If you are a Doctor Who fan, then you know exactly what happens in just two days. However, if you’ve been trapped for the last 50 years in an ice tomb on Telos, then I’ll just give you a hint. Our favorite Time Lord turns 50 years old on November 23. Well, more accurately the television series Doctor Who does, just how old the Doctor is may never be really known despite constant debates to clarify it. However, in a week where we’ve heard and read all about the 11 doctors and the War Doctor and the upcoming 12th Doctor, it seems nobody has paid attention to another Doctor…Peter Cushing.
In 1965, Doctor Who was a bonafide success on the BBC so it should come as no surprise that a decision was made to put the Doctor on the big screen. However, despite thoughts to the contrary, it was a decision early on that any theatrical film would only use certain aspects of the television series. Therefore, Dr. Who and the Daleks was never intended to be part of what everyone was already watching but rather it could more appropriately be called an alternate universe version. Here, the Doctor is actually called “Doctor Who” and he is only an eccentric scientist (he isn’t a Time Lord, which technically we didn’t even know about on the TV version yet). Peter Cushing (Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula) plays Dr. Who as more comical instead of the irascible Doctor as William Hartnell was playing on TV. His granddaughter Susan is there but younger and played by actress Roberta Tovey. Barbara (Jennie Linden) is no longer a teacher but his granddaughter as well and Ian (Roy Castle, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors) is just Barbara’s boyfriend and has become a bit of a bumbler. Dr. Who has created a time machine in his backyard called TARDIS and it resembles a blue police box. However, there is no explanation of why he would build it like that. It is bigger on the inside, just like the TARDIS we know but the interior looks unlike anything we ever saw on TV.
The story has Dr. Who showing Ian his time machine when Ian accidentally causes it to transport them all to the planet Skaro, although we wouldn’t know that name until the sequel the following year. The story follows the original 7-part television episode fairly close with some differences. Our travelers encounter the Daleks in a city just outside a petrified forest. The planet has been devastated by a nuclear war and the Daleks are the mutated remains living inside a robotic shell. The Daleks here are bigger than what we had seen on TV up to this point. They are also more colorful along with red lights and some even had a claw instead of the usual plunger attachment. Outside of the city, the Thals, remnants of another race but looking more like normal humanoids, still exist but are in search of food. The Daleks cannot leave their city and plan to wipe out the Thals once and for all. However, Dr. Who and his companions work with the Thals to stop the evil plan of the Daleks.
To enjoy this film, a Doctor Who fan needs to leave all expectations at the door. With the subtle differences aside, it is a visual feast of 1960s goodness. Bright colors and a breezy soundtrack make for some lighthearted viewing. Granted, Peter Cushing gives a bit of an uninspired performance but it is fun seeing him match wits with the Daleks. And no, it does not pack the punch that the television series did at the time but at just 83 minutes, it moves along quickly in establishing this new Whovian universe. Check out the great trailer and then begin your hunt for the DVDs as they are now out-of-print. There was a nice box set released in 2001 that includes the 1966 sequel along with a fun documentary called Dalekmania. Prices seem to vary so buyers beware.
On a side note, this film actually was released by Amicus Productions but they did not receive any credit. Because Amicus could not finance a film of this magnitude yet, they had to secure financing from AARU who received full credit as part of the business deal.
Tomorrow, we take a look at the 1966 sequel, Daleks-Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. as we get one day closer the big 50th anniversary celebration.