Dr. Who and the Daleks Review

Doctor Who was only five weeks old when a sucker arm emerged from offscreen to menace Barbara Wright in the cliffhanger to the first episode of the second serial. Enter the Daleks, and they and the Doctor have been inextricably entwined ever since, so much so that Dalek creator Terry Nation has often been wrongly credited with creating Doctor Who itself.

Milton Subotsky was a British-based American, whose production company Amicus was rapidly making a name for itself, mostly for horror movies. But he always had an eye on what his arch-rival Hammer was doing. Noticing their success with films aimed at a more family audience, released during half-terms and school holidays. So he bought the rights to bring the Daleks into the cinema. At a time when all television was black and white, now Nation's creations were in colour and on a big – and wide – screen. It was released shortly after William Hartnell's small-screen Doctor had had his third encounter with the Daleks in The Chase.

Doctor Who had sold overseas from the very beginning, with Australia and Canada being two English-speaking countries which broadcast the show from early 1965. However, the USA was not one of them. (Who was not broadcast in the USA until 1972, with Jon Pertwee's stories.) However, the USA was the pre-eminent film market, so Subotsky (writing the screenplay with an uncredited David Whitaker, the show's original script editor) had to tailor the film to that audience. That meant replacing Hartnell (in any case too busy making the television show, then shown nearly all year round) with a bigger-name actor, namely Peter Cushing. Gone was Ron Grainer's memorable theme tune (then as arranged by Delia Derbyshire). And if far too much ink has been spilled and electrons disturbed trying to sort out the TV series's continuity, trying to fit this big-screen iteration in will likely cause your brain to implode, as the film introduces us to our leading characters to set up the premise for cinema viewers new to Who.

Although the name of his race and home planet were in television future, we knew from the outset that Hartnell's Doctor and his granddaughter Susan were not of this world. Not so Cushing's Doctor, who is actually called “Dr Who” something he was never (well, almost never) addressed as on the small screen. The TV series was nominally a children's show, but the film pitches younger, and the action – with Daleks shooting what seems like fire extinguishers – played strictly within U-certificate bounds. This Susan is not a teenager (played by a twenty-three-year-old woman who was a mother at the time) but by eleven-year-old Roberta Tovey. Barbara changes from being a schoolteacher to being an older Doctor grandchild (played by Jennie Linden) and Ian becomes her boyfriend, played by Roy Castle, doing double duty as action provider and comic relief.

For the first reel, Dr. Who and the Daleks is a four-hander, with Ian's clumsiness sending the four of them in the TARDIS to the Daleks' planet, full of petrified forestry and wildlife. Then the main plot kicks in, a cut-down version of the original seven-part serial, taking up the remaining hour of the not-long running time, where the peaceful Thals, led by Alydon (Barrie Ingham) are under threat by the mutants inside metal casings, the Daleks.

Gordon Flemyng, was a safe pair of hands to direct, Shooting in the Techniscope format (more of that later), he does well to disguise what was not a huge budget and fills the wide screen. This film used to be a perennial on the BBC in the Seventies, a time when no Scope film was ever shown letterboxed on British television, so Flemyng and DP John Wilcox's use of Scope is quite a revelation if you've only seen this film before panned and scanned. Flemyng keeps the film moving, despite its somewhat thin storyline. Cushing is a commanding presence, though his take on the Doctor is much more kindly and much less irascible than Hartnell's. Tovey avoids making Susan too irksomely precocious, though Castle at times overdoes the comic relief. Linden is a little bland and is overshadowed by the rest. Yvonne Antrobus (as the Thal Dyoni) was not available to post-dub her lines, so her voice is provided by another actress, name unknown.

Riding a tide of Dalekmania, Dr. Who and the Daleks did very well at the box office and spawned a sequel...but that's another disc and another review.

The Disc

Dr. Who and the Daleks comes to Blu-ray on a BD25 disc encoded for Region B only.

