Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
1966 / Gordon Flemying
In the 1960s, a mania had swept the nation.
Now one would be forgiven if they believed I was referring to the four mop tops from Liverpool, however, at the height of Beatlemania the country was in the grip of another mania: Dalekmania.
On 21 December 1963, Welsh-born writer Terry Nation unveiled his fascistic pepperpots onto an unsuspecting British public with Doctor Who’s second serial The Daleks (BBC, Christopher Barry & Richard Martin, 1963). Despite the misgivings and disapproval of Doctor Who co-creator Sidney Newman, the Daleks were an instant hit. Quick to capitalise on the popularity of the plunger-totting monsters, story editor David Whitaker commissioned Nation to produce a follow-up story, this would be The Dalek Invasion of Earth (BBC, Richard Martin, 1964). Taking the Daleks away from their nuclear-poisoned planet of Skaro and bringing them to our own doorstep, The Dalek Invasion of Earth would also prove to be popular.
Cut to 1965, the Daleks had clearly become the breakout stars of Doctor Who, but television was not enough, and soon they would be invading our cinemas. Perhaps spurred on by Hammer’s Quatermass adaptations, Milton Subotsky and Amicus Productions came knocking at Terry Nation and the BBC’s door. Buying the option to adapt the first three Dalek serials for £500, Amicus quickly began principal photography.
For Dr Who and the Daleks (UK, Gordon Flemyng, 1965), much of the established “canon” and aesthetic of the initial Daleks serial was altered. The Doctor played to charming perfection by Peter Cushing was referred to as Dr Who, and as opposed to being a long-lived and mysterious Time Lord, he was recast into as a somewhat doddering old eccentric. The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan was aged down from a teenage girl to 12-year-old Roberta Tovey, and in comparison, to her TV portrayal was a far more proactive and capable character. But few characters had a more drastic change than Roy Castle and Jennie Linden’s Ian and Barbara, rather than being Susan’s school teachers who unwittingly became part of the Doctor’s adventures, they were reimagined into Susan’s rather bland older sister and Barbara’s bumbling boyfriend.
However, the true stars of the show were the Daleks themselves, and their transition to the silver screen was a graceful one. While retaining the iconic look from the series, they were given a fresh coat of paint; taking full advantage of an increased budget and glorious technicolour, the Daleks were given a sleek, multicoloured and Raygun Gothic aesthetic. Several of the Daleks were given a mechanical claw instead of the frequently mocked plunger; another change was the Dalek weapon of choice, with a flamethrower being initially pitched but was deemed too dangerous and frightening, so C02 fire extinguishers were chosen instead.
Dr Who and the Daleks would prove to be a success, and only a few months after its release, Amicus were quick to begin production on an adaptation of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Boasting a budget nearly sixty per cent larger than its predecessor’s £180,000, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (UK, Flemyng, 1966) was a more ambitious and action-packed beast in comparison.
While retaining the sweet and familial duo of Cushing and Tovey (something which extended off-camera), the pair were joined by a whole host of new characters; gone were Ian and Barbara to be replaced by Dr Who’s niece Louise (Jill Curzon) and Cockney copper Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins). Outside of Team TARDIS, several mainstays of British film and TV populate the story including Andrew Keir, Ray Brooks, Godfrey Quigley, and Philip Madoc.
In a departure from the original serial, which featured the classic Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara team, the story begins with dazed policeman Tom Campbell stumbling into the TARDIS under the false assumption that it is an actual Police Call box following a failed attempt at thwarting a robbery. Before Campbell can properly regain his bearings, the good Doctor and co. are quickly whisked away to London in the year 2150.
The London of 2150 is a desolate and shattered landscape, resembling a Blitzed-out London that would have been fresh in the memory of much of the population. Forced to investigate as the TARDIS is trapped under rubble, the group find themselves split up with Louise and Susan kidnapped by a mysterious Scotsman while Dr Who and Tom find themselves in the hands of the Daleks, who are reintroduced in an excellent recreation of the aquatic reveal from the original serial.
It is revealed that Earth is now under the control of the Daleks, who have enslaved much of the remaining population into working on a secret project in Bedfordshire, while others have the unenviable fate of being irreversibly converted into the zombie-like Robomen.
A major aspect that sets Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. from its predecessor is that it moves at a near breakneck speed, within the first 10 minutes or so we’re treated to a robbery, the arrival in the future, and the introduction of the Daleks; before we know it the characters have defeated the Daleks and are returning home. The film rarely gives the viewer a moment’s rest as it goes from action set piece to set piece, and with its lean 84-minute run time it seldom drags.
