Thursday 20 June 2013

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

So close you can feel their fire!
In the mid-sixties, Amicus Productions (whose 'Madhouse' I reviewed for 1974) made two thrilling and exceedingly full-colour films based on a sci-fi TV show called 'Doctor Who', which had been on our screens for less than two years at the time.  By the time I came to be aware of films, these two were being screened at least once annually on television, and though they weren't 'proper' Doctor Who, they were, until 2005, the most ubiquitous stories on British television.  They're the perfect Sunday afternoon films - bright, exciting family adventures, starring Peter Cushing, not as the Doctor, but as eccentric inventor Dr. Who.

The thrill, here, is Daleks IN COLOUR.  They are, if you're curious, silver, blue, red, black, gold, and then some more silver.  The Dalek city is a horrid combination of silver, salmon and pastel blue - not by any means my favourite colour-scheme.  Despite horrid choices of tincture, I love the design of the set, especially the big rotating control panel, and the sliding doors which swing open triagonally with a swoosh and a clash.  They stuck in my mind as a child, and I was glad to see and hear them again

Roberta Tovey and the Lava-lamps of the Daleks!
The Thals, too, are in colour.  These ineffectual aryan pacifists are rendered here as blond, eye-shadowed fellows with waistcoats designed to show off the bare and hairless chests.  I'm tempted to say it's an effeminate look, with elfin boots, tight trousers and well-tended eyelashes, but it's probably truer to say Thal culture dresses its men and women equally, with everybody's curvature given equal acknowledgement.

It seems reasonable enough to inspect the pictures rather than the story.  The plot, after all, had been on telly just two years previously.  The Daleks (who are a bit rubbish here, despite their big budget sheen) do the things they did (and don't yet shout 'exterminate'), and the heroes go through an array of adventurous set-pieces.  Peter Cushing's Dr Who is extremely enjoyable, despite being entirely unlike Hartnell and equally unlike Cushing's usual display.  Ian, in this version, is played by ROY CASTLE, a performer I admire extremely vocally, and gets all the comedy scenes - sitting on the wrong things, leaning on the wrong things, falling over and being affably flabbergasted in a way that continues to amuse me.

Arghhh!  It's a... a Magnedon?  They never really tell us.
It's a broader comedy than in television version, but doesn't undermine the drama, such as it is.  I love the scene where Ian tries (which much in the way of hilarious antics) to open a door which closes every time he approaches it, intercut with Barbara venturing into the city as, silently and unnoticed, panels slide down to cut off her retreat.  Sliding doors and CCTV cameras ("Every move you make, they can see!  Every sound you utter, they can hear!") are the bizarre innovations of the future, set against the ordinary travelling phone-booth of the present.

Here, as in the original, the most exciting scene is the one where everybody jumps over the Very Deep Chasm.  It's wonderfully exciting in both TV and film versions, without being quite believable in either.  In short, Ian, Barbara and two Thals have to jump over a ravine.  It's just about possible, and for safety, as one person jumps, they do so with a rope around their waist connected to one of their fellows, lest they should fall.  Ian, Barbara and Ganatus jump across safely, but the cowardly Antodus, who is terrified that he'll never make it, lands badly and topples into the ravine, his rope dragging Ian over the brink of disaster.  On television, Antodus finally grows brave, and cuts the rope, letting himself fall to his death that Ian might be saved.  He seems to do the same here, except that a short few seconds later we discover that he hasn't given up his life to save a stranger - rather he has fallen onto a ledge, and is perfectly fine.  This film version which can never let itself be horrific or unsettling, and where all is colourful and safe.  It's a pity, as the best Dalek stories are full of death, with victory coming at a miserably high cost.  At least it all ends with a big explosion!

P.S. Says Dr. Who: 'The Daleks have the entire city surrounded by electronic instruments'.  I envisaged the place haloed by keytars, a Bontempi organ and perhaps the odd Roland Electric Piano.

P.P.S. I'm sure I'll get to the far more exciting sequel in a few weeks.

Now out on Blu-ray, and the second film, at least, is just amazing.

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