Dr Who And The Daleks
1965 / Gordon Flemyng
We often look back on our childhoods with a great deal of nostalgia, remembering the times of fun and excitement, playing with friends or relaxing with family. Our favourite toys or our favourite books, all of which we recall with a softness that comes with age. Everything always seemed idyllic, with no worries and concerns that have come to burden us in adulthood. I really did have a near-perfect childhood. Or, at least, my Saturday mornings were ideal.
What immediately springs to mind as my first solid memory comes from when I was about six or seven. I would get up (way too) early on the weekend, long before my older siblings or in some cases even my exhausted parents. Charging downstairs (my, didn’t we have such energy at that age) I would sprint into the living room to turn on the TV. Saturday morning cartoons, and dry cereal in a cup. (Never did like milk.) My sister would join me and we’d watch those cartoons and other children’s shows, mostly the ones she chose. Then, at 10 am we’d go off to get dressed, because at 10:30 am, for a full half-an-hour, that television was mine.
Curled up on the couch, anticipating the sound of that theme tune, I knew that the TARDIS was arriving to take me away to a distant planet to whisk my imagination through time and space. Tom Baker was my Doctor, and the universe became scary, exciting and fun.
Perhaps it is an oddity for us in the United States that we did not know about the whole regeneration thing. Different actors playing the same character? How could that be when we only had the one, and seven years of repeats that made up my viewing for more than 15 years? But eventually, I learned of the next Doctor and the previous ones. Even the ones that were longer, like movies, with the guy who played Van Helsing in what I thought was the only true version of Dracula.
But enough about my young impressionable mind. As I aged, I learned the whole lore of the Whoniverse, the numbers of the Doctors, and even why Peter Cushing seemed to be left out. No, actually, I never did understand that. Just because his Doctor was presented in movie form he was not counted. Even when we look at modern Doctor Who and see how flexible the timeline can be. The current audience is expected to accept that 10 is now also 14 and that eight is fully counted with one movie and a lot of books/audio scripts. And that movie gave him the altered history of being half-human! Even John Hurt’s presentation is called “The War Doctor” and slotted into canon as an 8.5 regeneration, and he is only on screen for about 38 minutes. It does not seem fair that Peter Cushing’s interpretation of this quirky time traveller is not somehow eased into the lore. Perhaps it is time to rectify this oversight. So if you are a Doctor Who fan of any kind, or if you would like to just enjoy an entertaining, light-hearted film from the mid-1960s, it is time to visit – or revisit – the Amicus version of The Doctor via 1965’s Dr Who and the Daleks, (UK, Gordon Flemyng) in order to answer that elephant in the room of any Whovian: Why is Peter Cushing’s era forgotten and can we reinstate him into the lore?
Let’s put ourselves in the mindset of the populace of the time. Here, step through the door of this police box – yes, I know, bigger on the inside. Turn a few knobs here, pull that switch there, and hang on! In the mid-1960s, television had become increasingly popular but still had not reached any type of status as art worth preserving. Colour was slowly introduced during this decade, so it is not surprising that a children’s show that started in 1963 was still shot in black and white. It kept the cost down, and the production value was not that high. When the show caught on with the younger generation it was aimed at, the Daleks became quite the overnight sensation. It is not surprising then that a studio like Amicus would want to cash in on the trend, and putting these characters into a movie theatre and in colour was a natural progression. If radio productions and plays performed in theatres were fair game, then a production company trolling television programs for content is not a very far stretch.
Children of the time period before VCRs and On Demand would watch their favourite show once, and perhaps if lucky would see it again on a repeat. So to see the characters appear in the cinemas with other actors playing the parts was not unexpected. In fact, it was likely the idea of “regenerating” the Doctor was only created because a different actor would be playing the part on the small screen. There also was not the concept of “canon” that so many of us apply to our favourite series. Did there need to be a reason why the Daleks appear in many different colours? Or that the two female leads are both granddaughters of the very human Doctor Who? (Yes, “Who” was the character’s surname in the movie, a big bugaboo for Whovians.)
Ignoring the outcries of disrupting that canon, let us look at Cushing’s interpretation of the character and see how he fits in the pantheon. There are practical elements that make any story identifiable as one of The Doctor, starting with the characters themselves. The Doctor is immediately introduced as a bit eccentric, reading a children’s space comic book while his younger granddaughter peruses a thick physics book for enjoyment. He is assumed to be a brilliant if absentminded inventor, human but highly interested in travelling through space and time. So interested in fact that he has created a machine, TARDIS, to take himself and his granddaughters on these adventures. The impression is given that the two young women are very familiar with this machine and that there must have been many such trips in the past. Susan, the younger of the two seems excited to go but not overly surprised by their arrival on a new planet. In fact, the only character surprised at all is Ian, who obviously has arrived to take Barbara on a date and instead finds himself on a very frightening adventure indeed. Judged in comparison to the other forms, this trio has a great mix of what is necessary from the Doctor’s companions. Ian is the comic relief (although rather overplayed,) Barbara becomes the damsel in distress, and Susan is the mature adventurous companion who is as curious as the Doctor himself.
Another essential element of the show is of course the alien beings, and in this movie, they hold up as well. We meet the Daleks, with their frightening monotone voices and their determination to be the only dominant life on this planet. Terrifying to the mind of any 7-year-old like myself. We also meet the Thals, peaceful human-shaped beings who live a peaceful existence outside of the Dalek city. While they are willing to help the travellers with healing from radiation sickness, their opposition is looking for ways to kill them all. Both of these aliens appear in various seasons of the television show, proving that they are acceptable beings in the canon.
We have the characters, including a unique interpretation of the Doctor, the companions and the aliens. What other elements are needed to prove its validity? Of course, the TARDIS, with its unusual interior and the necessary acknowledgement of the shift in size due to dimensionality – sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to geek out. The planet happens to have an earth-like atmosphere, and there is no concern about languages when clearly all of them speak fluent English. The young companion is needed to bravely stand up against the aliens, and all of them are separated in order for the Doctor’s plan to succeed. There is loss of life, to show the seriousness of their situation, and enough medical/scientific advancements to help us understand this is beyond our time. A decent fight scene or two, a journey across a swamp and sneaking into the city to secure a rescue. All of the elements together make for a good solid story along the lines of many of the television scripts. It feels like a Doctor Who episodic plot.
Unlike the other movie with Cushing’s Doctor (which we can read about elsewhere in this collection,) the emphasis is not on danger and action. It is a more whimsical telling, spending more time with the character’s quirkiness. However, there is also a moment when we see the Doctor’s dark side. When he needs the Thals to act on the Daleks, to attack before they get attacked, he is not above manipulating their feelings to get them to resort to violence. It is a characteristic of many of the later Doctors to have that turn, and Cushing is no exception.
So the pieces all seem to be in place to make this movie a legitimate entry in the journals of the Whoniverse. Basic plot beats, cheap set design, aliens that are only slightly alien and yet rather frightening. Quirky lead and solid companions. All of the attributes of the future regenerations and no more challenges than any of the other “canon” Doctors. For long-time fans and new fans alike, I would highly recommend clearing out your Saturday morning, getting a big bowl of your favourite sugary cereal (milk is optional of course) and indulging in a double feature of the 1.5 version…or the 1b? 2nd on a divergent timeline? However you want to label it, Amicus ventures into the time-travelling inventor and his spunky granddaughter companion are not to be missed.