exactly and can be colour tinted to create a very convincing look. The picture (left) shows just how good these resin replicas can look.

In the 1970s...

By the 1970s the Daleks' domes had been completely refurbished and given new-style dome lights. These were mainly identifiable automotive light lenses designed for sidelights and indicators.

This transition to off-the-shelf parts was probably the most mundane modification to the Dalek design - the replacement of the 'eggcup' dome lights with recognisable 'Earth' technology. These lenses are a familiar sight on Land Rovers, Minis and other similar cars from that era.

A number of different styles were used, in both clear and amber versions. The early versions (illustrated) were pointier in design than the later versions. These early style lenses are still available if you search around. They were produced by a company called Wipac. By the 1980s, the style of lens used on the Daleks was pretty much identical to those used today on Land Rover Defenders.

Perhaps the oddest Dalek dome lights ever fitted are the version used on the Supreme Dalek in the story, Planet Of The Daleks. This retired movie prop was loaned to the BBC by Dalek creator Terry Nation. It underwent a refurbishment and, among other things, was given a new set of dome lights.

These dome lights were simply jam jars, complete with lids, turned upside down and screwed into position. Twisting the jars released them from the fixed lids allowing access to the bulbs. Coloured lighting gel or acetate film was wrapped around the inside of each jar as a nod to a desperately needed sci-fi look.

In the 1980s...

The Imperial Daleks from Remembrance Of The Daleks sported a brand-new domelight design. The retooled Imperial domes were given new dome lights that were a custom-made item, rather than being recognizably off-the-shelf parts, like the lenses from the 1970s and previous versions from the 1980s.

The revamped dome lights were made from various plastic components distributed by a company called EMA. The upper 'domed' part is, for example, a 'dished head' from their catalogue. The light bulb is hidden inside a hole, cut into the centre of a piece of thick acrylic sheet (Perspex). When the bulb is illuminated, it lights up the outside edge of the acrylic disk, giving a dramatic effect.

Imperial Dalek builders often use whatever plastic bits and pieces they can find, in order to replicate these dome lights. This is a cheaper option than purchasing the parts from EMA. If money is no object, then the parts are listed in the Imperial Dalek plans and available from the EMA website and catalogue.

2005 to present...

When Mike Tucker and his team revised the Dalek design for the Daleks' return in 2005, the New Series Dalek was given totally new dome lights. These dome lights pay homage to the original Daleks from the 1960s by borrowing design elements. They have the internal round bulb from the early Daleks, plus the tall, elongated look of the movie Dalek dome lights.

The 'cage' assembly that surrounds the lens is a custom-made part - originally aluminium, then resin or 3D printed on later builds. Dalek builders who wish to re-create these cages often use MDF or plastic. The six basic parts are made with a jigsaw and hole cutters, assembled and painted. Cages can also be cast, using an RTV rubber mould and a resin/aluminium powder mix. Click here for a photo of light cages made using this method.

Inside the cage is a polycarbonate lens produced by a company called Moflash. These lenses are no longer available, though Moflash still holds some old stock, which they sell for a vastly inflated price (compared to the original 2005 price). They were discontinued as beacon lenses in spring, 2010 and replaced with an alternative design. Click on the lens in the picture to see how the lenses look before the cage is added.

The Dalek Supreme seen in the 2008 series has a domelight design which is a slight variation on the version used on the standard 'new series' Daleks. The inner lens is the same Moflash unit but the outer 'cage' only has three uprights and sports a slightly more complicated base section. Screw heads are evident in the top of the upper ring.

This Dalek is unique in having a total of three dome lights, two located normally and one situated rear/centre. Each light cage sits on top of a small red plinth, giving the lights extra presence, making the Dalek appear taller.

2010 to present...

The 2010 Daleks have had almost every design element radically changed. One exception is the type of lens used as the dome lights. These remain the same Moflash lenses. Stocks of these lenses must have been purchased just before they were discontinued (see above).

The lenses protrude through raised plinths which are part of the dome, hiding the wide base of the lens. The 'cage' assembly, seen on the previous Daleks has been removed, leaving the lenses in plain view. No screws, bolts or fixings are obvious from the outside.

2019 to 2021...

The Recognisance Dalek seen in the 2019 special 'Resolution' featured dome lights which had undergone a radical re-design. This is understandable, given that the Dalek casing is meant to be manufactured from parts found on planet Earth.

