This MOVIE takes
place SOME TIME
PRIOR TO THE MOVIE
BASED ON A STORY BY
(WITH MAX J.
'THE DALEK COLLECTION'
DVD BOX SET RELEASED
IN SEPTEMBER 2006.
DR WHO TRAVELS
THROUGH SPACE AND
TIME IN TARDIS TO
FIND HIMSELF ON THE
PLANET SKARO, THE
BIRTHPLACE OF HIS
SKARO IS A WORLD
SCARrED BY NUCLEAR
WAR. THE MUTATED
DALEKS HAVE TO LIVE
IN METAL SUITS TO
SURVIVE, WHERE THEY
PLOT THE DESTRUCTION
OF THE PLANET'S OTHER
LIFE-FORM, THE THALS,
WITH A NEUTRON BOMB!
ONLY DR WHO CAN SAVE
Dr Who and the Daleks
The two 1960s Dalek movies have always occupied a strange place in the hearts
of Doctor Who fans. Far more widely seen by the general public than any of the original television serials for a good many years, most casual viewers probably don’t realise that these two features do not form part of the ‘true’ Doctor Who at all. For hardcore fans, the distinction is obvious and vital, and many refuse to see the movies as anything other than
a cheap substitute.
I, for one, disagree with this view. The movies may not form part of continuity, but they’re
both good slices of fun, family science-fiction entertainment, and that’s what Doctor Who is all about. Available together now in a rather nice double-disc DVD package (“collection” is stretching the definition just a bit though), within a shiny Dalek slipcase. It’s a slim offering;
the only special features are a commentary on the first disc and a hour-long documentary film, Dalekmania, on the second. A few features on the productions themselves wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Dr Who and the Daleks has the distinction of being the first production to feature someone other than William Hartnell in the role of the Doctor (unless you count the robot ‘double’ from The Chase). Peter Cushing is Dr Who, and it’s difficult, with so many regenerations having gone by, to realise how big a deal this is. The movie version is stating from the off that this
is a new production, and not part of the series. The differences are immediate and obvious: instead of the familiar swirling visuals and the classic Who theme, we get a typically jaunty tune on a coloured background, that could have come from just about any British film of the 1960s. As we open on the Whos (yes, their name actually is Who in this one!), it’s clear that we’re in for a much more light-hearted affair than the original serial. We see Dr Who reading a copy of The Eagle, while his granddaughters, Susan and Barbara, are flicking through science texts. Before long, Ian has come along, ready to take Barbara out on a date. This isn’t the crew we know…
Taking the four characters one a time, it’s amazing how different they are to their television counterparts. Dr Who is not a mysterious, somewhat sinister alien, but a genial old human gent with a passion for invention. Cushing plays him with an absent-minded amiability; if there’s any version of the Doctor he reminds me of, it’s Sylvester McCoy in his first season. Dr Who is dressed in Edwardian-styled clothes, not because he travels in time and picks up his habits from various eras, but because he’s quirky and eccentric (something he shares with Cushing, who frequently dressed like this, and, according to the commentary, often took his period costumes home with him). Doddering about with his knees bent in an attempt to simulate old age, it’s by no means a subtle performance, but it’s certainly a charming one.
Susan, or Suzie as she’s more often referred to, is considerably younger than her television counterpart. Played by twelve-year-old Roberta Tovey, she’s something of a child prodigy, able to understand the workings of her grandfather’s time machine and continually racing off into potentially dangerous situations. Unlike her alter ego, however, she doesn’t continually fall over, sprain her ankle, or squeal and sob at the slightest provocation. This small human girl is actually are far more resourceful and believable character than the Gallifreyan Susan ever was!
Barbara, who is played by Jennie Linden, is also considerably divorced from her television counterpart. Rather than her uptight schoolteacher, this version of Barbara is Suzie’s elder sister, a hip(ish) eighteen year-old with only a passing interest in the Who family’s scientific endeavours. Other than this, though, she’s pretty slimly characterised; even her fondness for Ian seems to vanish after the first quarter of the film.
Ian is easily the character most different from his small-screen forbearer. Brought in entirely as comic relief, he’s well-meaning, brave but amusingly clumsy. Roy Castle puts a pratfall into almost every action that he performs, and this can become very wearying, but he does imbue the character with considerable charm, and you’re rooting for him all the way through (and he never even gets a proper snog off Babs!)
