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The Dalek Saucer Commander Was Not Red


Once upon a time, there was no internet. I know, you probably don't believe me, but it's true.

Before this life-saving and invaluable resource of information existed, it was a bit harder for people to disseminate information, look up esoteric facts about Daleks, and share ideas on the dialogue of any given episode of Doctor Who.

Therefore, when something was printed in a Book, or better still on a Fact Sheet, and you couldn't verify it for yourself, then what else could you do but believe it?

Stuart Evans made fantastic, wonderful model kits. These were accompanied by a less fantastic and not-so-wonderful Fact Sheet all about the Dalek props. It's easy to mock now that we have instant access to bucket loads of digital images online, plus all the DVDs just an arm's length away. But I can shock you now by revealing that this Fact Sheet wasn't entirely accurate...

I'm not going to list all the things wrong with it, but instead, I'd just like to put across one point. Stuart Evans said that the saucer commander was not painted black and silver as it would appear on our (monochrome) TV screens. He said the black was in fact dark red.

The suggested reason for this is that the Dalek had red primer on certain of its skirt panels, on the front of the gunboxes, and on the dome.

Where did this idea come from?

No-one knows exactly what drove Stuart Evans to put this on paper. Perhaps it was something Bill Roberts said in passing, as he and Stuart chatted around the Shawcraft workshops. Perhaps he's seen a hint of red paint under the other layers on a skirt panel of a prop pupporting to be the saucer commander from this episode? Or perhaps it was a joke remark thrown in for the hell of it just to cause confusion and annoyance amongst mere mortals?

So what evidence is there that this Dalek might have red stripes?

  • Fact 1 : In the Dr Who and the Daleks AARU film made after The Dalek Invasion of Earth, there was a Red Dalek subordinate to the leader Black Dalek.
  • Fact 2 : There are no known colour images of the saucer commander to disprove it being red.
  • Fact 3: The dome of the saucer commander does not seem to be the blackest of blacks, and therefore may suggest it could be another dark colour which just appears black-ish on TV.

The film colour schemes are an interesting point, but a red Dalek called Zeg appears in TV21 comics before the films, and the comic makers would have had no access to the workshops or studio during filming. So to suggest the film got the idea of a red Dalek from somewhere would mean the comic makers could have got the idea from the same place. As it couldn't have been the studio, it must have been their imaginations. The appearance of one red Dalek in a film does not prove there was another before it on TV. And what's more, the second film has a Gold Dalek, which wouldn't be seen on TV for another decade. So what does that prove? Nothing.

If the red colour is supposed to be accounted for as undercoat (also known as primer) then why would only alternate panels be masked off and painted? This is not a half-way painting job, this is a deliberate colour scheme. Why just use red primer and stop there, if the Dalek was going to end up totally black anyway? If you've masked it to prime it, you may as wall finish the black whilst it's masked.

Furthermore, red primer would have been less common than grey. If you were leaving something in a half-painted primer stage to create another rank of Dalek, it would be far more likely to be grey than red, when red wouldn't have shown up on screen anyway.

I have spoken to several painters and they have said that if they were undercoating black, they wouldn't chose red in case it tinted the black on top. Grey is the logical neutral choice under black.

So finally to the question of the "blackness" of the black of the saucer commander. On the right you will see a graphic. It has four square sections on it. I would like you to tell me which are true black colours as seen on another Dalek, and which are actually dark red colours seen in a monochrome image.

Tick tock.

Time's nearly up.

Right, pencils down.

Answer: The top two blocks of "black" are sections of the supposed red paint from the saucer commander. The bottom two are bits of a normal Dalek which are actually painted black. These are taken from the same screen shot, and therefore have the same lighting.

Well, to my eye, the bottom two - the actual black bits - are a lighter shade of grey than the alleged red. The top two are pretty much as black as you like. Don't you think it should be the red that comes out dark grey?

So what about the idea that when the saucer commander becomes painted fully black, his head is then darker than it was before?

Well, two things to point out. Firstly if it did appear darker later then it's not too surprising, given that the first coat of black would have been on top of silver, so it could easily appear darker when the second coat of black went on what was already black.

However, that's assuming the dome really did get a repaint. Did it really become noticably darker later? I present you with two images...

Here we have an image of the prop supposedly before and after its repaint from red to black.

I challenge you to tell me which of these domes is supposedly red, and which is actually black


Left - The Saucer Commander        Right - The Black Dalek

If anything, I'd suggest that the supposedly "red" dome on the left actually looks slightly darker than the one which everyone agrees is black on the right! This just goes to show that you can draw any conclusion you like from what's on screen. Nothing is conclusive.

I believe any differences you may perceive throughout the episodes are due to the changes in studio lighting. It is a fact that they can play all sorts of tricks on the shades of these props. Certain Daleks appear to have hemis which are darker than their skirts, but as they move around the set, they become lighter again.

Examine this image on the right of the Dalek which everyone agrees is black. Aren't all the black parts of its eye apparently darker than the dome? Wouldn't that suggest that this dome could be a something other than black? If so, then using the same argument that the saucer commander is red, the Black Dalek must actually be red too! Except it's not, because we have colour photos of it. It is black.

I believe that the matt black paint on the dome diffuses the light in such a way that it appears more grey than black. Any matt texture will have less absorbtion and therefore appear slightly lighter in colour. I think that this is case right through the story including in its saucer commander guise.

The black of the Black Dalek's body work never looks as dark as its own eye-ball, and yet no-one ever argues about the colour of the Black Dalek. Presumably because of the colour photos, and the fact that the script does refer to it as the "the black Dalek". However when there's the tiniest bit of room to create a conspiracy theory, people will invent tales of red primer.

Worth mentioning is the fact that the black Dalek has a large scratch on the dome in episode five. The scratch reveals silver underneath. So either this scratch is deep enough to go through two coats of paint, or there is only one coat - and it's black.

Various photos of this Dalek show dark paint accidentically smeared on hemis, or on the collars... and yet in the colour photo of this prop, the only sloppy paint work is black. There are no accidental splashes of red anywhere to be seen.

Also the Rolykins Daleks, being direct merchandise of the TV show, where only ever silver and black. The red one didn't appear until after the films, so what evidence is there that anyone saw a red Dalek on set? None of the cast or crew in any commentary or interview talk about "that stripey red one". Wouldn't it have been quite noticable?

If this whole thing isn't just a figment of someone's imagination, then it seems plausible to me that when someone such as the late great Bill Roberts had been trying to recall previous colour schemes of second-in-command Daleks, he mistakenly recalled the red prop from the first film, instead of the saucer commander on TV.

This hazy memory could be where such a myth begins and it has been repeated and defended without evidence ever since.

 

 
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