HCF REWIND NO. 169: DR WHO AND THE DALEKS [UK 1965]
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
RUNNING TIME: 78 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Dr. Who and his granddaughters, Susan and Barbara, show Barbara’s boyfriend Ian the Doctor’s latest invention, a time machine called the Tardis. Ian accidentally activates the machine, and it transports them to another planet. Who, eager to investigate, fakes a leak in the Tardis to keep them there. They walk through a petrified forest where a hand touches the terrified Susan, then enter a strange city which is solely inhabited by the Daleks, who capture them. They inform them that the planet was devastated by a nuclear war fought between the Daleks and the Thals, the end of which saw the Daleks, heavily mutated by radiation, encase themselves in protective machines and retreat into their city while the human-like Thals survived the fallout through the use of an anti-radiation drug….
The two Dr Who films are not considered ‘canon’ by many fans, and they do seem to exist separately to all the TV programmes, though saying that I have read an explanation by a fan which makes sense of the films in the context of the series, or should I say partially read, because it was the kind of extremely complex thing that ‘lost’ me after a couple of paragraphs! In any case, anyone who has viewed even just a few TV episodes would have trouble reconciling Dr Who And The Daleks with the series, right from the first few seconds where you don’t hear Ron Grainer’s iconic piece of music but a more ‘swinging’ kind of tune which, along with the trippy colour schemes behind the credits, scream the 1960’s in a film where the Dalek’s city is largely pink, purple and gold and has lava lamps! Yes, lava lamps. Then when you meet the Doctor, Who is actually his name, and he’s not a Time Lord but a human inventor, though to be fair there had only been William Hartnell up to that time and his origins had not been gone into except to say he was an exile from somewhere. You don’t hear the familiar Tardis sound though, while its interior resembles a destroyed science laboratory.
Produced by Amicus [best known for their horror anthologies], Dr Who And The Daleks was actually a remake of the second Dr Who serial entitled The Daleks, and it’s pretty close, to the point of using some dialogue, though some of the characters and their relationships have been altered, while there is a distinct sense of pandering to a mass audience, especially the younger kind, such as the inclusion of Roy Castle purely to provide comic relief: within a minute he falls through a door he was leaning on when it opened and then accidently sits on some sweets. Later on he falls onto a dead monster and causes its head to fall off. Peter Cushing was cast as Dr Who because Hartnell was not deemed a bit enough star, while the Daleks were now painted in various colours to clearly take advantage of the fact that this was the first Who adventure in colour, but were made less menacing as a result. They were also intended to shoot flame-throwers, but that and the sight of a living creature inside the metal shell were nixed, though there is quite an effective bit when you see an unseen thing wrapped in a cloth, put onto the floor, and part of an alien foot coming out from under the cloth! Released at the height of ‘Dalekmania’, the film was a big hit and a sequel was immediately put into production.
Actaully the Daleks almost drove me mad in this film, because they talk far too much and their monotone, staccato delivery becomes a total pain. Dr Who And The Daleks is certainly a pleasant watch though. The increased budget allows for a technically much more proficient production than any TV episode would be for at least two decades afterwards, though the forest of the Thals is still obviously a set of model grey and brown trees which have a big green light shone over some of them, and you don’t really get a decent exterior shot of the Dalek city. Though it drags a little around the middle with endless escaping from the slow-moving Daleks, the story mostly moves at a fair clip and the final third brings on the serial-like perils with aplomp, with a deadly swamp [replete with a creature you were originally intended to see, but it looked poor], literal cliff-hanging and even a ticking bomb. The Thal, slightly menacing in one scene where Susan is chased through the forest by some purple-clad thing, turn out to be similar to the Eloi in The Time Machine [though with purple eyeliner], peaceful and even downright lazy beings who don’t think fighting is necessary until shown the right thing to do, here by Who in a moment of amusingly devious behaviour from him. It’s all a bit tame [I counted only two deaths] and not quite edge-of-seat enough, but it certainly isn’t boring, remains decent family fun in its old school way and is definitely a pleasure to look at.
Cushing plays the hero as a doddery old man, and doesn’t suggest much mystery, though this is how the script wrote the character anyway. It’s an entertaining performance and certainly different enough to any other Doctor to make it memorable. I would have personally preferred Cushing to have played it a bit darker and sharper, as he was brilliant at doing with Dr Frankenstein, but it would have jarred with the overall tone of the film otherwise. Malcolm Lockyer’s score is a bit too monadic and probably dates the film more than anything else, though it’s reasonable. Watching Dr Who And The Daleks for the first time after what must have been at least thirty years, I found myself, as most modern viewers probably do, chuckling rather more at the bits that weren’t supposed to be funny than the bits that are, but I still felt like a young boy again, and I do sometimes yearn for the innocent charm of old stuff like this which doesn’t feel it has to try and be clever, or ironic, or edgy.