Dr. Who and the Daleks
Released by Anchor Bay DVD
Starring: Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey
If you’re a Doctor Who fan (and who isn’t anymore?) chances are you’ve run across references to a mysterious set of Doctor Who movies that were only released in England in 1965, and have a completely different set of actors in they. If you actually tried to find this movie you’d no doubt be disappointed to find that A) Copies in the United States are few and far between, and B.) most copies that are out there are stupidly expensive (used, beat up copies costing up to $20, and new, unopened editions costing anywhere from $50-100 on Amazon and Ebay).
Rather than let you spend the money, only to find out you’ve not quite found a diamond in the rough (but instead a cubic zirconium) I threw myself on the financial grenade and picked up a copy for 30 bucks on Ebay, and made myself watch it for you guys. Here’s the skinny!
Doctor Who fans who have seen the William Hartnell series The Mutants will immediately recognize this film as being very closely patterned after it (by patterned I mean completely plagerized). The Doctor and his companions, after accidentally tripping the Tardis controls, end up on the planet Skaro where the remains of two, once great civilizations, the Daleks and the Thals are once again coming into conflict. A lifetime after nuclear war almost completely obliterated life on the planet, the Thals, desperate for food and water, make their way to the city of the Daleks.
(While food is short, eyeliner is plentiful.)
I won’t give away the ending, but it is pure Vonnegut, and will definitely serve to make you smile and worry at the same time.
The Daleks are themselves mutated by radiation to the point where they need mechanical suits to survive. Mechanical suits that attach to the floor and run on static electricity, because hey, why not?
(Brightly, brightly colored metal shells.)
Having landed on Skaro, the Doctor tells his companions that he needs to replace one of the ship’s fluid links, and thus begins a merry chase through the city of the Daleks, with various characters getting captured and escaping, then attacking and retreating. In the end the Daleks are defeated, and the Thals are victorious, allowing the Doctor and his companions to return home.
Now obviously this is not a complete run down of the film, and certainly you’re welcome to read the full spoilers on Wikipedia. I originally wrote a longer summary but if you’ve seen The Mutants it is in many places an almost shot for shot remake, with a few glaring exceptions.
This film is titled Dr. Who and the Daleks. Not Doctor Who, Dr. Who, as in our ever loving Doctor is, in this film, a human being named Dr. Who.
(I was only half-human.)
Instead of the grumpy old coot that William Hartnell made famous, Cushing made his Doctor a lovable old buffoon more akin to Tom Baker than Hartnell, and like Baker he does have random moments’ of anger and outrage, followed quickly by madness and bafflement.
Susan Foreman has been shrunk to a half adorable/ half annoying know-it-all who remains his granddaughter. She actually manages to be a more annoying little twit that Wesley Crusher, so yeah, process that.
Barbara, Susan’s teacher from the original series, is here re-envisioned as Susan’s sister. A drastic change, but not as drastic as poor, poor Ian Chesterton.
In the original series, Ian was a teacher, and a hero. He was someone who did not shy away from a fight, and was also was clever, brave, and trustworthy.
In the film he is a bumbling idiot who sends the Tardis to Skaro when his butt bumps the launch button. Instead of being the hero, he is the comic relief, and it’s the kind of comedy that only the French can love.
Speaking of the Tardis…
When Doctor Who Premiered, the world was introduced to the Tardis, a big, blue police box that is larger on the inside than on the out. It travels through space and time, and was piloted from a control hub that looked like this:
The Doctor, as Who fans know, stole the Tardis, and left Gallifrey under mysterious circumstances. He’s not great at flying it because he never really read the instruction manual, and if River Song is to be believed, he doesn’t even know how to release the parking brake. I got stuck in the shape of a police box while hiding in the 60’s, and has been stuck that way ever since.
When the film came out, the control room was re-envisioned as this:
Yes it’s a hodge-podge of a mess filled with colorful wires are liquids (and a rocking chair) all designed more to show off the full color palette the film had to work with than to make any kind of sense. It has a rocking chair, and wires, and for some annoying reason they call it Tardis. Not, THE Tardis. Just Tardis. As in “we need to get back to Tardis.” Trust me, it grates on the nerves after a bit like someone playing all but the last two notes of Shave and a Haircut.
And the weirdest part? It’s still a police box, even though that explanation makes no sense what -so-ever.
I will say that the site of the Tardis filled my heart with a little joy, in that at least I could be sure I was watching Doctor Who. Who cares that the Police Box disguise makes no sense for a human inventor who created time travel? Who cares that it is insanely impossible for a human to make something bigger on the inside? Who cares that after seeing the seemingly magic box that is bigger on the inside Ian finds the idea of time travel impossible to believe?
Alright, it’s a bit unfair to judge this film too harshly. It was released in 65, only a few years after Doctor Who first aired. Remember the world had only met one Doctor at this time, with no idea that there were almost a dozen more to be seen. No one had heard the names Time Lord, Gallifrey, Kasterborous, Sarah Jane, Sonic Screw Driver, or Regeneration. Heck, even reversing the neutron flow was unknown. During those early days, when so little was known about the Doctor it would be easy to assume he was a human. It’s only in looking back at this movie now that it seems so very wrong.
And the performances are not bad, they’re just not right. If I had watched this movie by itself, with all my knowledge of Who removed, I might have enjoyed it as a bit of 60’s sci-fi nonsense, and maybe enjoyed it as a bit of fluff. However, looking back I find it hard to enjoy as much as I would otherwise.
In many ways I think this would be more enjoyable if I had never seen the original Hartnell episode, or if this had been an original story, but the fact that they just ripped off one of the most famous who episodes ever, well, it’s just too distracting to really enjoy it as anything other than an oddity.
This is an Anchor Bay release, and despite the fact that it is an obscure British title here, it actually is a nice set. The DVD comes with a small insert fold out booklet that not only has some original artwork, but also includes a little background to the original show and the production of the film.
The DVD itself also has a nice commentary track featuring the two female leads, and has a few little features about the cast and production, but these are done as DVD power point slideshows, so unless you want to sit and read about Peter Cushing’s career on your TV they have limited appeal.
This film is much more popular in England than it is in the US, mostly because they remember going to the theatres to see it. It’s out of print, so you’ll have to pay to get a decent, complete copy, and to be honest it is really not worth the price for what you get. On the other hand, if you can pick it up for under $20 it is amusing, but only if you have a core group of who fans to watch it with, and even then it really stretches the patience a lot.