Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) 

Peter Cushing stars in Amicus' decent take on the classic Dr. Who TV serials. Optimum UK R2 DVD from the Dalek Collection.

The Film

In the late 1950s, Hammer films made it big with their adaptations of popular British television and radio shows, in particular the Quatermass series. Alongside their horror films, Hammer had made some headway into the U-rated family friendly adventure genre with such titles as Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) and Captain Clegg (1962). In the mid 1960s, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg were trying to start Amicus Productions, their own film company to rival Hammer. In 1965 they shot a pair of horror films starring many of Hammer's top names. When the BBC launched a new science fiction series called Dr. Who, about an enigmatic time/space traveller; hoping to capture the family and sci-fi markets from Hammer, Amicus were quick to snap up the rights to the big screen adaptation. 

Doctor Who (Peter Cushing) is an inventor who lives with his two young daughters. When Barbara's boyfriend Ian arrives, The Doctor shows him their latest invention, Tardis, a time and space travel machine shaped like a police box. Ian slips on a control lever and the machine suddenly arrives on an unknown planet. As the four explore, they discover a city occupied by the evil Daleks who are scheming to kill the planet's other residents, the peaceful Thal people. The Doctor and his comrades have to find a way to bring and end to the seemingly indestructable Daleks and save the Thals...
David Whitaker's script is often disliked by Dr. Who fans for making a number of changes to the basic notions of the television serials. The Doctor goes from being an alien Time Lord to an eccentric inventor and is actually called Doctor Who - these changes made, quite sensibly, to help the film be understood better in America and Europe where the television series had not been shown, and avoided any complex exposition at the start of the film. The story itself is adapted from the second Doctor Who serial, broadcast in early 1964 and compressed into a much shorter run-time than the original which ran to over three hours - it works suitably well, and avoids appearing too rushed like many TV to film adaptations but it does mean that the plot and characters, especially the Thals, are very underdeveloped. The frequently banal dialogue between the Daleks stands out and destroys the mystery and fear aspect of these characters who in the BBC serials are often very enigmatic. Unlike Hammer's adaptations of television sci-fi, Amicus went for the big money children's market so the film avoids the potential horror aspects and plays up the physical comedy. The film is well paced and builds to a decent but predictable and sanitised climax and the ending is dragged out for a very poor gag.

While Doctor Who was being broadcast in black and white on tiny television screens, the film version allowed a big widescreen, colour production and the set and costume designers went all out. The sets are big and elaborate, within the budget, and there is good use of matt paintings. The lighting in many of the outdoor sequences is quite impressive with petrified forest lit in greens and blues. The Daleks themselves were painted in a variety of colours, and many of them were later used in the television serials. Director Gordon Flemyng was largely a television director and gives a relatively mundane shoot here with a few fancy camera angles, although without any particular cause. The soundtrack is a mix of orchestra and jazz and fits the film suitably.
Peter Cushing was a big name in British cinema and well known overseas. Amicus brought him onto the production instead of the BBC's star William Hartnell because of his marquee billing, Cushing had already starred in two of the studio's horror movies in 1965 and is seemingly cast against type here as a kindly, eccentric gentleman - his curious mustache helps to give him a very different appearence to normal. Some have criticised his fussy, eccentric performance, but it does seem to suit the part and for a children's production, it seems to fit fine. Roy Castle had also appeared in a semi-comic role, alongside Cushing, in the Amicus anthology horror Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and he was similarly cast here. Again his role, being the brunt of most of the physical comedy, has often been criticised, but he actually plays the part very well making the pratfalls funny rather than simply awkward with some good comic timing. Barrie Ingham plays a Thal leader in a role that would seem to have inspired his casting in Hammer's family adventure film A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967). The Doctor's daughters, played by little known actresses Jennie Linden and the young Roberta Tovey give the film its sexy charm and the child role that every child in the audience associates with respectively, they both look good in their parts.

Ultimately Dr. Who and the Daleks was intended as light-hearted, family friendly entertainment and that it remains. While the television serial fanatics will cry foul over the script's changes and abbreviation to the stories, and the script itself is rather short on plot and substance, this can be overlooked by most audiences who can instead enjoy the daft comedy moments, an interesting Peter Cushing performance, and the unusual sight of the Daleks in their first full-colour outing. Fans of the Dr. Who series should be able to enjoy this, provided they can accept the changes made to the Who-lore.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Peter Cushing - Hammer horror favourite, best known as Van Helsing and Baron Frankenstein.
Barrie Ingham - star of Hammer's Challenge for Robin Hood (1967).
Roy Castle - a famous British comedy actor and television presenter.
Directed by anyone interesting? Gordon Flemyng - a little known British director who also worked on the film's sequel.
Is it scary?Some scenes might scare children.
Any violence? None
Any sex? None
Who is it for?
Recommended generally, of interest to Dr. Who and Peter Cushing fans.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour
The picture quality is good with no print damage, strong colours, although some noticable grain throughout.
Audio Original English mono - sounds great, no hiss.
Subtitles None
ExtrasThis disc includes an audio commentary for the film with Jennie Linden and Roberta Tovey who play the two female lead roles. Interesting and full of details about the film and its shooting. More extras in the boxset.
AvailabilityOnly available as part of the Dalek Collection boxset.
Region Region 2 - PAL
Other regions? Now OOP UK and US boxsets include the film as presented here. These sets include theatrical trailers not present here.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 11th September 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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