The TARDIS is present and mostly correct, but one has to ask why. Copying it wholesale from the BBC television series, the producers seem to have forgotten that the ship was in disguise as a police box and got stuck in that shape. Here, however, the TARDIS, or just “TARDIS”, as it is known, is police box-shaped for no readily apparent reason. The interior
is equally baffling; it’s all very intriguing, but if anyone actually tried to operate the thing they would most likely trip over several loose wires and break a limb on the way down. However, at least the exterior and interior doors line up – something that didn’t happen on television until 2005!
Getting to the story itself, I have to say that it stands up
very well even now. In fact, it’s an improvement on the
original in terms of pacing. Truncated from the seven-
part serial into a single feature, it loses the drag of the
original. Of course, the original was never intended to
be viewed in one sitting, whereas as this movie is. Still,
I commend Milton Subotsky (and David Whitaker, who
worked upon it, uncredited) for turning the serial into a
fast paced and fun romp without losing any of the key
elements. We’re onto Skaro in a trice, with the early
explorations played out more slowly, really allowing
the creepiness to build.
Admittedly, the petrified forest, although impressively created within a vast set that actually looks like a forest (a Who rarity), it loses some of the chilling atmosphere of the black and white original. Once we’re into the Dalek city, once again after a replacement fluid link (the Doctor – sorry, I mean Dr Who – having lied about the damage to the original as an excuse to explore), things pick p the pace considerably. The city is another very impressive piece of work, entirely plastic (a first in the relatively lo-tech 1960s), although the addition of drapes and lava lamps hints at a previously unexpected love of interior design in the Dalek psyche.
The Daleks themselves are equally impressive. Although the film is of a lighter tone than the original, the Daleks are wisely kept as the vindictive, scheming bastards of the old. Although larger, more colourful and fitted with fire extinguishers in place of ray guns, they retain their menace, and their voices are powerful and alarming. The Dalek mutant, seen here fleetingly
in a clone of the original serial’s most famous set piece, in which the mutant is evicted from its travel machine, is chilling – a slimy, green claw slithers out from beneath a cloak, leaving our imaginations to do the rest.
The Thals, too, are well realised. Although absurdly made up, and looking a touch 1980s as a result, their simple two-piece outfits are a great improvement on the bizarre plastic body
suits of the original. They are given relatively little time on screen, far more attention being paid to their Dalek cousins, but are generally played convincingly. The final battle is stirring stuff, a tremendous set piece by 1960s Brit standards that still holds up very well. It isn’t long before the travellers set for home, ending the film on a sadly rather naff note when they mat-erialise in the midst of some stock footage of Roman legionaries.
The aforementioned commentary is enjoyable and informative. Featuring Tovey and Linden, it takes a few minutes to get into its swing but we do learn some new facts; for example, it’s no secret that a third movie, based on The Chase, would’ve been made if the second had performed better in the box office, but I never knew that there was talk of replacing it with a movie version of The Keys of Marinus. We also get insights into the joys of working with Peter Cushing and Roy Castle, who, on the evidence here given, were a pleasure to work with and a sad loss. All in all, it’s a good accompaniment to a highly enjoyable film.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Following Hammer Horror’s lucrative foray into family movies, Amicus director Milton Subotsky decided that it was about time he jumped on board the family bandwagon. With the popularity of the Doctor Who television series and particularly its Daleks increasing exponentially, Subotsky swiftly moved to secure the rights from the BBC and Terry Nation and the funding from Aaru that he needed to be able to bring the Doctor and the Daleks to the big screen in a fun-filled family frolic. Hammer star Peter Cushing was promptly cast in the movie’s leading role, and Dr Who and the Daleks eventually saw cinematic release in August 1965, heralding the dawn of mid-1960s “Dalekmania”, but precipitating a variety of public misconceptions about the television series and its characters that persist to this day.
Unlike the television series that spawned it, Dr Who and the Daleks is clearly of its time.
The jaunty and dashing opening theme tune lacks the eerie eccentricity of Ron Grainer’s timeless composition, and the movie’s characters are similarly devoid of enduring appeal. Indeed, whilst Terry Nation’s plot was not departed from too significantly by Subtosky and
his uncredited screenwriter, David Whitaker, the series’ principal characters and their back stories were given a complete overhaul. Here Peter Cushing’s Doctor is not a mysterious, curmudgeonly old alien without a name, but an amiably scatty human with a fondness for Dan Dare, snazzy outfits and moustaches. He apparently has a PhD; a surname that is, evidently, “Who”; and he lives in normal human house with his two human granddaughters, Barbara and Susan. No mention is ever made of a Mrs Who or Dr Who’s children; viewers simply have to take this bizarre little family unit as they find it. The ensemble is then made
up by Roy Castle’s Ian, who is not a gallant school teacher and paragon of virtue but a ham-fisted fool trying to court young Barbara Who.
