The Dalek Collection Review
In a townhouse in the sixties, Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara (Jennie Linden), the granddaughters of Doctor Who (Peter Cushing), sit reading textbooks for the enquiring and the advanced minds whilst the good doctor ponders over the latest adventures of Dan Dare in the Eagle comic. As Barbara leaves the room, the doorbell rings and Susan goes to answer it, knowing that it will be Ian (Roy Castle), boyfriend of Barbara and someone who isn't so much useful as offers a nice line in gifts for his girlfriend. That night, despite it being largely the same as any other night, Doctor Who decides to show Ian his latest invention, a TARDIS, built in an old police box but being very much larger on the inside than out. In they go, where they're soon joined by Barbara but Ian somehow manages to push a lever within the machine, which causes the machinery to begin whirring and the TARDIS to take an unpredictable journey through time and space.
Indeed, where they land - and when! - is something that none of them could have predicted. Leaving the TARDIS and exploring the dusty forest outside, they come upon a city but one that is run by the survivors of a great war who have now chosen to live within machines. Outside the city, there is talk of mutants, who have somehow managed to survive the intense radiation that has almost destroyed the planet but despite Doctor Who urging them to live in peace, the creatures within the city have had their minds twisted by their living in machines. Escaping and joining forces with the survivors outside the city - the Thaal - the doctor decides to put an end to this conflict and to ensure his own survival by destroying those within, the Daleks!
There may be entirely obvious economic reasons why there aren't more feature-length episodes of Doctor Who - the most recent one starring Paul McGann may not have the success that its producers had hoped for - but 1965’s Doctor Who And The Daleks shows that there is much fun to be had with the characters created by the BBC for its prime-time television science-fiction. Of course, it may be that that kind of fun - typically, a campy, light-hearted tale of the doctor fighting Daleks in a suitably psychedelic late-sixties setting - is not something that diehard fans of the series have a great deal of time for but as a way to skirt about the edges of a long-running and sometimes densely plotted show. Even as a child, I never quite had the time to wonder about the ways of the Sontarons, Axons or Sea Devils. Nor did I think the Timelords were any more worthy of consideration than Battle Of The Planets, which often left a five- or six-part entry like The Invasion of Time something of a chore. There were, after all, trees to climb, football to be played and a ZX Spectrum that, with Jet Set Willy, offered more immediate fun than Dr Who.
As an adult, I have, if anything, even less time to devote to any one series - children are something like black holes in that they consume space and, depending on the theories of Stephen Hawking, time - which has left the Russell T Davies era of Dr Who something of a weekend treat. One has to remember very little about who is who and what and where they have originated from to explain to children that they are either good or bad and in that, as well as the odd pre-bedtime scare, Davies has made Dr Who a solid piece of entertainment that all the family, even the pre-schoolers, can enjoy. Sometimes terrible, typically very good and occasionally excellent, the two latest series of Dr Who are frequently like this film, often with more of an accent on comedy - sometimes very obvious comedy - and a cliffhanger every quarter-hour than the classic serial.
All of which makes Doctor Who And The Daleks something of a childish treat. There is none of the internal debating over whether the Daleks deserve to live of Genesis Of The Daleks, none of the chills of Horror Of Fang Rock and none of the ambitious plotting of Pyramids Of Mars. Instead, there's excitement, fun and, as Roy Castle struggles with controlling a Dalek from inside, laughs. And the Daleks have really never looked better. Filmed in 2.35:1, this makes great use of the width of the screen and early psychedelia to produce a bright, colourful and sometimes beautiful film. With the Thaal being handsomely made up and Peter Cushing turning in a rather more gentle and fogeyish interpretation of Doctor Who than did William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, this stands quite a distance apart from the television show but is a particularly enjoyable mid-afternoon treat. But it's the Daleks who are the stars of the film, featuring a design that would go on to become the standard, even for the television show. With a colour scheme designed to reflect a management structure - blue Daleks are the workers, red are their leaders and the black Dalek is the supreme ruler - they're such a stunning set of creatures that one tends to mourn them as they get pushed down lift shafts, get blown up and - via Ian's shouting of, "Daleks!" - put an end to their own plans for total domination of Skaro.
