Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

I have to say that I have loved Doctor Who from the moment I first saw it.  It was on PBS, like most Americans got to see it, and it was John Pertwee as the third incarnation of the Doctor.  I can't remember exactly what series it was, but it caught my attention at a young age.  Which, I found out later, it was meant to, since it initially started off as a children's show. 

In fact, a British friend of mine still derides it as a kid's show and doesn't understand why Americans like it so much.  I also don't think she likes science fiction too much.  Yes, I'll admit, many of the earlier shows were a bit on the juvenile side, but the show quickly evolved into the video equivalent of gold and silver age science fiction.  Yes, most of the science part is non-existent, but throughout its run the actors who played the Doctor and, to no lesser extent, the companions, have carried the show through the sublime and the ridiculous.

Throughout the show there were always dark undertones.  The first series, An Unearthly Child, introduced the characters (The Doctor, his granddaughter Susan and her schoolteachers Ian and Barbara) and transported them back to prehistoric times in which the Doctor proved, in many ways, to be not the morally upstanding galactic citizen he later became.  Yes, he had a bit of a grandfatherly appearance, but an interior that was quite alien and quite hard and, to the detriment of his companions, quite selfish.  Which is how, after escaping prehistoric earth, the travelers find themselves on the planet Skaro, where they encounter what would become the most iconic villains in the series: the Daleks. 

Where An Unearthly Child was pretty darn great, it was The Daleks that put the show on the map.  Terry Nation, down the line, really had a spotty grip on science, but he really knew how to create characters that stayed with the viewer.  And, while the opening serial was what it was because it was nominally supposed to have educational value, The Daleks was pure science fiction pleasure.  So, imagine everyone's expectations (including mine, back when I first saw it) of being able to see this story with an actual budget, in color, with none other than Peter Cushing playing the lead role? 

The story in both the television series and the movie are essentially the same.  The Doctor and his companions arrive on Skaro and find themselves in the middle of a petrified forest.  It turns out that there was a devastating nuclear war between the two races of the planet, the Dals and the Thals, leaving few survivors.  The group runs into the Dals in the current form when they explore what appears to be an abandoned city on the edge of the forest.  The Daleks have encased themselves in weaponized metal shells, their true forms mutated beyond recognition.  However, they warn the travelers that the Thals are in fact monstrous mutations bent on murder.

It turns out just the opposite is true.  The Thals have come in search of a new place to farm as the little they can eek out of the soil is starting to fail.  They provide a drug to help prevent radiation sickness, and when the Daleks hear about it they decide they want it all for themselves so that they may leave their city and reclaim Skaro.  While the Thals are more than willing to cooperate with the Daleks, the latter are still fighting the war and plan on luring the Thals into a trap to end things once and for all. It is up to the Doctor and his friends to not only find a way to escape from the planet, but to also help the Thals survive.

Yes, it is great to see the Daleks in color, but that's about where most of the enjoyment of Dr. Who and the Daleks ends.  Instead of an alien (not yet revealed as a Time Lord - that would be a bit down the line), Peter Cushing's "Doctor Who" (rather than the Doctor) is an absent-minded scientist.  Both Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara (Jennie Linden) are his granddaughters, and Ian (Roy Castle) is Barbara's bumbling boyfriend.  He is the comic relief, constantly bumping into things to either move the story along or save the day.  Susan is about eight years old and a budding genius while Barbara - well, she screams a lot and has weak ankles. 

And, even with a big budget, the Thals look even more ridiculous here than they did in the series.  And, believe me, the costume for the Thals in the original series was ridiculous enough, but was able to be ignored because of the strength of the story.  Also, despite the budget, I would be hard pressed to say that the effects are much better than the television show.  Yes, Peter Cushing does a great job with what he's given, but it's a complete rewrite that doesn't work one bit.

There was a sequel to this with the same cast based on the Daleks' second appearance on the show, but it never went any further from there.  While many of the Doctor's adventures would lend themselves to movie-length remakes (and, believe me, there is usually more than enough fat to cut out of some of the old series), rewriting the entire premise is not the way to go about it.

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
Time: 82 minutes
Starring: Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey
Director: Gordon Flemyng


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