Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) / Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)
Directed by Gordon Flemyng.
Starring Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey, Michael Coles, Barry Ingham, Bernard Cribbins, Ray Brooks, Andrew Keir, Jill Curzon, Eddie Powell, Godfrey Quigley.
4K UHD Special Edition releases of the two big-screen adventures of the Doctor.
When exactly did Star Wars become Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope? An odd question for a Dr. Who review but a relevant one, as in these modern times it seems that there is a preference for creating universes, making all properties canon, and numbering stories and characters in the order they run, and recently the various incarnations of the titular Doctor are generally known by their number – current Doctor Jodie Whittaker is referred to as the Thirteenth Doctor, Tom Baker is the Fourth Doctor and so on. So where does that put Peter Cushing in the order of things, as his interpretation of the Doctor is rarely – if ever – included in any encompassing retrospective of the character? As he was sandwiched between William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton that must make him Doctor v1.5.
Whatever the technicalities – and Doctor Who fans are nothing if not pedantic when it comes to technicalities – the fact remains that these two films do bear the Dr. Who name and include the Daleks and the TARDIS, despite bearing very little relation to the mythology of the character in the television series.
Released in 1965, Dr. Who and the Daleks introduces Dr. Who (Cushing) as a kindly old scientist who has invented a time machine called TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space). One evening Ian (Roy Castle) pops round to visit his girlfriend, Dr. Who’s granddaughter Barbara (Jennie Linden) and accidentally knocks the TARDIS’s starter lever, transporting Ian, Barbara, Dr. Who and Who’s other granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey) through time and space to an alien world that has been devastated by a war between the mechanical Daleks and the humanoid Thals.
After being taken prisoner by the Daleks, they are used to try and obtain a drug made by the Thals so they can leave the city and escape the radiation from the war. However, Dr. Who joins forces with the Thals as they attempt to overthrow the Dalek regime and return to Earth.
And it isn’t a spoiler to say that escape they do as the following year’s Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is a direct sequel that, again, pretty much ignores any previous Doctor Who folklore. In this story Dr. Who is joined once again by Susan (a returning Roberta Tovey), his niece Louise (Jill Curzon) and police constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins), who stumbled into the TARDIS thinking it was a real police box after getting hurt trying to foil a robbery (or a “smash-and-grab”, as it is quaintly referred to). Ending up in the year 2150, where London has become a wasteland after the Dalek invasion, the group team up with an underground resistance movement led by Wyler (Andrew Keir), David (Ray Brooks) and Dortmun (Godfrey Quigley). The Daleks are now in the habit of turning their prisoners into brainwashed slaves called Robomen and begin the conversion process with Dr. Who and Tom but before they are changed, they are rescued and thus a battle with the Daleks ensues.
Totally bypassing the context and mythology of the TV series, these two films really are standalone efforts that were only created for profit by Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, the two founders of Amicus Productions who had seen their rivals Hammer Film Productions gain some serious success with their television ventures and wanted in on some of the action. The biggest difference is with Dr. Who himself, who is certainly not an alien with two hearts in this version. Peter Cushing plays him very much like an eccentric old scientist in a performance that is more like Thorley Walters’ bumbling assistant in Hammer’s Frankenstein Created Woman than anything approaching the heroics in the TV series (although in hindsight, take a look at Cushing in this role and put him alongside Peter Capaldi’s interpretation for a visual comparison). It is worthy of note that Dr. Who is never referred to as ‘The Doctor’ like he is in the TV series, where the Doctor Who in the title is meant as a question rather than his name, and here he really is just an old man called Who who has invented a time machine.
Of the two films, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is closer to the TV series in feel, whereas Dr. Who and the Daleks has more of a Star Trek – which would appear a year later – vibe about it. Eschewing the neon colours and campy mid-1960s kitsch of Dr. Who and the Daleks in favour of a grittier apocalyptic London setting, Daleks’ Invasion 2150 A.D. will likely find more favour with the hardcore fans as it is less hokey and played a little more straight, with Bernard Cribbins (who has also appeared in the TV series playing a different character) adding a little light-hearted humour compared to Roy Castle’s admittedly well done but very broad slapstick that is more in line with what he did a few years later in Carry On… Up the Khyber than in what should be a relatively serious sci-fi adventure.
Both movies look fantastic in 4K UHD, with Dr. Who and the Daleks coming off the best as it has a more varied colour palette than the more location-based second movie. The lurid greens and purples of the alien landscape, combined with some now-crystal-clear matte painted backgrounds and the more colourful design of the Daleks, look immaculate and elevate the movie from just looking like a bigger budget TV show into something more cinematic. Indeed, Mark Gatiss even remarks in the audio commentaries about seeing things in the film that he hasn’t seen before in TV broadcasts or older pan-and-scan versions.
And speaking of Mark Gatiss, he appears with author/critic Kim Newman and Doctor Who writer Robert Shearman for brand new audio commentaries for both movies, and these are a definite highlight as the three men are obviously all fans but veer off into so many other nostalgic British TV tangents that their conversations remain accessible even if you’re just a casual viewer. Both discs also contain the 1995 documentary Dalekmania, which is a feature-length loving tribute to the mechanical menaces, interviews with Gareth Owen, a featurette on the 4K restoration process and a short featurette on each film featuring interviews with various Doctor Who alumni. Dr. Who and the Daleks also comes with an additional audio commentary by actors Jennie Linden and Roberta Tovey, and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. also features an additional interview with actor Bernard Cribbins.
But whatever the merits of the films, it is the packaging that is sure to be the most sought after item. Both movies will be released in fetching Steelbook editions with suitably bright and vibrant artwork, but there are also two collector’s box-sets – one for each film – being made available that will contain the 4K UHD disc, a standard Blu-ray disc, booklets featuring newly written essays on the films, art cards, posters, collectible coins and a mini version of the forthcoming Titan Books release Dr Who and the Daleks’ The Official Story of the Films by John Walsh. Undoubtedly bound to sell out quickly, these special editions are worth picking up just for the brilliant artwork, but Studiocanal have gone above and beyond to make these packages extremely collectible.
A bit like what Never Say Never Again or the original Casino Royale are to Eon’s James Bond film series, these two movies are really nothing more than a curiosity for the completist if you are a Doctor Who fan, and mildly entertaining ‘60s sci-fi romps if you are not. Much like the rogue Bond movies, they have sneaked ever closer to being considered canon in recent years – indeed, it appears that Russell T. Davies borrowed more from these movies than you would expect if you go back and examine the rebooted TV show, according to some commentators in the special features – and they do provide an alternate version of the character that could have heralded more movies if the TV show hadn’t taken the direction it did after William Hartnell’s tenure, ensuring that Peter Cushing’s more grandfatherly and less heroic take was seen as a bit too old-fashioned. Nevertheless, these two movies are a fun bit of escapism regardless of your levels of fandom with the character, which means you don’t need to have seen dozens of episodes – or any, really – of the TV show to enjoy them.
Flickering Myth Rating – Dr. Who and the Daleks – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Flickering Myth Rating – Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★