How the evil Doctor Who villain ended up in the Assembly Rooms in Wick, after the show became an immediate hit on the BBC
They are renowned as some of science fiction’s most feared villains, and have struck terror into the hearts of civilisations across the universe during more than 50 years on Doctor Who.
But it was upon a visit to the Highlands in the 1960s that the Daleks created a scare that still haunts those who witnessed the unlikely “invasion”.
Doctor Who, which had only just begun its decades-long run as one of the nation’s top TV shows, had been an immediate hit in the far north and was the talk of schoolyards in Wick and Thurso.
It was with this in mind that engineers at the Dounreay nuclear plant, outside Thurso, decided to craft a “special guest” to attend a party for employees’ children at the Assembly Rooms in Wick.
Hundreds of giddy youngsters packed into the venue, with speculation rife as to who the mystery attendee could be.
The proud brains behind the project expected the crowd to react with excitement to having a supposed TV sensation in their midst, as they pushed a home-made Dalek through a set of doors and into the fray.
However, one of the youngsters has now explained the appearance of the Planet Skaro native proved to be something of a misjudgment – as it sent scores of shrieking children stampeding from the hall in abject horror.
Retired police officer Robert Sutherland grew up in the Murchison Street in Wick and recounted the ordeal as he discussed his years as part of an oral history project documenting the area’s past.
Mr Sutherland, who spent 31 years in the force, said: “I remember the first episode of Doctor Who. It was brilliant and at school it was all we could talk about. The news was full of it, and kids were just fascinated by it.
“The Daleks were horrible and evil and all the rest of it. My dad worked at Dounreay at the time and every year there was a party for all the workers’ kids.
“I must have been about six, and there were hundreds of other kids in the big main hall there as Dounreay had announced there would be a special guest.
“Well, the double doors opened at the end of the hall and what comes in but a Dalek.
“Dounreay had built a Dalek. It turned out they had got it wrong, because all these kids started screaming and running and some of them were wetting themselves, they were that scared.”
Mr Sutherland said that Dounreay chiefs later accepted they had “made a mistake” in thinking that the sight of a Nazi-inspired killing machine, hell-bent on the extermination of all other races, would delight local children.
However, the retired policeman added: “It was a really major mistake, but it was a brilliant mistake. It was excellent.”
The home-made alien remained at Dounreay for years afterwards and Mr Sutherland was reacquainted with it when he went there to work aged 17.
The 64-year-old was taking part in the Wick Voices project, which has immortalised the memories of scores of Caithness residents.
The Wick Society has interviewed scores of people including various local luminaries for the programme.
The collection can be accessed at wickheritage.org/voices