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Icons of design: the Dalek

2010 September 1

Yesterday, author Warren Ellis announced another of his “remake/remodel” design challenges and, despite the fact that I have the most limited acquaintance with the subject matter, I was inspired to scribble up my own concept art for a thirteenth Doctor Who.

It was much fun, and I’m rather especially pleased with my idea of combining the two iconic images of the Doctor Who world which even I immediately recognize. So far at least, no one has told me that I’m not the first to think of this, so I’m enjoying a modest amount of pride at this warped little notion.

Part of it sprang from a simple desire to take the opportunity to draw a Dalek, so long as I was taking the opportunity to draw Doctor Who “stuff” for what may be the only time in my life. Because hey, who doesn’t love the Daleks? As noted, even I’m aware of the extermination-obsessed robot salt shakers without having ever seen an episode of the series.

In fact, it’s occured to me that the Dalek is a fine example of an iconic visual design, at least per the criteria I explored earlier this summer. It’s pretty unique highly distinctive: there’s really nothing else that looks quite like a Dalek. It’s gotten wide exposure, first appearing in a nationally-broadcast television series. It represents more than just itself, having become an emblem for not only Doctor Who, but science fiction nerditry and even modern British culture generally.

And, as designs go, the Dalek is really, really consistent. The details have, I think, been tweaked a bit over the course of 47 years (thank you Wikipedia), but on something as bizarre as the Dalek, that doesn’t really change the overall impression. Moreover, the Dalek is remarkably consistent for the design of a “live,” ambulatory character, because so far as I can tell, they don’t really move. The shape of the Dalek is always basically the same in every appearance, unaffected by changes of posture or expression because neither concept applies.

The Dalek is also, as iconic visuals go, a good demonstration of how icons are popularly embraced. Just run an image search on “Dalek” for example. Apparently they have even been featured on a postage stamp. And, if the Dalek is definitely not a simple design, it does occur to me that from the perspective of people making it their own, it does at least have the virtue of being cheap: one can make a perfectly serviceable Dalek out of cardboard and random household objects, because that’s probably about all that the BBC itself could afford in originally constructing the things.

Well done, Raymond Cusick.

One Response
  1. September 1, 2010

    “Pretty unique”? ;)

    Interesting idea, especially given the Doctor’s almost out-of-character hatred for the Daleks. Makes me immediately jump to half a dozen story ideas about WHY the TARDIS would resemble a Dalek, but clearly be far too large to actually blend in as one.

    That tats and bald head are an interesting way to go for the Doctor himself, too. I could see a lot of Who fans getting behind the tats especially, if they said something clever in Gallifreyan.

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