The BBC originally assigned the task to Ridley Scott but he couldn’t commit to the project.
“There’s a world of difference between film and TV as any cameraman will tell you, and Ridley Scott was only going to do the studio work, but when Verity Lambert, the producer, heard this she was a bit put out because of continuity. She thought it would be wiser to have the same designer, but Ridley wasn’t free to do any of the one’s after that,” Cusick said in an interview with Television Heaven.
It’s widely believed that Cusick was inspired by a peeper pot but he set the record straight in the Doctor Who Confidential for Season 4 Episode 12 “Friends and Foe.” The pepper pot was simply a means for him demonstrate how the Daleks move to the special effects expert, Bill Roberts.
“Ever since then people say I was inspired by a pepper pot – but it could have been the salt pot I picked up,” he joked. The Dalek’s appearance was actually a matter of ergonomics.
“When I’m asked what I was inspired by I suppose it was really a system of logic because I realised that you’ve got to have an operator to operate them,” Cusick explained. “If you had anything mechanical, 10 to one on the take it would go wrong, so you’ve got a human being in there who would be absolutely totally reliable… I then thought ‘Well, the operator’s got to sit down’, [so I] drew a seat, ergonomic height, 18in, got the operator down, and then drew round him. That’s how the basic shape appeared.”
Not all his concepts were feasible. The Dalek spheres were intended to light up randomly. They would have been powered by four car batteries under the operator seat but it was deemed too expensive. I can’t think of a better tribute than making this reality, if you’re listening BBC.
Ultimately, the inhuman design and voice created a villain that children would not soon forget.
Cusick recalled, “Before rehearsals started the cast and other members brought their children along and they were shown the Daleks and talked to the Dalek Operators, but then when rehearsals started the Operators got into the Daleks and started moving, and at that point all the children screamed and ran out of the studio!”
The fear factor has been dialed back over time, in part because of their ubiquitous nature. They’ve even appeared across the pond. Below are just some of the Dalek cameos over the years.