Same, different and Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

dr who daleks

Did you hear? There’s going to be a Doctor Who film. Dr. Who: The Weeping Angels Take Manhattan. Andrew Garfield as the Doctor, as Emma Stone as Amy, Eddie Redmayne as Roddy and Helena Bonham-Carter as Prof. Alexandra River. Together they take on the Weeping Angels, but they’re redesigned – bigger, muscular gargoyle type things. Ogrons with wings. And it’s not just in New York! They go all around the world, backwards and forwards in time. It ends with a showdown with a giant Statue of Liberty monster, wreaking havoc on the city. 3D natch. 48 fps. Awesome!

This is something Steven Moffat says will never happen. “Any Doctor Who movie would be made by the BBC team, star the current TV Doctor and certainly not be a Hollywood reboot,” he tweeted, back when he was still tweeting.

But it did happen once. Well, not the Hollywood bit. But back in 1965, there was a big screen reboot of Doctor Who, made outside the BBC, with a new actor in the lead. It’s Dr. Who and the Daleks and it’s a gaudy, action packed ride. And when watching it recently, it was Moffat who kept springing to mind.

He’s clearly very influenced by this film and, presumably, its sequel. OK, so we get that he thinks the TV Doctor should also be the movie Doctor, so he clearly doesn’t like that about it. But he likes the TARDIS exterior and nicks that. He likes the big colouful Daleks, and nicks them. And this no-good imposter Doctor, him with the narrow trousers and the short jacket and the young/old face and the natural affinity with children… Isn’t he a bit Matt Smithy? All he needs is a bow tie.

“Why did they adapt an existing story?” asked Mrs Spandrell, casting an irritated glance at the screen. “Why not write a new one?”. It’s a fair point. I’m sure expediency – getting the film produced and in cinemas before Dalekmania petered away – is part of the answer. Not to mention it’s a safe bet; the original Dalek story rated its castors off.

But I think it’s also to do with the ephemeral nature of TV. With no repeat screenings, if you missed The Daleks on its TV transmission, there was no way of watching it again. Make a film of The Angels Take Manhattan and it would seem a bit pointless when you can watch the original. But Dr. Who and the Daleks meant 60s audiences could relive one of the show’s greatest hits.

Well, I say ’relive’. It’s not exactly the same as the original, to put it mildly. In fact, it goes out of its way to be different. Every frame seems to be saturated in colour. The petrified jungle is various shades of green and purple throughout. The theme music and the TARDIS interior – these days so integral to the show’s identity – are both disposed of. The Daleks themselves have given away the suckers for mechanical claws. And there’s a number of shots taking advantage of the 35mm, such as the one when the Daleks emerge from their city and you can see them on one level, and the cliff face below, stretching the full length and height of the screen. Try doing that in Lime Grove Studio D.

And the characters are different too. Susan (Roberta Tovey) becomes a child. Ian (Roy Castle) becomes a bumbler. Barbara (Jennie Linden) becomes – well, no-one in particular, sadly. And the Doctor, of course, becomes someone else entirely. Patrick Troughton may have shown a TV audience that the Doctor could be a new person, but Peter Cushing got there first. Cushing plays a paternal, doddery and genial Doctor. There’s a tendency to think of him as a substitute Hartnell because he’s playing Hartnell’s role in a Hartnell story. But this isn’t a substitute first Doctor, such as Richard Hurndall gave us in The Five Doctors. Cushing’s is a new Doctor entirely.

And we know this because… Well, he’s just much nicer than Hartnell’s Doctor. Cushing is a scamp. His trademark gesture is a conspiratorial wink. He’s kindly but cunning. He’s entirely the right choice for a film seeking as broad an audience as possible. History doesn’t tell us if Hartnell was annoyed to be overlooked for the part, though I’d bet he was. But it’s hard to imagine his irascible presence in this bright, funfair ride of a film.

It’s interesting to see which other elements did and didn’t make it to the big screen. The famous moment where a Dalek claw emerges from under a cloak is included, but the equally famous moment where Barbara is menaced by a Dalek plunger is gone. Left in is the bit which always mystifies me where the Daleks give the Thal anti-radiation drugs they’ve discovered to the time travellers (why, exactly?). But gone is any rancour towards the Doctor when he reveals his deception about the fluid link. And twitchy Thal Andotus survives his fall down the ravine which killed him on TV.

Interestingly, a pivotal moment in the TV story, where Ian threatens to take Dyoni to the Daleks in order to show the Thals they still have a fighting spirit is given to the Doctor. It’s still Ian who gets punched, but it’s the Doctor who thinks up the scheme. A small indication that while the TV story might have been an ensemble piece, the Doctor is the film’s hero.

So it’s a rare thing this film; an alternative version of an existing story. Imagine if they’d kept going after the first two. If they’d done The Chase it might have improved upon the original. If they’d done The Daleks’ Master Plan, or Power or Evil of the Daleks, they’d be the only complete versions of those stories around. And would they have kept or ditched Cushing?

Actually, it doesn’t matter. He made an impact with these two films and people like me still think of him as a legitimate Doctor. Moffat’s one of those people. As he recently said in DWM, that he tried to find a way of shoehorning Cushing into The Day of the Doctor. Well I say there’s still time. We never actually saw John Hurt change into Christopher Eccleston did we? That’s right, it goes McGann – Hurt – Cushing – Eccleston. Moffat’s onto it right now. *conspiratorial wink*.

LINK to Love & Monsters and Mindwarp and Turn Left, as it happens. All four feature popular contemporary TV comedians in lead roles. It’s a record!

NEXT TIME: You ham-fisted bun vendor! Settle back into your plastic sofa for Terror of the Autons.

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