Sunday, 15 October 2017

CALLUM MCKELVIE ASKS : DOCTOR WHO AND DR WHO JUST WHO IS WHO?


IN ROUGHLY two-month’ time, the science-fiction programme Doctor Who, will see the thirteenth official ‘Doctor’ take on the role and the first female to do so. In its now over fifty year run-time, the programme has been through varying incarnations, from the political thrillers of the early 70’s period of the shower, to the gothic horror explored a mere five years later. Perhaps it is this versatile nature that allows it to be one of the most popular British television programmes of all time. 


THAT SAID, the two Dalek movies from the early 60’s are somewhat…controversial. Many people detest them, often citing the childish atmosphere and complete abandonment of the continuity of the television programme. Well I must confess that I hold a very different view and here I intend to defend a pair of often lambasted movies. This first post will tackle 1965’s Dr Who and the Daleks, whilst I will return soon to take on the sequel, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D (1966).



TO BEGIN, in the interest of full disclosure I must confess that:
A) I am a massive Doctor Who fan, to the point that I regularly attend conventions, listen to the audios, buy the magazines etc., etc. B) that is primarily due to these two films.






PICTURE IF YOU WILL, a four/five year-old northern lad who is already becoming something of a science-fiction aficionado. By this point I’d seen and enjoyed Forbidden Planet (1956), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and War of the Worlds (1953). So naturally when I caught the final five minutes of Dr Who and the Daleks, I was hooked, managing to catch the entirety of the sequel a week later. From there I spun off into the television series, before eventually finding my way back to classic Sf/Horror cinema. So there you have it, this is the perspective of not only a Doctor Who super-fan, but one whose entire love for this subject is probably the result of these two movies.


SO WHERE TO BEGIN, my defence then? Well the Doctor Who movies usually receive criticism for three main points. The differences to the TV version, the child-like atmosphere and (amongst some fans) Cushing’s portrayal of the role. Starting with the first point, the television character is an alien, having fled his home planet and now roams time and space in his stolen Tardis, referring to himself only as; The Doctor (played on television by William Hartnell). He lands on the planet Skaro, with his granddaughter Susan and two school teachers, Ian and Barbara. Here he meets the Daleks, survivors of a nuclear war against another species, the Thals. The Daleks have mutated hideously and have locked themselves in travel machines in order to survive. Consumed with race hatred, they wish to eliminate the now peaceful Thals.


CUSHING AND SUBOTSKY'S version is a human being called ‘Dr. Who’ a somewhat dithering Grandfather who built the Tardis in his back garden. His granddaughter is no longer a teenager, but a small girl (Roberta Tovey) and the school teachers are changed for his beautiful niece (Jennie Linden) and her comic-relief lover (Roy Castle). This lack of continuity with the television series often causes upsets. 



ABOVE: Until quite recently in the TV series, the question of what actually IS inside the DALEK armor, was never really touched on and certainly not see, making this shot, a NO NO!


ABOVE: The SLAP-STICK SLICK, of Roy Castle is from 'another time'. The  now serious business of WHO time travel, losses it's drama punch, with clown shoes throwing a pie into the face of today's Doctor Who . . . 


THOUGH ONE WONDERS how much this is effected by what has come since. At this stage decidedly little was known about the title character. Several points which the film states as absolute (his name being Dr. Who and the possibility that he built the Tardis) were at this point, possibilities. In the 1965 television serial The Chase, the first doctor stated that he had built the Tardis whilst the Daleks would refer to him as ‘Human’. Other details from this time that would forgotten included a line that indicated the Doctor had only one heart and the Daleks stating that although he was human, this was not his ‘true form’ (The Daleks Masterplan 1965).


NOT ONLY THAT but the television serial upon which this is based (1963’s The Daleks) was cut down from a seven episode serial with each episode running roughly twenty-five minutes, into a ninety minute feature film, losing the more ‘talky’ elements and emphasising the action sequences. 


THIS WAS ALSO the trend at the time, with many adaptations of popular television shows at the time, choosing to adapt one of that particular series most popular or ‘important’ story lines. For example 1970’s House of Dark Shadows adapts Barnabas’s main story from Dark Shadows, ramping up the gore and fear factor for a mainstream audience whilst the UK 1971 Callan theatrical movie, also adapted that show’s first episode, again increasing the thrills for a big screen adventure. 


THE DARKER ELEMENTS  and detail of the script had to be jettisoned and the resultant film (no doubt due to Subotsky’s love for family friendly material) was aimed at younger children. Again this can be somewhat jarring to fans of the television series, but this is not unlike a majority of the science-fiction adventure films of the time. Perhaps a good comparison is the 1964 adaptation of H.G Wells The First Men In the Moon which similarly features an eccentric elderly inventor, a journey to another civilisation and an emphasis on light-hearted comedy, or another Jules Verne adaptation 1959’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. 


'The First Men In The Moon' (1964) Soft, Cuddly and Kiddie-friendly!


 Our Review and Gallery of 'The First Men In The Moon' can be found: HERE!


AGAIN, whilst this may seem jarring, contextually it seems perfectly normal befitting a film of this nature as made in the mid 1960’s. It had a space journey, scary monsters and an alien world, perfect for the kid’s matinees! A Doctor Who film of the mid-late 1970’s would no doubt of followed some of the cinematic conventions of the time, as indeed the aborted script of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, shows with him borrowing heavily from British horror. Indeed he even wanted Vincent Price to play the Villain!



IT'S HARD TO THINK of another Cushing character which is as divisive as his portrayal of the Doctor, a portrayal that would be massively toned down in the next film. Here he is heavily made up, with shocking white hair and a large bushy moustache. He seems constantly arched over and twitters and jumps excitedly, a mix between a Victorian scientist and the ideal grandfather. Admittedly, at points it can seem a little bit much perhaps not helped by the script (which includes a somewhat cringe inducing joke about ‘soft centred’ chocolates) but Cushing’s whimsical charm fits the very light-hearted tone of the film.



IT ALSO DOESN'T HELP that given the cut down run-time, Cushing has surprisingly little to do as the film goes on. Of course he invents the machine to take our heroes to the planet, deducts various things throughout the film, but when facing off the Daleks, he seems somewhat weak. Cushing’s Doctor (at least in this instalment) isn’t the strong, steadfast hero that we now associate with the character.


IN THE SEQUEL (as we shall see) this is one of the character traits that he changes to suit the darker script and his Doctor is all the better for it. However again we come back to the argument that at this stage the Doctor isn’t the draw. His character is not set in stone and in the colourful, child-like and child-for world of the film he fits right in. 




THE DALEKS themselves are terrifying. In full colour, they are far larger than their television counter-parts and having deeper, more booming voices that echo around the large and equally impressive sets. There are also far more of them, gliding menacingly in the background of various shots. The final battle sequence is superb and is easily the highlight of the film, with large explosions and Daleks spinning and crashing, making the television version pale in comparison.


INDEED WHILST certainly characters and some of the darker sides of Nations script are gone, the action set pieces are increased ten-fold. Dr Who and the Daleks is a brilliant Saturday matinee adventure film. Cushing’s portrayal, whilst certainly controversial, fits the tone and mood of the film perfectly.





WHILST I CAN see why fans of the show may not like this particular version, the television original is still there. You can still watch it and it has in no way had its status or reputation diminished by this version. Dr Who and the Daleks is best viewed not as a ‘Doctor Who’ film but a Dalek orientated children’s film and it is by no means any the worse for that. 



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