Blu-ray Review: DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS (1965)

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Review: Dr. Who and the Daleks / Cert: U / Director: Gordon Flemyng / Screenplay: Milton Subotsky, David Whitaker / Starring: Peter Cushing, Roberta Tovey, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden / Release Date: May 27th

The Daleks! On the big screen!! In colour!!! So close you can feel their fire… Imagine how excited those first generation Doctor Who fans must have been when, little more than eighteen months after the TV series had debuted, their hero and his deadliest enemies were suddenly projected onto the nation’s cinema screens in glorious Technicolor in a big family adventure movie with production values and visual effects way beyond the capability of the modestly-budgeted TV show. So what if this was to turn out to be just a retread of the very first Dalek serial, already fading from the collective memory and, presumably, buried away in the BBC Archives forever? The Daleks – loads of them, not just the four props wheeled out on TV by the BBC – were coming to the big screen at the height of their popularity, so it’s no real surprise that Dr. Who and the Daleks became one of the ten top-grossing movies in the UK in 1965. 

The movie, rushed into production in 1965 to capitalise on the growing Dalekmania sweeping Britain, is routinely dismissed as trivial nonsense by hardcore contemporary Who fans who wilfully miss the point because the film is connected to the TV series by name and subject matter alone. William Hartnell was the irascible, curmudgeonly Doctor in the TV series at the time, but, for the big screen, Hammer horror favourite Peter Cushing was roped in to play an entirely different character. Cushing’s Dr. Who (that’s his name) is a doddery, fussy old British scientist who has housed a Time and Space machine inside an old Police Box (the interior looks like an explosion in an electrical supply shop) and together with his granddaughters Susan (Tovey) and Barbara (Linden) and the latter’s clumsy boyfriend Ian (Castle) he travels to a blasted, barren alien planet inhabited by the warlike Daleks in their gleaming futuristic city and the immaculately-coiffed Thals who are battling to survive in an irradiated landscape. It’s the story of the original seven-part Dalek serial boiled down to under eighty minutes and it bounces along at a fair old clip, hitting the main beats of the TV serial whilst removing much of the padding. It’s colourful, kiddie-friendly stuff, of course, but the Daleks – taller, chunkier and, obviously, more colourful than those previously seen on TV – have never looked better (despite the rather feeble fire extinguisher weaponry which replaced the planned flamethrower effect). Remarkably, the film still holds up well nearly fifty years later; this new Blu-ray transfer is the crispest the movie has looked since it appeared on cinema screens, and whilst more recent converts to the world of the Doctor and the Daleks might be baffled or bored witless by its childlike naivety, Dr. Who and the Daleks remains a charming and ambitious period piece and stands as another reminder of the huge impact Doctor Who made on British popular culture the moment it arrived on TV screens.

Extras: The ‘Dalekmania’ documentary dates from 1995 but is still an interesting look at the making of the two Dr. Who movies / Restoration feature / Interview with Shepperton Studios historian Gareth Owen / Trailer / Gallery


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