Doctor Who: The Dalek Invasion of Earth Review

The TARDIS lands in London, in the late twenty-second century. The Daleks have invaded and rule Earth with the aid of humans converted into Robomen. Meanwhile, the human resistance is fighting back.

A year beforehand, the Daleks had made their first appearance in Doctor Who and had made an immediate impact. Written again by Terry Nation, The Dalek Invasion of Earth brought the archvillains back for a return match with the Doctor and his companions. (Up to 1966’s The Gunfighters, individual episodes had their own on-screen titles but overall stories did not. Dalek Invasion of Earth is sometimes known as World’s End, which is the title of the first episode.) As would be the case with many later six-parters, Nation’s storyline falls into two parts, the first three episodes set in London, the remainder in and around a large mine in Bedfordshire controlled by the Daleks. Nation also splits the central characters up for a considerable part of the running time: the Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) stay together, while Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) spends most of the serial with Jenny (Ann Davies) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) gets to fall in love with David Campbell (Peter Fraser) and stays behind with him at the end. This serial formed the basis of the feature film Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD, but if you’re more familiar with that, be aware that the original TV serial differs from it in many respects.

There’s no doubting the importance of this serial in Doctor Who history. It’s the source of many classic images from the show, especially the cliffhanger to Episode One showing a Dalek emerging from the Thames and the scenes in Episode Three showing the Daleks roaming around various London landmarks. The story at times is quite bleak, in particular the scene in the fifth episode where two women betray Barbara and Jenny to the Daleks in return for food. Invasion of Earth featured the first extensive use of location shooting. It also marked the first departure of a companion, and the Doctor’s farewell to Susan at the end of the final episode (written by script editor David Whitaker rather than by Nation) is very poignant. The acting from the leads and the supporting cast is solid. To those of a certain age, it’s a bit of shock seeing Mr Rumbold from Are You Being Served? (Nicholas Smith) showing up! However, time has caught up with it, and I don’t find this serial the “all-time classic” it’s often thought to be. It’s overlong and at times ponderous, not helped by some rather poor direction by Richard Martin. (His exterior work is considerably better than his studio work, to be fair to him.) For hardcore Who fans this DVD is surely essential, but for more casual viewers it’s easier to miss.

BBC Worldwide’s two-disc set of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is another impressive DVD. Like all the BBC’s discs it’s encoded for both Regions 2 and 4.

As this was a 1960s TV production, the black and white picture is in the correct 4:3 ratio, so no anamorphic enhancement is necessary or desirable. The serial was shot in a combination of 405-line videotape in the studios and 16mm film for the location work. The original broadcast videotapes having long since been wiped, this DVD is derived from 16mm film recordings made at the time, plus a 35mm copy of Episode Five. As with the previous black and white Who DVDs (The Aztecs and The Seeds of Death) the sequences that originated on video have undergone the VidFIRE process, which intends to restore a fluid video “look” to the material. The results are still quite grainy and with a tendency to blur on panning shots, but it’s fair to say that this DVD picture looks as good as it could do, given the limitations of the source material. Film sequences (such as the locations and some rather scratchy stock footage) have not been so processed, and the difference is noticeable. Further information on the restoration process is available here.)

The sound is mono, as it would have been on its original broadcast. It’s been cleaned up for this DVDs and is clear, with dialogue, sound effects and Francis Chagrin’s music score well balanced. This is, I’m sure, as good as this is ever likely to sound, especially as TV speakers have moved on a long way since 1964!

On the first disc, there is a commentary featuring Verity Lambert (producer), William Russell, Carole Ann Ford and director Richard Martin, moderated by Gary Russell. The first three provided the commentary for The Aztecs, which tended to ramble as the participants understandably had difficulty remembering events after forty years. The presence of a moderator (an accredited Who expert) improves things considerably, and this commentary moves along briskly. Subtitles are provided both for the feature itself and the commentary. There are also Richard Molesworth’s very useful and entertaining information subtitles, which provide all the facts and trivia (and continuity blips) you’re ever likely to need. He also seems to have corrected a tendency I've commented upon in previous reviews, to overload the subtitles with people's filmographies.

Other extras on the first discs include 1:44 of BBC trailers from the time, the first one with a voiceover that would be parodied nowadays, rather too close to Harry Enfield’s Mr Cholmondely-Warner for comfort. There are also newly-done (though intentionally aged) CGI effects. While there’s no doubt that some of the original efforts are very ropey indeed (in particular, moving a camera over a still photograph doesn’t convey a spacecraft in flight, and I doubt it did in 1964 either), replacing them with modern versions is more than a little dubious. For better or worse, the programme was made in a certain way and any tweaks (such as VidFIRE) should enhance the original look and feel, rather than attempt to update it. Still, the choice is yours: you have the option of watching the serial with the CGIs or with the original effects. You can watch the CGIs separately – they run 1:12 in total. Episode One is provided with a new introduction, which seems more Fifties than Sixties, complete with theremin drone.

The bulk of the extras are on the second disc, with a newly-made introduction. “Future Visions” (17:48) is an interview with designer Spencer Chapman, including clips and drawings. “Future Memories” is a much longer (45:21) documentary about the making of the serial, with interviews from most people involved who are still alive and not featured elsewhere on the DVD. It’s the usual thorough job that you have come to expect. Then there’s “Talking Daleks” (10:29) on how the Dalek voices were created, including a new interview with David Graham and convention footage of Peter Hawkins.

The three featurettes described in the previous paragraph constitute most of the making-of material. The remaining extras are curiosities and trivia, and no doubt much more appealing to the connoisseur than the general public. “Now and Then” (6:58) compares the 1964 locations with the way the places are now – not uninteresting, but seven minutes is more than enough of this. The same can be said of “Script to Screen” (5:39), which is in itself quite innovative, showing us the shooting script, animated camera moves and (in a quarter of the screen) showing us the result as broadcast.

Extracts from Blue Peter have become a minor tradition for Doctor Who discs. This one (7:01) goes way back before my time – it’s in black and white and Christopher Trace is one of the presenters. Valerie Singleton shows you how to make Dalek cakes. Kitsch fans will be in their element here.

Whatever Happened to... Susan? (27:33) is a BBC Radio 4 play from 1994, written by Adrian Mourby, with Jane Asher playing the Doctor’s granddaughter. It’s structured as a documentary, with interviews with Ian and Barbara (not to mention Claire Rayner). Again it’s one for the connoisseur – Mourby gets his Who references down pat. This was part of a series of Whatever Happened To… plays. The following week’s offering sounds intriguing – Whatever happened to the Victorian murderer Little Lord Fauntleroy? – though of course totally irrelevant to this DVD.

On the final day of rehearsal, Carole Ann Ford brought along an 8mm camera. Unfortunately the colour footage (1:42) was double-exposed (with what looks like two people playing around with golf clubs) but it’s still worth seeing for Hartnell looking much more genial than his reputation usually allows. Finally, there’s a self-navigating stills gallery (3:44) and a couple of amusing Easter Eggs featuring Sid the Slyther.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth as a DVD set is well up to the standard set by previous discs, with a good selection of well-thought-out extras. However, your opinion of the somewhat dated serial itself might well be a determining factor as to whether you are likely to purchase or not.

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