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Who's Your Granddaddy
Doctor Who & The Daleks (DVD)
Member Name: Frankingsteins
Doctor Who & The Daleks (DVD)
Date: 17/12/07, updated on 17/12/07 (107 review reads)
Advantages: Fair and concise re-make of the first Dalek episodes with a good cast.
Disadvantages: Pointless changes are made to the format, and the whole thing is rather simplistic and childish.
The two Dalek films of the 1960s starring Peter Cushing as Dr. Who are early oddities in of the legendary sci-fi franchise, standing distinctly apart from the established canon of the long-running television series despite being based entirely on the plots and characters from serials in the early William Hartnell years. Milton Subotsky adapted Terry Nation's television script for 'The Daleks' largely as an attempt to popularise the series in the American market, replacing Hartnell's aloof Doctor with a slightly sillier version played by the more internationally recognisable Cushing, and although the slight but jarring differences between the two mediums make it impossible to reconcile this adventure into the franchise, now experiencing a second wave of popularity through the resurrected series, 'Dr. Who and the Daleks' still stands strong as an entertaining if simplistic take on the classic theme of good versus evil, made more appealing by making the enemies xenophobic, armoured mutants.
Watching this first Dalek film with the slightly unfair hindsight of the later television episodes, the pepper-pot villains come off as a little disappointing. Even ignoring the trifling inconsistencies with the later revisions of the Tom Baker era, the Daleks don't seem as intimidating or downright chilling here as they were on the television, and even in the subsequent film sequel 'Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.' in which the battle is brought to home soil. Their death gas attack is only used very sparingly (replacing the originally scripted flamethrowers visible on the theatrical poster, deemed unsuitable for the young viewers this film is primarily aimed at), and despite spending the second half of the film plotting the obliteration of their neighbouring race the Thals, they are shown to be fairly incapable and awkward when faced with an assault even in their own custom-built city. Other slight disappointments come in the complete absence of their trademark phrase "exterminate!" and the less refined approach to Dalek dialogue, carried out in a more detached, staccato manner than the manic distorted yells they are more famous for, and making some of the longer scene of Dalek intercourse pretty tedious to sit through.
Now, I know what you're thinking: firstly, you're probably still dwelling on the phrase "Dalek intercourse" and trying to deduce how that would physically work, but you may also be shaking your head at my rather petty nitpicks with a film made in the early days of the series by which point many of its trademarks had yet to be established. But if I want to indulge in a film promising simply 'Dr. Who and the Daleks,' Daleks is what I bally well want. It's not all bad of course, and many of the villains' established traits are already firmly in place: the suits come in a variety of technicolour variants showing off for the luxury of colour film, inevitably leading young viewers to pick their favourite (I think mine was the gold one with black knobs seen in the sequel. My brother liked the red one, but I found that a bit garish), and their interior is controlled by a diminutive and fairly disgusting green mutant, glimpsed only briefly when a human tries the suit on for size. The Dalek background explained is the film is satisfyingly simple, casting them in a necessarily evil light for their treacherous ways compared to the peaceful Thals, though it may leave more thoughtful viewers pondering whether this outcome would have been the same if the Daleks had been the ones to develop an antidote to their planet's radiation, and the Thals mutated beyond recognition. The answer is, yes it would. The Daleks will always be Nazis, which has saved generations of writers from the burden on having to approach their story from a sympathetic angle that they clearly don't deserve.
The arrival at the Daleks' planet comes about entirely by accident, as the excited and slightly eccentric Dr. Who eagerly shows off his Tardis to his granddaughter's new boyfriend. The device resembles a police box, but appears deceptively small when viewed from the outside, and Dr. Who proudly claims it has the ability to traverse time and space (for the purposes of this story, it's not clear whether time travel played a role at all, apart from in the brief comedy finale). Due to general clumsy buffoonery on the part of Ian (Roy Castle from 'Carry On'), the group of hapless adventurers find themselves transported to a barren woodland, unable to return home without finding a source of mercury for Tardis; as fortune would have it, a technologically advanced city sits just over the hill, and Dr. Who is hopeful that whatever scientists they bump into there will be willing to help them. Can you guess what happens next?
This classic Doctor Who tale features the series' successful mix of science fiction, suspense and action, roughly in that order, as the exploration of the Daleks' pink city is made increasingly eerie as it's slowly revealed that Dr. Who and his companions are being monitored and lured into a trap. The Daleks, despite their occasional stupidity, seize the opportunity to send one of the humans as an ambassador to their old enemies the Thals, offering them essential food in return for the Thals' antidote to the planet's radiation poisoning, but a number of tediously overlong scenes with two characters I can only dub the Plot Exposition Daleks keep viewers informed of their real duplicitous goals. They are also presumably unable to leave the city themselves due to the lack of ramp access (ha ha, I am funny - actually, it's because they require magnetism), and one of the best scenes of the film sees young Susan (eleven-year-old Roberta Tovey) taking it upon herself to make the perilous journey, recognising her comparative fitness over that of her older companions, themselves starting to succumb to the radiation sickness, and at the same time realising that she can no longer rely on these powerless adults to protect her. Roberta Tovery is great in the role, never over-acting or slipping up as a less proficient child actor would tend to, and most importantly of all, providing a familiar role model for young audiences rather than alienating them by being annoying.
The rest of the cast is equally skilled, and with the exception of the rather generic, transvestite Thals, above the usual television quality standard of the series. Roy Castle successfully manages both the comic relief and action hero roles, Jennie Linden remains confident and practical and avoids screaming as Susan's oddly older sister Barbara, and main star Peter Cushing brings to life a notably different Doctor to his contemporary Hartnell, pulling off the silly early scenes in which Dr. Who is shown to be a little senile, forgetful and to enjoy reading a child's action comic a little too much, to his more passionate role later on when forced to bring ideas of violence back to a peaceful people. Dr. Who's relationship with Susan provides some nice warmth to their scenes, and never comes across as creepy in the way it sometimes threatened to in the early TV years as the old man travelled with his teenage granddaughter under careful scrutiny of her school teachers. There are other slight tweaks from the television series too, most notably the Doctor's apparently human background and use of the specific name "Dr. Who" being used for the character, but perhaps most disappointing of all is the replacement of the famous opening music with a generic piece from Malcolm Lockyer, whose score is reminiscent of other sixties production such as 'Thunderbirds' (alright, I'm not familiar with many others).
A slightly higher budget and lack of major special effects scenes keep this film from dating too badly, though the Daleks' colourful collection of lava lamps in their control room seems rather questionable in hindsight, and as long as the viewer is prepared to ignore the fact that the forest is an obvious set illuminated by equally unconvincing green lighting. It caused me to think that this would make quite a good children's play (a Dalek pantomime perhaps?), though with the recent series continuing to capture the youth's imaginations, much to the delight of parents who have to shell out for Dalek hybrid masks, such a venture would only prove confusing. The final half-hour of this film becomes a little long-winded, despite attempting to be action-packed, but on the whole this is a fun and viable alternative to watching the more in-depth William Hartnell serial on which it is based. This version is shorter, coloured-in, and has Peter Cushing playing a silly old man, but the following year's sequel was a lot better.
Summary: Starring Peter Cushing as Dr. Who (1965).