Saturday, 17 August 2013

Dr. Who & The Daleks (Film Review)

The strangest part of Dr. Who & The Daleks is the direction the writing took. Despite being the first theatrical release of Britain's longest running science fiction series, and a direct adaptation of an early story, many elements of the mythos were outright abandoned. The Doctor himself was no longer an alien, TARDIS was now Tardis (no acronym) and the early characters were written to be far more of a family than before. All these elements are effectively heresy to the point where fans would be running to their local ye olde torch and pitchfork dispenser, yet somehow it still manages to be halfway decent. Cheesy early technolour sci-fi yes, but not that bad.

Beginning in mid sixties England, Doctor Who (yes, that's his surname) is an inventor working on a time machine. When showing off the machine to Ian, potential suitor for his granddaughter Barbra, they arrive on the planet of irradiated world of Sakro. Barely supporting life and the forests around them petrified from an old conflict, the humans find themselves trapped. Worse still, when exploring the only standing structure, they soon encounter one of the two remaining races on the planet: The daleks!

Going from the title, not to mention the fact it was the mid sixties, you can probably guess this was funded to capitalise on the Dalekmania of that time. As such the daleks themselves are where a lot of the budget when, with brand new designs and builds intended to work on the big screen and with colour footage they look outstanding. Colourful, mechanical and very 60s they're still designs which are very much of their time and are the most neon we'd see the Doctor's archnemesis up until Victory of the Daleks. It easily made them standout and oddly helped separate the film from later stories in some ways. It allowed it to be more open and adventurous without invoking memories of things like Genesis of the Daleks or The Parting of the Ways. If you're here for them then you're going to get your money's worth, it's with the rest when the flaws start to appear.

The thals, their long standing foe from the same world, had a similar makeover but it fails to be an improvement. With eyeliner galore and looking more like a backup group for David Bowie than an alien race, they're one of the more disappointing aspects of Sakro and don't really work in the slightest. Okay, the original Thals might have looked even more human but in that case it was for anti-nuclear Cold War commentary. Rather than fitting the environment they stick out from the strange architecture and oddly richly coloured dead forest.

As for the main characters, the only one of real note is Peter Cushing. Playing the opposite of the First Doctor to the point of near parody, he none the less manages to create mannerisms and minor details he fits around the script. There's nothing especially deep about this incarnation of the Doctor, but the actor who plays him manages to turn a flatly written character into a likable figure. Ian's similarly flipped, going from a fairly serious and direct person to comic relief. The film goes out of its way to have him made fun of and more of then than not whatever he does will likely end badly for him. He's hardly Jar Jar Binks, but expect to have your eyes rolling more than once. Barbra meanwhile largely fades into the background and Susan is mostly memorable for first encountering the thals than anything else.

On the more analytic side of things, the direction here feels more stock than anything else. There's nothing especially wrong to criticise or a failure to capture scenes which would have marked it out as amateurish for its time, but no stylistic choices  No real flare or individual mark which would make it stand out as the director's own, as if Gordon Flemyng was filming with the constant guidance of a textbook.

There really is very little which can actually be said about the film beyond "you like classic daleks? You might enjoy this." It's camp, colourful, occasionally over the top and more than anything else it's just harmless fun. Nothing substantial even by the standards of Moffat era Doctor Who, but still something you could sit someone with a love of classic 60s B-movie science fiction down in front of and they'd be able to keep up with everything. The plot explains itself, it keeps at a relatively even pace throughout and the only thing that really sticks out awkwardly is Tardis looking like a Police Box. 

Really, the film's a guilty pleasure to be sure but a pleasure none the less.


  1. Being a lifelong (and I do mean long, since 1978) Doctor Who dan I had somehow managed to avoid this film. I would love to say that I was able to enjoy it as much as you did. After all, I love Peter Cushing and am a huge fan of 60's sic-fi and horror. That being said, the changes were patently unnecessary and the writing was abysmal. The most compelling characters were the Daleks. I mean, come on! How sad is that? I felt more genuine emotion from these rolling salt shakers than any of the human or Thal characters. Anyway, maybe the next movie will be better... Fingers crossed.

    1. Yeah, in all honesty you might want to avoid the second one. It's even more insane and over the top than this one with a side helping of cheesiness which just seems to go a little too far, especially on the writing's end.