Friday, June 05, 2015

Dr. Who and the Daleks

First things first, and those who know will just have to bear with me, but there is a very important lesson to be learned in the title of this film. It's all in the spelling. Dr. Who is an eccentric inventor played by Peter Cushing in two movies about the Daleks in the 1960s. Doctor Who is a Gallifreyan Time Lord played by over a dozen actors in the BBC television series for over fifty years. Two different things, however similar, got it? And Dr. Who from King Kong Escapes and the Rankin-Bass "Kong" animated series has nothing to do with either.

When "Doctor Who" first featured what would become his primary nemeses, the Daleks, the UK was caught up in a hysteria nearly as mad as Beatlemania. Daleks and Who were everywhere. Seeking to cash in, the BBC rushed into production this movie Dr. Who and the Daleks, and a year later, its sequel Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. It is a re-imagining of the "Doctor Who" TV series, to use the modern vernacular, and the first time we see any version of these characters either in color or widescreen. This was a treat for the times, despite the differences.

In the television series, while it has been presented as a pun on occasion, The Doctor is never referred to as Doctor Who. In the movies however, this is his name. He is a kind old man (as opposed to William Hartnell, the then current and first Doctor, being gruff and unpleasant at times) played with charming eccentricity by Peter Cushing. He is at times childlike and the source of thoroughly British dry wit, but in this fan's eyes, still very much a possible Doctor.

The rest of the TARDIS crew are essentially the same albeit recast for the movies. While Susan is still his granddaughter, changes had been made with the characters of Barbara and Ian. Barbara here is also a granddaughter and Ian is her suitor. In the series, there may have been some romantic chemistry between the two but it wasn't shown until years later when it was revealed that they had married.

We're launched into the story rather quickly, which is nice, no long secret origins or unnecessary exposition, just into the time machine and onto another planet, boom. The story, by the way, is based on the second serialized episode of the TV series, "The Daleks," written, as many later Dalek episodes would be, by Terry Nation. The crew arrives on the planet Skaro (though unnamed until the sequel) which has been ravaged by a nuclear war between the Thals and the Daleks.

What follows is a typical Daleks adventure, but in color and widescreen. The sets and backgrounds are slightly better than that of the TV series, but again kinda cool in color. The Daleks themselves are a little bigger than their TV counterparts, and so much more intimidating. The Thals, on the other hand, are very groovy, therefore dated, and somehow suited more to say Barbarella than "Doctor Who."

Dr. Who and the Daleks is a fun romp, if in some places a bit boring and corny. And if you catch it on TCM, you get to hear Ben Mankiewicz mangle the pronunciation of 'Daleks' multiple times in his intro and outro. I love ya, Ben, but come on! Every Who fan should see this at least once.


  1. I remember seeing this on Channel 9 here in New York during the early 1970s. My first exposure to DOCTOR WHO.

  2. I saw this first, back in the late 80s or very early 90s at a convention, as well as the sequel. Corny, extremely dated, but kinda fun in a "probably won't ever want to see that again, but glad I did" sort of way.