Doctor Who #128: Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.

"There's always an answer to be found, if you dig deep enough."TECHNICAL SPECS: Released in theaters Aug.5 1966. Available on DVD.

IN THIS ONE... The Dalek Invasion of Earth retold... in GLORIOUS COLOR(TM)!

REVIEW: While Doctor Who and the Daleks stuck pretty close to Terry Nation's original Season 1 script, Daleks Invasion takes far more liberties, and is much better for it. Six episodes produced on a TV budget thus becomes a very pacey color movie clocking in at less than an hour and a half. So obviously, everything is more spectacular. When I remember the Dalek coming out of the Thames, it's probably this one. The beams falling across the TARDIS is practically a set piece. The Dalek saucer contains huge sets. There's a stunt with a guy falling on bricks before getting sprayed by several Daleks. Wyler drives through Daleks (instead of Barbara) and has to break his windshield with a spare brick to see where he's going. The trek to Bedfordshire is paved with Robomen on bridges. And I don't even know how they manage to pull of the finale with the Daleks being sucked into the Earth. Design-wise, the Robomen don't look like zombies with clunky head gear - they've got proper uniforms. The capsule dropped into the mines is a big, bright Christmas ornament that slides down at breakneck speeds. And the production is further amplified by multi-level sets and outdoor explosions with characters in the shot. I do miss the race through London though, because as good as the movie looks, it doesn't have the same sense of place the episodes do.

Though more of a comedy than the original episodes, the slapstick is a lot less Jerry Lewis than in the first movie thanks to the elimination of the over-the-top Ian character. He's replaced by the great Bernard Cribbins who would go on to fight the Daleks again as Donna's grandfather. As Tom Campbell, a beat cop who walks into a certain police box by mistake after being knocked upside the head by jewelry thieves, he brings just the right mix of action heroics and gentle comedy. The stand-out scene for him is the one picture above, where he tries to hide among the Robomen with a vain attempt at following their programmed movements. In the end, he'll be the one who destroys the Daleks by fixing the mineshaft under Doctor Who's directions, a great bit of team work between the two heroes of film, hiding their communication in plain sight. Cribbins is such a joy that you easily forgive the nonsense epilogue in which he's brought back minutes before he left (and there isn't two of him) so he can stop the theft. Turns out he was only three punches away from a promotion. A hoot.

While Tom gets lots to do, and Doctor Who shines as well as the smartest man in the room (don't ask about the red wool gloves though), other characters are by necessity sacrificed. Roberta Tovey is back as Suzie Who, but of course she's too young to get a romance subplot with David. There's little of the resourceful genius of the first film here, and Suzie is relegated to weak-ankled hanger-on most of the time, precocious but not driving the plot . Gone is Barbara, replaced by Doctor Who's niece Louise (without explanation). Louise is strictly a cipher, but I like her better than I do Barbara Who. Jill Curzon is a beauty and the Sherlock Holmes fashion she espouses make her fit in with this TARDIS crew. She doesn't get a lot to do, and certainly doesn't pick up TV Barbara's heroic bits, but she's still brave, runs into a Dalek saucer and proposes jumping out the garbage chute, so she's not useless and is never a screamer. The guest characters both win and lose when compared to the originals. They have much less depth, being either good or evil and only that, without too much nuance, but the resistance fighters at least get to be more "movie heroic", capable of thinking of strategies without a companion's help, and in Dortmun's case, getting to make his sacrifice count as he blows up a building that falls on advancing Daleks. David is more streetwise. Jenny doesn't exist. Most of the others are forgettable (the fight between brothers here has no familial context, for example, and survives only as a plot point). The real exception is the black marketeer Ashton who is wayyyy better in the movie than he was on TV, even if he doesn't get a name here. He's dapper and suave, and totally ruthless. A smiling menace. And he's more instrumental to the plot, and gets a much better and more deserved end as the Daleks blow up his shed. Compare to his death by Slyther on TV...

All the structural changes - mostly who lives through which incident from the original plot - keep the story fresh even to the show's fans, as does the new ending. In the original, the Daleks' bomb is used against them and blows them all up. Here, there's a crazier, but more original outcome, that makes their bomb unleash magnetic forces that suck the Daleks and their ships down into the ground. It's completely insane, but a lot more visual. Well hey, the Daleks' plan to remove the Earth's core and install an engine or somesuch was crazy too. Doctor Who's just fighting crazy with crazy. Peter Cushing's benign performance sells it well enough. You know, it's too bad they never remade The Chase as a third film. I mean, the serial was terrible, but that only means it could have been elevated by the process. And I find myself quite intrigued by this small family of temporal adventurers, facing down the Daleks like real pros, cool and collected. Especially if they could have picked Tom up again.

VERSIONS: It's no mystery the movie is based on the serial we now call The Dalek Invasion of Earth (Doctor Who reviews #46 to 51 on this blog).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Not quite so silly as the first film, the Dalek Invasion of Earth remake is an improvement in large part thanks to Bernard Cribbins' involvement. And of course, he'll be the reason today's fans will want to see this. Good fun!


Mitchell Craig said...

I remember seeing this years ago one Saturday night on WRET Channel 36 in Charlotte, NC when I was a kid. This movie was my gateway drug into Doctor Who. I developed a crush on Roberta Tovey's Susan (which possibly explains my fondness for Sarah Sutton's Nyssa). The Daleks in this movie are impressive, especially in their staccato vocals (hearing them in their TV incarnation is something of a letdown). All in all, a great little film I'd like to see again.

Siskoid said...

So it's all about the curly bangs, eh? ;-)


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