In fact, all that it misses, and this is no criticism of the part that Roy Castle plays, is Bernard Cribbins, who stars in Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD as a bumbling copper who, like Ian, ventures alongside the doctor in a manner too haphazard to be heroic. Stumbling into the TARDIS after failing to stop a burglary, Tom Campbell (Cribbins), again like Ian, accidentally activates the TARDIS, whereupon he, Louise (Jill Curzon), Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Doctor Who (Peter Cushing) arrive in the London of 2150 and uncover a plot by the Daleks to extract the core of the Earth through a mine set in the lush English countryside. Assisted by Robomen, the Daleks have oppressed humanity and forced them to work in the mines but small pockets of men and women are fighting back. When the doctor gives them a purpose and reveals to them the plans of the Daleks, they rise up against their masters but is it too late?
A better film all round than Doctor Who And The Daleks, this film, based on the 1964 television serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth, has more laughs in it, looks better and has a greater sense of drama to it than its predecessor. However, where it's clearly an improvement is in its run of memorable images - a Dalek emerging from the Thames is unforgettable, as is Andrew Keir running them down in a Bedford van - as well as its bleak sense of human collaborators with the Daleks. With little Susan being betrayed by two women who report on her location to the Daleks in return for food and Tom and Doctor Who being escorted to the mine by someone on the make. However, with plenty of humour - Bernard Cribbins attempting to hide within a battalion of Robomen is the comic highlight - and a genuine sense of excitement in its finale as Daleks crumple in an intense magnetic field, this is a hugely entertaining feature.
Fans of the classic television series may well sneer at these films, much as I suspect they did at the farting Slitheen in Aliens of London and World War Three but, like those same aliens, kids will lap these films up. When Doctor Who is spoken of as a show for children, it may be more these films that its critics have in mind than more serious fare, such as the E-Space Trilogy. But it sometimes pays to take the time out to watch Bernard Cribbins and Roy Castle footle about with the Daleks and these films are not only well worth buying for those moments but also for offering Terry Nation's creations the grand stage that they so deserved.
Anamorphically presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and with their original mono soundtracks, these are as well presented as one might expect from Optimum. With plenty of grain in the image, they look like films that have sat about the vaults for the last forty years but they've clearly been remastered for this release and look bright, colourful and with plenty of detail in the picture. But they were very well made and besides the odd wobble of a Dalek, it's obvious that the budget made it onto the screen with there being such a look of professionalism that the television series could not hope to match. As for the mono audio tracks, there isn't a problem with either of them but other than saying that they sound good with little noise, faults or distortion, there isn't much else that can be said about them.
There are two extras on these DVDs, one on each disc. The first, on Doctor Who And The Daleks, is a commentary featuring Roberta Tovey and Jennie Linden as well as the author of The Cult Films of Peter Cushing, Jonathan Southcote. Often lapsing into silence and with a sketchy amount of detail on the making of the film, this isn't a particularly good commentary and doesn't offer very much to the listener.
The second bonus feature and the best in the set is Dalekmania (57m29s), an hour-long documentary on the Daleks, their creator Terry Nation and the television serials and films in which they featured. Of course, given that Dalekmania has been included in this set, it refers to both of these films much more than it does the television show and is a light-hearted documentary that takes particular pleasure in revealing the collectors who have spent a foolish amount of money on all manner of Dalek nonsense. With interviews with Roberta Tovey, Jill Curzon, Barrie Ingraham and Yvonne Antrobus there isn't a great deal of insight into the making of the films but with Terry Nation on hand to discuss his creations, it isn't a bad feature but perhaps a very slight one.
Despite them planning a third film based on the television serial The Chase, Aaru Productions stopped their series of Doctor Who for the big screen after these two features. This two-disc set celebrates the two films that were made by presenting them in a very decent manner but are let down by a disappointing set of extras. However, as a stopgap before Torchwood, another Christmas Special and a new series in the new year, these are more than enough.