Doctor Who #82: Doctor Who and the Daleks

"If they think us monsters, what must they look like?"TECHNICAL SPECS: Released in theaters Aug.23 1965. Available on DVD.

IN THIS ONE... Doctor Who is an absent-minded professor, Susan is about 10 years old, and the Daleks are in GLORIOUS COLOR(TM!)

REVIEW: The main attraction at the time was that you got to see the Daleks IN COLOR! And if COLOR! is what you want, then COLOR! is what you get, and on that front, it doesn't disappoint. Skaro's jungle is all greens and blues, the Dalek City peaches and bronzes, the Daleks themselves fire engine reds, electric blues and shiny golds, and the Thals wear eye make-up and hot pink camp cloaks. These are 60s chic Daleks who watch big screen TVs and have lava lamps and modern art lying around the place. And there's more of everything: Bigger sets, a whole village of Thals, armies of Daleks, more explosions, a sweeping score, and camera angles and close-ups that generally make this REmake of Terry Nation's The Daleks more dynamic. It could also have something to do with Richard Martin not being the director (no, that's unfair, he would have been great with film). It's basically the same script except for the introduction of the characters - it even includes the outrageous number of goodbyes at the end, though played for gentle comedy here so it actually works - and still manages to come in at 1 hour 22 minutes! The cuts are in the characters of course - there's less sitting around, working out things or giving each character a little scene in each of 7 episodes - but also in the editing, director Gordon Flemyng doesn't go for Martin's more (cough) procedural style. And no, though the padding issues are resolved and not at MUCH cost to the characters, the movie script does not fix the tv script's problems. For example, the surprise attack from the back has no purpose whatsoever.

Peter Cushing plays his human "Doctor Who" as a bow-legged, absent-minded professor type, much more genial than Hartnell's irascible Time Lord. As a stand-alone film meant for the American market which hadn't seen the British TV series, that was a necessary change. Cushing's Doctor doesn't have the time television gives a character to grow and endear itself to the audience. Cushing is immediately charming, reading comics while his granddaughters read heavy science books. His forgetting Ian's name and fluid link deception are likewise played sympathetically, even adorably, not in Hartnell's more sinister style which was meant to keep a mystery about the character. Roberta Tovey as the precocious genius Suzie Who carries a lot of the movie, much younger but also braver than TV's Susan. Her presence, as much as the look of the film, gives it a Sunday afternoon, Wonderful World of Disney kind of feel that's quite comforting. And Tovey is head and shoulders above many a precocious movie/TV kid. Roy Castle's Ian is the comic relief, supplying one bit of slapstick after another, until that horrendous final scene where he goes completely Jerry Lewis on us. (When I hear people put this movie down, I tend to think it's because it leaves us on this scene.) Re-imagined as Barbara's clumsy boyfriend, he still manages a quiet air of heroism, though he lets the Doctor (or even Suzie) take the lead most of the time. My laugh-out-loud moment when watching this time: When he gets roundly slapped by a Thal thanks to the Doctor's "so there is something you will fight for" trick. And then there's Barbara, here an older granddaughter of the Doctor's, the one character that gets really short-changed. Somewhere between patient girlfriend and occasional screamer, Jennie Linden is given nothing of what Jacqueline Hill got to do (either with the crew or the Thals). The TARDIS set is terrible, though necessarily less alien. It's the exception to the rule, as the rest of the film is rather gorgeous-looking. The trademark demateralization sound is absent (as is any hint of Grainger's Doctor Who Theme).

I don't want to spend the whole review making comparisons however. I want to review it in its own right. And as a film version of The Daleks, it hums along nicely, with effective effects, larger-than-life sets and matte paintings, and bloodless enough (one Thal dies and that's it, Dalek deaths don't count) to be appropriate for all ages. Gordon Flemyng uses the film medium to make everything bigger and more dynamic, so we get a final battle that's actually exciting, with the Daleks firing off their explosive gas guns (these work practically and are pretty dynamic compared to people falling down more or less in synch with a white-out on the show), overhead camera angles and lots of Daleks blowing their lids. I does make the Daleks rather stupid as most of them die through friendly fire, and Ian's final heroic act is to make them fire at the neutronic bomb console to stop the countdown by standing in front of it and throwing himself to the ground at the last minute. To be nice, I'll say the Daleks were by then blinded by bloodlust. There's also that cool opening cliff face at the front of the city, which I wish they would have done more with. As for the Thals, they're probably one of the weaker elements in the film. Where character bits have been slashed, Thals were usually standing close. They kept the cowardly brother subplot, but there's otherwise very little to differentiate Alydon from Ganatus (I even got confused), and very little to their culture. The make-up is also a bit on the drag queen side and hard to take seriously.

THEORIES: Some fans have tried to make the Cushing films canon, with variable success. The idea that Cushing is a future regeneration doesn't hold up much water. I could just about believe he settled down in the 60s and had quarter-human granddaughters named after former companions, but he can't very well have an adventure he's ALREADY had back in his first incarnation! Much better is the notion that the film's script was written by Barbara Wright upon returning to her home time, a story based on her own experience, with some details changed for story clarity or to protect the identities of those involved.

VERSIONS: Obviously, the movie is based on the serial we now call The Daleks (Doctor Who reviews #5 to 11 on this blog).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's frankly a more watchable version of The Daleks, and a good bit of fun, but can't rise above Medium because it's out of continuity, a remake of something we've already seen, and has less character content than it ought to. Its strengths are Cushing and Tovey, and the production values. Its weaknesses include the slapstick (depending on your patience for such things) and its thin characterization of the glam Thals.

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