An excerpt from Doctor Who: The Monster Files
Behind the Scenes
The introduction of the Spider-Daleks remains one of the most divisive choices made by the American series. After several years of negotiation with the Nation estate over licensing the use of the Daleks in the new series, FOX finally bought the rights to the Daleks outright in early 1999. Early plans for season 4 would have introduced the Daleks as the primary recurring antagonists. However, budget difficulties forced them to delay the introduction of the Daleks until mid-season. When the “trapped on Earth” arc led to a ratings slump, however, the second half of season four was retooled, and the Dalek reveal was pushed back even farther, to the season finale. When the decision was made to cancel the series, the original finale, which called for a dozen expensive Dalek props and two new spaceship sets was scrapped in favor of the much cheaper Nothing at the End of the Lane (Then called Dispossessed).
The original season 4 concept was to have unfolded similarly to the aired version up through the mid-season finale. In place of A Time To Reap, a two-part adventure was to have aired featuring the return of Varnax. Varnax was to reveal that he had not been the Doctor’s enemy during the Time War, but rather his ally, until he was manipulated into betraying the Time Lords by their true enemy, the Daleks. The Morthrai would be revealed as a Dalek slave race, sent to prepare the way for their masters. Varnax was to have redeemed himself in an act of self-sacrifice to save the Doctor and delay the Dalek invasion. Over the second half of the season, the Doctor and UNIT would defend against Dalek advance forces, culminating in a full invasion. At the end of the season, the Doctor would regain freedom of space and time by refitting Varnax’s ship, the Jonah, into a new TARDIS. The second version of the season finale was similar, with a more compressed timeline. Several elements of this draft eventually made it into the Sci-Fi channel series.
After the deal was made to transfer the series to the Sci-Fi Channel, the Daleks would be revisited mid-season. There was some confusion over whether the arrangement negotiated between FOX and the Nation estate covered the Ray Cusick Dalek designs (These concerns appear to have been ultimately baseless). Further, there was a general belief that modern audiences would have a hard time accepting the unwieldy original design as a serious threat. Thus, a new CG-based design was commissioned. The idea of a spider creature had appeared in several of the competing proposed scripts to The Last Time Lord. Early designs for the new Dalek called for a fully organic creature, but the resources needed to render such designs were deemed too expensive (This design would later by used by Stargate SG-1 for the Reetou after their original model was also deemed too expensive to animate). Later proposals included a fully “liquid metal” Dalek, and a mechanical version intended to “transform” from the classic style. The final design incorporates elements of both proposals, with “liquid metal” legs attached to a core that is clearly derived from the Cusick design. The transparent dome and visible brain within are an homage to Sci-Fi Horror films of the 1950s.
Although the “transformation” concept was dropped, references to it remain in the script to Children of War. Many interpret these references to indicates that story is intended as a direct sequel to The Dead Planet. Daleks would not appear in their original form until 2003’s Daleks vs. Cybermen.