Monday, March 26, 2012

Doctor Who: Dr. Who and the Daleks

With this post, we jump a time track into an alternate universe... one where Peter Cushing plays the kindly Dr. Who and has just invented a time and space machine called T.A.R.D.I.S. This is the world of Dr. Who and the Daleks, the first of two feature films featuring the Doctor and the Daleks.

My first impression of this film beginning with the opening title and carrying on into the opening scenes is "groovy!" :) This film is most definitely a product of the 1960's. Despite having a bigger budget, to me, this film shows its age much more than the serial on which it is based. Its look is very reminescent of 1960's James Bond films and other films of its era.

I didn't listen to the commentary track, but I did check out all of the other special features on this disc. There is a pretty good "History of Doctor Who" and a good biography of Peter Cushing that are both screens of text you have to read through and flip with the remote. The history was written in 2001 just before the Doctor returned to our screens. There is also a trailer and an image gallery that contains movie posters and production stills. Pretty standard fare for a budget DVD release.

Now, on to the film itself... The title character is actually called "Dr. Who" not "The Doctor," Susan is much younger than on the TV series (about 10?) and unless I misheard, Dr. Who calls her Susie most of the time. Barbara and Ian are not schoolteachers like in the series, but Barbara is also Dr. Who's granddaughter (late teens/early 20's?) and Ian is her bumbling buffoon of a boyfriend. Peter Cushing plays the Dr. Who similar to the Hartnell interpretation except without all the "Hmm"s and perhaps less grumpy. :)

Ian shows up to see Barbara just as Dr. Who has completed the last piece of his time machine T.A.R.D.I.S. (note the distinct abbreviation used in this film although it stands for the same thing) and while he is waiting for Barbara to come down, much comic mischief enuses regarding some chocolates that Ian brough for Barbara. Dr. Who wants to show Ian the time machine, so they go out to the garden where there's a Police Box. Ian goes inside, is astounded that it's bigger on the inside than the outside, then proceeds to bumble around circumnavigating the outside of the ship to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Once they go inside, Dr. Who places the last piece into place, then Barbara comes in, goes to kiss Ian, and knocks him into the lever that activates it... more comic mischief...

This is how they wind up on Skaro, although I don't think the planet's name was ever mentioned. Once they get there, the rest of the story pretty well follows the serial it was based on, The Daleks: they explore a bit, go back to the ship and attempt to take off only to find the fluid link is busted (due to the Doctor's sabotage), explore the Dalek city, get captured by the Daleks, escape from the Daleks to befriend the Thals, then storm the Dalek city and defeat the Daleks' plan to release more radiation into the air to EXTERMINATE the Thals. Once the T.A.R.D.I.S. leaves Skaro, they are supposedly bound for home, but wind up in some other place and time... some things don't change... ;)

Speaking of the Thals, the movie version reminds me of the Eloi from the 1960 film The Time Machine (guess that's appropriate). Perhaps that was Terry Nation's original intention and the original serial didn't pull it off as well. It's been a while since I watched the original serial in its entirety, but I read the novelisation of this story a couple of months ago: Doctor Who and the Daleks (originally entitled Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks). I also went back to the original serial to compare a couple of scenes to see which did a better job.

The scene where they cross the swamp near the lake and find a back way into the Dalek city was, to me, one of the big differences. In the book, it seemed much more perilous than in either the serial or the movie. I got the impression from the book that this was a large lake and the creatures in it were huge. The movie gave a slight sense of that when it shows them climbing the mountain with a matte painting of a lake vista behind them, in contrast, the serial didn't show them climbing at all. The lake creatures really weren't shown in the movie although the serials did some miniature work, which while done on a television budget, gives a better sense of danger than the movie. In the book, there is a scene where they injure one of the lake creatures and its fellows come and fight over the body of the fallen creature. This was missing from both versions.

I also got the impression that the pipes they followed into the mountain were huge pipelines. In the movie, they were small when they sighted them underwater, and a little larger on the mountain. In the serial, they only showed a model shot of largish pipes running into the mountain (in a composited shot) and completely skipped the party climbing the mountain, jumping straight to them being in the caves. I also thought the scene in the serial where they jumped the chasm was more intense than the movie version.

Speaking of differences, I thought the Dalek speech was a little inconsistent... At. Times. They. Were. Pausing. Between. Every. Word, while at others, they spoke almost conversationally. The major pauses reminded me a bit of the speech in Day of the Daleks. :) The Daleks props were slightly larger in this film and some had their sucker arms replaced by pinchers. They also shot smoke instead of ray guns. People were all in a tizzy when the Daleks turned into "Skittles" in the Matt Smith story Victory of the Daleks, but they obviously haven't seen the colored Daleks in this movie. :)

Speaking of the Dalek props, they actually made their debut in the serial The Chase which aired just before this movie was released when the TV production team hired them from the completed film. The Chase was not one of my favorite serials, but when it aired just before the movie, it helped promote the film. The other major differences are that the Doctor was portrayed (although not explicitly) as a human in the movie (although it's only hinted that he's an alien early on in the series) and he invents the T.A.R.D.I.S. in the movie (again something that's implied early on in the series, but later changes to him stealing the TARDIS from the Time Lords). There's no console or central column, or any indication that there's anything other than a single room in the ship. The trip to Skaro was almost instantaneous, and there's no explanation for why the ship looks like a Police Box. :)

I thought it was an interesting re-interpretation of Terry Nation's original script. Perhaps it might have been a gateway for someone not already into the show at that time. :)

Next time... We venture again with Dr. Who. This time to 2150 Earth for a Dalek invasion in Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.

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