Dr. Who & The Daleks (1965)
Back in the mid-sixties, when the world was in the grip of Beatlemania, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg of Amicus Productions invested in a different ‘mania’ that was sweeping the UK. Acquiring the rights to bringing Terry Nation’s creations to the big screen, they freed the Daleks from black and white TV’s and unleashed them in glorious full-colour Techniscope. At home on the telly, the first Doctor was being played by the wispy white-haired William Hartnell. Even though he could time-travel, Messrs Subotsky and Rosenberg didn’t feel Hartnell could cross the pond and brought in the venerable Hammer stalwart Peter Cushing who was better known to US audiences.
In adapting the character for the big screen, the Doctor is stripped of his alien status and is merely an eccentric inventor and kindly grandfather whose surname happens to be ‘Who’. We are introduced to his granddaughters in a nicely staged domestic scene where the camera pans from the younger granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey), across to older sister Barbara (Jennie Linden) – both reading scientific manuals – before settling on Cushing who is engrossed in a comic. Enter Barbara’s nervous and clumsy boyfriend Ian (Roy Castle) who is invited by the Doctor to step out into the garden to see his latest invention: a time-travelling police box known as T.A.R.D.I.S. Before you know it, Ian and the Who family are flung into futuristic space and end up on the planet Skaro. Here they encounter a peaceful race called the Thals who live in the shadow of nuclear attack from the planet’s other residents – the Daleks.
The film suffers from being studio-bound and watching it today it has the feel of a big budget widescreen episode of original series Star Trek. The forest set is at least effectively lit with bold swathes of colour, although the mutated swamp creatures hinted at sadly never materialise. As for the titled baddies themselves, their metallic dialogue is delivered with hilariously over emphasised E-NUN-CI-A-TION. Originally the Daleks were supposed to shoot fire, but this was deemed too scary for children so instead they shoot (somewhat ironically) CO2 fire extinguishers. Acting honours go to the young Roberta Tovey who is convincing and delivers possibly the least annoying child performance of all time. Cushing is as reliable as ever and an honourable mention must also go to Barrie Ingham (Alydon - the leader of the Thals), who manages to retain his dignity despite being asked to wear ridiculous false eyelashes and a blond wig.
It all moves along at a fair clip, and never outstays its welcome. For a modern audience raised on a diet of Tennant and Smith breathlessly dashing from one state of the art effects set-piece to another the film provides quite a culture shock. But it’s a charming diversion on a wet Sunday afternoon for both Dr Who completists and casual viewers alike. The re-mastered Blu-ray image is pin-sharp and colour-rich, highlighting every detail on display (including the obvious matte work). The Techniscope film grain is of course present throughout, but this, coupled with the decision not to upgrade the original mono soundtrack, adds an authentically nostalgic feel to the viewing experience. First published on Fleapits & Picture Palaces.