Dr. Who and the Daleks

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Sci-Fi;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey, Barrie Ingham, Michael Coles, Yvonne Antrobus, Geoffrey Toone.

Science-fiction fans who weren’t previously aware of this early big-screen treatment of the BBC’s popular “Doctor Who” series will likely find it a fascinating curio, not only for its place in the history of the series and the genre, but the very nature of the filmed entertainment industry.

Premiering in 1963, “Doctor Who” chronicled the adventures of an alien named The Doctor, a member of an alien race known as Time Lords. His traveling companions included his granddaughter, Susan, and a pair of schoolteachers. Their time machine the TARDIS, was bigger on the inside than on the outside, and disguised to resemble a blue police box, essentially a large wooden phone booth, commonplace in England at the time.

Episodes were grouped together to tell serialized stories, and the second serial was called “The Daleks,” introducing an iconic villainous race of irradiated aliens who transformed themselves into mechanized warriors using robotic armor (which is why they are often described as merely robots). Interestingly, the design of the creatures was originally assigned to Ridley Scott (yes, that Ridley Scott), who had to drop out over scheduling issues.

With “Doctor Who” and the Daleks in particular proving to be massive hits with British audiences, it wasn’t long before movie producers came sniffing around looking to cash in, and made a deal with the BBC and Dalek creator Terry Nation to acquire the option for three Dalek-based movies. The first would be an adaptation of the “Daleks” serial.

Now, this wasn’t like today, when the natural assumption would be that the movie would be a continuation of the series, using the same actors and storylines. In the mid-1960s, “Doctor Who” was virtually unknown in America, and the film’s producers wanted the film to have an international appeal (the show wouldn’t gain a solid cult status in the U.S. until PBS and syndication airings a decade later). So writer Milton Subotsky and director Gordon Flemyng essentially deconstructed the concept of the series. The result is this first of two standalone adventures that otherwise have no connection to the series.

The first major change was the casting. Instead of bringing on the relatively unknown William Hartnell, who was playing the Doctor on TV, the filmmakers cast Peter Cushing, who had international clout thanks to his association with the Hammer horror films. All the other roles were recast as well, most notably having 11-year-old Roberta Tovey playing Susan, an adult character on the series.

Nor did the main character keep his name — the show’s title is a bit of wordplay based on people’s confusion over being introduced to “The Doctor,” with their first response being “Doctor Who.”

In the movie, Cushing plays a man simply named Dr. Who. Instead of being an alien adventurer, this Dr. Who is an eccentric scientist who invents the TARDIS himself, rather than stealing it from the Time Lords as he does on the show.

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As the film begins, Dr. Who is showing off the TARDIS to his other granddaughter Barbara’s boyfriend, Ian, who accidentally activates the controls and sends them to a distant planet, where they discover the remains of a nuclear holocaust. The conflict’s two warring sides are still at odds: the Daleks, who have encased themselves in robotic suits and city-like fortresses to shield themselves from radiation, and the Thals, seemingly primitive people who live in the remnants of the planet’s forests, but who have developed a cure for the radiation that the Daleks desire. So, Dr. Who and the newcomers set about helping the Thals defeat the Daleks so they may repair the TARDIS and go home.

As a streamlined adventure, it serves as an interesting abridged version of “Doctor Who” for those who weren’t invested in following the TV show on a weekly basis. And for fans of the series it offered a couple of big incentives. First, it was the first presentation of any “Doctor Who” material in color; the series wouldn’t shoot in color until 1970. And it gave them a chance to see the iconic Daleks and TARDIS, the designs of which were consistent with their look on the TV show, on a big, wide screen.

Interestingly, the descriptive blurb on Kino’s Blu-ray packaging still takes a number of cues from the TV series, referring to Cushing’s incarnation as a Timelord (he isn’t, strictly speaking) named The Doctor, rather than his humanized name for the movie.

To those who don’t know better, though, the movie just comes across as another cheesy British sci-fi ‘B’-movie. While some of the more complicated aspects of the Doctor’s TV origins were changed, other elements, such as why the TARDIS looked like a police box, were given no explanation. Nor does the movie use the familiar console control room look of the TARDIS interior from the TV show, or the show’s famous theme music. So the appeal of the movie aside from the nostalgia of those who saw it as kids, or “Doctor Who” fans in general, might be somewhat limited.

