Tag Archives: 60s movies

Bigger, better and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)

These days, the gap between TV and films is not as great a divide as it used to be. Production standards have risen to the point where TV programs increasingly look and feel like films; only the grandest of Hollywood blockbusters have a scale and scope that TV can’t emulate.

But come back in time with me, to September 1966. If you were looking to watch Doctor Who, BBC TV was offering The Smugglers, a charming if hokey historical adventure, recorded at Riverside, black and white, a 16th century power struggle between smugglers, pirates and revenue men. But the cinema is offering Daleks. Loads of them, all sorts of colours, spaceships, explosions, the whole deal. Will Captain Avery’s treasure be found. Who cares? There’s a Dalek invasion happening just down the road at the Odeon!

If further comparison be needed, compare the punctuation mark heavy Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. with its TV ancestor, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The TV show had pie tins for spaceships. Its Robomen had clunky helmets which had to be balanced precariously on  extras’ heads and looked faintly ridiculous. By any production based measure, the film is a superior product. No wonder when Chris Acheillos came to produce the cover art for the novelisation, he turned to the film to copy the bloated art deco looking spaceship and the impassive, black vinyl clad Robomen. The film was the definitive product.

The two Aaru Dalek films are not widely celebrated by fandom, not just because they deviate from the TV series established history but also because they are a little cheesy. We look back on them now as dated Sixties artifacts, but I think that neglects what a revelation they must have been at the time. Your favourite show, but in colour, on the big screen and with something it had never had before… a decent budget!

****

Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. was clearly trying to shake off Doctor Who. The film’s trailer makes no mention of the Doctor (Peter Cushing, “in his most thrill making role!”, less doddery than in the first movie) or the TARDIS. Shh, don’t mention the TV show, it seems to be saying. We’re slightly embarrassed by it, and besides, we might want to make Dalek only movies in the future.

And the film itself feels no pressure to stick to the original story. Dr. Who and the Daleks made only rudimentary changes to characters and left The Daleks plot more or less intact. Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D takes liberties with both: our schoolteacher chums Ian and Barbara are done away with and replaced by policeman Tom (Bernard Cribbins) and Louise (Jill Curzon). Resistance fighter Jenny is done away with completely. The basic structure of our friends being separated and then making their different ways to Bedfordshire stays is kept, but who goes with whom, and by which route is rejigged.

The story’s showcase moments are kept, though. Driving a van through a phalanx of Daleks. The destruction of said van via aerial laser attack. The disastrous assault on the Dalek’s saucer, the treacherous women in the hut and the Dalek emerging from the Thames all survive. But other, perhaps less successful, elements of the TV show are lost. The rubbery Slyther is nowhere to be seen. Susan’s sewery adventures with baby alligators is gone and so too is her romance with resistance fighter David (thankfully, as in this film, Susan is about 8 years old).

The film’s biggest innovation though, is the injection of humour. The Dalek Invasion of Earth was pretty grim stuff, and there weren’t many chuckles in it. Think of the Robomen, basically the walking dead with transistor radios. In a family film, there’s a need to lighten the tone.

Enter the young male lead. In the first film, it was variety performer Roy Castle. Here it’s actor and comedian Bernard Cribbins, and so he gets put on the pratfalling duties. He gets a whole routine with the Robomen (not so much creepy cadavers as madcap marching troupe) where he can’t fit in with their jerky robotic gestures, and later gets a rerun of Lucille Ball’s conveyer belt schtick. We fans might not like this concessions to slapstick, but I gotta tell you, Master Spandrell cacks himself at these bits.

This mix of humour and action would gain more prominence in the Troughton era. It’s another of this film’s quiet claims to have influenced the series. For instance, isn’t this film’s title sequence the first use of the a spiralling tunnel, now so associated with Doctor Who as to be a visual cliche? This particular influence even extends to the show’s 21st century incarnation.

When looking at Dr. Who and the Daleks, I couldn’t help but notice the influence that film had had on Steven Moffat and his version of the show. And you can see it in the second film too. In the very first scene, Constable Tom fails to stop a smash and grab when he stumbles into the departing Tardis. In the last scene, Dr. Who returns him to a slightly earlier point in time so that he can foil the crime. Well, blow me down if time can’t be rewritten.

****

September 1966 at the cinema is all well and good. Still, that’s not how most of us came to these films. Most of us would have watched them on telly.

Come back in time with me again, this time to regional NSW in the 1980s. Here, the two Dalek films were occasional Saturday afternoon treats, popping up at random on the schedules of regional network WIN TV.

Even in this unexpected place, they garnered some admirers. One not-we I know, when the conversation turns to Doctor Who, always nominates “that movie with all the different coloured Daleks” as his favourite. Meanwhile on ABC TV Tom Baker reruns go as disregarded as The Smugglers.

Sure, this is Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. But also 1966 A.D. And 1986 A.D. And 2010 A.D. And on it goes.

LINK TO The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit: big pits reaching down into the centre of the planet!

NEXT TIME: Three of ’em! I’m fairly sure that’s The Three Doctors.

 

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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.