Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)


Words: Scott Burns. 


Produced in 1965, two years after the first transmission of the legendary BBC show (broadcast the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy) which followed the adventures of The Doctor (William Hartnell), his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and her teachers Ian Chesterson and Barbara Wright (William Russell and Jacqueline Hill respectively), the film promised what the television couldn’t yet provide: vivid colour; fast paced action and widescreen thrills.
Shot in Technicolor’s 2-perf widescreen format Techniscope (rather than the more common, and cheaper, Eastmancolor) in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Dr. Who And The Daleks (note the abbreviated “Dr.” as opposed to the TV series’ “Doctor” Who) was produced by Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, written by Subotsky and an uncredited David Whitaker (who wrote the novelisation of the TV serial for the beloved Target series of books) and based on the original television script by Dalek creator Terry Nation.

Peter Cushing, previously a character actor for television and film who’d had a mid-career boost when he appeared in the super-successful Hammer horror double bill of The Curse Of Frankenstein and Dracula, was cast in the role of the mysterious Dr. Who, playing the character as a sort of dotty favourite-Grandad rather than the curmudgeon portrayed by William Hartnell on TV and inventor of a Police Box shaped time machine called TARDIS, rather than an alien Time Lord.
Also changed were the character dynamics between the crew of the TARDIS: instead of being whisked off into time and space against their will, Ian and Barbara (played by entertainer Roy Castle and Jennie Linden respectively) are a couple and Barbara is also related to the Doctor. Susan (played by Roberta Tovey) remains the Doctor’s granddaughter but is significantly younger than her television counterpart.
The story of the film is along the same lines as the second serial of the shows’ first series: The Daleks. The Doctor and his crew travel to the planet Skaro where they encounter the squawking, genocidal pepper-pots in their metal city and get embroiled in a battle against them with the peaceful Thals.

This writer first saw this film aged around 8 years-old. A big Doctor Who fan, who watched it every week (first with Tom Baker as the eponymous character and then with Peter Davison). I was also a fan of the Daleks but, thanks to the BBC never repeating the old black-and-white shows from the Hartnell era, I had never seen the serial with their first appearance. This film, and David Whitaker’s fantastic novelisation, filled in the blanks. It also helped that it was gripping, funny (in a pantomime way) and, like the series, unapologetically violent, with many characters suffering screaming deaths whether by the Daleks weird fire-extinguisher guns (after laser/fire guns were deemed too brutal by the BBFC) or by the terrifying monsters that roam the forest. The performances are good with Cushing warming to playing a sweet old gent after years of playing snide, pompous villains and Roberta Tovey impressive as the little girl who is precocious without being annoying (well, not too annoying).

Even though the series was immensely popular and the country was gripped by “Dalek Mania”, the film was only a modest success, largely because it opened the same week as Disney’s Mary Poppins. It would, however, be followed by a much more ambitious sequel Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD with Cushing and Tovey returning in their roles. Subotsky and Rosenberg had much more success with their company Amicus which specialised in horror pictures, usually anthology movies like Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors and Tales From The Crypt.

It was a film made to be seen on a big, wide screen – now returning to cinemas as part of StudioCanal’s 4K restoration series of classic films – hopefully your chosen theatre sells Kia-Ora, Black Jacks and Smith’s Crisps for the ultimate nostalgia buzz.