Dr. Who and the Daleks

Dr. Who and the Daleks (Movie: 1965)

This may be news to some of you — it came as a complete surprise to me when I first discovered it, some ten-odd years ago — but in the mid-’60s, Britain was gripped by Dalekmania.  More than anything, it was the wild popularity of the Daleks that helped launch Doctor Who into the public’s imagination, and keep it on the air long after it might otherwise have faded from history.

In 1965, two big-screen movies were made about the megalomaniacal pepper-pot menaces, starring Peter Cushing as “Dr. Who”.  This is the first of those movies, based upon the Doctor Who serial The Daleks.  Since I’ve only just watched that episode, it seemed only fair that I should give this movie another viewing, and compare the two versions of the story.

The first difference, of course, is that the movie does not use Ron Grainer’s wonderful and distinctive theme music — and perhaps, all things considered, it wouldn’t have fit, because Peter Cushing’s “Dr. Who” is rather different from William Hartnell’s cunning, selfish old refugee from another time and place.

All the characters are different.  In the TV show, the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan is in her mid teens — fifteen, or sixteen, apparently, although off the top of my head I’d say that Carole Ann Ford was somewhat older than that at the time — and Barbara and Ian are her teachers (from Coal Hill School.)  In the movie, Susan and Barbara both appear to be the Doctor’s granddaughters — both of them refer to him as Grandfather, anyway — even though Susan is about ten years old, give or take, while Barbara is closer to twenty.  Ian is Barbara’s new boyfriend, and he is the comedic relief of the show, a bumbling, clumsy fall-guy for every clunk-on-the-head or undignified sprawl-in-the-dirt they can throw his way — a role quite familiar to Roy Castle.  He calls the Doctor “Dr. Who” as though it is his name, so I can only guess that the girls are Susan Who and Barbara Who…

The Doctor takes advantage of the lad’s visit to show off his new invention: TARDIS — and yes, it’s a police box sitting in his back yard, and yes, it’s bigger on the inside…  Of course, Ian manages to stumble against the control lever — he took the blame, anyway, but quite frankly I think Barbara pushed him — and the Time and Space machine dematerialises with nary a hint of the characteristic wheezing sound from the television version.  When the four step outside, they discover themselves on a strange world, in the midst of a dead, petrified forest.

From that point, the story proceeds much the same as in the television version.  Of course, with a running time of 79 minutes compared to roughly 175 for the seven-episode serial, it is a lot tighter — which makes one wonder how much of that 175 minutes is character development that has been dropped, and how much is padding to fill time before the next cliff-hanger ending?  Of course, as a single movie, there is less need for those cliff-hanger moments…

There are still differences, though, such as Ian’s attempts to enter the door into the city being foiled by a door which refuses to open for him — and which, indeed, seems to be activated by sitting on a seat some distance away.  So, Ian bumbles until Barbara’s first scream is heard and the remaining three go in search of her.

Before long they encounter the Daleks — and these are glorious, widescreen, technicolour Daleks at a time when television was very much low-res, grainy, black and white.  These Daleks look great.  There are blue ones, a couple of red ones — the colour specifying rank or standing, it seems — and even some black and gold ones.  Some of them even have a robotic claw in place of the old rubber plunger!  These are Daleks not to be messed with! :-)

And, as I said, the story proceeds much the same.  A few minor details are changed — some simply to eliminate unnecessary plot complication, some to give Ian one more excuse to play the fool — but nothing that particularly alters the outcome.

Incidentally, I’ve recently added a column to my movie database to track whether or not a movie passes the Bechdel test.  Trying to remember if there was a conversation in the opening scenes which might perhaps qualify it for a pass — and I must admit, I agree with those who say that if you have to hunt for a blink-and-you-miss-it interaction, it really doesn’t qualify — and the opening is just great.  Susan, Barbara, and the Doctor are in their sitting room.  Susan is reading a book almost as heavy as she is: Physics for the Inquiring Mind (by Eric M Rogers.)  Barbara is reading The Science of Science.  And the Doctor is reading Eagle — a Dan Dare comic, to be precise!  “Most exciting,” he exclaims as he puts it down. :-)   And while Susan continues with the super-intelligent persona — early in the movie, explaining the whole “bigger on the inside” thing to Ian, she reels off “in electro-kinetic theory, space expands to accomodate the time necessary to encompass its dimensions” — Barbara seems to devolve into something less.  Perhaps it’s the presence of her boyfriend…

And no.  It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test…

IMDB: Dr. Who and the Daleks

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