I was woken up at about 6.30 a.m. by a hammering on my door.
“Come in Alun,” I shouted. I dressed and went downstairs to find him in an agitated state.
“We’re being invaded by Daleks, Jed,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked, it sounded unlikely.
“Yes Jed, I’ve just spoken to the boatman, and he says that the Daleks are coming here, to our little island.”
I could see that this was going to be one of ‘those’ conversations. “I think the boatman might be pulling your leg, the Daleks aren’t real, they’re made up, pretend.”
“Don’t be a fool Jed, I know that. I mean that the Daleks are coming to this island to be filmed, they’re recording here.”
“What, they’re shooting Doctor Who here, that’s fantastic!” Doctor Who is my favourite programme, I have frequent fantasies involving Karen Gillam.
“Not Doctor Who Jed, the Daleks have been banished from Doctor Who, Stephen Moffat doesn’t like them. They’ve got their own series, Dalek Island.”
“Some ‘nice’ Daleks try to settle on Earth but aren’t trusted and are banished to a remote island.”
“It sounds an interesting idea.”
“No it doesn’t Jed, it’s a terrible idea. The Daleks could never settle peacefully, they’re evil by nature Jed. They have death rays instead of hands, and those awful sink plungers that get in your face Jed. But that’s beside the point, they’re shooting an entire series here, 13 episodes, that’ll take anything from six to nine months to film. And it won’t just be Daleks Jed, there’ll be make up artists, costume designers, prop men, stunt men, actors, actresses, extras, extresses, producers, directors, cameramen, soundmen, runners, jumpers, standing stillers.”
“Where on earth are they all going to stay?”
“The empty house Jed. The Council have let them have the empty house. There’s nothing we can do, I’ve checked.” It wasn’t at all clear how he’d checked at 6.30 in the morning.
“God I hope it’s a ratings failure Jed, if it’s recommissioned our peaceful little island will become a permanent film set. We won’t watch it Jed, keep the viewing figures down, I’ll tell the boatman not to watch it either.”
Alun’s story proved true, the Daleks and their entourage started arriving later that day, not on the boatman’s afternoon run, no, they had an entire boat to themselves, dozens of people, and it moored in a permanent position near the empty house.
The next morning I was woken early by a hammering on my door.
“They want to use us as extras Jed,” Alun said, “£20 a day plus meals.”
“£20 a day!” I said, astonished, “I never knew there was so much money in acting.”
We walked down to the empty house, which had become the very opposite of empty. There were dozens of people milling around trying to look busy. They were very good at it, if you didn’t know they were a film crew you’d think they were very busy indeed.
“It’s the locals,” somebody shouted, though how they could tell us from the rest of the mob wasn’t clear, and we were collected and shunted off to make up.
“Who are we playing?” I asked the make-up girl.
“You’re playing the residents of an isolated island,” the girl said.
“We won’t need make-up in that case,” I said, “we came dressed for the part.” In spite of my protestations, however, both Alun and I spent nearly two hours being made up. We then spent another four hours being filmed standing around on a hillside for background shots. None of the shots were every used, but I’m told that’s normal, not a reflection on our performance.
We were starving hungry by this time so Alun didn’t even complain when he found out we’d be eating lunch inside a big marquee with the rest of the supporting mob.
We sat next to an elderly man in a polo shirt.
“What do you do?” I asked, feeling the need to make conversation.
He replied in a perfect Dalek voice. “I AM THE VOICE OF THE DALEKS,” he said.
“Wow, that’s fantastic,” I was genuinely delighted, it was the perfect impersonation of a Dalek, no need for any special effects or anything. “I must have hear you on screen a hundred times but never knew what you looked like. Which Daleks have you played.”
“ALL OF THEM,” he said, still in his Dalek voice. “I AM EVERY DALEK, HERE, THIS IS MY DALEK SETH, AND MY DALEK FAY AND MY EMPEROR.” He proceeded to do a dozen different Dalek voices, each of which sounded identical to me, though I didn’t like to say.
“That’s amazing, I’d always assumed they did them electronically,” I said. “So how do you do the voice, I’ve tried to impersonate it but it’s difficult to do right.”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” he daleked.
“How do you do it, what do you do to your natural voice to get the Dalek effect.”
There was an awkward silence.
“THIS IS MY NATURAL VOICE.”
There was another awkward silence.
“That must make it difficult getting other acting jobs,” I said.
The actor stared at me coldly for several seconds. “YES,” he said, “IT WAS A LITTLE DIFFICULT. NOT ONE SINGLE DAYS WORK IN THE TWENTY-TWO YEARS BETWEEN THE LAST SYLVESTOR MCCOY AND CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON, BEING TURNED DOWN FOR EVERYTHING I AUDITIONED FOR, EVEN ADVERTS, BEING TOLD THAT PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO BUY WASHING POWDER FROM DALEKS, I SOUND TOO THREATENING.