The film was shot in Techniscope, a two-perforation (as opposed to the normal four) 35mm process/ Techniscope was popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, often for lower- or medium-budget films, as it provided a widescreen image without the use of expensive-to-rent anamorphic lenses and as it exposed an area half the height of a normal 35mm frame one reel of film got twice as much use. (Techniscope fell into disuse in the 1970s except for some special-effects work, though the name is sometimes used more recently as a synonym for two-perf Super 35. Films shot in the latter process include Shame and Silver Linings Playbook.) One downside of the process, or a feature if you prefer, was increased grain, Dr. Who and the Daleks isn't hugely grainy, but the grain on this Blu-ray transfer does look filmlike. The colours do look true, with solid blacks and close shots are very detailed. Some of the longer shots look a little less detailed, though that may well be as per original.

Dr. Who and the Daleks was made and released in mono, as was the case with almost every film of 1965 other than 70mm presentations. Thankfully, StudioCanal have not remixed the soundtrack into fake 5.1 and have left it as mono (LPCM 2.0). It sounds fine, with dialogue, music and sound effects clear and well balanced, as befits a professional job of work by Amicus's sound department. Also thankfully, StudioCanal have provided optional hard-of-hearing subtitles, which has not normally been their policy on English-language releases.

Some of the extras are ported over from the film's DVD release from 2002. This includes a commentary, billed as featuring Jennie Linden and Roberta Tovey but in fact is moderated by Jonathan Southcote, author of The Cult Films of Peter Cushing. This is a pleasant chat, with both women clearly having clearly happy memories of the filming and of working with Peter Cushing in particular . They both remember Roy Castle taking opportunities to practise his trumpet playing and tapdancing in his dressing room at every opportunity, distracting young Tovey (and her chaperone) from her schoolwork. Flemyng struck a deal with Tovey that he would give her a shilling every time she did a shot in one take. He didn't repeat this deal for the sequel, presumably as he realised how much he would be out of pocket! This commentary is heavier on anecdote than anything else, so it may be light on the hard information some Who aficionados might wish for.

“Dalekmania!” (57:30) is a documentary that dates back to 1995 and the film's VHS release. It's presented in 4:3, upscaled to 1080p50, though film clips and some dramatised material at the beginning and end are letterboxed. (Who fans will note that the commissionaire in the opening scene is played by Michael Wisher, a regular Dalek voice on television and the first and definitive incarnation of the Daleks' creator Davros.) Roberta Tovey features here too, so inevitably this duplicates information from the commentary, though we do find out exactly how many shillings “One-Take Tovey” earned. However, we do get to hear from people who were alive then but aren't now, notably Terry Nation, who died in 1997 and has been inevitably sparsely represented on the range of Who DVDs of the television series. Stunt coordinator Eddie Powell, who died in 2000, also appears: he towers over the adult Tovey in one shot, so you can see why he used to be Christopher Lee's stunt double. Peter Cushing and Roy Castle had both passed away the previous year, and the documentary is dedicated to their memories. (Gordon Flemyng died in 1995.) Given that it is now eighteen years old, it's unavoidably a little dated – one contributor is looking forward to seeing the Who films in colour and widescreen on video (younger viewers, ask your parents what that was). It could also have been more detailed: Raymond Cusick, recently departed as I write this, certainly deserved some attention for coming up with the design of the Daleks. Meanwhile, you do get to find out how much Dalek memorabilia went for back in the day. We also see some very faded-to-pink and battered clips from the Italian and French dubbed versions of the film, so thank the Blu-ray gods that you aren't watching something with that lack of picture quality.

For some more detailed information on the film's production, we have Gareth Owen (7:41), author of The Shepperton Story, who talks to camera about the film's conception, making and release. Also on the disc is a featurette covering the restoration of Dr. Who and the Daleks (8:26), which goes into some detail about the Techniscope format the film was shot in, and shows how the picture and soundtrack has been digitally repaired.

The extras are included with a stills gallery (2:12, the only extra in 1080p24) and the theatrical trailer (3:04).

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