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Voice Interactive Dalek

01/09/2008. Contributed by Neale Monks

Buy Voice Interactive Dalek in the USA - or Buy Voice Interactive Dalek in the UK

author pic

pub: Character Options. Price: varies from 99.99 to 49.99 (UK) so shop around for the best price.

check out websites: www.character-online.com/ and specifically www.character-online.com/products/doctor-who-toys-character/doctor-who-scale-dalek-voice/doctor-who-voice-controlled-dalek/

The Character Options 'Voice Interactive Dalek' is probably the closest thing most of us will ever have to having a real Dalek about the house. At a whopping eighteen inches in height it dwarfs any of the other Dalek toys on the market, including the popular radio command twelve inch Daleks produced by both Character Options and Product Enterprises. Once the batteries are installed the thing weighs in at over ten pounds, so not only does the thing look solid it feels solid, too.



Once you've unboxed your Dalek, which takes a good long time if you want to keep the packaging in good order, you'll need to install some batteries. Specifically, this bad boy needs one 9V-battery, four D- size batteries, and four AA-size batteries before it will get on with exterminating the Doctor and taking over the galaxy. With this hurdle overcome, your Dalek is ready to go.

The Dalek has two operational modes: radio control and voice control. In radio control mode, the user has several movement options. The Dalek can of course be made to move forwards and backwards and, just like the real thing, it can also spin around on a sixpence. Performance is excellent, with the Dalek moving smoothly and rapidly across both smooth floors and carpet. Besides movement, the radio control unit can be used to cause the head to rotate and the eye stalk to move up and down. In other words, with a bit of dexterity the operator can send the Dalek trundling about in a rather realistic manner.

A central button on the control pad is used to get the Dalek to speak. There are something like a dozen commands in its repertoire when used in this mode ranging from the closest thing Daleks have to chit-chat through to the obligatory 'Exterminate!' battle cry. As the Dalek speaks its 'ear' lights flash in time with its words and even better, when the gun is fired not only is there a nice zapping sound but the tip of the gun flashes blue.

Of course the big thing about this Dalek is its voice command mode and for the most part this works remarkably well. At this point it's worth mentioning the rather well-written and humorous instruction manual. The phrases used for controlling your Dalek are very specific and need to be spoken with pauses in particular places and this little booklet does a good job of explaining what you'll need to do. Here and there it alludes to the true nature of Daleks, for example, 'Any communication with Daleks is dangerous...their primary instinct is to exterminate.'

To get the Dalek working in voice command mode you need to flip a switch on the base and then give the thing thirty seconds to boot up. During this start-up cycle the operator is treated to a nice display of flashing lights and sound effects, including the ominous Dalek heartbeat. After the Dalek reports that it is working properly, the user will need to release the movement lock by pressing one of the hemispheres on its lower body.

In voice command mode, the Dalek can be told to move about either one command at a time or via a series of up to ten pre-programmed commands. There are a few commands that are more for fun than usefulness, such as the command for switching off its optical sensor causing the poor Dalek a certain amount of distress. There are some silly games as well, including half a dozen memory bank entries and a Spot-the-Doctor mode that ends up with one of the players being revealed as a Time Lord and exterminated. Other commands are more utilitarian, such as those to tell the Dalek to switch into power conservation mode. Whatever commands are issued, the Dalek responds with a suitable vocal response, flashing lights and, where relevant, sound effects and movements. If the Dalek is queried about the Doctor, for example, it gets very worked up and violently shakes with anger!

But the most fun, commands are those that switch the Dalek into a truly robotic mode. For example, the Dalek can be told to guard a particular spot. After acknowledging this command it switches off its lights and stays silent until something comes in range of its sensors. When that happens it threatens to trespasser with extermination unless the correct override command is given. Alternatively, the Dalek can be sent out to explore its surroundings. When it bumps into things it learns where they are and avoids colliding with them a second time. If it comes across a moving object it chases them and threatens them.

One of the very cool things about this Dalek is the way it responds to its environment. If you remove the gun or eye stalk, both of which are designed to come off if pulled too hard, the Dalek will report that its defensive capability or vision is impaired. Start the Dalek up but leave the movement lock switched on and the Dalek gets cross, its eye switching from red to blue. Try to give it commands in this mode and it will insult you, rock on its wheels anxiously and then exterminate you!

The Dalek detects sound, movement and infra-red light. The sound sensors are obviously used for receiving vocal commands from the operator and work remarkably well. Most commands work reliably once you understand how to give them properly. Movement sensors detect taps to the head. These are useful for getting the Dalek's attention, but tap its head too often and it'll get very cross! The passive infra-red sensor detects body heat and this is what allows the Dalek to follow people around. This works reasonably well, but a lot depends on the local environment. Strong heat sources, like radiators, may get the Dalek's attention, causing it to lose track of its intended target. Besides these passive sensory systems, the Dalek also has an active sensory system that uses high frequency sound. Essentially a kind of radar, the Dalek uses this ultrasonic navigation system to detect obstacles in its immediate area. This is the same kind of technology used in household robots such as automatic vacuum cleaners.

The fit and finish is remarkably good. While there are a few joins between the separate pieces of plastic that make up the bodywork, none of them are in places that spoil the lines of the Dalek. The only other parts that might detract from the overall look are the three circular portals on the 'neck' grill where the infrared and ultrasonic sensors are installed. But they aren't that noticeable and, given their importance, it would be churlish to disapprove of them too strongly.

Because most of the Dalek is motorised there aren't many posable parts and only the gun and the sucker arm can be moved about. One particularly nice touch is that the 'sink plunger' sucker at the end of the arm is rubberised; while hardly essential to the look, it does make the thing that little bit more fun to play with. Complementing the construction of the Dalek is some excellent paintwork. The two-tone bronze colour is reproduced very effectively and various details such as rivets are picked out with silver.

The Voice Interactive Dalek retails for up to 99.99, but if you shop around you pick one up for under fifty quid. Even at full price you're getting a lot of Dalek for your money and at half price the thing is a steal. Highly recommended.

Neale Monks

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