“I HAD THOUGHT DOCTOR WHO WOULD BE THE MAKING OF ME, BUT BECAUSE MY VOICE BECAME ASSOCIATED WITH THE DALEKS IT BECAME IMPOSSIBLE TO GET ANY OTHER WORK.
“I WENT THROUGH TERRIBLE TIMES, NO MONEY, NO CAREER, MY WIFE LEFT ME, I WAS HOMELESS, DESTITUTE, NOTHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO, LITTLE TO LOOK BACK ON.”
It was strange hearing such a sad tale told in such a menacing metallic voice.
“THEN IT ALL CHANGED. DOCTOR WHO RETURNED WITH A TWO PART DALEK SPECIAL, WHICH WENT DOWN SO WELL THE DALEKS WERE IN EVERY SERIES AFTERWARDS. I HAD STEADY WORK AT LAST, REGULAR DOCTOR WHO CONVENTIONS, INTERVIEWS, EVERYTHING. I EVEN MET ANOTHER WOMAN. THEN SUDDENLY MOFFATT ANNOUNCES HE’S TIRED OF THE DALEKS AND I’M BACK WHERE I STARTED. THANK GOODNESS FOR THIS SERIES, IT COULD BE THE MAKING OF ME. I STILL HOPE TO PLAY LEAR ONE DAY.” I tried to imagine how Lear would sound as a Dalek, but it was such a terrible idea I tried to clear my brain of it.
After lunch there was no filming to do so I left Alun talking to the voice of the Daleks, while I looked around the set.
As I walked around the corner of the empty house, I bumped straight into an actual, real-life Dalek. Wow! My childhood dreams come true.
I went to peer inside and got a shock when a woman stepped out.
“Hello,” she said, “Hope I didn’t frighten you.”
“Not at all,” I lied, “I just didn’t realise that there were women daleks.”
“Oh yes, we’re all women actually, there’s not much room inside, so they use women as we’re smaller. I’m Jane,” she added, extending a hand, “I’ve not seen you before, are you new?”
“No I’ve always been here,” I said. She looked confused. “I’m an islander, I live here.”
“Wow, you live on this island, that’s so amazing. It’s beautiful, so quiet.” She paused for a moment contemplating a lifetime of island living. “It must be really boring though, what do you do all day.”
“I’m a writer,” I said, “I write New York detective novels.”
“Wow, I’d love to read them,” she said. “Why don’t I come up to your house tonight after dinner, you can show me your books.”
I started to describe the unofficial lending library organised by the boatman, but it was clear from her face that she was more interested in the social aspect of reading than in the books themselves.
“That would be delightful,” I said, “about eight?”
That night Jane called round only a few minutes later than scheduled. She brought a bottle of wine with her, proper red wine, not the home made turnip variety that Alun made.
I showed her my books and she showed polite interest, without reading more than a few words. Instead we talked, about living on the island, writing about New York, about being a Dalek. And then, without a word of explanation, she kissed me. It was quite extraordinary and she ended up staying the night. Sex with a Dalek proved almost entirely unlike what I’d imagined.
I went down to the empty house most days after that, to talk to the crew, see Jane and there would be occasional jobs and money. My normal routine went to the winds and took flight, it was lucky I was between novels and could take a break before starting my next book.
Every night Jane would call round and stay over. We became very close, she even let me see inside her Dalek. I got to play with the controls and everything.
All too soon though the six month shoot was over. I spent an entire day and night saying goodbye to Jane, who was moving back to the mainland where she taught aerobics when she was between acting jobs.
I took her down to Refrigerator Bay to admire the abandoned fridges and we had fun searching for the elusive Refrigerator Birds, though there were none to be seen.
I kissed her farewell and she stepped onto the boat.
Our relationship wasn’t over, but it was on hold. If the series was recommissioned she would be back in six months and we would pick up the relationship from there.
I watched the first episode round Alun’s house. The boatman was with us, as we were trying to do our bit for the viewing figures. The boatman even brought some proper wine, as he’d heard about Alun’s home made turnip concoction.
The show was awful, as unpalatable as a glass of Alun’s turnip wine. The Daleks just weren’t sympathetic characters and ultimately an entire show about living on an isolated island proved rather boring. Daleks are basically no fun when they’re not running round threatening to exterminate people.
The rest of the world agreed. I was woken up early one morning by a hammering on my door.
“Show’s cancelled Jed,” Alun shouted up the stairs, “they’re not coming back, the boatman’s just told me.”
The boatman had also brought me a letter from Jane. I can’t divulge its contents as she still owns the copyright, enough to say that she officially cancelled the relationship.
When I walk down to Refrigerator Bay now I wonder whether the Refrigerator birds will ever return, but I also think about that last day with Jane, and wonder if she’ll ever come back. Until she does, all I’m left with is six months of memories and the repeats of Doctor Who. I just wish I knew which of the Daleks she was playing.