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The Blu-ray presentation takes advantage of a restoration by StudioCanal done in 2013 for a European Blu-ray release, and the results are pretty good. The film’s colors really pop on the Blu-ray presentation, from the psychedelic lighting of the alien jungles, to the color schemes of the Dalek ranks, to the bluish-purple body paint used for the Thals.

The Blu-ray includes a seven-minute featurette about the restoration process.

Despite a lukewarm critical response, Dr. Who and the Daleks was a hit with fans when it hit screens in 1965 and spawned a sequel the next year, Daleks’ Invasion of Earth. The second film wasn’t as successful commercially, so the third film in the option was abandoned.

However, the two films on their own did develop something of a cult following apart from that of the TV series, and inspired a 57-minute documentary in 1995 called Dalekmania, which is offered as a much-welcomed extra on the Blu-ray.

Other extras include a seven-minute discussion of Dr. Who and the Daleks by author Gareth Owen.

These are all fascinating extras for “Doctor Who” fans, as is an audio commentary joined by film historians Kim Newman and Robert Shearman, with filmmaker Mark Gatiss, who wrote Dalek episodes for the 21st century iteration of the “Doctor Who” television series.

Dr. Who: Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Sci-Fi;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Ray Brooks, Andrew Keir, Roberta Tovey, Jill Curzon.

The ending of Dr. Who and the Daleks hinted at a continuing adventure through time and space for Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) and his companions trying to find their way home. But, alas, in this 1966 sequel starts anew, with only Roberta Tovey joining Cushing from the previous film.

This was the second of three planned films based on the Dalek storylines from the “Doctor Who” television series, as chronicled in the review of Dr. Who and the Daleks, they were standalone adventures not related to the ongoing storylines of the TV series, and were essentially big-screen remakes of a few episodes with a new cast.

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As with the previous film, Invasion was written by Milton Subotsky and directed by Gordon Flemyng. Based on the TV serial “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” the movie deals with the time travelers stumbling across a future Earth that has been conquered by the Daleks, the mechanized aliens encountered in the previous film.

It begins, however, with a street cop named Tom (Bernard Cribbins) in a confrontation with some thugs who robbed a jewelry shop. He seeks refuge in what he thinks is a common police box, but it turns out to be Dr. Who’s TARDIS parked on the street, an instant before it travels to a new time.

Tom replaces Ian from the previous film, while Barbara is swapped out for Louise, Dr. Who’s niece (in the original serial, Barbara and Ian are still involved).

Landing in 2150, the team discovers a bombed out London patrolled by robomen — dead humans converted by the Daleks into mindless soldiers. Joining with the local resistance, they formulate a plan to defeat the Daleks, who are trying to mine the resources of Earth’s core and convert the planet into their new homeworld.

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While it makes for a nice twin-bill with Dr. Who and the Daleks, Invasion has a bit more teeth than its predecessor as a standalone sci-fi film, taking advantage of great production design to depict the Dalek spaceship. However, the notion that the events take place nearly 200 years in the future leaves a lot to be desired, as humans don’t seem to have done much in the way of technological advancement or fashion sense beyond the 1960s. There are also posters for Sugar Puffs cereal plastered all over the city, the result of a product-placement deal that provided the film a significant portion of its budget.

The color palette is understandably more bleak than the previous film, but the more ambitious visual effects benefit from a restoration conducted by StudioCanal in 2013 for a European Blu-ray release. The model work is just the perfect amount of 1960s craftsmanship, in that the spaceship offers a nice sense of scope but the wires holding up the model are detectable in a few shots.

The Blu-ray includes a seven-minute featurette about the restoration process.

The film was ultimately considered a critical and commercial disappointment, leading producers to cancel plans for future adaptations.

Cribbins would return to “Doctor Who” more than 40 years later as a recurring character on the revised TV show during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor. A four-minute interview with Cribbins is included on the Blu-ray.

The cult fandom surrounding the two Dalek movies did inspire the 1995 documentary Dalekmania, which runs 57 minutes and is included here, as it is on the Dr. Who and the Daleks Blu-ray.

Likewise, the Invasion Blu-ray also includes a discussion of the film by author Gareth Owen, though this one runs just four minutes. And like with the previous film there’s a good audio commentary joined by film historians Kim Newman and Robert Shearman, with filmmaker Mark Gatiss, who wrote Dalek episodes for the 21st century iteration of the “Doctor Who” television series (the commentaries for both films were likely recorded at the same session).