Review – Dr Who And The Daleks (1965)
Doctor Who began life, as the television series we all know and love, way back in 1963. With two years of success under it’s belt, it was decided to turn the programme into a movie, and hit the big screen with a vengeance. This feature film adaption of The Doctors second television adventure, came into being in 1965. Up until now, The Daleks had only been seen in black and white, and on the small screen. Now they were about to explode onto the cinema screen in full colour, in a feature length movie, and in widescreen.
The first time i saw this film was in the mid to late 1970s. It was one of those madly hot summers, when it seemed the only thing on television was cricket. It dominated the airwaves most days, from morning till night. This particular day i heard the announcement that coverage of the cricket had been postponed, due to some technical issue or other, and in it’s place, the BBC were showing a film, Dr Who And The Daleks. Finally i was going to see the movie version of my favourite television show. I’d heard so much about it over the years but never seen it. Obviously these were the days before VHS and DVD when i could have just rented or bought the movie. The only way to see films back then, was either in the cinema, or on television, years after the big screen release.
Dr Who And The Daleks, is a very different beast to the original BBC series, in a number of ways. To begin with, none of the cast of the actual series were asked to appear in the movie. Neither Dr Who, nor William Hartnell had even been heard of Stateside, which required the studio to find a big name for the title role, a name that would attract not only American, but international audiences. So they went for what they considered to be the safest option, and cast Peter Cushing, famous worldwide for his work in the Hammer films, as The Doctor.
His Grandaughter, Susan, originally played by Carol Ann Ford, went from being a teenager on the verge of leaving school, to a 10 year old girl played by Roberta Tovey, which they thought would appeal to younger viewers. The Doctor also gained an older Grandaughter, in the form of Barbara, played by Jennie Linden. Roy Castle was cast as Barbara’s boyfriend Ian. In the series, he was portrayed as a quite serious, straight faced, slightly heroic figure. The scriptwriters on the movie decided, for some reason best known to themselves, to turn him into a clumsy, pratfalling buffoon. The biggest difference though is with The Doctor himself. In the series we all knew him as a time traveller, from the distant the planet of Gallifrey, but here he’s human, from earth and a bumbling elderly scientist, who is actually called “Dr Who”.
The story is simple and straightforward. When visiting his girlfriend Barbara, Ian is given a tour of the TARDIS by The Doctor. However, being the clumsy great pudding he is, he accidentally activates it, transporting them all to the, then unknown planet, of Skaro. Keen to explore they find themselves prisoners in a city controlled by the Daleks. The Daleks seek to rule the whole planet and get rid of the peace loving natives known as Thals. When The Doctor accidentally helps the Daleks to achieve this, they have little choice but to work with the native Thals, to stop the Daleks.
Before the film went into production, the original script was shown to the BBFC, and John Trevelyan, the head censor at the time, objected to the Daleks being armed with flamethrowers, as he thought they would be too scary for the younger kids, plus they didn’t want children immitating them, by setting aerosol cans alight, so they went to the opposite end of the scale and armed them with what looked like fire extinguishers.
Rumour had it, that Peter Cushing was offered the role of The Doctor in the television series before William Hartnell, but turned it down, due to being too busy with his Hammer film output. Also Hartnell was mightily upset that he wasn’t offered the lead role in this movie version, even though he realised and understood, that neither he, nor the series was known at all outside of the U.K.
The movie was made to cash in on the huge popularity of both Doctor Who, and of course Dalekmania, which had gripped the nation since their first appearance in the original series two years previously.
This film version also had much higher production values than the series. The sets were larger, much more colourful and elaborate, they could also afford to have bigger, more brightly coloured Daleks built especially for the production. The whole movie looked very polished, and had a quaint “Flash Gordon” type charm, which gave it the feeling of a living comic strip, complete with it’s over the top, bright and intense colours.
Despite the film being a box office smash, packing out cinemas all over the country, it was not a critical success. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic loathed it. On the back of it’s success in theatres, a sequel was immediately commisioned, and Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D, went straight into production, and this was to be a much darker, grittier, more violent affair. My review of this follow up is coming up in a few weeks time.
To sum up, Dr Who And The Daleks is a fun, family, adventure film that, while it may be too dated for today’s youngsters, still has a certain sparkle, that is perfect fare for a rainy Saturday afternoon. Yes, it’s vastly different from the series but for me it’s all the better for it. Watch it as a stand alone movie and you won’t go too far wrong. A definite recommendation from me, and a good solid 9/10