A cleaner version of this new design was also seen in Revolution Of The Daleks, the New Year's Day Special, 2021. The cages/surrounds appear to be custom 3D printed items. They look much lighter and are more intricate than those seen previously. The clear lens inside looks to be the new style of Moflash beacon lens which replaced the discontinued versions seen on the bronze 2005 design Daleks. The lenses are still commercially available from Moflash.

Replicating Movie Beakers:

Below, we follow the process of taking a mould from a very rare, original 1960s drinks beaker, as used on the Dalek props in both Dalek movies. These beakers are almost impossible to find these days, so making copies is the only cost-effective way of ensuring absolute accuracy when building a movie Dalek. The beakers were tinted amber/red, blue and (one set) yellow in the movies. These colours can be reproduced by adding pigment to the resin when casting...

This pair of original movie-style beakers were purchased from a collector in Canada at considerable cost. They are made from translucent yellow plastic, exactly like the ones on the saucer commander in the second movie.

They are shiny and in a scuff-free condition, making them ideal for moulding. The aim was to try and replicate a beaker as accurately as possible, both inside and out so that a copy is pretty much indistinguishable from the original. This was done by creating a mould using RTV silicone rubber.

The beaker was stuck down onto a Perspex base using Plasticene. A good seal was essential so that no liquid rubber could escape into the void on the inside of the beaker. The seal also had to be strong enough to prevent the beaker floating, once the RTV was poured.

Lego walls were built up around the beaker, to about three layers above its height. Extra Plasticine was also added around the base of the Lego, just in case, the RTV was tempted to leak out, around the joint with the Perspex. Lego is great for this sort of thing, but if the bricks are old, the liquid rubber can leech through the joints in the brickwork.

The RTV silicone rubber was activated using an appropriate catalyst. Once thoroughly mixed, it was time to remove all the air bubbles from the rubber, using a vacuum pump and homemade degassing chamber. De-gassing ensures that the liquid pours into the mould evenly and without the risk of tiny pockets of air remaining and causing problems on the surface of the cast part, later on.

With the material 'boiled' and all the air removed, the liquid RTV was poured into the mould and left to settle. The RTV takes several hours to cure completely, so the mould was left in a warm, well-ventilated area, overnight.

Once the RTV was completely cured, the mould was flipped over and removed from the baseboard. Three more layers of Lego bricks were then added to the mould wall, in order to build it up high enough for it to form a good, thick base for the next part of the mould.

Once the bricks were in place, a second batch of RTV silicone was mixed, with catalyst added. It was then de-gassed using the vacuum pump and de-gassing chamber, in exactly the same way as the first mould section. The RTV was then carefully poured into the open mould until is was level with the top of the Lego bricks. This was then left to cure overnight, as was done previously.

When the second mould section was cured, the two parts were removed from the Lego outer mould and then pulled apart. Petroleum jelly had been used as a release agent prior to moulding, so they separated without any problems. There was a bit of tidying up to do on the outside, to remove the fluffy bits that had leeched in between the Lego bricks, but other than that, the mould was good to go.

Note the small groove in the side of the inner mould section. This isn't an error, as such. There really is a little ridge of plastic on the inside of both original beakers, so this must have been present in the original injection mould.

Once the mould sections were cured and rested for a few days, a batch of casting resin was pigmented blue, activated with catalyst, de-gassed in the vacuum chamber and then poured into the mould. Enough resin was pigmented to make two beakers, but only half of it was activated with catalyst.

The other half was held back for the second beaker. Tinting enough resin for two beakers ensures that the colour of the pair matches perfectly, with no variations due to mixing/tinting issues. The resin sets reasonably quickly, compared to the RTV and de-moulding was possible after only a few hours.

Finally, we see a finished casting (in blue), shown next to the original plastic beaker (in amber). It is very difficult to tell them apart in the photo and also in real life.

The thickness of the material is identical and the texture and weight of the cast is very similar to that of the original. Batches of reproduction beakers can now be made up reasonably quickly in any choice of colour. The polyurethane-based casting resin that was used is particularly strong, so there is a reduced risk of shattering, should the beakers be mishandled. This was always a problem when standard polyester casting resin was used for such projects.

For more details on this process, members should check out the Casting Movie Beakers topic, on the Project Dalek Forum.

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