Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
"Now on the big screen in COLOUR"
Eccentric inventor Doctor Who shows his granddaughter and her boyfriend his latest invention – a time machine – but an accident whisks them away to the planet Skaro. They find that the planet has been devastated by a nuclear war and this conflict is still ongoing between the Daleks and the Thals. Whilst the Thals eek out an existence in the ravaged soils around a seemingly abandoned city, the Daleks live inside and have each encased themselves in a weaponised metallic shell, their true forms mutated beyond recognition thanks to the radiation. The Thals are happy for the war to end but the Daleks have devised a final plan to wipe their enemies out once and for all and it is up to the Doctor and his companions to stop them.
The first of two feature-length films based upon the BBC science fiction television series of the same name, Dr. Who and the Daleks was based upon one of the serials of the show. This is not canon in the franchise, as the title character here is presented as a mild-mannered eccentric human, not as an intergalactic time lord as he was in the TV series. Doctor Who started in 1963 and has since gone on to become the world’s longest running science fiction show. It was the second serial in the first series of the television show, The Daleks, which propelled Doctor Who into the public consciousness. The titular scary mechanical pepper pot lookalike creations absolutely petrified audiences back in 1963, frightening a generation of impressionable children so much they had to hide behind their sofas. As a result, Dalek-Mania swept the UK and people couldn’t get enough of them. It was during the height of this mania that Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, the duo behind Amicus Film Productions (a rival studio which had sought to compete with legendary horror production company Hammer), bought the rights to make two big budget Doctor Who films in order to quickly capitalise. Make no mistake about it, this isn’t a vehicle for Doctor Who – this is a vehicle for the Daleks and to make a lot of cash.
Dr. Who and the Daleks was the first Doctor Who to be filmed in colour and so the visuals are all nicely colourful and imaginative – very pop arty and certainly a reflection of the swinging 60s it was made in. The Thals look like space hippies. Even the music is trippy. This is definitely a product of it’s time and has dated a fair bit. The vibrant, groovy approach to the material lowers the tone and makes it appear very childish and rather juvenile. That’s not a bad thing as you know the film will be harmless fun but there’s something a little odd about seeing everything as in-your-face as this when the black-and-white TV show had been relatively subdued and somewhat dark and sinister. The TV show was intended to be an educational program for kids, with the Doctor visiting certain time periods in history and show audiences what it was like to live there. However, this all changed with the arrival of the Daleks and despite it still being marketed as kid’s show, the adult audience grew and grew. With Dr. Who and the Daleks pitching itself for the younger demographics, it’s really missing a trick with the older age groups.
With the bigger budget came better special effects, really bringing the Daleks to life like they’d never been before. Perhaps they lost a bit of their fear factor when audiences could see how garishly red or blue that they had been painted, rather than the sinister black-and-white monsters from television. But Dr. Who and the Daleks at least provides some huge scope to the Daleks for a change as, rather than there being simply two or three of them on-screen at once (such as the television show’s budget would allow), there are scenes involving six, seven and eight of them all moving around at once. They do talk a lot too, which is purely for exposition purposes and to keep reminding the viewer about what they’re planning to do (no doubt to ensure the younger audience were keeping tabs with the story). It’s not full of action and most of it is confined to the final third when the Thals decide to fight back against the Daleks. Thankfully the next film, Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 AD, would more than make up for the lack of action here.
Followers of my web site will know I’m a massive Peter Cushing fan – he’s arguably my favourite actor – yet he’s oddly miscast in this role, though I’m guessing that’s the fault of the script. Cushing adds a mild-mannered, doddery eccentricity to the character which isn’t really what the original TV series character was about – he was cranky, sometimes rude and very unpredictable. The confused old man approach doesn’t suit the material, as it makes Doctor Who look like some really out-of-sorts grandad getting down with his hippy kids. Considering he’s the main character, the Doctor becomes something of a sideshow for a lot of the narrative too, with the action-orientated material being handled by the character of Ian, played by Roy Castle. Castle was a jazz musician and singer who had broken into acting in Amicus’ Dr Terror’s House of Horrors but his segment in said film was a horrendous side-track into ‘comedy’ in a narrative which didn’t warrant it. Much is the same state of affairs here, as Castle’s character is one of the biggest bumbling idiots to grace the big screen – even Mr Bean wouldn’t be as oafish as this character!
Dr. Who and the Daleks is geared towards a younger audience and I’m sure children will have a blast with it. Long-time die-hard fans of the series may grumble at some of the noticeable changes. But for casual fans of the series like me, it’s a decent enough watch if you take it for what it set out to do. It’s light-hearted entertainment which will provide plenty of Saturday morning escapist fun, if nothing else.
Dr. Who and the Daleks
Director(s): Gordon Flemyng
Writer(s): Terry Nation (based on the B.B.C. television serial), Milton Subotsky (screenplay), Sydney Newman (original concept)
Actor(s): Peter CushingRoy CastleJennie Linden, Roberta Tovey, Barrie Ingham, Geoffrey Toone
Duration: 82 mins