I still struggle to reconcile myself to such a debasement of the television series’ magnificent characters. When you have a character as inimitable as the Doctor, reducing him to a kindly professorial role and robbing him of all of his mystery and spite is nothing short of criminal. Yet there’s no denying that Peter Cushing’s portrayal exudes an incorrigible charm, inspiring confidence in a way that William Hartnell’s never did. I may not like it, but I must begrudgingly concede that it works, and is even rather compelling; at least within the confines of a family movie. All the same, there’s no way that anyone could ever convince me that this portrayal has the incessant allure of any of the television Doctors.
With Dr Who painted as such a sturdy hero, Subotsky and Whitaker were able to soften the character of Ian Chesterton, setting him up as the movie’s fall guy. As Castle’s character is similar to William Russell’s in name only, it’s easier to forgive such a drastic departure from the blueprint, particularly when Castle’s cheesy performance is so relentlessly endearing. It’s sometimes hard to accept this Ian as both a hero and a lumbering idiot, but the tone of the film is such that they just about get away with it.
Similarly, the only things that Roberta Tovey’s tiny little Susan Who shares with the television series’ Susan Foreman are her first name and her billing as the hero’s granddaughter. The unearthliness that initially made the televised Susan so mesmeric is, regrettably, lost, but in its place are a resilience and a burning intelligence that put her ankle-twisting counterpart to shame. Barbara Who isn’t so fortunate, however, as the character appears paper-thin when compared to her television counterpart. Barbara Wright’s wisdom and manifest morality are nowhere to be found in this young woman, who besides being another granddaughter of Dr Who and having a fondness for soft centres has very little to note about her. Jennie Linden does her best with what’s put in front of her, but in the end she’s completely outclassed by her three travelling companions.
The film’s TARDIS is very interesting though. The definite article is lost, with the characters referring to simply “TARDIS” throughout, which sounds unconscionably clumsy now that we are all used to “the TARDIS” being used as a name, rather than an acronym. More peculiarly still, no explanation is offered for the ship’s police box exterior; it’s as if the moviegoer is just supposed to assume that all time machines look like that. Yet for all its inelegance and lack of logic, TARDIS is still extraordinary to look at, with certain elements of its interior design even influencing the revived television series. The ability to look into the ship and the internal police box doors stand out as a fine examples of this movie’s designers’ prescience.
Where Dr Who and the Daleks
really excels though is in director
Gordon Flemyng’s presentation
of the Daleks. At the end of the
day, this isn’t a Doctor Who film
– the Doctor’s ‘name’ wouldn’t
even feature in its sequel’s title –
it’s a Dalek film, and Daleks are exactly what you get. Red ones and blue ones, spouting spoke and shooting flames in all their cinemascopic glory. Even though I prefer my Daleks gunmetal grey or blemished bronze, I can’t deny how devastatingly appealing the Daleks of this movie are, particularly to younger viewers who are easily rapt by colour and spectacle. The props, the voices, the weapons; even the irregular appendages… these are Daleks that emphatically tick every box.
What’s more, the story itself is a marked improvement upon the bloated seven-part serial that spawned it. Taking into account the movie’s bespoke introduction, more than a hundred minutes of Terry Nation’s original television script were cut from this screenplay, and in my view the film is much stronger for it. There is no time for dawdling or wordy exposition here as, in a manner reminiscent of the current television series, the plot unfurls on the hoof, its action unrelenting. The trade-off, of course, is that much of the original serial’s atmosphere
is lost. Even the serial’s seminal cliffhangers have been surgically extracted, robbing us of The Dead Planet’s silent sink-plunger menace, amongst others. This is compensated for
to a degree, however, as Subotsky and Whitaker have Barbara’s being menaced by a lone Dalek segue into an staggeringly epic reveal as Dr Who herds Susan and Ian into the Dalek control room, and Flemyng’s camera pulls back…
Ultimately though, Dr Who and the Daleks is a movie that will forever make me grit my teeth. Until recently, one could defend it on the ground that it makes the Daleks look better than any Doctor Who television story ever had done, but having now been spoilt by episodes that can boast even higher production values and superlative characterisation – have your cake and eat it kind of jobs - it’s hard to watch this movie and not dismiss it as being completely awful. Nevertheless, for several generations of Doctor Who fans it remains the definitive version of Terry Nation’s first Dalek serial, but I’m afraid that for me it’s always going to be cake that’s just too sickly to eat.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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