Congregation, cinema and Day of the Daleks (1972)

day of the daleks

Two Days stick in my mind. Day of the Daleks and The Day of the Doctor. Because I saw them both at the cinema.

The Daleks’ Day  escaped onto DVD a few years back with a very special Special Edition, complete with new very special effects and new very special Dalek voices and other bells and whistles. To celebrate, there was a new very special screening of the story at cinemas around Australia. Now, I wasn’t that keen to go. I’m not that keen on public displays of fandom. As you can probably tell by my nom de plume and headless profile pic.

But unusually it was Mrs Spandrell who insisted we go. She had no desire to sit through Doctor Who movie-sized except for two things: one, she’ll do anything to eat cinema popcorn, with which she is obsessed and two, she was curious to see Who fans out after dark.

Fans fascinate her, even though she has been shackled to this one for years and has had ample time to examine it up close. She likes to see how far people will go for their love of something, particularly those who express it by dressing up in public. And she was in luck this night. As we walked in with the rest of the audience, she gripped my arm ever tighter with each Tom Baker scarf she spotted. I suffered bruising.

Anyway, it was a hoot. But one of the things it showed was that Day of the Daleks, even in its new ever so very special Special Edition, is irrevocably a TV programme. It’s not meant to be seen on a cinema screen. Blow the picture up to that size, and all sorts of flaws become evident. You notice every little thing. That pencil that rolls off the TARDIS console has never been so obvious. Props have never looked so plasticy. And Katy Manning’s unintended underwear cameos gain undue prominence.

But it’s not just production flaws though, it’s also the odd grammar of studio based TV which is exposed by the big screen. There’s a moment in Episode Three where the Doctor is in a tunnel hiding from the Daleks. Director Paul Bernard chooses a big close up of the Pert’s face. As his pursuers give up, he notices something. We pull away to reveal that the camera was peering through the rungs of a ladder, inches in front of the Doctor’s face – although he acts as if he just noticed it.  Cue peals of laughter from the assembled nerds. It’s a moment which looks fine on TV, but terribly contrived writ large.

Still, the niggles enlarged on the cinema screen are made up for by the joy of watching Doctor Who  in public. Now this, I have done before. As a teenage nerd I would sometimes attend earnest meetings of the Doctor Who Club of Australia. These were held in echoey halls at Sydney Uni, abandoned for the weekend. In darkened lecture theatres they would show the latest episodes smuggled in from the UK. The seating was hard and unforgiving, political commentary was carved into the benches, the TV monitors bracketed to the ceiling were distant. We loved it of course – sneakily watching The Trial of a Time Lord, Dragonfire et al. There would be laughter at the funny bits, groans at the awful bits. It was fun, this group reaction to something you normally watched in private.

And that’s how it was with Day of the Daleks. The audience cheered when the Pert karate chopped a guerilla without spilling a drop of his wine. They dutifully giggled at the ‘rank has its privileges’ line. They knew this story and its greatest hits and were all to happy to sing along in chorus.

The next Day at the movies, was on anniversary weekend, November 2013. This time I knew I’d attend, it being my only chance to watch the thing in 3D. Mrs Spandrell was happy to join in. The popcorn, you see.

But this time, there was very little chance to play spot the cosplaying fan. The cinema was packed, but with new fans, not old. And kids! Kids everywhere. I subconsciously know that kids love Doctor Who but it’s not till I see them en masse and dressed like Cybermen that it really kicks in. Parents, students, yuppies and pretty young things. This was a mainstream crowd, not us ming mongs. It was one of those moments when the new widespread popularity of the show hits home.

And there’s one more recent example: Deep Breath at the State Theatre, part of the Doctor Who world tour. Again, Mrs Spandrell was keen, again there was popcorn, again there was much cosplay. We bought merch, we took selfies. Terrible seats, right at the back, high in the heavens. The usher actually laughed when he checked our tickets. But then it was on and of course there were cheers and laughs and a crowd having a whale of a time. 2,775 Whoheads entranced.

When it ended, Peter Capaldi took to the stage (well, I have it on good authority it was him. I couldn’t quite be sure from our seats) and was witty and modest and charming. And then he let us in on a secret. While the episode was screening he’d snuck into the back of the auditorium, and watched a bit with us. But no one had noticed, their attention entirely focussed on the screen. A collective gasp from the audience. How close they had been to the man himself and never knew! They sobbed into their Tom Baker scarves at an opportunity missed.

So that’s my history of watching Doctor Who off TV. From grotty auditoriums crowded with hard core fans, to a one off movie screening for a mix of the we and the not-we, to a packed weekend screening with the general public lining up to watch the Daleks invade Gallifrey, to a lavish extravaganza with the Doctor himself watching along with his fans.

It still makes me shake my head in disbelief. This strange little show. It used to be ours. Now it’s freaking everyone’s. As commonplace as a trip to the cinema.

LINKS to Planet of the Daleks. Hmmm, not even worth typing is it?

SACRIFICIAL BLAM! Haven’t had one of these in a while. But here, rebel Shura blows up Auderley house at story’s end.

NEXT TIME… I preferred it when it seemed impossible! Brace yourself for a Nightmare of Eden.

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