Once again, the excellent Raygun Gothic production design from the prior film is carried over here. The standard drone Daleks have moved from the metallic blue of the first film and are now silver in accordance with their television counterparts. The red and black Daleks return but with the addition of a Gold Dalek Supreme in charge of the whole operation. The Dalek saucer is a marvellous bit of sci-fi design and is perfectly composited into shots when it lays stationary in the London streets.
Another element where the film truly shines is in its supporting cast. Unfortunately, Cushing had to largely step back from the action due to ill-health and thus the supporting players are front and centre, in particular Bernard Cribbins and Roberta Tovey.
Due to the cast being split up early in the action, each character has a separate adventure that eventually reunites them at the centre of the Daleks’ sinister and barmy plan to destroy the Earth’s core and use it as a sort of planet-sized spacecraft. For me, the highlight of these side adventures is the young Susan who finds herself in the care of the gruff resistance fighter Wyler (played by the ever-wonderful Andrew Keir); as mentioned earlier I find Roberta Tovey’s portrayal of Susan to be a major improvement over her television counterpart and here it is no exception. Tovey’s Susan is a precocious and good-natured soul who has already proven to have an excellent rapport with Cushing but also manages to make a great contrast to the crusty exterior of Keir’s Wyler, eventually forming something of a familial bond with him.
Cribbins of course is as charming as he ever, particularly while disguised as a Roboman, here he flexes his comedy muscles and is a far more capable character than Roy Castle’s Ian.
Sadly, much like Barbara before her, Louise is a rather forgettable character. This is no criticism of Jill Curzon, but the character suffers from many of the same problems that Barbara did in Doctor Who and the Daleks, being surrounded by a more colourful cast of characters highlights this issue further.
On the flipside, one standout in the cast is Philip Madoc as the slimy spiv Brockley, while having relatively short screen time, Madoc makes Brockley easily the vilest human character in the story. As well as being a memorable slimeball, the character is likely best remembered for being the centre of one of the most spectacular scenes in the film; shortly following his betrayal of Dr Who and David, he realises that his number is up and that the Daleks are about to “exterminate” him, in a desperate panic he makes for his wooden shack which is quickly blown sky-high in a spectacular explosion.
Full to the brim with explosions, quick escapes, and stunts, one should particularly praise the special effects team but also the stuntmen involved; a particular standout is stunt veteran Eddie Powell, who broke his ankle while filming his escape from the Daleks and yet continued on until his death scene.
On a quick trivia note, one thing viewers will likely notice is that throughout the blasted streets of London, there are several conspicuously placed Sugar Puffs posters, this, of course, is a classic example of product placement. The popular breakfast cereal sponsored the film, and in exchange, they were allowed to include Daleks in advertising and even ran a competition where one lucky child could own an original Dalek prop from the film.
Sadly, despite the film’s strengths it would fall short of financial success, and a planned third film based on The Chase (BBC, Richard Martin, 1965) was abandoned.
The two Dalek films have had a strange afterlife, sometimes dismissed as an embarrassing detour in the franchise by some sections of the fandom, and to others an odd curiosity; I feel the films are unique and immensely fun entry into the franchise, and it seems I am not alone in this.
In 1980, expert modelmaker and Doctor Who fan Julian Vince began work on his own third Dalek film; dubbed Mission of Doom (UK, Julian Vince, 1980). The film would sadly remain unfinished despite receiving the blessing of the BBC Doctor Who Production Office and of Terry Nation’s agent Roger Hancock. However, surviving footage from it was used in the Dalek film retrospective Dalekmania (UK, Kevin Davies, 1995) and can easily be found online.
I also thoroughly recommend Vince’s own website if you’re interested in Doctor Who and modelmaking.
Another notable fan is Steven Moffat, who in his novelisation of the 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor (Steven Moffat, 2018) mentions the films as being authorised in-universe recreations of the First Doctor’s battles with the Daleks.
With a 4K restoration and remaster in 2022, the films are ripe for rediscovery by a new generation of fans. In fact, I will let you in on a little secret, it was watching Doctor Who and the Daleks on a Bank Holiday weekend sometime in the early 2000s that began my lifelong love for Doctor Who, and for that, both films will hold a special place in my heart.
Bryce, Allen, Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood, Stray Cat Publishing, 2000. BFI https://www.bfi.org.uk/features/doctor-who-peter-cushing-dr-who-daleks-turns-50 Daleks Da Vinci http://julianvince-daleks.weebly.com/dalek-action.html Radio Times https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-daleks-peter-cushing-exclusive-newsupdate/ SFX https://www.gamesradar.com/the-dalek-movies-from-the-sfx-archives/
Walsh, John, Dr Who & the Daleks: The Official Story of the Films, Titan Books, 2022
Mission of Doom footage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HglTppTx5Ik&ab_channel=xenon898