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Valek the Dalek: the tale of a champion

Zoe Stojanovic-Hill really wanted a sports byline this year.

Valek was probably the fastest Dalek in the world at the time, according to Kerrie Dougherty, former member of the Sydney Uni Science Fiction Association. He wasn’t called Valek then, when he proved himself in what Antony Howe, another former SUSFA member, has called the ‘world’s first ever Dalek race’. Back then, nearly fifty years ago, Valek was just a craft project.

He was born in early 1976, just before the race that would make him famous. Two engineering students, Phil Atcliffe and Alan Sherwood, started building Valek over the summer holidays, before Kerrie and Antony started uni and joined SUSFA. His name was initially ‘George’ but, after the Daily Bull misprinted a SUSFA ad about him, they changed it to ‘Valek the Dalek’.

Whereas the engineers were mainly interested in building a machine, Kerrie and Antony were huge Whovians. Kerrie describes herself, now and then, as “short, sweet and to the point” — she is only 148cm tall. Antony says he was a “militant” Whovian, mainly because he protested a few of the ABC’s Who-related broadcasting decisions, but is softly-spoken and slightly whimsical in person.

Valek may have been young, but he was born to race. He had a head for sport — a “durable metal head”, Kerry recalls, that was sturdy enough to fly off mid-action and not break. “That Dalek head did come off a few times over the years,” she says, chuckling. It should be noted that, contrary to popular belief, the head was not a wok, as Antony tells me repeatedly throughout our conversation. “The dome was spun aluminum, it was specially made.”

Like many athletes, Valek was good-looking. A black-and-gold emperor Dalek with a shiny head studded with Mini Minor lights, Valek was comfortable in the public eye. Having said that, at the time of the race Valek had made some questionable fashion choices. “He had polystyrene dots painted with orange-ish paint — it didn’t look very good,” Antony says. Thankfully, it was just a phase: later, he ditched the brightly-hued polystyrene for “high gloss plastic dots”.

But Valek’s best feature was, without a doubt, the tricycle.

Other Daleks were powered by waddling humans, in lieu of the tentacled, brain-like aliens from the show. Valek, in contrast, ran on trike power. The tricycle in question briefly belonged to Kerrie’s little brother, Jeffery, who was about six or seven at the time of the incident. One afternoon, Phil and Alan stopped by when Kerrie was out to pick up Jeffery’s dinky tricycle. They mistook Jeffery’s new, upsized tricycle for the dinky, and caused quite a conundrum. From then on, little Jeffery had to drive the Dalek if he wanted to use his tricycle.

The race was held at the University of Melbourne as part of Unicon II, an intervarsity sci-fi convention. That autumn, carloads of Valek supporters made the 14-hour drive down from Sydney.

“We left at an ungodly hour in the morning,” Kerrie says. “We went down in a Mini and it was bloody chockers.”

Valek rode down to Melbourne on the roof of a car, the wind blowing in his eyestalk.

The two other contestants were not much competition. The Adelaide Dalek was “an inferior Dalek,” Antony says, and “needed to exterminated”.

“It was pink with green dots, and falling apart. They made it at the last minute—I think they were still building it at the start line.”

The Melbourne Dalek was average—a standard blue-and-silver foot soldier—but MUSFA made a strategic error: they designed the race track as an obstacle course with tight corners.

And Valek’s tricycle was perfect for getting around tight corners.

Valek, ahead from the start, practically made it there and back before the Adelaide Dalek had even budged.

“The Adelaide Dalek couldn’t even get off its mark straight away, they had to fix the damn thing on the starting line,” Kerry says.

Valek, the only one of the three equipt with a voice box and a light bulb in his ray gun, exterminated the tragic Adelaide Dalek on his way back, then zoomed ahead to cross the finish line first.

“You get into the Dalek mentality,” Antony explains. “EXTERMINATE, EXTERMINATE!”

Antony doesn’t know if Melbourne University ever wrote about Valek’s victory, but he is doubtful: “Having been exterminated by Sydney, they may have wanted to airbrush it from history.”