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Saturday, 6 April 2013

A terrible thing has happened... (Review: 'Dr. Who and the Daleks', 1965)

By the end, you might be wishing these people were exterminated


This movie got made in the first place.


The Bank Holiday weekend saw not only the launch of a new run of TV Doctor Who but also Channel 5 airing the first of the two Doctor Who cinema movies. Starring Peter Cushing as a human inventor called ‘Doctor Who’, these two films were adaptations of the first two Dalek stories, released in 1965 and 1966 (a third film was planned but cancelled after the second, Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. didn’t do well enough at the box office).


In essence, these two films, not considered canon by Who fans, were attempts to cash-in on the popularity of the Daleks – and this one is a pretty dire cash-in at that…


Title Sequence


The ‘howl around’ title sequence and the Grainer theme are not used in this. We instead get some kaleidoscope-esque close-up zoom of something and the sort of music you’d smoke cannabis to (not that I would know). It’s pretty forgettable.




The ‘dramatic’ music is pretty overblown at times, serving little to enhance the story. The Dalek voices are a bit lacking – it takes more than a ring modulator to do an effective Dalek voice.




As an 82-minute adaptation of a TV story that runs to about 175 minutes, a good deal has to be cut out. This story also has to introduce the characters and it does so in a rather short manner – Ian turns up at his girlfriend Barbara’s house, meets her grandfather Doctor Who and ends up in TARDIS (yes, that’s what it’s called here) in less than ten minutes. They end up on Skaro, not named here and the Doctor removes the ‘fluid link’ so they can go have a look at the city…


This is ultimately a very basic plot – there are no big twists, but there is a very strange stretch of time, in which the events of the climax can’t really have taken place in the hour the Daleks are supposed to take to set up a neutron bomb… It’s of course based on Nation’s script, but we do get some rather quick jumps around.


The very final scene is really very silly.


Direction and staging


This movie had a budget of £180,000 (about $275,000 at the then exchange rate and about £3m adjusted for inflation) and it seems to have gone into the set – a much larger and better realised affair than the TV series could have aspired to at this point (or indeed at most points in its run). This is shot on Technicolor (and widescreen) and is the best bit of the film.


However, the director seems to have missed some obvious tricks – we don’t get a version of the classic first introduction of the Daleks (the eyestalk view), with several of the creatures merely turning up all at once to capture the time travellers.


A final note here – the TARDIS design is the inspiration for the current prop; the St. John’s Ambulance logo is taken directly from it.


The “regulars”


No-one from the TV series reprises their roles here – and all of the characters get changed, not for the better…

·         Peter Cushing’s ‘Doctor Who’ tries and fails to channel Hartnell – the Doctor as a mere human eccentric does not work for me and while he has small moments of charm, Cushing is wasted in the part.

·         Susan gets turned from a teenager into some pre-pubescent precocious kid who just irritates in the worst possible manner.  

·         Ian goes from clever heroic teacher to bumbling klutz, who starts by tripping over and doesn’t get much better from there. He gets some physical action, but not a great deal of it. He’s played by the late Roy Castle, far better known as a jazz trumpeter (his playing in smoky clubs was attributed to his death from cancer – he didn’t smoke himself) and TV presenter. It’s clear from this performance that he was never going to be a successful actor and that sticking to presenting was wise.

·         Barbara gets a perm that you could use in lieu of a crash helmet, but is otherwise completely forgettable.


The “guest cast”


The Thals are pretty all badly acted and uninspiring. The pacifists who the Doctor persuades to fight are the weakest element of the original story and they are arguably much worse here. Their costumes look stupid and their delivery is clipped.


The Daleks


The problem that writers of the show have had over the years is how to make the Daleks menacing without going to extremes – because logically if one Dalek can take out most of an underground facility and then only be stopped because it commits suicide, ten could take out a city… but you can go too far the other way, like this movie. The Daleks here only manage to exterminate one person (the extermination effect couldn’t be done on film, so they are instead equipped with ‘deadly’ smoke guns) and in fact most of them end up killing each other because they’re so easy to move around.


Useless, utterly useless – and they don’t even say “Exterminate”.




While not the worst film I’ve ever seen, this is a dire work with the set design the only real redeeming feature. That should be good as a matter of course, so I can only give this…




I won’t bother with the ‘sequel’.

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