How did you get the job of becoming Daleks on Doctor Who?
Barnaby Edwards: It goes way back into the mists of time. Well no, not quite, but we’ve been Dalek-ing for longer than you might think. It all started for us in 1993, when Doctor Who was marking its 30th anniversary. In fact, it began with Nick being a Cyberman.
Nicholas Pegg: That’s right. We were both only a year or two out of drama school. In 1993 I got a call from a chap called Kevin Davies, who was making a documentary for the BBC called 30 Years in the TARDIS. Kevin was recreating classic scenes from old episodes of Doctor Who, and at this point he was looking for some tall people to play Cybermen, coming down the steps in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m six foot three, so someone recommended me to Kevin, and that’s how I ended up being the Cyberleader outside St Paul’s. Happy times.
And then a few days later, Kevin was on the phone again. ‘We’re doing Daleks on Westminster Bridge now. Do you think you can fit inside a Dalek?’ Well, six foot three or not, obviously I wasn’t going to say no, was I? I signed up like a shot! Luckily, I soon discovered that I could squeeze into a Dalek quite comfortably. And, in that same phone call, Kevin asked me if I could suggest any other potential Daleks. That was when I recommended Barnaby, who I’d known since university, and then afterwards at drama school.
‘We’re doing Daleks on Westminster Bridge now. Do you think you can fit inside a Dalek?’ Well, six foot three or not, obviously I wasn’t going to say no, was I?
BE: So there we were, trundling across Westminster Bridge. That was our baptism of fire as Dalek operators. As well as the actual filming, there was a huge photo-call, with Her Majesty’s press pack in attendance, and policemen holding up the traffic over the bridge. It made a lot of the newspapers the next day.
NP: I distinctly remember it was Halloween 1993. We went off to a party later on. And Kate Bush’s album The Red Shoes was released the day after!
BE: Sorry. He’s always like this. Photographic memory, like Barbara Windsor in Carry On Spying. So anyway, over the next couple of weeks, we shot some more Dalek scenes in the studio at Television Centre. We ended up featuring in the documentary quite a bit.
NP: And by the way, I wasn’t just a Dalek and a Cyberman. I was a human being as well. Three different species in one programme!
BE: Oh yes, you were Nick Courtney’s bodyguard, weren’t you?
NP: I was indeed, outside the Army Museum in Chelsea. Wearing shades and a suit. I was shot down by an Auton, which I’m sorry to say resulted in probably the most ridiculous stunt-fall that has ever been shown on national television! What can I say? I was young and eager, but I never claimed to be a stuntman. I plonked myself onto on the pavement like an electrocuted donkey. I haven’t seen it for years, but I cringe at the memory. It’s out on DVD now, so everyone can go and laugh at it!
BE: So that was 30 Years in the TARDIS, and our first taste of Dalek-ing. Fast forward to 2004, and Doctor Who was coming back with Christopher Eccleston. Our old friend Nicholas Briggs had already got the gig doing the Dalek voices, and the production team asked him if he could recommend anyone to operate the single Dalek in that first episode. Briggs remembered that we had both done it before, and he very kindly suggested me.
Lo and behold, BBC Wales got on the phone to my agent, and off I went to shoot Dalek. And then not long afterwards, when it came to the Bad Wolf story and they needed two more Dalek operators, I was able to return that original favour from 1993 and suggest that they get Pegg back on board. And the rest is history!
What was it like filming The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar? Working with multiple Daleks, Capaldi and a huge secret?
NP: The huge secret being the return of Davros, you mean? That’s great – I love it when things are kept secret like that. And it was great to work with Julian Bleach again.
BE: As I’m sure you know, he played Davros the last time around as well. He’s so good, isn’t he? And so patient. He had to spend hours and hours in make-up, having his face put on, and then taken off again afterwards. He was always the first to be picked up in the morning at some ungodly hour to get into make-up, and then he’d be the last to make it back to the hotel at the end of the day. We had a good celebratory drink together on the night he finished.
NP: It really was terrific fun shooting this story. Peter Capaldi is completely lovely to work with. And Michelle Gomez! What can I say? She’s a delight. We had such laughs rehearsing our scenes with Michelle, before we clambered into our Daleks.
BE: Fans sometimes ask, ‘Have you ever met Matt Smith? Have you ever met Peter Capaldi?’ Er… yes, of course we have! Believe it or not, we don’t turn up for work already encased in our Daleks. We all rehearse together first, we have lunch together, we hang out together, just like the rest of the cast.
NP: Hettie MacDonald, who directed this story, is fantastic to work with too. She was the director of Blink, the first episode with the Weeping Angels, which I think everyone agrees is one of the all-time greats. Hettie’s a very, very good director indeed. She has a piercingly clear eye for what’s important in the big picture, but she also works very hard on all the details and nuances within that picture. She really cared about how the Daleks came across. She had very particular and precise notes for us all the way through.
Fans sometimes ask, ‘Have you ever met Matt Smith? Have you ever met Peter Capaldi?’ Er… yes, of course we have!
BE: As for all those multiple Daleks – yes, it’s quite an extravaganza, isn’t it? The way it works is that Nick and I are hired as the two principal Dalek operators, while the rest of the background Daleks are operated by extras. Nick and I are card-carrying actors like the rest of the cast, which is why our names appear in the credits, unlike the extras. So in any given scene, Nick and I will be operating the two busiest foreground Daleks – whichever ones have the trickiest moves, or the most rehearsed interaction with the other members of the cast.
NP: People often ask us, ‘Which Dalek were you in such-and-such an episode?’ and the answer is usually ‘at least a dozen of them, in different scenes!’ We hop from one Dalek to another, depending on the needs of each set-up. On this particular occasion, for all the scenes in the big control room, it was obvious that one of us should operate the Supreme Dalek, because he has a lot of detailed moves and close-ups, so we decided that I would be the Supreme all the way through, which left Barnaby free to be the principal ‘floor’ Dalek in whatever capacity he might be needed for each scene. I think you ended up being at least half a dozen different Daleks just in that control room, didn’t you?
BE: Easily! And we both operated lots of other Daleks on the other sets too. Without giving anything away about the second episode, there’s plenty of corridor work coming up.
Considering every Doctor Who episode ever, what’s your favourite Dalek?
BE: Special Weapons, obviously! Ha ha! Um… I do have a soft spot for the ‘Ironside’ Daleks in Winston Churchill’s bunker from Victory of the Daleks. They were sweet, weren’t they? Such a great idea and a lovely redesign.
NP: I’m very fond of Dalek Sec, who was my Dalek in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. He’s cool. And the Supreme Dalek is a dude. He weighs an absolute ton though! He’s a proper workout for the leg muscles. I came home from the latest shoot with thighs like tree trunks.
You can ‘see’ Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg as the Daleks in Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar currently on BBC iPlayer.
Read part 2 of the interview here.